ARC Review: Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

Inside the O'BriensInside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lisa Genova is an excellent writer and if I did not read Still Alice, I would not have known how much style she was able to incorporate into each word. Whereas Still Alice was clean-cut, highly intelligent and talks about a smart upper middle-class family, the O’Briens are old-gen Irish working/middle class. They’re not educated and it just cuts deeper when they are hit heavily by Huntington’s Disease. They’re not as aware of the consequences since they learn about it so late so relations do not go smoothly and many are unable to cope with the fear.

The O’Briens hit rough patches occasionally but this new one that hits Joe, the father, is a make-it-or-break-it kind. It’s something that’s irreparable and I loved watching the intricate emotions that bind each of the family members to each other. Joe has two daughters, Katie and Megan and two sons, JJ and Patrick. They all have a 50/50 chance of getting Huntington’s. It’s truly sad to see how knowing or not knowing if they have it can wreck havoc on their minds and affect their careers. In case you didn’t know, Huntington’s messes with coordination, causes involuntary movements, and slowly causes the victim to lose control of the body over the course of a decade or more. This means the person will be eventually be rendered speechless and helpless to do anything.

It took me a while to realize that Katie was the second protagonist and her life was center focus aside from Joe’s. She needed to make decisions that for her, seemed insurmountably hard to choose between. Once the narrators switched, I felt aggravated by Katie and her indecisiveness which is a major trait that has defined her whole life. I understood the reasons and why Katie is the way she is but it’s just difficult for a reader to sympathize with someone so unlikable. However, the writing was top-notch and the story compelling. The message is clear: this disease causes stages of grief and can break a family down unless they stay resilient and support each other. There were so many great things about the book and it ultimately succeeded in making me care without manipulating my feelings.

Joe is very unique and the style of writing greatly conveys what kind of man he is. He’s caring and deeply loves his wife and children so it’s all the more devastating when he lashes out irrationally (because of the disease) at everyone. It’s a stark portrayal of ‘Life After’ which is can never be the same again. However, I loved that some changes became positive because this family decided to bond and become stronger than they’ve ever been. They took control of their lives and decided to take healthy risks to do what they’ve always wanted to do. Katie stops being an indecisive dumbass and does something good for once. Patrick is still a mess but at least he’s communicating with his family. JJ is finally going to start his family. And Megan is just a strong character that becomes stronger and lives by the motto YOLO.

Of course, I did not miss how detailed and well-informed the author was when she started describing the Boston Red Sox games and also went through Joe’s police officer day regime and routine. She manages to integrate these details and make them essential in the storytelling and normalize it as a part of the O’Brien’s everyday life. I loved that the conflict was different for each character despite the fact that they were linked together. The disease was not overblown and used to manipulate our emotions. Things still happen outside of that spectrum and in short, life goes on whether or not you want it to.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of Inside the O’Briens in exchange for an honest review.

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Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore: Review

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3)Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bitterblue is the third book in the Graceling Realm and focuses on the eponymous heroine who had to rule a kingdom that was crippled by her sadistic father. I read this book last year and I want to talk more about it because it has made a lasting impact on how I perceived the fantasy genre.

Where to start…this is a book that deals with the heavy ramifications of mind rape and the resulting extended manipulation that continuously traumatizes the victims. Although this is a fantasy book about wild creatures, a kingdom, queen, and politics, it is much more than an fairy tale. The people handle serious issues and suffer from mental instability after the culprit of these disorders is long dead. The people’s state of minds and lives are the inner conflicts of the story. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made me click with the characters. I connected with the starkness, pain, mind-boggling mystery, and torture centralized in each character. At the root of the whole book are the unanswered questions that can be uncovered in the people’s minds and past. The answers are steeped in the suffering people themselves, the ones remember and know it all but are trying to forget and frantically bury.

Bitterblue has gaps in her memory but her advisers, soldiers, clerks, castle people all on the other hand, seem to retain the most grisly of theirs. Everyone is filled with secrets and unwilling to tell because they’re afraid to bring up the pain of the past. The chaos all stems from Leck and ends with Leck. The author did not have to fill the pages with gore or gritty details in order to convey to readers the extent of damage Leck wreaked. Over the course of 35 years, one man has single-handedly managed to destroy the fragile psychological minds of his citizens. Even the young ones like Hava, Teddy, and Bitterblue especially do not escape. Bitterblue must sever his legacy but at the least same time reveal the truths during his reign in order to lay to rest the ghosts of her childhood and people.

The book differs from the typical fantasy novel because it’s not an action-driven plot filled with assassinations, political intrigue, and war. Although all these fantastical elements are present in the novel, the foremost priority is the mystery and exploring the full extent of Leck’s reach and damage which still causes people to do crazy things years after his death. There are so many questions that Bitterblue brings up, countless others that people are unwillingly to ask. What is the purpose of Leck’s experiments. Where are his experiments? Who are his experiments? Why? How? The whole concept of his torture and fascination with animals and people alike is sickening, yet engrossing as I dive further into the book and learn more about it. The truth, when it is finally unveiled, is simply horrifying and just traumatizing; however, it galvanizes the road to healing. Ever since she became queen, Bitterblue discover most of her people only eager to forget and burn the history. Not everything is well in the end and in life, nothing is. But there’s so much hope and happiness that might appear in the future. I want a fourth book! A few things are still unsolved and I wish I could see Bitterblue fully mature into a greater confident woman.


Side Note/Commentary:

The fantasy genre is such a hard category to break into specifically because it’s already brimming with so much talent and also landmines. The obvious danger of writing fantasy is that the world-building needs to be built on a solid foundation that can support the story. A half-baked world makes for a half-assed story so I felt splendid returning to Cashore’s rich, vibrant kingdoms. There’s also bonus pictures in the back of the book that illustrates the multiple bridges the king forced the architect to build during his reign. And, of course, we have a map imprinted to give us the idea of where Bitterblue’s kingdom is situated and its relations with the neighbors.

Winged Bridge

There’s something so daring and empowering about having a strong female character that does not need a lover by her side or feel any need to marry anytime soon. Women were not commodity and no one questioned Bitterblue’s authority due to her gender. Her age (16) was brought into discussion and since she’s so young, a lot of characters tried to protect her by keeping her in ignorance. A lot of turmoil she feels is her struggle to come to terms with the fact that her mother was tortured extensively along with her servants. She reads Leck’s diary to find out where all the dead people were buried. The end is really bittersweet but the whole plot was driven by Bitterblue’s actions so kudos to female ACTION and PoWeR!

I was somewhat disappointed to know that Bitterblue was not really a sequel for Graceling (the first book) because the main characters were no longer Katsa and Po although they do appear sporadically throughout this book. But then, I’ve come to realize that Kat doesn’t need a continuation and maybe it’s better off to leave it as it is instead of dabbling in her affairs and missions. The author knows when to quit or specifically, knows to not stretch out content thinly just to cover more pages. *cough cough* Mockingjay parts 1 and 2 movie?! Twilight SAGA*cough choke* Less can be better and that’s why I’m satisfied. The story may be open-ended and it’s been a couple years since Cashore’s last book and sure, I don’t mind a sequel but the Graceling Realm functions just fine.

This trilogy introduced me to an intriguing side of fantasy, one that wasn’t a rip-off of Harry Potter and it taught me that there was more to offer. The imagination was not exhausted and fantasy was not all the same with battles of steel and blood. I found out that I liked books with medieval touches, monarchy, and castles…a lot. Although Paolini’s The Inheritance Saga (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, read them all except for that damn final book I got rotting away at home) was good, the countless battle scenes started blending together and the plot whittled farther from me. I became so enchanted that nowadays, I think about buying a ticket to go to Medieval Times LOL. Anyways, most of the books I read nowadays is fantasy and I happened to neglect my science fiction TBR pile because I just can’t seem to move away from fantasy!!

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