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Mini Book Review: The Itching Scars by Mohy Omar

Mini Book Review: The Itching Scars by Mohy Omar

“Death doesn’t discriminate the sane from the ill or the rich from the poor. She loves us all.” (Omar pg. 3)

The links below will take you to Amazon.com. Disclosure: LiteratureLynx is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This adds no additional cost to you.

The Itching Scars by Mohy Omar

Cover blurb (from Amazon): “A collection of short stories dealing with different kinds of scars we keep. They never said being human could be this hard. They never told us about the scars we would carry. They only told us that this is what it means to be alive.”

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I received a free copy of The Itching Scars in exchange for an honest review. For more information, please see my review policy page.

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This is one of those rare books that really got its hooks into me. I can’t stop thinking about it. Each story is twisted, dark and tragic but I can’t get them out of my mind (in the best way).

**Spoiler alert/sensitive content warning** I’m going to get this out of the way up-front. This book touches on almost every challenging topic. Throughout the three stories, Omar discusses pedophilia, rape, family violence, murder, suicide, religion, mental illness and sex. This isn’t a light read. The reader is present for most of the horrible events (specifically the rape and murders). Omar doesn’t shy away from lurid detail. There is also a significant amount of swearing.**

If you’re willing to jump into the depths of humanity, though, this collection is truly riveting. The Itching Scars focuses on what it means to be human. What choices do we make? What are the consequences of our actions? Can we live with ourselves in our darkest moments?

Each story ends with a twist that I didn’t see coming and I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say that Omar’s style is gritty, and the plot lines are grim. Despite this darkness (or perhaps because of it), Omar’s characters are intriguing and I was totally drawn in. This collection is short (only about 10,000 words) but I wish there were more!

Most of Omar’s characters are not described at length. Sometimes that feels like a cop-out, but in this case I thought it made the stories more universal. They could take place anywhere. Social issues are well represented. Immigration, sex work and religion in society all come into play. **Spoiler alert** The last story, Under the Rust, features a character who is actively seeking mental health treatment and the therapist is portrayed as warm and understanding.**

There were a few formatting/editing things that could have been improved but they were very minor. I sped right through these stories, and I was sad when they were over. I wish there were more, and I desperately want to discuss this book with someone.

Happy reading, friends.

Book Review: The Execution by Sharon Cramer

Book Review: The Execution by Sharon Cramer

“She shrugged. ‘I am a woman in the fourteenth century. What choices have I?’ She spoke as though she were a time traveler and temporarily out of place.” (Cramer p. 236)

The links below will take you to Amazon.com. Disclosure: LiteratureLynx is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This adds no additional cost to you.

The Execution by Sharon Cramer

Cover blurb (from Amazon): “Tomorrow…he would be dead. 14th Century France The young priest is a dark angel amid the death and despair of the medieval prison. But, as D’ata enters the cell of the condemned man—the mercenary, the evil one—he is transfixed by the killer’s eyes. The face of the murderer is his own, a mirror image of himself. The twins, unknown to each other until this strange night, share the stories of their ill-fated lives and the destiny that brought them to this fetid dungeon.

The tales unfold, creating an unbreakable bond sealed with their darkest secrets. With only hours until the execution, D’ata begins to question which man should truly be condemned. Should it be Ravan, the ruthless killer—a boy from an orphanage who suffered the unimaginable? Or should it be he, the man of God whose own tormented desires ended in tragedy and…the inescapable darkness of his own soul? As the sun rises, D’ata knows what he must do. But can he pay the ultimate price, for what is the cost of true freedom? First in a three book series.”

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I received a free copy of The Execution in exchange for an honest review. For more information, please see my review policy page.

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What I liked:

I was pleasantly surprised by the emotional depth of The Execution. For some reason, I was nervous that it would be written like a textbook. (Maybe that’s just been my experience with reading about this time period…? I don’t know). I wasn’t expecting to become so attached to a wayward priest and a violent mercenary. Cramer’s main characters can be exasperating and troubling but you find yourself rooting for them anyway.

Ravan’s story, in particular, drew me in. His choices and his relationships are compelling. Throughout the book, I so badly wanted things to go well for him. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that Ravan ends up with a friendship that I absolutely adored.

I quite enjoyed the writing style, but I can see where others might find it tiring. The entire book is heavy on descriptions. I also enjoyed the pace and narration. The brothers take turns telling their stories and each chapter leaves you on a cliff-hanger; Cramer does a good job of building tension between parallel stories. Both plots were interesting and both characters are sympathetic. The villains are easy to hate and I was very satisfied with the ending.

What I didn’t like:

Like I mentioned above, this is a detail-heavy book. The plot lines aren’t complicated but Cramer spends a lot of time setting a scene. As you work your way through the book, it can become a little repetitive and dense. I also felt like the violence and depravity was slightly overdone. A lot of it made sense in context, but I think some of it could have been cut out.

I have mixed feelings about Cramer’s depictions of women. For the most part, I think it was accurate to the time period. In that sense, I understand the decisions. Reading it as a modern woman, though, I think the ladies could have been more dynamic. **Spoiler alert** As well-written and complex as the families and friendships are, I found the romantic relationships a little one-dimensional. There’s a lot of inexplicable insta-love.**

Would I recommend this book?

Yes, but only to advanced readers. This wasn’t really a casual read. If you’re into Game of Thrones I think you might like this book.

**Spoiler alert/sensitive content warning** The Execution is pretty violent. There’s a lot of blood, sexual assault, and beatings. Since the entire novel is so descriptive, the violence seems even more dramatic. There is one “live” scene of M/M rape, which is then brought up throughout the rest of the book. If you are at all sensitive about this topic, The Execution is not a great choice for you. There’s also a lot of (unflattering) discussion about Christianity and the priesthood. Most of the supporting characters are creepy, gross or downright psychotic.**

Additional thoughts:

From a racial standpoint, there isn’t a lot of diversity in The Execution. It’s set in 1300’s France, so maybe that’s not surprising. D’ata and Ravan are described as having dark hair and “tawny” or “amber” skin, but that’s about it. As previously mentioned, this book isn’t overly kind to it’s female characters. One important character is literally named “the Fat Wife.” By the end, I think that each women asserts independence and autonomy. In the meantime, though, they exist to further the male story lines.

Many of the characters struggle with mental health issues. Since it’s set in the 14th century, they aren’t referred to as such, but they’re there. Cramer’s characters deal with depression, suicidal thoughts, PTSD, and she briefly alludes to bipolar and dissociative tendencies. Physically, the characters run the gamut. There’s the stereotypical evil fat guy, the sweet fat mother, and a warrior giant.

To be honest, I don’t really know much about the 1300’s, so I have no idea if this book is historically accurate. However, it’s gripping and, at times, disturbing.

I’m happy I read it. If I didn’t have a million other things on my TBR list, I’d pick up the sequels, Risen and NiveusIt’s not necessarily an easy read, but The Execution drew me in and didn’t let me go.

 

Book Review: If We Had No Winter by D.L. Pitchford

Book Review: If We Had No Winter by D.L. Pitchford

The links below will take you to Amazon.com. Disclosure: LiteratureLynx is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This adds no additional cost to you.

If We Had No Winter by D.L. Pitchford

If We Had No Winter (Billie Dixon Book 1) by [Pitchford, D. L.]

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Cover blurb (taken from Amazon): “Can a father who turned his back on a child want her when she’s an adult?

College freshman Billie Dixon has always found solace in calculations and her secret drawings, hiding from the more difficult parts of life—her mother’s alcoholism, her inability to connect, and of course, her estranged father. That is, until she arrives at Bradford College in Vermont, where the Math Department Head is her father.

After a semester of avoiding him, her father insists she join him for the winter holidays to rekindle their relationship, and Billie is at a loss. While she tries to uphold the status quo, her father refuses to be pushed to the sidelines and forgotten. Just as she realizes she doesn’t want to lose him, her meek and shy father kicks her out of his home during an argument. Can Billie swallow her pride and make amends with her father or will she lose him forever?

If We Had No Winter is a gritty coming-of-age tale about loss, love, and learning to try again.”

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I received a free copy of ‘If We Had No Winter’ from the author in exchange for an honest review. For more information, please see my review policy page.

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What I liked: 

Where do I even start? There were so many things I liked, and so many things I want to talk about.

There’s a deep honesty about this whole book that’s really remarkable. The characters are deeply flawed, and the relationships are realistically complex. Pitchford doesn’t treat her characters gently. There are things to love and hate about nearly everyone. I absolutely loved the relationship between Billie and Jimmy. **Possible spoilers ahead** How often do we get to see a healthy friendship between a straight boy and girl that doesn’t include unrequited love? Jimmy loves Billie the way a best friend should. He accepts her for who she is, and challenges her to be a better version of herself. There’s no implication of a relationship there, just a solid, functional friendship.**

I was very happy and impressed with the way Pitchford wrote her male characters. Most of the supporting characters are college-age boys. There are some stereotypical behaviors (drinking, etc.) but Pitchford makes sure that they aren’t one-dimensional. These are young men who are emotionally intelligent, and good listeners. They aren’t perfect. Like Billie, they are each flawed, but they try.

‘If We Had No Winter’ isn’t a light, fluffy story. It deals with a number of heavy topics, but feels accurate to the age range of the characters. There isn’t a lot of fiction written about college-age characters. There are a ton of teen books set in high school but I don’t see as many books set on a college campus. I think this is getting better, but I can say that when I was a freshman in college, this book would have been invaluable.

What I didn’t like:

I got frustrated with Billie the same way you get frustrated with your friends in real life. You understand their motivations, but that doesn’t mean you always like their decisions. As the book progresses, Billie’s internal monologue doesn’t necessarily match up with her actions. I started to get annoyed with her unwillingness to see things from anyone else’s point of view. Having said that, though, I think Billie is an accurate portrayal of someone her age, with her life experiences.

‘If We Had No Winter’ was a quick read for me, but some of the middle chapters were a little slow.

Would I recommend this book?

100% Yes.

**Sensitive content warning/spoilers** ‘If We Had No Winter’ deals with divorce, sex, abortion, drinking, alcoholism and a possible eating disorder. Pitchford doesn’t necessarily go into great detail, but doesn’t pull punches either.

**The sexual encounters in this book were really, really interesting to me. I  recently wrote a post about annoying book tropes, and dramatic sex was one of the discussion points. In that post, I said that I wished more authors would include realistic sex. ‘If We Had No Winter’ was exactly the kind of book I want to see more of. Billie loses her virginity in the book, and the reader is present for the entire encounter. Billie and her partner have a discussion first, use birth control, and the love interest makes sure that Billie is comfortable and enjoying herself. There is another encounter that goes differently, but I was happy with the way both scenes were written.**

**Super-mega spoilers** An abortion takes place during this book, and Pitchford handles it beautifully. There isn’t any moral shaming, just support, love and understanding.**

Additional thoughts:

I really loved this book. I loved all of the nerdy references, and the accurate portrayal of real-life hardships.

From a diversity standpoint, ‘If We Had No Winter’ doesn’t go into much detail. There are a few mentions of LGBTQ+ issues (trans men in fraternities, for example) but otherwise it isn’t discussed at length. It seemed to me that most of the main characters are white (based on hair color and tan descriptions) but it’s never stated outright. Most of the conflict in this book is internal: Billie trying to deal with herself. Mental health concerns are never directly addressed, but referred to. This novel is labeled ‘Billie Dixon Book 1’ so I’ll be curious to see if these issues are addressed later.

If you are a fan of Laurie Halse Anderson (author of Speak), you’ll like D.L. Pitchford. ‘If We Had No Winter’ is a book I wish had been available to me when I was in college. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author, and more about Billie Dixon.