Hi there, friends! Today I’m going to be posting some mini reviews… mini thoughts… on some books I’ve recently read. I’ll be honest, I’ve been sitting on these for a hot minute because I wasn’t too sure how I wanted to convey my thoughts, feelings or if I even had enough notes compiled to even make my typical reviews. While I’m not sure how this post will turn out, the one thing never changing is the fact that the content/trigger warnings I’ve found during my time reading these books will always be listed at the top of each review. Also, these reads are ranked from my best read to my least favorite read. I hope this will help anyone out there who’s looking for some new books to pick up!
➸ The United States of Cryptids: A Tour of American Myths and Monsters by J. W. Ocker
“Wherever cryptids are celebrated, the story is so much more important than the science.”
As a lover of all things spooky, creepy, Halloweeny, and yes, being the monster loving, cryptid fanatic that I am, this book has been on my radar for a hot minute. I will say, trying to track down a physical copy was a tad difficult and I was so eager to read this book that I caved an got the ebook form. Though, the way this was written has me wondering if the audiobook would have been a better choice. That’s besides the point! I had a really fun time reading this and lets be real, anytime I get to read about monsters or cryptids is always a fun time!
“Cryptids are hopeful concepts: hope that the world is still a diverse place full of discovery.”
This book is a bind-up of all the various places in the United States that have cryptid tales to tell the world. Various cryptids are grouped by area along with some other details about that cryptid. Laced with the narration that almost comes off as some cryptid television show, the stories in here vary from the most famous of cryptids like Mothman or Bigfoot, all the way to lesser known cryptids like the Giant Sky Clam or Derry Fairy. This covers the whole United States and the fantastic cryptids that you may know or… not know about it.
As I mentioned, this was a really fun read. While I didn’t really care too much for the narration of the book, the stories about each cryptid kept me going. Call it a curious mind, but I wanted to know what cryptids this book had to share. I was pleasantly surprised that there were quite a few cryptids in here that I didn’t already know about and even the ones I did know about, there were some things that I had no idea about. Plus, for some of the stories there were actual images to go along with it that really helped paint the picture of what certain cryptids would look like, which was a nice touch to add in, might I add.
However, I have sat on this review for a hot minute and in that time, I’ve had time to come to terms with certain feelings about this book and why my rating for this book has changed. Though I still enjoyed this book quite a bit, I still found some issues with this book. As a Mescalero Apache Native, I found the way the Native/Indigenous creatures were handled in this book caused a bit of yucky feelings for me. For starters, I don’t consider the Native/Indigenous creatures mentioned in this book to be cryptids, first and foremost. Secondly, the whole chapter dedicated to the SW or what I like to refer to as The Mimic, gave me big icky feelings. This was probably my least favorite part of the entire book. The author states they had a Navajo guide who was even quoted, “We don’t talk about these creatures” and yet the book states the author pressed for information on this creature despite the guide being uncomfortable. This comes off as highly disrespectful to not only Native culture and beliefs, but to the fact that, the guide was not only uncomfortable, also told the author ‘no’. As I said, huge icky feelings for me as a reader and as a Apache Native. No means no and even more so if someone is obviously uncomfortable, end of story. The internet is free, libraries are free. Also, for many Native Tribes, we don’t talk about SWs/Mimics for various reasons. Granted, this can vary from Native person to Native person, but boiling it down to tribal beliefs and culture, there are many that are uncomfortable addressing these creatures. This is the same thing for the entire Wendigo chapter, as well. There are many Native/Indigenous Tribes that don’t talk about the Wendigo. It just wasn’t the vibe and honestly, I don’t feel these are creatures the author should have been talking about in the first place. There was just a lot of disrespect when handling these creatures and I wish I could say this was a surprise, but I can’t. I say this a lot, but I’m going to say it probably for the millionth time, sometimes I wish non-Native/Indigenous authors just don’t.
“In the end, the charge of cryptozoology is not, “I swear I saw something,” as it is often portrayed, but “keep searching!” Even if you don’t find Bigfoot, you’ll find something worthwhile. Guaranteed.”
Overall, I still enjoyed the book despite my feelings about the Native/Indigenous creatures represented. I loved the pictures, I loved discovering cryptids I didn’t know about, and I was really grateful that they were all categorized to area. It’s always a fun time when I get to read about cryptids and anything involving monsters. Plus, the cover was so stunning that it was practically begging me to read it. I highly recommend this to my monster loving, cryptid lover friends who are looking for their next read filled with any of these creatures. And if you’re a quote lover, like myself, quotes upon quotes!
➸ White Horse by Erika T. Wurth
Buddy Read with Ashley ♥
Content/Trigger Warnings: Abandonment, alcoholism, mentions of automotive accident, loss of a loved one, grief, drug use, mentions of overdose (in the past), trauma/PTSD, brief mentions of genocide & colonization, ableism, depictions of blood, themes of MMIWG2s, toxic relationships, violence, gun violence, scene of domestic violence, brief mentions of molestation/pedophilia
Let me be the one to say, this isn’t a bad rating. I know when readers see ratings like this, many tend to think, “Oh, this means this book is bad” when it’s not. I enjoyed a lot of things about this book, but there were a lot of things that made finishing this book hard. To be honest, I’m a little upset this read didn’t go the way I thought it was going to go. I still enjoyed this book though and more importantly, it’s a love letter to the urban Native community, to Native culture, and to those on their healing journey. Also, this book isn’t necessarily scary, but more so about a compelling journey that’s messy, at times suspenseful, and feels like you’re almost living it yourself.
Kari James’s mother disappears when she’s just two-years-old and now in her thirties, she’s working two jobs and taking care of her disabled father. Until one day Kari is given a bracelet that had belonged to her mother. With the ghost of her mother now lurking around every corner, Kari becomes determined to find some answers. Dark secrets waiting to be uncovered, truth waiting to be set free, and the path to healing along the way.
If there’s one thing I can tell you about this book, let it be the fact that this is a love letter to the Native community. If you’re like me, a Native/Indigenous reader, then the themes laced throughout this book will be all too familiar to you. Wurth has written this book for the “urban” Natives who struggle far too often with their identity, walking the tightrope of familial traditions, the vices in public spaces, and being themselves. When I tell I can’t emphasize enough how important Kari’s character is, I mean it with my whole dang chest and then some. Kari is not only an Indigenous main character, but multiple times the book has stated that Kari feels less Native (or less “traditional” Native) because she equates her Native-ness to practicing old, traditional customs/celebrations. This, THIS is important representation, everyone! There are some many multi-tribal Natives out there, there many Native/Indigenous people who are disconnected reconnecting Natives or even just reconnecting Natives (like myself) out there. Not to mention, the full weight that comes from the privilege of being a white-passing Native and then everything that comes with blood quantum. Having a main character like Kari who constantly faces that internal struggle of ‘am I Native enough‘ is so huge and when I tell you I sobbed, I was ugly crying. Being a reconnecting Native myself and reading a character like Kari, who’s independent, a bit of a firecracker, a loner, but also struggles around her Native identity was everything to me. Not to mention, the way the author wrote Kari’s journey throughout this book. The author wrote Kari’s journey so that by the end of the book, Kari has some form of understanding and almost acceptance that every Native/Indigenous identity is complex, contains multitudes of layers, and while individual people many have similarities, each Native/Indigenous person is different. Then I cried even more after I realized that because it made me see parts of myself and just made my heart a bit soft and mushy over it.
This book is also a love letter to Native/Indigenous who are healing and those on their healing journey. Which lets be honest, all Native/Indigenous communities, as a collective, are still healing and surviving. One of the biggest themes throughout this book is the main character’s personal trauma and then her family trauma on top of it. Add the themes that run rampant among Native/Indigenous communities/rez such as MMIWG2s, drug addiction, generational trauma, gentrification in Indigenous communities, and so much more. Many of these themes are unapologetically discussed throughout this book and the reader is just thrown into it. I think this is one of the most unapologetically Native/Indigenous books that I’ve every read outside of nonfiction. It truly has everything that I can think of when it comes to thinking about a what an Indigenous-led book would look like.
However, despite the things I loved about this book, there were still things that just made it a harder read. The biggest thing was the many subplots that were going on along with the main storyline. I was really invested in the mother’s disappearance and I wanted to solely focus on that. It was really captivating and my curiosity was hyper-fixated on that. With the other two subplots that were happening, the backstory with the ex and then the whole marital issues that were happening with Kari’s best friend, it was a bit of a double-whammy for me. Not only did these make it hard to keep my focus on the story, but it also impacted the pacing for me as well. Anytime I would get sucked back into the story, invested on what would happen next, some issue with the best friend and her husband would happen, pulling me right out of the story and taking away from the reading experience. While all these subplots do come together by the end and add to Kari’s growth, the subplots just weren’t it for me. They were a bit mentally and emotionally draining, and they messed with reading pace a lot, which is why it took me longer to read this book than it should have.
Overall, this isn’t a bad book and I truly loved so many things about this it. I think this is such an important book just on the representation alone and I think there will be many Native/Indigenous readers like myself who feel a heavy mental and emotional pull to this book. I do think this book is worth your time, I do encourage others to pick this book up and give it a chance, and I hope I see more readers falling in love with this book. Again, I think this is the most unapologetically Native/Indigenous books I’ve read that isn’t straight from the nonfiction genre or from an elder’s mouth. Plus, this book is even more special because the author is part Apache and as a Mescalero Apache reader myself, I’m always looking for more Apache authors to read from!
➸ The Confidence of Wildflowers by Micalea Smeltzer
Content/Trigger Warnings: Death of a parent (to cancer, in the past), childhood abuse recounted, mentions child molestation (in the past), trauma/PTSD, depictions of night terrors, depictions of anxiety & panic attacks, mentions of toxic relationship, mentions of manipulation, cheating (emotionally & physically), mentions of domestic violence (in the past), talk of breast cancer, scenes of emesis, slut shaming, death of child (by drowning), grief, explicit sex scenes, blowjob scene
Oh jeebus, friends… I don’t know how I did it, but I finally found the energy to write this review. After spending a lot of time going through a whole mixture of emotions, talking things out with friends, and just sitting down to reflect on my reading experience – it’s been a wild ride of a time. It’s safe to say that this book was good… until it wasn’t. I’m going to do my best to keep this spoiler free, but also addressing the few things I like and the things that flopped, royally.
Recently graduated, eighteen-year-old, Salem who’s just trying to live her life and figure things out for herself. Not having anyone or anything dictate what she should or shouldn’t do. With her boyfriend preparing for college and a best friend leaving for New York, Salem is set on hanging around to make her candles and help her mother run their antique store. Until Thayer arrives, becoming her grumpy next door neighbor, and suddenly asking her to be a babysitter for his six-year-old son. Salem will find it almost impossible not to fall in love with this father-son duo.
“Following someone else’s desires sounds like a one-way ticket to my version of hell – I’ve already been there and I’m not going back.”
Let me start off by talking about the best part, the cat! Yes, Salem’s cat, Binx is absolutely precious. I love how the cat is given room to have his own personality in this book and it stands out. I adored it with my whole chest. Of course, I have to talk about Thayer and his son, Forrest. I loved both of them, so freaking much. Ever scene with them, every interaction is just so wholesome and makes the heart turn to mush. The way the author wrote Forrest and Thayer is so beautiful and I love the fact the author didn’t shy away from Thayer’s ex-wife being abusive, manipulative. I talk about this a lot, how in media and literature, far too often we see it from the other side where the man is abusive. We don’t often see the man being a victim of abusive relationships and it’s almost considered taboo or nonexistent, but reality is that yes, men and really anyone can be in an abusive, toxic relationship. I’m really glad the author didn’t shy away from that and stood by that throughout the entire book.
This book has one of my favorite tropes, as well. Grumpy x sunshine tropes are probably one of my favorite tropes in my romance. I always say that I unknowingly seek out books that reflect my own marriage, that grumpy x sunshine is very much alive here. So it’s something I often find myself gravitating to even when I don’t think I am. Upon first introduction, we get a sweet taste of Thayer being super grumpy and I couldn’t stop giggling because it was just so good. Salem isn’t really overly bright, but she’s warm and has the personality of someone who always tries to find the good in everything.
And kind of circling back to what I talked about Thayer’s past with his ex-wife, I want to talk about Salem’s past. Salem had some really great PTSD/trauma portrayal and representation. As someone with PTSD, I always make it a habit that when I see good representation for trauma/PTSD, to speak about it. I thought it was handled well and done well. Reading those sections with her especially the moments where she’s waking up early to run or to sit on the balcony because she can’t sleep, they were moments that completely sucked the air right out of me. It was so relatable and probably one of the few things I appreciated about Salem as a character. If it wasn’t already made clear, there’s on page discussions of Salem’s trauma, her abusive past, and discussions surrounding domestic violence. Please make sure you’re checking content/trigger warnings before picking this book up and please make sure you’re in a good head space, too!
“I don’t tell him, but everyone worries so much about monsters lingering outside they forget about the ones that can hurt you behind closed doors.”
Despite these good things and how much I loved them, they weren’t enough to make me love this book as a whole. If I’m being honest, things were going good until the 50-60% mark. Majority of my issues come from the second half of the book, but we’ll get into that. Since we’re on the topic of Salem, I didn’t like her. Salem as a whole character, she wasn’t my cup of tea. While there were some things I appreciated about her, there were a lot of times where I was fully disconnected from her. There were too many times where she was trying to act older than she was, I wasn’t a fan of a lot of her actions especially surrounding how she handled things with Caleb, and even more so near the end of of the book, I really didn’t like how she chose to handle things with Thayer. The author writes her in a way that by the very end of this book she looks like a terrible person. Not a fan, at all.
One of my biggest issues in this book was the cheating trope, though. Now, typically I don’t mind emotional cheating. Everyone has different preferences and what they consider cheating, what bothers them in terms of cheating tropes, etc… I was willing to look past all of Salem’s emotional cheating and I had the audacity to think that the author was going to make sure Salem does the right thing. That was a big ole’ nope. Salem cheats on Caleb and then waits like a week or so to break up with him. I’m sorry, I don’t roll with this kind of nonsense. Speaking of Caleb, I completely despised his character. I found nothing redeemable about him and actually, found him to be a creep. The fact that Caleb kept referring to Salem as ‘babe’ the entire time after they broke up just felt weird and icky. Even more creeped out once you find out that Caleb knows about Salem cheating on him and all that jazz. This ties in with Salem’s flip-flopping back and forth between Caleb and Thayer. It’s just some serious drama llama nonsense, friends and I’m telling you, not worth the headache.
If this doesn’t bother you, then this bit will. I’m going to try to keep this vague because it surrounds the plot twist, but in all honesty, I think it needs to be full out mentioned. My biggest peeve about this book and the most unredeemable thing is what the author does to Forrest’s character. Now, I’m not so much upset about what happens because it’s something that, unfortunately, many people have had to experienced. No, my issue is with things surrounding Forrest consist of two things. For starters, there is no clarification on whether what happens was on purpose or a tragic accident. There are about one to two moments where it seems like this was on purpose and the fact that there’s no clarification is devasting. What’s even more devastating and aggravating, is the fact that the author not only writes out that whole incident with Forrest’s character, but sets things up for him to be replaced by a whole new character for book two. Yeah, if you’re upset, so am I. This was the thing that ruin the book for me. There was no logical reason for the author to do this and not only that, but to make it a plot point. I’ve seen this happen in the horror genre because it works. It doesn’t work for an adult romance. I think in certain circumstances, yes, it could work, but not in this case. It was completely unnecessary and I’m still upset about it.
Overall, I cannot in good conscious recommend this book to anyone. This book threw me into a horrible reading slump (that I’m just now climbing out of since writing this review). No, I will not be picking up the second book either. And from what I hear, things don’t improve much in the second book of this duology. I wanted to love this book, I really did. I had high hopes because so many people I trusted recommended this book to me. This just wasn’t it, on so many levels, friends.