Review: On Edge

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**5++ Goodreads Stars**

Anxiety is a thief that steals the present moment.” (183)

Anxiety is an isolation chambers where worry and fear elbow out human connection.” (188)

I wavered on requesting Andrea Petersen’s On Edge precisely because I, too, suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, and it can be a bit nerve-wracking to read about the tyranny of it on the human psyche and body. Thanks to GAD, reading any scary research studies about GAD’s toll on my health and my children’s well-being can be anxiety-provoking, making me worry endlessly about what is likely not going to happen to any of us. Petersen describes this reaction perfectly:

Anxious people aren’t just constantly on guard; they actually see more peril in the world. If a situation is ambiguous, they are more likely to perceive it as a negative or threatening. That’s why when I have a headache, I think of brain tumors.” (31)

Besides being constantly ready for crisis, anxious people have a hard time with uncertainty. What if? What if? What if? is the endless refrain of the anxious mind. Uncertainty far too easily morphs into inescapable catastrophe. Scientists call this ‘intolerance of uncertainty,” and it actually makes parts of the brain light up on a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan.” (31)

I also was a bit concerned that the book would be very similar to Scott Stossel’s My Age of Anxiety, which I read last year. It is a tome of research and personal reflections on generalized anxiety disorder.

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However, I am really glad I did request it, because it is a frank, well researched study on how anxiety has pervaded Petersen’s life and family’s life. While there are some minor overlaps with Stossel’s book, Petersen’s experience and family history provides a unique perspective on generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

She bounds the book in an interesting way; each chapter delves into a different aspect of her life or moment in time punctuated by Petersen’s anxiety and panic disorder. Each chapter is peppered with relevant, associated research on the chapter’s topic. For example, Petersen has a chapter on the effect of anxiety on pregnancy and parenting. I found this chapter useful as a parent, and found the case studies on what happens to children of anxious parents fascinating. Another chapter deals with her grandmother’s mental health (likely related to anxiety), and how, left-untreated, she suffered immensely (as did her family, unfortunately).

I saw so much of myself in my book. Knowing that I am not alone, and knowing that many of the strategies I’ve used to quell my anxiety are grounded in fact and scientific findings was reassuring and comforting. I learned a lot about the genetic components of GAD, and the potentially interrelated illnesses. For instance, I suffer from asthma, and apparently there is a link “between respiratory illnesses and anxiety” (46); as she details, “a study of nearly one thousand young people by researchers from UCLA and New Zealand revealed that a history of asthma increases the risk of panic disorder in young women” (46). Insomnia increases one’s chances of developing anxiety, or and plays a role in increasing the chances of a GAD episode for those who already suffer from GAD. I discovered that children of mothers who were stressed or had difficult labors/pregnancies are more likely to have anxiety. I learned that there are genetic connections between ADD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder, which is often why different variations of mental illness occur in multiple generations.

I also felt hopeful knowing that many people find release from their anxiety after they turn fifty (Petersen 2017:246), that there are new cognitive behavioral therapies that are helping children who are genetically predisposed to anxiety, and that there are some benefits to having anxiety (though most sufferers would not choose to have it!).

Finally, Petersen is a brilliant writer. There is some lovely prose in the book, which makes for an enjoyable read on a difficult, but important subject matter. Even if you don’t suffer from anxiety, I recommend reading the book to help you understand and empathize with those who do.

 

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Review: Artemis

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**3 Goodreads Stars**

I really, really, REALLY wanted to love this book because the premise sounded enticing and I enjoyed the movie version of Andy Weir’s prior book, The Martian. Unfortunately for Artemis, I just finished reading a 5 chapter excerpt of Annalee Newitz’s sci-fi thriller Autonomous, which I could not put down. Artemis paled in comparison to Autonomous. 

Let’s start with the good, which is what earned this book 3 stars. The plot was what kept me going, though a major spoiler happened fairly early in the book (which could have been drawn out much longer in my humble opinion). The book was action-packed and fast-paced. While I am not into the nitty-gritty details of how things work, the author also paid close attention to the minutiae of all the tech and gadgets in the book. Weir has built a somehwat convincing environment and world, one that I could easily imagine on the screen.

The plot involves Jazz, a lower class employee working as a freight porter on a colony on the moon (known as “Artemis”). The moon has become habitable (though questionably so for those who have little money), and has become a popular place for wealthy tourists from Earth. Jazz aspires to become one of the elite, to enjoy the pleasures reserved for the moon’s über wealthy residents, by smuggling freight deemed illegal by moon colony standards. Jazz compromises what little ethics she has by accepting an offer to engage in corporate espionage, which, if successful, will guarantee her a life of wealth and leisure.

Now to the bad. Like ArtemisAutonomous features an enterprising young female lead in a futuristic world where corporations own nations (or in the case of Artemis, the moon) and people often engage in questionable behavior simply in order to survive. Both leads are also smart, science-oriented females who use their wits to outfox society’s oppressive rules and their corporate overlords. Artemis, however, fails where Autonomous succeeds; Autonomous creates a believable character who goes by female pronouns and the name Jack, whereas Artemis trivialized the experience of rough and tough welder/smuggler named Jazz who goes by female pronouns. You can’t simply write in a female smuggler/welder to be considered a progressive author; you need to understand her motivations (beyond sexuality/sex and $$, because believe it or not women are more interesting than that: for the latter issue, see below), her struggles, and her life.

As another reviewer (https://www.goodreads.com/BookswithEmilyFox) put it, the female lead (Jazz) was sexualized to the point it felt as though the author could not possibly imagine what goes on in the mind of a savvy woman. There were numerous moments where the character mentioned how sexy she was out of the blue; in one case, Jazz discussed the possibility of a wet t-shirt contest after being splashed with a little water in what was a completely non-sexual scene. One of the scientists with whom Jazz was working also constantly asked her about her sexual behavior after devising a reusable condom that he asked her to test out (really??!). Perhaps if it was just a few isolated comments I wouldn’t care, but seemingly scientific and tense scenes were constantly interrupted by awkward sexual comments and scenarios that were really out of place (and obnoxious, and, more importantly, out of character for Jazz).

Though this is not explored in depth, Jazz and her father are from Saudi Arabia, and Jazz’s father is a practicing Muslim. I felt like this was sort of an afterthought rather than something truly explored. I’d be curious to see how this element of Jazz’s identity is examined if this book is turned into a film.

Finally, there were a few instances where I was left shaking my head at the language used. The author (in the voice of Jazz) used the words “whorish” and “ghetto” in different scenes. Just like the sex comments, these phrases seemed really out of character for Jazz, a young woman who is both poor and objectified by the men surrounding her.

New Book: On Edge

I am really excited to start reading Andrea Petersen’s On Edge soon. I received it in the mail this morning, and the cover is lovely. I read Scott Stossel’s My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind last year, which was a vividly written and richly researched book on general anxiety disorder and how it has been perceived over time. I am looking forward to comparing the two. 

New Series: What My Kids Are Reading

You are probably not surprised to learn that both of my children are also big on reading. I have a son who just turned 6, and a daughter who will turn 8 this week. Both of them asked for lots of books for their birthdays. We have a ritual of family reading time each night, and try to reserve about one hour for it each evening.

How do we support our family book habit? We are super users of our local public libraries, which helps reduce our book costs. Family members also chip in and buy books for holiday. I also love Scholastic’s book program in my children’s schools, which help support classroom book purchases.

Since we are avid readers, I wanted to start featuring some of their favorite books for readers with kiddos.

My Almost 8 Year Old Daughter is really interested in Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody series this summer. She is also loving McDonald’s Stink series since Stink is Judy Moody’s brother. My daughter says she likes Judy Moody because she always gets in trouble due to her little brother, which my daughter can relate to as a big sister to her 23 months younger brother!

My Just Turned 6 Year Old Son has been obsessed with Captain Underpants for about a year. The movie came out this summer, which we have already seen twice. He also recently received a Kindle for kids (as did his sister) after a cross-country move, and was able to download a number of favorites using Amazon FreeTime Unlimited. This was the first time our children were able to use tablets/Kindles, but we felt comfortable knowing the content is restricted and our kids were intentionally seeking out books on them.

We are looking forward to sharing our favorites as a family with this series!

Review: Best Day Ever

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**3 Goodreads Stars**

Let me preface this review with a caveat about my reading preferences. I am not a huge fan of fiction written in first person. It’s taken me awhile to figure this out, and I think it took this book to solidify my feelings about it. My dislike of first person is probably why I didn’t enjoy this book as much as others.

Also, I should warn readers that if domestic violence triggers you, you should not read this book.

From the first few pages of Best Day Ever, I could tell that the narrator, Paul, was a dangerous person, and was plotting to do something horrible to his wife, Mia, over the course of the “best day ever” he was planning. The book is narrated by Paul, which provides the reader a glimpse into the mind and rationale of a psychopath. It took me a couple tries to get into the book because Paul is so intense and terrifying. I found myself reading to find out what happens to Paul’s wife and children.

I won’t give away the plot, but thankfully someone turns the tables on Paul. I did find myself wondering how someone might do so given Paul’s attention to every single detail of his life and the lives of the people around him. Perhaps psychopaths who have to fake their emotions act this way, constantly observing how other people act and behave so that they can mimic that behavior and “pass” as normal. His mind and thoughts were constantly in motion, and it was pretty exhausting to read that process.

Others really loved this book, so if you are into thrillers and suspense this might be for you.

Thank you to the author, Kaira Rouda, the publisher, Harlequin, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review Best Day Ever.

Review: Watch Me Disappear

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**5 Solid Goodreads Stars**

Maybe this is why they say love is blind: Who you want people to be makes you blind to who they really are.

…perhaps we truly had the ability to write our own life stories, to change the endings if we wanted to.

I received Janelle Brown’s Watch Me Disappear as a Kindle advanced reader copy via NetGalley and courtesy of Random House (thank you so very much!). Random House (thank you, Jess Bonet!) sent me some fantastic ecards below to go along with the review, which really capture the aura and feeling of the book.

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Watch Me Disappear opens with a picture perfect family living in a wealthy suburb of Berkeley, California. There’s Billie, the “perfect” mom who makes Pinterest worthy organic snacks and meals; there’s Jonathan, the adoring husband, doting father, and hard-working tech writer; and finally there’s Olive, the out-to-save-the-entire planet loving daughter who attends an elite all-girls prep school. To an outsider, they seem like the perfect family with perfect lives and a perfect house in one of the nation’s most expensive communities.

Billie, an adventurous soul by nature, sets out on our own for a weekend hike in the mountains. An experienced hiker and wilderness expert, her husband and daughter don’t think twice about Billie’s plan. Plus, things have been a bit strained at home; Olive has been seeking privacy and venturing out in the world on her own as a teenager, much to the dismay of Billie. Jonathan has been buried under his work, something he relishes in as the caretaker and primary breadwinner of the family. Billie feels as though her roles as a mother and wife are diminishing, so this trip is her way of forging an identity that isn’t simply defined by her relationship to the family unit.

When Billie fails to come back home after her hiking trip and is declared a missing person, Olive and Jonathan are left with nothing but endless pain and uncertainty. All signs point towards a violent ending: Billie’s hiking boot found in the stream; Billie’s shattered cell phone in a ravine; the family Subaru abandoned at the trailhead. How can Olive and Jonathan move on with no body, no finality?

Both father and daughter refuse to move on. Their quest to find answers about Billie’s disappearance only results in more unanswered questions. We come to find that Billie had several lifetimes worth of skeletons in her closet, including past and recent affairs, mysterious, unexplained trips in and out of California, numerous aliases, and even former crimes. As Jonathan and Olive dig through the detritus of Billie’s life, they struggle to reconcile the beautiful, caring mom and wife they knew with the freewheeling Billie of the past. As Brown so beautifully describes, “Billie’s identity keeps shimmering and changing…like a fish slipping through the sea.” Is the Billie they knew still alive? Was she running from someone or something? Did nature swallow her whole in an accident? Or, worse, did Billie decide to abandon her family given her insatiable cravings for adventure and independence, both of which were denied to her while growing up in a strict, abusive pastor’s home?

This book has some fabulous twists and turns, and unlike many thrillers, has an incredibly satisfying ending that did not leave any loose ends. That said, I would absolutely pick up a sequel to this book in a heartbeat!

Thank you again to Janelle Brown, Random House, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book!

For those of you interested in purchasing the book (or checking it out at your local public library), check out the book trailer.

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Review: Autonomous

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**A Tentative 5++ Goodreads Stars**

I was so thrilled to receive what I initially thought was an entire advanced reader copy of Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous, and as I started flying through it at lightning speed I quickly realized it was actually 5 chapters of the book (an excerpt). Thus, I won’t give a full review of the book until I’ve actually read the entire thing, but the 5 chapters I was given comprised of a book I would purchase in a heartbeat. Now I am eagerly (read: counting down the days until this book is published!!) awaiting the release of Autonomous because I could not put it down.

If Star Wars has been written by someone who cared about a society where intelligence mattered more than what’s between one’s legs, Autonomous is what it would look like. It is a fast-paced adventure that channels the best of sci-fi while coming up with an entirely new world, one is believable, smart, and imaginative.

The book’s author is editor in chief of i09, so she knows science and is able to incorporate her knowledge into the book without bogging the reader down with its intricacies. Better yet, Newitz is a brilliant storyteller, which is what makes the science come alive. You care about both the humans in the story (who make questionable choices in the name of both radicalism and profiteering) as well as the bots who are pursuing Jack, the lead character, who may have inadvertently created a dangerous, addictive drug destroying human society.

I’ll provide a full review once I get through the entire book, but you can bet that I will be done with it the day it is released!

Review: Dark Matter

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**5 Goodreads Stars**

I was late to the party with this book, as it was published last year with much acclaim. Given the book’s hype, I had high expectations of Dark Matter. I love sci-fi, but I don’t consider myself an experienced reader of the genre. I’ve read many of the classics, but again, it isn’t the first genre I read after a long day at work.

Dark Matter was a really adventurous read, one that made me connect to the main character, Jason. The book opens with Jason enjoying his life as a physics professor at a lower-tier teaching university and family man as a father to his son, Charlie, and husband to his adoring wife, Daniela. Daniela and Jason have both settled into their family-oriented lives, and in the process have given up many of their professional ambitions. They are a happy family unit, however, and neither Daniela nor Jason could imagine abandoning what they have for their careers.

Many of us have often wondered what life would look like if we had chosen a different path, whether that means pursuing a different profession, rekindling a relationship, or putting more energy towards one’s profession. Dark Matter explores this concept in depth. Are we the same person if we take a different path in life? Is who we are as a person and individual defined by a series of choices we make, or are our personalities and range of choices predetermined at birth?

This is one of those books that could really work well on a screen. It draws upon many familiar sci-fi tropes while still managing to carve out an entirely unique plot and set of characters. Definitely one of my favorite reads of 2017!

Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

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**4 Goodreads Stars**

“She had what I craved: that all-encompassing self-possession. Even standing in her shadow I’d felt stronger. But not anymore.”

When I really, really love an author, I try to read their entire repertoire of books. I first picked up Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 earlier this summer, and then followed with her new book, The Lying Game, courtesy of Ruth Ware, NetGalley, and the publisher. Her writing is superb, her plot keeps me on the edge of my seat, and her characters are multi-layered and nuanced.

In a Dark, Dark Wood did not disappoint. I was a little worried when I read negative reviews of it, but once again Ware’s writing and characters grabbed me. The main character is Nora, a crime fiction writer who lives alone in London. Her quiet, structured life as a writer and avid runner is upended when she receives an email invitation to attend a childhood friend’s bachelorette party (or “hen” party).

She feels uncomfortable accepting the invitation as she hasn’t spoken to this friend, Clare, for 10 years. She notices that another friend from her youth, Nina, was on the invite, and asks that friend if she plans on attending. The two agree to attend the party together, though they both question Clare’s motivations for inviting them after failing to keep in touch for so long. The invitation notes that the party will be held over the course of a weekend at Clare’s friend’s house in a remote, woodsy location.

When Nora arrives at the house, she immediately feels uneasy. Something is wrong with the setting, and the house amplifies Nora’s discomfort. Ware provides numerous haunting descriptions of the house and its surroundings, making the reader feel like something terrible is going to take place at any moment. Here is a couple of those richly detailed passages:

“Perhaps then it was a house for looking out of, across the forest. But now, in the dark, it felt like the opposite. It felt like a glass display case, full of curiosities to be peered at. Or a cage in a zoo.”

“When I opened my eyes, the light blazing from the house onto the snow hurt my retinas. It was so brash, so wasteful – like a golden lighthouse, beaming its presence into the darkness. Only a lighthouse was to tell ships to keep away. This place was more like a beacon, like a lantern drawing in the moths.”

The odd mix of friends invited to the party also raises a red flag for Nora. Why did Clare summon Nora here after 10 years of not talking? Who are these “friends” of Clare’s who seem so different from one another? Is Clare the person that Nora recalls from her school days?

The book’s crescendo involves a murder, and Nora becomes one of the suspects. To solve the murder and be found innocent, Nora must reconsider her past and every single thing she thought she knew about Clare and Nina.

If you like Ware’s newest book, The Lying Game, you will like In a Dark, Dark Wood. Both books feature smart female leads who must refract events taking place in the present tense through the lens of their youth. Both characters come out stronger and more secure in who they are as individuals as a result of such reflections.