Reviewed: “Killer Content” by Olivia Blacke

This book was such good fun!!! Yes, it included a murder but… watching Louisiana girl Odessa Dean try to fit in with the hipster crowd in Williamsburg, Brooklyn while trying to solve the murder of a co-worker/sorta friend was pure fun! Odessa is funny, witty, charming, and utterly self-effacing. She goofs and she’s not afraid to goof or admit that she goofed. She’s just herself, and that’s so much fun to see.

I suppose KILLER CONTENT could be classed as a cozy mystery, except Olivia Blacke has put a twist on the idea of ‘cozy’ and while it’s set in a bookshop, the bookshop doesn’t double as a coffee shop or a bakery as most cozy mysteries do. It doubles as a hipster cafe and hub for microbreweries. That makes everything a bit more edgy and modern, compared to the usual formula for cozy mysteries. The best subtle part of the comparison is that Odessa’s tiny hometown in Louisiana is probably exactly where a normal cozy mystery would be set.

A third thing that’s special and different about KILLER CONTENT is that Odessa is not looking for love and she does not find it. No falling for vegan, gluten-free hipster or sexy cops. Just Odessa being Odessa, and figuring out that it’s just fine to be Odessa. It’s so sweet when she gets excited that people like her for her, when she makes true friends when she felt so cut off.

This is book one in a series and I cannot wait for book two!

Thanks to NetGalley, Berkley, and the author for a chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

“Ten Days in a Mad-House” by Nellie Bly

I think I was in fifth grade when I first learned about Nellie Bly, thanks to an assignment to write a biography of someone from history. As I remember, I thought about Laura Ingalls Wilder but then I saw a book in the library about how Nellie Bly went around the world in 72 days, eight days less than Jules Verne thought it would take. Nellie became my hero then, and I’d already wanted to be a journalist so she was the perfect fit. I don’t know why it took me until now to read Ten Days in a Mad-House, but it did.
Ten Days in a Mad-House is Nellie Bly’s account of being asked by a New York newspaper to get herself committed to the insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island and report on the conditions there. Despite it being 1887, despite there being few female journalists, and despite the fact that she’d have to feign being insane and be committed to an asylum, Nellie said yes.

It’s a little startling how many similarities there still are between mental health treatment of 1887 and of 2018. Some things can be judged and diagnosed by science now but some things are still judged and diagnosed by opinion. It’s always important, if it’s a court case, to have a sympathetic and understanding judge and jury, if you suffer mental illness. In modern times, prison is too often used as a mental health facility and it seems in 1887 that there was little difference between asylums and prison, except that you sometimes got released from prison.

Taken at face value, Nellie Bly got committed to Blackwell’s Island to report on the conditions inside the asylum there. It’s all too obvious that she found the deeper question speaks to the actual treatment, if there was any other than simply controlling the so-called insane, of the people there. And so much of the asylum’s identity was tied to it’s being a ‘public institution’ and a place of charity, though this did work in the favor of reforms she helped bring about, that it’s easy to compare the moldy, spider-filled bread of 1887 to the bagged meals that ‘public institutions’ today serve. Food, clothing, shelter, medical treatment, and general welfare are still issues that need to be constantly revisited today.

One thing that particularly struck me was the emphasis on immigrants. She identified so many women as German, Irish, Hebrew, etc. that it makes me realize even that hasn’t changed much at all. That immigrants are still seen as outliers, as different to the point of being criminals, dangerous, or bears of illness and disease is more than a little heart-breaking.

The two final essays in the account are related to Nellie Bly’s undercover work as a servant in an upper class New York City home and as a ‘white slave girl’ making boxes in factories that offered horrible conditions. They were important in 1887, I’m sure, and are still, sadly, important things for people to thing about because slavery and terrible working conditions still exist around the world.

This book was obviously, given the changes it brought to the treatment and housing of the mentally ill in 1887 and after, important at the time. It is still important now. It is stark too, for the things that haven’t changed and the things that have only changed a little. It should still be required reading

Reviewed: “We Are Not Ourselves” by Matthew Thomas

We Are Not OurselvesWE ARE NOT OURSELVES by Matthew Thomas is a novel that starts off with a bang – the murder of a frog and a father abusing his son for it. Unfortunately, the bang fizzles quickly. The opening scene was something this reader wants to know more about – who the boy and the father are, for example. This reader is disappointed.

Thomas moves swiftly from the frog and the abuse to the small daughter of Irish immigrants to New York City. There is no little boy in sight.

Eileen Tumulty is interesting enough for a while.

Not for long, but for a while.

She grows from a wide-eyed girl ready to conquer the world to a jaded young woman in a very short span of time. Her father dotes on her and her mother mostly ignores her. There’s a boarder in their house who plays the clarinet and he’s interesting but he disappears almost as fast as the boy and the frog.

As girl children of immigrants, and girl children in general, are wont to do, Eileen marries a man she figures she must love. It’s a very odd sort of love, to be honest. Mostly, Eileen and Ed are ships passing in the night. The night being, of course, when Thomas makes the point again and again that marital relations are just fine in bed.

When they have a son after years of trying and failing, everything starts to crumble.

This seems due in part to Ed’s total disinterest in family and marriage and the constantly evolving racism that grows in Eileen. She is absolutely convinced that she is not racist but anyone who reads this book will see that she is. And she really could do something about it. But she doesn’t.

All this happened in a quarter of the book. I stopped reading when my Kindle told me I was at 25% and I realized I no longer particularly cared what happened to these people.

I’m still a little curious about the boy who murdered the frog, but I’m not that curious.

The blurb that attracted me to this book on NetGalley mentioned the words masterwork, powerfully moving, epic in scope, heroic in character…

I didn’t get those things. I’m sure someone else will.

(I received a copy of WE ARE NOT OURSELVES via NetGalley in return for an honest review. My thoughts are my own. This review will be cross-posted on NetGalley, Goodreads, and my blog.)