Tag: Book Recommendation

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn

“All I have are the songs crashing together in my head. They’re all sad. They’re all bitter. And they’re all I have.”

rain-and-a-book-nick-norah-infinite-playlist-cohn-levithanIf you saw my little note on Goodreads, then you know that I was not sure if I was going to review Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. But it occurred to me that not talking about this book on my blog would be highly unfair. Not in recent times has a book moved me so much or, for the lack of a less cliched phrase, filled my lonely, dark, black hole of a heart with so much joy.

Whenever I talk about David Levithan, this is the first book people point me to (although I don’t know why I still pushed it a little far down my list). David Levithan as an author is not just someone I admire and look up to but also someone who has some kind of influence on me. When I read him, there have been times when I’ve felt it’s something I wrote, or if it was something written exclusively for me. I don’t just mean that in the sense that I connect to it or relate to it in a way we do with so many writers. It’s more like his work is like my security blanket. I discovered him last year and although I’d resolved to read only one book each by the authors I chose (in order to increase the number and genres of books I read), I ended up breaking that resolve for Levithan. I think, if I may be so bold to admit it, I’m a little bit in love with him because of his writing.

I had not heard of Nick and Norah before I started reading Levithan, or even the movie of the same name (which is, I hear, quite popular). I was skeptical at first because this is a collaboration project, and I wondered how it would turn out. In the past I’ve tried to get two writers to do collab projects with me, and they both politely declined stating “What if it doesn’t work out” as the reason. Oh well. I’m glad Levithan and Rachel Cohn did not say that to each other. (Speaking of Cohn – I’ve not read any of her works, so reccos are welcome!)

A lot of us are against books with their movie tie-in covers (I still have quite a few in my collection. I generally try not to look at the cover if it bothers me.) But in the case of Nick and Norah, I fell in love with the cover as well. Not that I have any particular liking for Michael Cera or Kat Dennings (I’ve seen way too much Arrested Development and Two Broke Girls for that), but seeing that cover made me feel things that other authors of this genre have failed to. I’m not being partial here. I’ve seen the original cover as well, the one that looks a bit like Eleanor and Park (which still gets credit for being the book through which I eventually discovered Levithan – it was a whole YA trail I had to walk through), and I still like the movie tie-in cover of the edition that I have better.

The story begins with Nick asking Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes, and her responding with a kiss. They are both avoiding the same person – Nick’s ex Tris. Later, as Norah goes searching for her friend (who’s passed out drunk somewhere), Nick’s friends ask her to take him out for the night, because he has been spending too much time pining for Tris. They promise to drop her friend home safe and sound. And thus begins a very memorable night – for Nick, Norah, and the readers.

The story is intermeshed with music – Nick is a member of a band, he’s written songs for Tris, songs whose lyrics Norah had read even before she knew who Nick was. There are also numerous references to other popular bands (“The Cure. What do they think they’re the cure for? Happiness?”). Even the Acknowledgments page is a playlist. It’s one of the books I danced with, and swayed along with the music. There may be other books with their own “soundtrack” so to speak, but this is the one that transported me to that night. Norah’s indecisiveness regarding whether to give Nick a chance, Nick’s heartbreak that slowly heals during the course of the night – all of it was almost magical to read.

It is difficult to explain why this book made me feel all the things it did (yes, the point of this review should be to explain that, but sometimes words fail), but the main reason, it seems, is that it’s a story about moving on. It’s a story of two healed hearts. It’s a story where things change drastically in one night for the better for two lost, heartbroken people. There, right there, is a story worth reading, a book worth recommending. So go on, mend your broken heart. Find your cure.

The Cure. For the Ex’s? I’m sorry, Nick. You know. Will you kiss me again?

(PS: After reading Nick and Norah, I also read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by the same authors. There’s a reference to the above quote – a happy reminder of how all these characters are in the same universe, which makes them more real somehow)

Goodreads | Amazon

 

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Big Mushy Happy Lump, by Sarah Anderson

“Swimsuit season is coming up! Better get beach-body ready! Work on those abs! Lift those butts! Um… no. Forget all that and just be a lump. A Big Mushy Happy Lump!”

big-happy-mushy-lumpSarah Anderson is my new hero. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, (and one with poor internet connectivity; not one of the better caves), you’ve heard of Sarah’s Scribbles – those insanely relate-able comics about life and adulthood and everything in between. Her first book, Adulthood is a Myth won the Goodreads Choice Award for Graphic Novels & Comics (2016). I am yet to grab a copy of it, though it has been on my TBR since it came out. Following this, I feel almost honoured that I got an ARC of her second book through NetGalley (Netgalley rules!)

In this second collection, Sarah talks about important things – female friendship, growing up, social anxiety and introversion, cats. What could be more important than cats, really?! I was already familiar with some of the strips in this book, thanks to Facebook (and yes, these I’d seen before quitting FB), such as this one:

big-happy2
Copyright: Sarah Anderson

This one was one of my favourites, and I remember seeing variations of it on the net that pissed me off. Sarah’s work had been stolen, reworked and frankly, wasn’t half as good as the original. In Big Happy Mushy Lump, she has dedicated a chapter to art thieves. It won’t stop plagiarism as we know it (sadly), but it’s important to address these issues, and call them out wherever possible. I loved that chapter! Almost inspired me to return to my own personal blog – plagiarism being one of the (many, many, many) reasons I’d quit.

Humour is important. Much like Allie Brosh uses her comics to address depression, Sarah Anderson uses it to address issues faced by us introverts. If I could get Allie and Sarah to be my friends, I’m telling you, I would be the “big mushy happy lump” being referred to in the title! Add Caitlin Moran to that mix, and I will have achieved Nirvana!

She also uses humour to touch upon this very sensitive issue that needs to be addressed:

big-happy3
Copyright: Sarah Anderson

In light of recent events, this should be enlarged, printed out, and posted on billboards across this country. Except that the helpless, hopeless tone at the end will not do. Yes, it seems like nothing can be done, but maybe, just maybe, the more we call out, the less bleak things will appear…? Let’s hope so.

I am glad this is the first book I finished this year (I’m also reading The Stand, but I don’t think I can finish it before March or April). It took me about half an hour and by the end of it, I felt great – truly! (If you follow me on IG, you know I’ve been having a sucky time lately). Such a happy book, I could just cuddle and kiss it!! Highly recommended!

Goodreads | Amazon

Release Date (Expected): March 7th, 2017

Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley/Andrews McMeel Publishing. My review is honest and unbiased.

Faithful, by Alice Hoffman

Never is a long time.

29432767Faithful is the story of once-popular, now-self-destructive Shelby Richmond. One fateful night, when she was seventeen, she and her best friend Helene go out for a drive. Their car crashes; Shelby survives with minor injuries, but Helene goes into a vegetative state. Traumatized and guilty, Shelby has a nervous breakdown and stops speaking altogether. She’s admitted to a psych ward, where she is raped by an orderly. This is when she gets the first of many postcards. It says, Say Something. And she does. She tells her mother about what’s happening and her mother gets her released from the hospital immediately.
Helene, on the other hand, is being revered as some sort of saint. Those who visit her claim they get cured of all illnesses and misfortunes if they touch her hand. Shelby does not believe in these miracles, but she is still suffering from guilt. Helene and Shelby both once had dreams and bright futures ahead of them. Helene’s lost hers, and Shelby gives up hers, choosing instead to waste her life away in her parents’ basement. She shaves her head, smokes pot, and watches TV shows she claims to hate. Her drug dealer is her old classmate, Ben Mink, with whom she walks to Helene’s house one night. Ben reveals to her that he’s going to the city to become a pharmacist and asks her to go with him. Two years have passed since the accident and Shelby decides to finally leave her hometown. She moves to the city with Ben, gets a job in a pet store, unexpectedly makes friends, and, most importantly, begins to save dogs in need of saving.

Admittedly, this book got off to a very slow and depressing start. It wasn’t just grim, because of the accident – it was very bleak. I disliked this bit of the story, but did not, at any point, feel like putting the book down. I might have, had it continued in that vein, but after Shelby decides to do something with her life, the story was, if not instantly, uplifted. I loved the characters in this book – especially Maravelle, Shelby’s friend from the pet store. I’m not a dog person, but the way Shelby rescues ill-treated dogs was heartwarming, and I found myself falling in love with all her dogs.

When Shelby starts receiving the postcards (Say Something, See Something, Save Something, etc.), I was reminded of Markus Zusak’s I Am the Messenger. But the main difference between the two is, Ed Kennedy receives aces in the mail to save other people; Shelby receives them to save herself. Her guilt and self pity nearly killed her, and even towards the end of the book, her self pity is highly palpable. On the night of the accident, Shelby believes she saw an angel and she believes it is the angel who is sending her the postcards. At other times, she is convinced it is Helene – though Helene is now incapable of doing any such thing.

Speaking of Helene, I felt the whole “miracle” angle was unnecessary. It contributed nothing to the story, and felt like it was forced into it to add a bit of magical realism to it. It was unconvincing, and a little annoying.

Aside from that one grouse, I thought that Faithful was a beautiful story of redemption and growth and forgiving oneself. I have wanted to read Alice Hoffman for a long time, but unfortunately, because of where I live perhaps, her books would either never be in stock or be ridiculously expensive because of import charges attached to them (the number of years I’ve been trying to get a copy of Practical Magic, I tell you!). Since I have never read her, I cannot compare Faithful to any other work of hers. But as someone who’s finally ventured into her world of literature, I felt warmly welcomed and left knowing for sure that I would return someday.

Goodreads

Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley. My review is honest and unbiased.

Every Day, by David Levithan

“Where do you want to go?” I ask again. “Tell me, truly, where you’d love to go.”
I don’t initially realize how much hinges on her answer. If she says, Let’s go to the mall, I will disconnect. If she says, Take me back to your house, I will disconnect. If she says, Actually, I don’t want to miss sixth period, I will disconnect. And I should disconnect. I should not be doing this.

But she says, “I want to go to the ocean. I want you to take me to the ocean.”

And I feel myself connecting.”

13262783May I say how much I hate Levithan right now. This man makes me break my book resolutions. And this man not only makes me read books from a genre I dislike (and scoff at), he makes me enjoy them. Worst of all, this man caused a conflict, nay, a war! Just look at this:

Brain: A genderless-bodyless entity that wakes up in a new human body each day. What a premise! This ought to be good.
Heart: Whatever, really.
Brain: Um… This is a love story.
Heart: *indistinct humming*
Brain: OK. Why am I reading this? This is YA. This is romance. Let’s close this and read something else.
Heart: Could you shut. Up. For. One. Minute?
Brain: Beg pardon?
Heart: SHUT UP.
Brain: …

.

Heart: Ohmygod, this is so beautiful, I have tears. I’m crying. This is… awww.
Brain: ???

Heart: *weeps* Oh, A. Oh, Rhiannon.
Brain: Blech. Oh, come on! “It’s the way you looked at me – it couldn’t have been anyone else.” Seriously? That is SO cheesy.
Heart: *sulks* Yeah, okay, just shush.
Brain: !!!

Heart: I have to make a phone call!
Brain: Dontdoanythingstupid!!!
Heart: NO, I really do!
Brain: This is NOT an Adele song!
Heart: Hang yourself, you stupid brain.

Brain: Why aren’t they explaining why A is this smoke entity person thing? Why is this happening? Are there others like this? Can it have feelings? What about the bodies it goes into, why don’t these people notice that entire days from their lives have just gone missing? This makes no sense!
Heart: Really, I couldn’t care less right now.

Brain: OK, that was a weak ending if I ever saw one.
Heart: So what if the ending wasn’t great. It couldn’t have ended any other way.
Brain: I’ll be the judge of that.
Heart: You jealous, emotionless, ROBOT!

*Heart walks off stage, leaving a trail of warm fuzzy feelings behind; brain, feeling useless, dejectedly plops down on a bed*

PS: I have to say though – only Levithan could have pulled this story off. Any other YA author would have turned it into a disaster. Do give it a read for the warm fuzzies. And keep your phone far, far away.

Goodreads | Amazon

The Autobiographical Elements in The Shining, by Stephen King

7133789Have I ever told you about the time I discovered Stephen King? It was at a wedding. A classmate’s wedding. An unlikely place to discuss horror books (or is it?) I can’t remember which classmate it was (I had attended quite a few underage weddings that year), but I remember this conversation so well. A few of us were discussing books and one of our teachers, dressed in one of the most beautiful lavender silk saris I’ve ever seen, told us how she had bought four Stephen King books at a second hand book store for 80 bucks the previous week. We made the right noises to convey our jealousy towards that cunning bargain. Another classmate then told us how she herself had read a King’s book recently and was blown away by it.

I was known as the book lender of the group, and was in no mood to reveal that I had no clue who Stephen King was. What I did, instead, was get a copy of the only Stephen King book I could find at a second hand book store. Quite possibly, the same one my teacher had gone to.

The book was Dolores Claiborne and I hated it. It felt, in my head, rather noisy. I swore off King’s books.

Four years after the events described above, I found myself running for King’s books like it was winter and they were warmth (weird, yes, I know. Creepy, yes, I know that too). I eventually realized he mainly wrote horror stories (which I didn’t know at the time I read Dolores). I read all his short stories, and to this day, I haven’t read anything that is as terrifying and disturbing as Gray Matter, from the collection Night Shift. I read his works with slight distaste and a perverse need. Something bigger than guilty pleasure, and almost as enticing as slow self destruction.

I’ve realized now that I keep going back to King not because of his skills. It’s admirable that he’s written more stories than most authors we know. But it’s not just about the volume either – they are all good stories. Although, I am not particularly a fan of his writing skills. Sure, I love his metaphors, I love the vivid imagery. But I’ve found faults with how swollen his books are, when they could easily have been much more compact. All that padding lessens the impact of the horror he wants to conjure up in the reader’s mind, and which is why, I have repeatedly and truthfully insisted that his books don’t scare me. In all honesty, I find Shaun Hutson’s no-brainer slashing scarier than King’s works and I’ve read Japanese thrillers that can give you far worse nightmares. I’ve read King’s On Writing, and I remember literally and exactly only two sentences from it, and I liked the memoir part more than the writing part. But I go back to King’s books, always. With a lot of respect and a deep sense of loyalty that – one that I cannot fully comprehend myself. I feel defensive of him in a way I don’t about authors I like more. It’s strange, and perhaps that is why The Shining affected me so much. And I’m not even talking about the supernatural elements (although, yes, this book will go down in history as the first King book that scared me).

It is a well known fact that authors leave pieces of themselves in all their characters. But often, the heroes we create are the superhuman versions of ourselves. Ideal, better men and women than we really are. It is a question that has often nagged me: do we only glorify ourselves through our characters, or do we dare to write the worst about ourselves? The dirt and the mess? Do we dare? I found my answer in Jack Torrance, the unlucky, alcoholic, down-on-his-last-buck protagonist of The Shining.

When asked about how he came up with the story, King narrated the incident where he and his wife spent a night at a Colorado hotel which was closing for the season. He had a nightmare involving a fire hose, which provided the inspiration for what later became one of his best known works. The room they stayed in was, no points for guessing: 217. But the real source of inspiration lies much deeper. And its clues lie in King’s anger at what the movie version did to his book.

Movies, in general, do not do justice to the books they’re adapted from. We know this. Authors have every right to be peeved. We know this too. But King’s anger draws itself from a personal well. An episode of Friends refers to The Shining as “a book that starred Jack Nicholson”. I bet that made King cringe, and why shouldn’t it? The character whom Nicholson portrayed on screen was a crazy axe-wielding maniac. It isn’t just that he wasn’t the Jack Torrance King wrote about. It was that it wasn’t who King himself was.

I read the book over a period of a few weeks (given my limited reading time, and the fact that this too is a well-padded book). One evening, the Mr. was watching a video on YouTube about the differences between the book and the movie. It was a coincidence; till I said something about a scene in the book, I did not know what he was watching nor did he know what I was reading. The video covered unimportant, secondary details (such as how book-Danny is 5, telepathic and intelligent, but movie-Danny is 7 and ordinary), but not the finer points that really mattered. It mattered to King that Wendy, a strong, sensible, caring woman in the book, is portrayed as a “screaming dishrag” in the movie. “That’s not the woman I wrote about,” he says. It mattered to him that the supernatural elements in the book were written off as psychological issues in the movie, thereby negating even the title [The Shining refers to Danny’s psychic abilities. He sometimes speaks to a “friend” Tony, who tells him things that are about to happen. The movie dealt with this… differently. It is interesting to note that the book is dedicated to King’s son, and he writes “keep shining”]. It matters that Jack, an ex-alcoholic like King himself did not slowly descend into madness because of the evil hotel, but was already crazy to begin with, someone whom the audience would never really sympathize with. And King has sympathy for all his characters. Torrance was not given a chance at redemption in the movie, but in the book, he does have a moment of clarity. The book has a heart, the movie does not.

The book is King’s confession – of his rage (especially directed at his children), his alcohol and drug abuse, his fears of failing as a writer. It cuts closer than On Writing. Jack Torrance is him, or who he was. The Shining was written at a time when King had some financial stability to speak of. But that does not erase the years he grew up watching his mother’s struggles, or the early years before he sold a story. Jack’s innermost thoughts are King’s innermost thoughts – why doesn’t Jack leave the Overlook hotel knowing how suicidal it is to stay? Fear. He has absolutely nothing to fall back on. All of these are King’s wounds and bruises that he smashes with roque mallets on to paper, exorcising his own demons, giving them forms of bloated dead bodies and blood and brains on the wall.

In The Dark Tower: Song of Susannah, King all but says it out loud that he and Roland are the same person. You see King in all his characters, but not as loud, as neon, as obvious as you do in the villainous Jack Torrance, the angry man you somehow sympathize with (so much so that I felt guilty using the word “villainous” above). Why? Because it’s an angry side we all have, but we dare not talk about it. The real ghost of The Shining isn’t the Overlook hotel or the fire hose or the topiary animals, it is the mirror it holds up to ourselves. By showing us how he could have turned out to be when he was at his weakest, King shows us how we could be at our weakest. It shows us the evil inside our own hearts.

And it’s scary as hell.

Goodreads | Amazon

References: Rolling Stone | Salon | Guardian | The Dissolve 

Sprinkling Some Book Love

For some time, I’d been thinking I should do something bookish, but non-reviewish, non-new-releaseish… maybe listish (or is it called listicleish these days? oh I don’t know!) here. I thought of listing down my favourite literary heroines. But that post is still a little ways away, since someone new got added to it recently, and sent the whole thing for a rearrangement.

Lucky for me, I found this on Lata’s blog. How perfect! So here’s me, listing out some favourites.

I don’t think for many of these I can list just one book. I’ll list whatever comes to mind.

  1. A book you’ve read more than once: All the Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Gone With The Wind, 20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair, God of Small Things, Pygmalion, The Zahir, The Alchemist, LOTR, Great Expectations, and so many more.
  2. A book you would take on a desert island: A deserted island or a desert island? Why desert island? Who am I asking these questions to? Anyway, should be something long. Maybe I’ll finally finish Anna Karenina or Ulysses. Or Les Miserables.
  3. A book that made you cry: The Book Thief, Eleanor & Park, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Rage of Angels, Lessons in Forgetting, Girl on the Train, Unaccustomed Earth (Hema and Kaushik).
  4. A book that scared you: I am currently reading The Shining. Apart from that, in school, I read an RL Stine called The Secret Bedroom. Remember being truly scared after reading it!
  5. A book that made you laugh out loud: How To Be A Woman, Bossypants, Hyperbole and a Half
  6. A book that disgusted you: Dolores Claiborne. I would like to revisit it someday. I think I was too young to read it when I did. I have also been pretty disgusted by some Shaun Hutsons and Chuck Palahniuks that I never finished.
  7. A book you loved in preschool: Hehehe, it was Sleeping Beauty that turned me into a reader. But I liked Cinderella more later on. Was also a big fan of Tintin and The Black Island.
  8. A book you loved in elementary school: Tom Sawyer. Some Enid Blytons too, especially the Famous Five series.
  9. A book you loved in middle school: Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, SVUs, Gone With The Wind
  10. A book you loved in high school: The Outsiders, If Tomorrow Comes, Tell Me Your Dreams.
  11. A book you hated in high school: Doomsday Conspiracy
  12. A book you loved in college: The period in which that I discovered Dan Brown and Paulo Coelho. I’m sure there were others. Can’t seem to remember
  13. A book that challenged your identity: Not challenged, but more like reinforced, How To Be A Woman and Bossypants. Also, The Namesake.
  14. A series that you love: Harry Potter (duh), The Dark Tower
  15. Your favorite horror book: All of Stephen King’s short stories (his full length works, not so much, as you would know if you’re a regular reader of this blog). Can I also say Silence of the Lambs? That’s not really “horror” horror, but it’s still one of my favourites.
  16. Your favorite science fiction book: Not a fan of this genre. No favourite books. There was a short story I once read called They’re Made of Meat, by Terry Bisson. If it can be classified as sci-fi, then I’d highly recommend it in this category.
  17. Your favorite fantasy book: Same as #14. Also, The Hunger Games.
  18. Your favorite mystery: The Millennium Trilogy, Girl on the Train, Sherlock Holmes, A Pocketful of Rye, Evil Under the Sun.
  19. Your favorite biography: Haven’t read any. Have been meaning to read Che’s biography for a long long time now.
  20. Your favorite classic: Gone With The Wind
  21. Your favorite romance book: Is #20 a romance? How about Great Expectations?
  22. Your favorite book not on this list: The Fountainhead, The Book Thief, A Thousand Splendid Suns. Oh, so many! Goodreads me, okay?
  23. Your favorite translated book: Like Water for Chocolate.
  24. What book are you currently reading: The Shining and An Equal Music. (The latter may soon be the answer to #21)
  25. What book have you been meaning to read: Love in the Time of Cholera. Oh, when will I read it!

Care to take this forward? Make a chain out of it!

Em and The Big Hoom, by Jerry Pinto

There’s so much in your head that you can’t bear any distractions, you want to pay attention, careful attention, otherwise everything is going to explode.

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I am not quiet about the books that I like. I talk about them. To whoever’s willing to listen. But I’m reviewing Em and The Big Hoom really late. Why? Because I was still trying to gather my thoughts around its beauty.

While I regularly shout out book recommendations from here, I sometimes share them on goodreads with selected people. On rare occasions, I write a personal note with my recommendation, because I want people to know that I’m not just clicking a button. I genuinely want to know what they thought about a particular book. I want them to know that they crossed my mind while I was reading this book – whatever the reason may be.

In the case of Em and The Big Hoom, I recommended it to only one friend. Not because I did not want others to read it. In fact, most others already had. I sent it to my friend because he is often hard pressed for time, and is therefore choosy about the books he invests his time in. I recommend to him only those that I believe he would enjoy, and those whom I want to discuss with him, during the few and far occasions that we meet or speak. At that moment, I wanted my recommendation to be exclusive, and thus Em and The Big Hoom went only to him. I decided to write a note. That is when it struck me.

I cannot describe in words how beautiful this piece of literature is. If I’m recommending it to others, I can’t help but turn into a bumbling idiot, unable to convince people that if you read one book this year, or this decade, let it be this one.

2016 has been a good year for me where books are concerned. Forget that my own depression has resurfaced, or that I have decided to stop updating my other blog. At least, I have good books to keep me company through this. I have discovered and read some great books this year. I’ve learned something from each; each had its own merits, and its own beauty. Out of all those wonderful books, Em stands out with its simplicity. It is a profound book, yet utterly unpretentious. It deals with truth. No glory, no gilded-frame of self-pity, but stark truth. The reality of living with a depressed parent. The lightheartedness of that parent narrating to the children the story of how she met their father. The fear of living with a parent always on the verge of suicide.

The book is so fabulously effortless to read. But as Pinto himself describes,

I have discovered since that such effortlessness is not easy to achieve and its weightlessness is in direct proportion to the effort put in.

Pinto’s prose isn’t the musical kind like Zusak’s or the slow, glide-into style of Lahiri’s or the heavy, engrave-this-into-your-memory style of Rushdie’s. It is a class apart. It stands its own, with its head held high (and rightfully so) in a scenario where simplicity is often confused with stupidity. There is no dumbing down for the reader here, much like Em never talked down to her children, however young they were. This here is a book that tells us a story directly to the reader, considering the reader as an equal who can understand the issues of this dysfunctional family, but one who does not offer false sympathy.

Em has no time for these falsehoods.

Goodreads | Amazon

This is a book I will read again. And again. And again.