REVIEW: A Little Life [ part one* ]

This month I decided to tackle one of the bigger books on my shelves. At 800-ish pages, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life seemed like what I wanted. Contemporary, set in New York, I heard it was gay and came highly recommended by someone I was close to.

But then I got 400-ish pages in and was in such a horrible mental state because of it, it’s not even funny. This is not a fun book. If anything, it’s a horrible book. So to start off this review, let’s get to the list of trigger/content warnings, shall we?

This book contains:

  • child abuse
  • sexual assault of a child
  • child abandonment (a baby literally in a dumpster)
  • child death
  • sexual assault
  • domestic abuse (that has the potential to lead to a possible murder)
  • gross dismissal of chronic pain
  • gaslighting
  • manipulation
  • graphic depictions of self-harm
  • suicidal ideation with mild intent
  • drug abuse

And that’s just the part of the book that I managed to get through.

As someone who is constantly battled chronic depression, this book actively made me want to jump in front of a train. Things only get worse and worse as the story progresses, even when you think things might turn around, the punch in the stomach is only a few paragraphs down the page.

The story itself follows four friends – JB, Jude, Willem, and Malcolm – in New York as they navigate their lives as artists, actors, lawyers, architects. Moving from post-college life into the real world is a struggle as they all fight for dream jobs with terrible pay and discover routes to where they feel their purpose is. Bouncing around in time, the narrative goes over the histories of each of them, talking about their privileged to not-so-privileged to terrible lives before they met each other.

The sad thing about this book is that all of the friends are incredibly likeable, even when they’re making asses of themselves (cough, JB, cough cough). Their histories really make you want to keep reading and find out what happened to them just as much as wanting to know where they’re all headed. It’s so beautifully prose-y and I absolutely adore the way with words that Yanagihara has, but I just couldn’t continue after the half-way mark of this book.

But this book very quickly reached torture porn levels of terrible as one of the characters gets sucked into a beyond incredibly abusive relationship. The character in question doesn’t believe he deserves a truly rewarding relationship and allows the most gruesome things to happen to him. After something of a “cliffhanger” of a chapter at what I hope was the climax of the abuse, I had to stop reading. I couldn’t take it anymore. A Little Life is literally like walking down stairs coated in broken glass barefoot into the vast depths of hell with no end or light or hope in sight.

This is not a book to read if you have any kind of major depressive issues.

I would not recommend this book to a single human being.

Ever.


* I’ve marked this as “part one” in case I do decide to go back to this book at a later date in order to try and finish it

 

REVIEW: And The Hippos Were Boiled…

The lives of the Beat Poets are something I’ve been in love with for ages. I just can’t resist the romanticized tragedies of their lives and the film Kill Your Darlings, certainly made me love them even more and tossed me headfirst into reading everything I could find about Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and – of course – Lucien Carr. When I learned that Kerouac and Burroughs wrote a fictional retelling of when Carr killed David Kammerer, I was all over that. I was even more excited when the fancy second-hand book store in my neighbourhood had a first edition copy of that same book.

And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks is the story of Will Dennison and Mike Ryko, the two narrators written by Burroughs and Kerouac respectively, as they go about their bohemian lives in New York and deal with their friends’ troubles. When one of their friends, Phillip Tourian, decides he is desperate to get away from the affections of Ramsay Allen, he and Ryko make a plan to ship out with the war relief and run away to Paris. For those who know what happened in the true story, I don’t need to remind you that this plan doesn’t exactly work out.

What I wanted from this was Kill Your Darlings. I was hoping for more about the murder, more scrambling during the aftermath. I was really hoping for a fun insiders look at what happened even if it was only a functionalization. Sadly what I got was a bunch of drunken youths for 80% of the book and then maybe twenty pages at the end involved the murder.

The writing style was interesting to see because this was written many years before Burroughs and Kerouac truly became famous but published only in more recent years. Knowing how the two authors came to write, it was kind of cool to see how they grew and developed as writers. Honestly though, the best part about this book was the afterword by James W. Grauerholz, who broke down more of the history behind the events of Kammerer’s death. I’m sad to say I was disappointed in it, but I think that might result in being too connected to the original story.

Ginsberg and Carr honestly mean so much to me, so – again – I think that had something to do it with. Either way, I’m happy to have read it and learn even just a little bit more from the afterword.

RELEASE BLITZ: Machiavellian

Happy birthday, Mac!!

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Today is a big day for author Bella Di Corte, as she releases this incredible story to the world! Machiavellian is the first book in the Gangsters of New York trilogy and it is a book that will steal your heart with every chapter. Full of pain, love, and the importance of deep connections, Machiavellian is a story you won’t want to miss out on.

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced digital copy of this book so I could participate in the blog blitz for release day and I honestly didn’t think I would fall so deeply in love with it as I did. When it comes to romance novels, they are pure escapism for me and I grew up laughing at them before I started to appreciate the stories they were telling. My guilty pleasure, above all else, has always been mafia-based romance. I saw the word “mafia” and jumped right on being a part of this blitz, and wow am I so happy I did.

I’ve included a full description of the book at the bottom of this post, but the gist for this top-half review is this: Mariposa has been running away from pain her whole life, always just shy of absolute suffering on the rough streets of New York. Her trauma weighs heavily on her when it comes for asking for help, which means she doesn’t. But when things reach an absolute peak of unbearable, she ends up in the arms of Capo Machiavellio, a reclusive gazillionaire with more than intimidating connections to the dark underbelly of the city. As the two work circles around each other to get to the core of who they are and their connections to each other, there are other wolves on the prowl that threaten to take away all that they have and more.

When I first started reading this story, I went in with My Fair Lady vibes where a rich man takes a rag of a girl and makes her into something beautiful, but the story of Capo and Mari is so far from that. To break them down a little as people, Mari is the kind of take-no-shit woman who has been dealt hand after hand of shitty cards. She has fought for every last thing that she owns – even if she doesn’t own that much – and is determined to survive by the very skin of her fingernails. But despite all she has been through, Mari is not a cutthroat person. She is still kind herself, thinking of others before herself (to a fault in some cases), and still enjoying the little things in her life such as colouring her anxieties away in children’s colouring books. On the other side of the coin, we have Capo. Capo has literally been put through hell at the hands of his own family and it has made him hard, cruel, and vengeful. He is a rough man who had what he wanted torn from his hands and now he is demanding it back, no matter what it takes. However, Capo is not just a ruthless prick. There is warmth deep within him and he fights hard because he wants to protect those who have more warmth than he feels he is capable of himself. He walks a fine line in the jerk category, but is very good about not crossing it.

The way the relationship builds between Capo and Mari, and the way they tug each other back and forth, finding buttons that shouldn’t be pushed but pushing them anyway, is so wonderful. Written in dual first-person perspectives between the two of them lets us into their minds and allows us to see the reasons behind their actions, even the stupid actions. It’s a beautiful back and forth that stole my heart on several steamy occasions.

Ripe with intense mafia action that is edge-of-your-seat stressful, it’s funny that my favourite part of the book is a quiet moment. No spoilers, I promise. As Capo’s family in Italy slowly comes into the picture, we get to meet his grandfather. All of the moments with Nonno are so picturesque and in these current moments of unrest, made me cry. To make things personal for a moment, at this time I am unable to see my 98-year-old grandmother as visitors are not permitted in her retirement home (understandably so). The moments where Mari gets to talk with Nonno and connect with him, on top of the moments where Capo gets to be a little less hard with his grandfather… They both made me miss my grandmother so much while also reminded me to cherish every memory I have with her until I can see her again. In a book that gets pretty rough, pretty quick, the soft moments felt like home and I applaud Bella Di Corte for truly capturing these moments.

I could honestly go on and on and on forever about how I was touched by this book but then, I think, it would almost be shorter to read the book itself. I was honestly not expecting to love this book as much as I do and I’ve been dying to post this review for over a week now. The violence is just as real as the love and if you love mafia stories but are looking for something new and fresh, I implore you to buy this book. Let Capo steal your heart just as much as Mari does. And then send me an email so I can have more people to yell about it with, haha!

I know that Mac is only just on shelves today, but I’m already itching for book two. Let’s hear it for Gangsters of New York!


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Title: Machiavellian (Gangsters of New York, Book 1)
Author: Bella Di Corte
Genre: Mafia Romance
Release Date: May 8, 2020
Hosted by:
Buoni Amici Press, LLC.

Add on GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/51802347-machiavellian
Buy on Amazon:
https://amzn.to/2xZQHvd

Book Description:

Machiavellian is the first of three books set in the savage world of the Gangsters of New York series. 

I hungered to be seen.
There were three things I knew about Capo Macchiavello:
He was gorgeous.
He was reclusive.
He was considered one of New York’s most savage animals.
And he wanted me as his wife. A simple arrangement – you do for me, I do for you. Nothing owed, no expectations. Except for one: never leave.

 Life was never that simple, though. By the age of twenty-one, I was parentless, jobless, and homeless, and I had come to learn the hard way that nothing was ever free. Even kindness comes with strings.

Capo might’ve been the only man to ever see me, but I had made a vow to myself: I would never owe anyone anything. Most of all, the man I called boss.

 I killed to stay hidden.

Mariposa Flores thought she owed nothing to no one, but she owed everything…to me, the ghost the world had once called The Machiavellian Prince of New York. 

About the Author: 

Bella Di Corte has been writing romance for seven years, even longer if you count the stories in her head that were never written down, but she didn’t realize how much she enjoyed writing alphas until recently. Tough guys who walk the line between irredeemable and savable, and the strong women who force them to feel, inspire her to keep putting words to the page.

Apart from writing, Bella loves to spend time with her husband, daughter, and family. She also loves to read, listen to music, cook meals that were passed down to her, and take photographs. She mostly takes pictures of her family (when they let her) and her three crazy dogs.  

Bella grew up in New Orleans, a place she considers a creative playground.

She loves to connect with readers, so don’t hesitate to email her at belladicorte@gmail.com if you’d like to reach out. 

You can also find her:

At Home: http://belladicorte.com
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BellaDiCorteAuthor
On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/belladicorte
VIP Access: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BellaDiCortesRoseRoom

Follow:
On Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2UsKj89
On Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/belladicorte/
On Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B085949YN9
On Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/belladicorte
On BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/bella-di-corte

2020 TBR: May Edition

HAPPY MAY DAY COMRADES!

It feels like it’s been longer than two months that we’ve all been in lockdown and I know that things have been wreaking havoc on my brain. As a result, I’m hoping to get a little more “academic” in my reads for this month. I’m not holding my breath on finishing these three specifically since I know for April, I only read one of my planned three books, but it’s helping to just set goals all the same.

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Technically, I’m reading Mostly Void, Partially Stars as an audiobook since it’s the script for the first 25 episodes of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast and I’m listening to the podcast itself, but it’ll make for something lighter between And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks (a fictional retelling of Lucien Carr murdering David Kammerer by Carr’s friends, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs) and The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

I’m also finishing an incredibly fantastic ARC by Bella Di Corte, Machiavellian, and will be hosting my review as part of a small blog tour type release next week, so stay tuned!!

What are you hoping to read this month?

2020 Monthly Wrap-Up: April

We’re at this point again, and I can’t tell if it went by ridiculously fast or not. With the pandemic, it’s been tricky keeping track of passing time. But I did get a decent amount of reading done even if – once again – I didn’t get to all of the books on my planned TBR.

What I did read included:

Of this list, three of them were review copies from NetGalley and I didn’t get to review two of the manga novels in individual posts as I like having an Instagram photo for my reviews and it’s tricky to get nice ones on a Kobo. But I can review them in this post!


HELL’S PARADISE #1 by Kaku Yuji

This was a prime example of a flawless manga.

Having read a lot of first volumes of new series lately, it feels like something is always missing. Either the story is lacking or the emotional connection isn’t there or the artwork is rough. However, this first volume of Hell’s Paradise is perfection. The story had me right from the beginning with how it got right down to the gritty details, and the artwork is so gorgeous I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.

I already can’t wait for volume two and for those who are long time manga readers, this has major Big 3 energy. The potential in this story is huge and I can’t wait to read more.

BEASTARS #1 by Itagaki Paru

I enjoyed this volume well enough. It was a solid introduction volume and the world is solidly fleshed out through both dialogue and narration script so it made for a fast read. As a fan of animal stories like this (or furry stories I guess would be more useful of a term), I enjoyed the way the plot is layering itself and seeing how the different species interact with each other. That being said, I wasn’t a huge fan of the rough art style but it is definitely a stylistic choice rather than a “quality” thing. I’m unsure if I’ll be continuing the series but I’m glad I gave it a shot. Maybe the anime would be more my speed.


There was another book from NetGalley that I only got half-way through before I had to mark it as DNF, and that was We Are The Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian. I was really excited about the book and the idea of the girls getting back at their gross coach was a theme that I was hyped for. However the six POVs and the fact that the books “technically” takes place over 24 hours – despite repetitive flashbacks that never seem to end – just makes the book feel really jagged. Unimportant things seem drawn out and important things don’t seem to be present. I also found the switching back and forth between past and present tense was distracting. Sadly this book was not for me.

I’ve got fun plans on Instagram for May with my good friend, Sophie (of Outer Rim Reviews), hosting a Star Wars themed photo challenge and I’ve got a blog tour post coming at you next week for a current read. Here’s to May getting a little easier for all of us.

 

Facing the Mind Killer: a review of DUNE

As I previously wrote, this month I decided to tackle a book that I’ve been afraid of reading for as long as I can remember, Frank Herbert’s DUNE.

It took me a week to get through it and I reveled in every page. It’s taken me longer to get to this review because I wasn’t sure how to go about it. There is so much to this book that I haven’t been able to find in any other book I’ve read or loved. It has set a new standard for epic fiction and I don’t think I’ll be able to find in anything else what I found in DUNE.

The story is Paul’s, though it strongly features the goings on that surround him and dictate his every action. The long and short of it is that the Great Houses are warring over the spice planet known as Arrakis. Spice is highly addictive and mind-altering natural drug that can only be found on this one planet, making it worth more than worth it’s weight in profits. Along with this political turmoil, there is religious turmoil as a group of women known as the Bene Gesserit see a male of legend capable of the “witchery” that they are. But in their search, the Freeman of Arrakis have their own legend of this same person. Paul is believed to be this man of legend by more than one group of people and he needs to fight not only in this war for the planet, but the war inside of him as he discovers what his true destiny is… or if he even wants it.

The way the book is written, third person narrative, we get to see inside of everyone’s head. We know what Paul is thinking at the exact same time we learn what his mother is thinking in the same moment. For too long the “single character” POV, as made popular by George R.R. Martin in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, has been the way of writing genre fiction and I’m going to be honest: I hate it. It adds nothing to the stories and creates moments of boredom if there’s an unlikeable character. Herbert’s way of putting all of the cards on the table makes the chess match of the politics game within the book not only more manageable, but creates some incredible tension. We, as the readers, know who is double crossing who, but the characters themselves do not. The screaming match I had with this book over Duke Leto is laughable because of how invested this way of story telling got me. 

The ideas behind tackling the mind and conquering emotions through strict mental training were fascinating and I really got a lot of insight into myself because of it. Fear is the mind killer, as Jessica says. 

As thrilled as I am at how much I loved this story, I will be honest and say that my fears are now directed at the new movie. I’ll keep my opinions to myself on that matter until we have a trailer, so stay tuned, but I do also plan on reading the rest of the series within the coming months, so stay tuned.

REVIEW: Megabat does a Zoom launch party

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada, Tundra Books, and NetGalley for providing both an eARC and a finished copy of this book.


To say things have been rough over the last few weeks is to put it mildly, but one thing that truly cheered me up was receiving a package from the wonderful staff at Penguin and Tundra that contained the third book in my favourite middle-grade series, Megabat! At almost 26-years-old, I am definitely not the target audience, but as the one person in my family that people come to for book recs for readers of all ages, I do enjoy digging into junior readers every now and again, and Megabat is incredible. (You can read my reviews of the first two books in the series here)

In Megabat Is A Fraidybat, Megabat and Daniel learn to conquer their fears as they head off to sleepaway camp. Daniel, who has only ever heard of how horrible sleepaway camp is, is far from excited about going. Megabat, on the other hand, is thrilled at the idea of an adventure and new friends. Once they reach camp, Daniel slowly begins to loosen up as he meets new friends in his cabin and learns that his fears weren’t based on how camp actually is. But after a councillor tells a ghost story, Megabat isn’t feeling so confident anymore…

As usual, I loved this little book from top to bottom. The illustrations are as adorable as ever, and the story tackles fear in a very relatable way for children reading the book to understand. I can see it being a good book to explain sleepaway camp to children who may be afraid of going for the first time, or even just using it to talk about fear in general. Sometimes the things that scare us aren’t always as bad as we think they are. All I know is that if I could find an Ewok bobble-head that looked like Kass Reich’s illustration, I would have a hoarding problem with them, haha!

Now, this installment of the Megabat series was released April 7th, and for obvious reasons, that meant a different kind of launch party. Held over Zoom, Anna Humphrey and Kass Reich talked with the Junior Library Guild about all things Megabat and it was delightful. I will say, it wasn’t the smoothest discussion, but what can you really say when the majority of the meeting is attended by children under the age of 10 who are bored with their parents’ laptops, phones, or tablets? If nothing else, it was funny towards the beginning of the discussion to see little faces popping up to wave hello to Anna and Kass.

Anna opened the meeting with a reading of the new book, followed by a detailed drawing tutorial by Kass, both of which were fun. Following that, a Q&A began that was moderated by a member of the Junior Library Guild (whose name I, unfortunately, didn’t catch). Questions focused mostly on fun little things, like a game of “Would You Rather” and what missaid word of Megabat’s is your favourite, but a few of them went most into publishing.

When asked more about how to go about the illustrations, Kass said that she gets the manuscript and has ideas for what moments should be illustrated, but that it is mostly up to the editor, Samantha Swenson, on picking out the scenes. She went on to say that it’s important to be aware of the spacing of illustrations in a book like this, since the book shouldn’t be overcrowded by pictures nor should there be inconsistent gaps between them. The best question Anna got was about the inspiration for Megabat. She mentioned that after a big move, she and her family were feeling particularly homesick and one night, she discovered an out of place leak on the main floor of her three-story home. Anna continued, saying that she let her fiction-writer brain run and came up with the theory that the leak was a sad fruitbat, crying over his own homesickness.

All in all, a fun way to spend a lunch hour, and a wonderful book for readers of all ages. All three Megabat books are available everywhere, and book four is set for a Spring 2021 release!