:: Three current books that bring to light the relationship between past pain and future possibilities.

Here are reviews of some recent books I’ve read. To read more of my book reviews, you can click here and here.

These books are about women who have had to deal with past pain and future possibilities, experiences that many, if not most, women are familiar with. In the reviews, I touch on how the authors deal with these issues—issues that are close to my own heart.

Hailey Edwards, HOW TO SAVE AN UNDEAD LIFE (A Beginner’s Guide to Necromancy, Book 1). (Latest book in series forthcoming.) Genre: Contemporary Paranormal Fiction.

When she was a teenager, necromancer Grier Woolworth was wrongly convicted of murdering her guardian and was sentenced to life in prison in this paranormal world’s equivalent of Azkaban. She was tortured, drugged, and left to die. Then, one day, five years after her imprisonment, she was pardoned and set free. At the age of 21, without any training, without any money, she returns to her haunted yet run-down mansion, and tries to make a life for herself. Her old crush reappears; a necromancy tutor is foisted upon her by the leaders of the magical community; and she meets a tempting vampire. But soon, some serious trouble ensues. Grier must face her past trauma and some of the mysteries from her past in order to make a future for herself.

I adored this book and the entire series (which currently has 5 books, and a 6th on the way.) None end with cliffhangers, which is great. I can’t stand cliffhangers. The most compelling aspect of these books is how well they deal with trauma. I read a few of the reviews on the Amazon, and the lower reviews said terrible things like, “Why did you make Grier such a VICTIM, GOD.” And I resisted the urge to reply.

But if I had replied, I would have written this: Trauma is real. This book depicts reactions to past trauma more accurately than any book I’ve read recently—and it also depicts how well one person can care for another. No loving person in Grier’s life tells her to “suck it up” or “get over it.” The loving people in her life care for her properly. The entire time I read I was astonished. As someone who has suffered past trauma, who was a victim herself, I felt so validated. Grier’s past pain makes her who she is. And it helps shaper her future possibilities—in a good way. Depicting trauma in fiction is crucial to our understanding of how trauma works and how to love those who have suffered it.

When it comes to both adventure and its valuable depiction of trauma, this book’s value cannot be understated.


Camille Pagán, WOMAN LAST SEEN IN HER THIRTIES (2018). Genre: Contemporary Fiction.

Maggie’s world is upended when her husband tells her he’s leaving her for another woman. He wants to live a more exciting life, he says. He’s tired of their routine. Their daughter is an attorney in New York. Their son is still finding his way and being supported financially by his parents. Their home in the Chicago suburbs is an empty nest. Despite her training as a social worker, for the past twenty years, Maggie’s life has been defined by her role of wife and mother. She hasn’t been herself, a woman of her own, since her thirties.

Without her family to reflect her identity back to her, the book asks, who is Maggie now?

Pagán’s latest book, I’M FINE AND NEITHER ARE YOU, is garnering great press, and it’s on my to-read list. But I didn’t want to let another moment go by without praising this book. I’m still in my early 40s, not in my 50s like Maggie, but I felt her pain keenly. I spend so many of my days trying to cling to my identity as a person without letting it get subsumed into my role as a mother and a wife. I watch my husband, sometimes with bitterness, as he does the same without a trace of effort, without even noticing the privilege he has in simply being the same person he was when we were married—except one who has grown more successful and professionally recognized as the years have passed.

Maggie’s pain is a common pain for those women in shoes like mine. Yet it isn’t often represented in fiction as well as Pagán has done it here. As I read this book, I found myself crying as I saw myself on the page—crying for Maggie, but also for myself. And as Maggie was able to confront the pain of her husband leaving her like so much trash, I felt like there might be hope for me.

This book is nothing short of a revelation.


Karissa Laurel, TOUCH OF SMOKE (2019). Genre: Contemporary Paranormal Fiction.

In TOUCH OF SMOKE, Rikki Albemarle returns home to Evansville, the small town in the Smoky Mountains where she grew up and from which she fled three years before, to confront her past, including death of loved ones. As she narrates on the first few pages of the book, “I’d sworn I would never return to Evansville and its misty gray mountains. Those insidious valleys and hollows attracted secrets, holding them in confidence until they festered… .”

TOUCH OF SMOKE deals with death, secrets, and difficult family relationships. In the end, it shows that you can go home again. You can rebuild relationships, you can find a place for yourself among the people you left behind, and you can apologize. Best of all, you can confront the past and make peace with it. Oh, and you can find the love you left behind, too.

Great fun, great romance, and great perspective on returning home and finding your place again.


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