Book Review: “West is San Francisco” by Lauren Sapala

Hello everyone!

It’s been a while since I posted, but I hope some of you are still with me. I’ve been busy working on my new endeavor as a writing coach, and it has kept me (happily) on my toes. However, when I saw that Lauren Sapala’s new book came out at the end of January, I knew I was going to be posting a review. If you enjoy this review and want to buy this book and the one that preceded it (I recommend reading that one before this one), here are the links: “Between the Shadow and Lo” (Book 1)“West is San Francisco” (Book 2)

**Warning! Possible spoilers (though I’ll try to avoid them)!**

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For those of you who are fans of the increasingly popular genre of transgressive fiction, Lauren’s memoir/fiction books are a must read. Her first book, Between the Shadow and Lo, was my first dip into the waters of transgressive fiction and had me hooked from the brutally raw start. (Click here or go to my archives to read my full review, and PLEASE read the review before purchasing. It is not a book everyone can handle.) That first book followed the main character, Leah, through her escapist descent into the depths of alcoholism and self-loathing. Through the collection and loss of family, friends, and lovers, Leah struggled to find her place in the world. Hopelessness finally loosened it’s grip and left us clinging tentatively to the hope of her redemption and escape…to San Francisco.

Book two of Lauren’s planned trilogy, West is San Francisco, begins pretty much where we left off. Leah has just arrived in the city that whispered her name, but falls into a familiar lifestyle when finding her place in the world proves easier said than done. The fog that is so pervasive at the beginning of the novel mirrors the nebulous state of Leah’s soul and it seems she will be consumed by the reaper’s shadow, which first tethered itself to her in Seattle. Finally, she hits true rock bottom.

“Then I died. In all that night with no stars, through the fog and all that lost time, between dimensions–somewhere in there–I died.”

“And then I woke up.”

Leah’s awakening from her death by alcoholism is a laborious rebirth. Once her soul’s fire burns her to cinders and her new self is born, she can’t just spring up out of the phoenix’s nest and fly away. She has to peel off the hardened crust of her past to expose new skin. This is facilitated by the captivating leader of an unexpected group, which gives Leah the time, space, and encouragement to examine her emotional baggage. Painful as it is, sifting through and unpacking her boxes of memories, her journey leads her to the innermost kernel of truth at the core of her being. Leah is a writer.

To say more than that about the story would be to ruin the surprise. I do have more to say about the writing itself, though.

The shining glory of this novel has to be Lauren’s descriptions. Her prose in the first book was gritty and beautifully brutal, but her words in West is San Francisco transcend into something smooth and rich while retaining their truth. Like, the difference between Hershey’s chocolate and true Belgian or Swiss. Here is a small sampling of the assortment:

“But the silky thinness of the fluid on my skin entranced and trapped me. The smell was so sweet, so chemical and strange, as powdery soft as evil. I knew I was playing with fire, but I wanted to lick it off anyway.”

“…delight cinched tight onto her suffering…”

“I tugged out the first piece of memory–something long and sharp that looked like it could be deadly, if wielded the right way.”

“At the deepest level, at our most secret core, we were the same as each other, and different from almost everyone else.”

And my personal favorite:

“It seemed my alcoholism was merely a symptom. It was a characteristic of a more pervasive illness from which I suffered: the sickness of being not-like-other-people. I couldn’t stop feeling. I couldn’t hold the world back. It crashed into my soul every second of every day, with full intensity and without any mercy. I felt too much, and I knew more about other people than I wanted to know.”

So, if you’re the kind of person who prefers an honest, naked look at human nature, who watches and listens for bits of people’s souls as they come and go in the coffee shop, who pushes past small talk and into the gravel of people’s pasts–this novel (and the one before it) are for you. Even though I’m more certain of Leah’s trajectory into happiness than I was at the end of the first novel, I’ll still be waiting eagerly for the third book in the trilogy.

 

“Scarlet Monroe, was that even your real name?”

 

 

Book Review: Between the Shadow and Lo

This is my review of the book Between the Shadow and Lo, by Lauren Sapala. It is available here, but please read the review before purchasing.

I’m not going to lie, this was a hard book to read, and it will not be for everybody. Don’t get me wrong, the writing and structure are well done, and the language easy to follow, but this book deals with some serious issues, including alcoholism, sex, and drugs, among other things. Not to mention the sheer rawness of emotion bleeding out of the pages, which was hard to take at times. If you can’t handle the ugly, human side of life, please walk away, now, and preserve your happy thoughts.

This book is nothing if not boldly honest, and if you open your mind to truly experience this character, the depth of her pain and anguish will seep into your bones and not let go until the very fragile, hopeful ending. The honesty, in my opinion, is worth the read.

In this book, you follow along inside the head of a young woman named Leah. From the very start, it’s apparent that she has a problem. At first, it seems as though her problem revolves around a breakup, which causes her drinking to rapidly increase over time. As her alcohol addiction takes hold, Leah’s own self-loathing reveals itself as the true problem, steadily pulling her under until all she can think about is escaping herself. For self-preservation, Leah’s mind creates Lo, an alter-ego that is willing to take over while Leah hides behind the veil of (un)consciousness. After witnessing many of her friends and acquaintances fall victim to their own addictions, Leah can’t help feeling alone and starved for meaning in her life. Is this really all there is? After all, she has—quite literally—lost everyone and everything in her life. Finally, hope comes to her in two parts. One, colored on cardstock, making her feel again for the first time in years. The other, a kindred spirit to let her know she isn’t alone anymore.

This description could never do the book justice. Lauren Sapala’s vivid words are above and beyond some of the best I’ve ever read, and even though I have never been an addict, I was able to understand it in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible.

If you want to get the full effect of this book, you have to be willing to feel the hate, depression, and distortion this character is going through. You have to take it for what it is, and accept Leah for who she is at the lowest period of her life.

There is no light reading here. You are all in, or all out. Red pill or blue?

Book Review: Echo Volume 1

As you can see from the title, these are my thoughts on Echo Volume 1: Approaching Shatter.

I picked up this book on a sale for Kindle, and intended to get it read and reviewed back in June. Unfortunately, personal life things got in the way, and I finally got the chance to finish it last week. I have to say, despite some of its pitfalls, I’m glad I did.

The book is written from the perspective of the MC, Atriya, who is part of a special division of the dystopian world’s military. Atriya has been the dutiful soldier, always striving for better, faster, and stronger. However, he has recently begun to doubt himself, and has to constantly fight off feelings and ideas that contradict the simple life he always thought he wanted.

Echo holds a mirror up to our society and its tendencies to “…[praise] the virtues of self-reliance…all the while condemning the sin of dependence.”

Because of the world he lives in, Atriya’s feelings are the kind that could get him punished or killed, so he does his best to keep them to himself. But, as is unavoidable with bottled up emotions, they begin to leak out, getting him in trouble. When we leave Atriya, he has just been briefed for deployment on a mission where his superiors are planning something sinister, and his life will be at stake.

It was obvious to me, through the different descriptions of equipment and operations, that the author must have spent time as a soldier. When I looked up Kent Wayne’s bio, that was confirmed. Although Mr. Wayne doesn’t want people to focus on this fact, it is precisely because of his experience that this book brings a level of understanding and intricacy it couldn’t have otherwise.

Now, if you’ve read it or read over the reviews, you’ll know that it has a rather abrupt ending, without any of the fascinating plot points being fully matured or explored. Nothing is resolved, and it honestly feels like it was just getting started when it ends. Normally, a novel has a clear arc, with beginning, middle, and end, even if it has an overarching bigger goal that the author intends to flesh out in subsequent novels. This doesn’t, but I liked the fledgling concepts enough for that not to deter me from reading. Keep in mind: I did not read the preview of book two, because I want to actually read book two, and I wanted to review this on its own merits.

There were a couple of things that seemed to indicate either that the first book was an experiment, put out to test the waters, or it was the author’s debut novel.

First, the novel setup and length. The way it’s set up, I feel there are a lot more installments coming. I don’t mind it too much, but think it would make an AWESOME comic book or graphic novel.

Second, there is moderate repetition in some of Atriya’s sentiments. It wasn’t bad writing, by any means, but it made me feel like the author really wanted to get across an important point, but either didn’t trust the writing to convey it strongly enough, or didn’t think the reader would grasp the gravity of the situation. This is something that has probably already changed in this author’s other books, as they have obtained more experience and hopefully trusts the writing and the readers more.

There were a TON of things that I loved about this book, especially when the prose flows and you can tell the author was really in the zone.

The section of the military the MC is a part of, as well as the equipment and mechanical upgrades the soldiers have as part of their bodies, reminded me fondly of reading “Halo: The Fall of Reach.”

 In fact, I was looking forward to a fight scene to see these soldiers in action, but I’ll have to wait until I read the second book.

Kent Wayne is fantastic at process writing, especially when describing weapons or other gear. The “Executor” pistol was one of my favorites, with thin rectangles of metal that get charged with energy in order to form a bullet. Or, the description of how the drug called “Afterlife” was created as an anti-cancer medicine, but came to be used for “more indulgent purposes” of the elites.

It was fascinating to be in Atriya’s mind as he struggles with depression and numbness borne of disillusionment. At this point, he may be feeling the call to something better, but is still resisting it, as many heroes do.

Random comment: With as many military ranks, types of equipment, slang, and complex world elements as this book has, I would have loved an index of some kind to refer to. There were a lot of things introduced in a very short book, and it would have been helpful.

In conclusion, this novel has its problems, but none that should stop you from buying it. I will absolutely be continuing the series, and I’m excited to see how the author has progressed. Also, I really hope this series is turned into a comic, graphic novel, or other visual media, because I’d love to see what an artist would do with it. A video game with a similar formula to Black Ops or even Gears of War would be even better.

You can buy Kent Wayne’s book, Echo Volume One, here! Where it is (as of the date I’m writing this) FREE for Kindle! Plus, you can buy volumes 2 & 3 for just 0.99 cents!

Ok, once again, I’m not sure if this is put together in a sensible format, but hopefully, it’s good enough.

Book Review: “Blessed Are the Weird”

This, my dear friends, is my book review of Blessed Are the Weird by Jacob Nordby.

In quotes alone (all from Mr. Nordby’s wonderful book), this post is going to be a long one. You’re welcome to keep reading, but if you identify as strange, out of place, creative, INFJ, INFP, HSP, or any of the other types I commonly talk about on this blog, just go buy it here. I was lucky enough to get it while on a sale for kindle, but I fully intend to buy the hardback when I have a physical library. It will go right next to Lauren Sapala’s books. In fact, this book was one of her recommendations to me, and I’m grateful to her for that.

So, here we go!

In his book, Blessed Are the Weird, Mr. Nordby explores the experiences and virtues of all kinds of Weird People. He talks about poets, misfits, writers, mystics, heretics, painters, and troubadours, but his words encompass any and all people who see the world differently.

Now, more than ever, I feel I am on the right path. It’s simultaneously the most difficult and easiest path I’ve ever taken, but every step seems to bring me more of the answers I’ve sought my whole life. Since finishing my novel and starting this social media journey, I have crossed paths with the most amazing people, been introduced to works of writing I never could have dreamed existed, and realized something life-changing: I am not alone in my weirdness.

“Where it all begins, I cannot say, this sense of being a stranger in a world full of people who seem to belong in it. All I know is that some of us are not like the others–something in us doesn’t fit. Most of us start to know this in early childhood when we run to our mother or father or a friend with some idea–some way of expressing what we feel–and watch them pull away. Their faces close like shutters, leaving us lonely and afraid that we have done something wrong. We learn to hide and lie about our true selves because what felt like our treasure turned out to be dangerous or of little value. These moments are scattered through our childhood, each stealing a piece of our innocence, leaving in its place a wounded patch of flesh now covered in armor. We learn to protect ourselves, to act normal and turn down our light.”

When I read this passage, as with many others in this book, I couldn’t help wondering how Mr. Nordby was able to see into my past and put it into words so well. Until Lauren’s books and this one, I had no idea there were others experiencing these things and pretty much just figured I was born “wrong” in some way.

“In general, Weird People are highly self-conscious. We tend to observe the world–and ourselves–constantly in ways that other people don’t. We watch our own mind and watch our mind watching itself! This makes for a lot of awkwardness.”

I love this quote. I’ve always assumed that everyone did this ‘watching your mind watch itself’ thing. It’s an automatic response for me, and I didn’t actually realize how few people do it until 8 or so years ago, when I met my SO, who was baffled by my thought process and said so. “Normal” people don’t do this.

There are a lot of things we do that “normal” people don’t. Most of my life, I tried to fit in, never understanding why it didn’t make me happy. Everyone else was happy, so why couldn’t I be? This book addresses these feelings, but also shows us why we need to stop trying to be like everyone else.

“No matter how well we might follow someone else’s map, something in us silently screams, “You’re a fraud!” Nothing is worth that kind of life–not money, not fame, not superficial acceptance. Nothing. But it is worth everything to live by our own lights and know for sure we are doing our very own thing in this world.”

It’s ok to be normal. In fact, it makes life a lot easier when things make sense like that. What’s not ok, is to pretend to be normal when you’re not. Anyone pretending to be something they’re not, can never be truly happy. Instead of pretending, this book points out that, above all, we need to truly be ourselves, whatever form that takes.

“Being creative is not about being artsy; it is the rugged forever-commitment to carve a life that allows full expression of ourselves, however that looks.”

It even shows us how denying ourselves can hurt us on a physical level. If you’d told me this as a younger person, I would have nodded without really absorbing what you were saying. I “knew” this, but never really let the meaning sink into consciousness. I didn’t understand why I was emotional and depressed and got the flu or colds that would hang on well past their normal range, so this next quote really hit home for me.

“The thing is, though, denying our sensitivities and gifts makes us sick. We might develop psychoses, depression, or physical problems because we have suppressed the impulses of our own souls. We might have a nervous breakdown that can’t be explained by anything other than the fact that we have ignored what’s real for too long. Learning to accept and use our anomalous gifts is a prescription for health.”

I have a hard time seeing my weirdness as a “gift” or something special, but Mr. Nordby seems to believe that we Weird People have the ability and opportunity to heal the world. It’s a hard idea to wrap my head around. Can the creatives of this world really save it?

“The only success now is living and creating a work-of-art-life: unique, rich with meaning, naked of anything we don’t care about, and ruthless about carving out something absolutely real from a world that has gorged itself on fakeness and become critically ill from it. The only failure now is pulling back from that quest because of fear.”

That sure does sound like our world…one that appears to be dying, where nothing is real, and fakeness is the norm. Just look at our leaders. (I’m not trying to get political, just stating an observation.) We’re supposed to be able to look up to those in charge, admire them for their courage in doing the right thing and trust they have our best interests in mind. All over the world, all we see are liars and cheats and hateful, greedy people vying for more and more attention.

So, maybe some of us Weird People, through our creative endeavors, might offset that negativity…some day. I don’t know if we have the kind of power that this book suggests, but if we do our best to live honestly, maybe others will want to do the same. I have definitely noticed more people craving things of reality and truth, tired and sick with grief for the world in which we are living. Can you imagine what things would be possible in a world of honesty? I hope Mr. Nordby is right.

“In other words, living creatively rescues us from the soulless existence that has swept across the world and makes the zombie pandemic in The Walking Dead look like just an average flu season.”

Here are some things in this book that I’ve always felt, but rarely seen other people understand:

“Most Weird People I know are only truly afraid when they start to get numb. Our depth of feeling–our ability to sense things and constantly process them–is our most valuable currency in this world, even if it isn’t always easy to turn it into cash in the bank.”

“Acceptance. We all crave that. It is the same thing as the feeling of being at home–home in the best way, home if home were the safest place on earth and no one would ever put us down or make us feel like strangers there.”

“And home, in this case, is the great comfort of living deeply real lives that match who they really are.”

I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve felt the pain of the void inside and begged to go “home” despite not knowing where or what “home” really meant. I didn’t understand the need, but it was strong, and the lack of it was close to unbearable, physically painful and emotionally consuming. The lowest times in my life are punctuated by this feeling. I tried to talk to other people about this, but always got blank “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to help you” stares. To have it written out in plain words is beyond comforting.

Something kind of random I wanted to mention. As a writer, I’ve started paying attention to the Acknowledgments in other people’s books, finding them much more fascinating now that I’m writing my own. Mr. Nordby has one of the more unique “Acknowledgments” sections, and I love that he included a “Fuck yous” section as well. This made me laugh out loud.

Looking over this, I’m not sure if I’ve actually managed to do a review, or just posted a bunch of my new favorite quotes. I feel scattered because it made me think about so many things at once, but hope I’ve at least conveyed the feeling of it for you. Reading some of the Amazon and Goodreads reviews, I realized this book will either really resonate, or not make sense at all. So, if any of these words strike a chord within you, you’ll know Blessed Are the Weird is meant for you. The quotes I chose were narrowed down from over 30 that I liked, and there were so many more that I wanted to include. If I had added them all, it would have just been…the book.

I will leave you with this quote, because it’s one of my favorites:

“Let’s listen to our hearts beating and tell lies that are truer than truth and feel again the electric throb of whatever great creative Force crackles through our veins at times like this. Let’s remember the joy of being here and the magic of what might be possible if enough of us are once again free.”