Review: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland + a Discussion on Mental Health Depiction in Fiction

Summary: Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather met Death, her entire family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime—a fear that will eventually lead each and every one of them to their graves. Esther’s managed to escape the curse…so far. She doesn’t yet have a great fear because she avoids pretty much everything.

Esther thinks she has it all figured out, until she’s reunited with an old elementary school classmate—and first crush—Jonah Smallwood. The encounter is the beginning of an unexpected friendship between the two, one that sends the pair on a journey of self-discovery as they try to break the curse that’s consumed Esther’s family. Together they face their greatest fears, one debilitating phobia at a time, only to discover the one fear they hadn’t counted on: love.

Genre: young adult, contemporary
Rating: ★★★★

Worst Nightmares will not be a book for everyone. It’s quirky, uncomfortable (there was one scene that flared up some anxiety in me), and extremely heavy. This book covers mental health, death, illness, abusive homes, and so much more. And yet, it still finds a way to be charming in its own right, with scenes that made me smile and a romantic plot that appeases a certain crowd. And of course, the overall message will absolutely rip your heart right out of your chest. This was an emotional rollercoaster, and I felt my heart break repeatedly for these characters.

**this review will contain MAJOR SPOILERS**

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Mini Reviews + Some Minor Changes

My main purpose for creating this book blog was to be able to review what I read with an emphasis on the books I own. I wanted to hold myself accountable for constantly buying a mountain of books, and I missed writing about the books I read. So far I think it’s going well for me; I love being able to rant and rave about stories I love or hate. I don’t necessarily have a schedule to my posts, and right now I’m happy with that because I don’t want any stress about this blog, so I don’t give myself any. I’m sure that’ll change at some point though, considering I live to stress myself out.

That’s not to say I don’t sometimes struggle with my book blog. Sometimes I read a book and don’t feel like I have enough to talk about, so I never review it and then forget about it (looking at some of my read books from February, RIP). Sometimes I read a lot of comics or ebooks and feel that I don’t need to give them the same attention that I give books from my physical tbr pile.

I debated doing a monthly wrap-up post, but some months I review every single book I read so it seems pointless. Maybe I’ll do a quarterly post of mini reviews just to maintain reviewing everything I read. I haven’t figured out all the weird kinks to having a blog yet, but I’ll smooth it out eventually. For now, I figured I would write mini reviews about some of the books I’ve read throughout the year that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet. All of them are stories I enjoyed but felt weren’t necessarily deserving of an entire review post. I can sum up everything I felt about them in a few sentences, and they’ll include individual ratings.

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Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Summary: Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers. Here we meet a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who is on the run, and Nakata, an aging simpleton who is drawn to Kafka for reasons that he cannot fathom. As their paths converge, acclaimed author Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder, in what is a truly remarkable journey.

Genre: magical realism, fantasy
Rating: 1/5 stars

Kafka on the Shore has always been a someday book for me. Someday I’ll get around to reading it. Someday I’ll pick it up and fall in love with it. It probably would have sat on my shelf even longer had I not heard from so many friends how great this book is. I bumped it to the top of the list, ready to sink my teeth in and be completely in love and overwhelmed with the wonders of this book. That is not at all what happened.

Before I get to the real meat and potatoes of this review, I should preface this by saying I heavily associate this book with a Bad TimeTM. The week I started reading this, I went through a root canal procedure, which was actual hell for me thanks to my dental anxieties. I spent a grueling week avoiding solid food, barely existing on my living room couch, and not being able to sleep through the night because of the pain I experienced. I took countless baths to try to relax during that week, and each time I got in the tub I opened this book, crawling my way through it with gritted teeth.

Had I put this book on hold until I felt better, would I have enjoyed it more? Honestly, no. I don’t think Kafka ever stood a chance against me.

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Review: Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Summary: Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife; and their master’s daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.
Genre: historical fiction, magical realism
Rating: 4/5 stars

When I was younger, I heavily avoided historical fiction as a whole. The details always felt bogged down. I didn’t understand what could be so interesting about a story that we already know. If it’s part of history, surely we learned about it to some extent, and what’s the point of rehashing that when there are so many other unique stories we can tell instead, you know? My naivety was kind of embarrassing.

Within the last five years or so, I started reading historical fiction based in WW2 Europe and instantly fell in love with the genre, because here’s the thing: yes, if it’s historical fiction we’ve most likely learned about it to some extent, but there are so many unique sides to history that we aren’t always taught. We can’t possibly be taught history from every single perspective, and the historical fiction genre serves to educate us in that realm. Conjure Women is an excellent example of the different narratives that we miss in our standard history lessons in school.

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