For What It's Worth

Monday, July 25, 2022

Reviews: The WTF Did I Just Read? Edition...

I've read several books recently that are all outside my reading comfort zone and were REALLY weird.

They are all kind of difficult to talk about without spoiling, so I apologize in advance for being a little vague but hopefully the important bits get across ok.

Also, these are not mini's so sorry for the longish post! Since I probably won't post again for 2-3 weeks, read one a day/week and pretend I'm being a good blogger and posting regularly lol

Also...I read THREE books! lol *pats self on back*

What. Was. This. Book? 

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma ~ Goodreads

Source/Format: Library, Audiobook

Review: The Walls Around Us has very mixed reviews, even within my friend reader group. It isn't anything I would typically read (magical realism, weird ending) but it was on Hoopla so I grabbed it because I've been wanting to read something by the author for awhile now.

The Walls Around Us tells the story, in alternating pov's, of Violet, a Julliard bound dancer, and Amber, who is serving time in a girls juvenile detention center. They are tied together through Orianna, who doesn't have a pov but just might have the story most worth telling.

As Violet is about to perform as lead dancer, finally not having to share the spotlight with Orianna, she's haunted by the events that took place that sent Orianna to Aurora hills Detention Center. I seem to be an outlier, in that I loved Violet's pov. She's not a good person. At all. I listened to this on audio and Vi's narration was raw, barely contained rage. Each word used was with precision, intended to cut and wound. I found her and her motivations riveting.

Amber's life at the prison is full of abuse and heartbreak. The girls stories unfold as they trudge through the daily routine and horror of their incarceration, mostly forgotten. 

Then we have Orianna, Vi's best friend, sent to Aurora Hills after a particularly brutal crime. She then shared a cell with Amber. This is where things start to overlap, and honestly, get weird. 

Every girl in this story is haunted - it's just a matter of how. Whether it's by innocence lost, overwhelming guilt, the desire to be seen or...haunted by actual ghosts. There's no denying that Nova Ren Suma is a master at exploring our societal ills, particularly violence towards girls - and the violence girls heap on each other. This looks at the horrors of a broken system but doesn't flinch when showing what the girls are capable of as well.

The story is told in a non-linear, often repeating fashion, with small details changing on each pass. It doesn't make a whole of sense, until it does - and maybe not even then lol

The reviews are pretty divided and I loved the things others seemed to dislike - like Vi and especially the ending. Which I won't say much about but I found it oddly poetic and felt like it clicked everything into place. But I can absolutely see why others did not see it this way. I thought of it as a supernatural comeuppance of sorts.

I didn't LOVE this book for a few reasons though. At the detention center, other than Amber, the other girls weren't fleshed out well. It kind of makes sense since they weren't the MC's but they are part of the story enough to want more. 

The switch in pov's from Vi to Amber was initially jarring before the finally gel together. As I said, I preferred Vi's intensity and Amber fell flatter when it flipped over to her - although most readers preferred Amber. 

These were both things that left me wishing that author picked one or the other story to tell although it does all tie together eventually and honestly, would have lost all of it's impact if done that way.

This is a difficult book to read - both technically and emotionally. It's dark, disturbing, confusing as hell and you have to work for it, while possibly not enjoying the payoff. Again, not my kind of read AT ALL, yet I enjoyed it overall and I'm still thinking about and questioning it all. 

CW: violence, bullying, abuse

Thriller Turducken

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill    ~ Goodreads

Source/Format: Library, Audiobook

Review: The story begins with an Australian writer, Winefred (Freddie) in the Boston Public Library, working on her latest book and drawing inspiration from the cast of characters sitting around her. then a scream rings out and the patrons are forced to stay put until security finds out what happened. 

Freddie strikes up a friendship with the three strangers at their table and they bond over the shock of what is revealed to be a murder. Unfortunately, one of them is the murderer.

So far so good, this is a great story, the cast of characters were intriguing, the mystery compelling. Then Gentill adds another element to the mix. A character named Leo, who is a beta reader. Leo is part critique partner, part fan boy and an aspiring author himself. Initially, their email correspondence is productive, and as a reader, I liked how he could reflect on and question things happening that I was also confused/curious about and then have them clarified. It was an interesting device to use to both confuse yet clear up things as you read.

Leo's emails and comments get increasingly more hostile as his own authorial dreams seem to sour and he gets a little too attached to the author, characters and his opinions about where the story should go, not to mention he seems to have a lot of expertise about murder and crime scenes. 

So is this the story?? Or is Leo part of the other story? Does it matter if I get invested in something and it wasn't real? Or is this story so freaking layered and complex my brain can't comprehend??

I described this book as a thriller turducken in my initial reading update and I stand by it. lol

I am not completely thrilled with how this turned out in the end but it was very well done, considering the complexity to tie it all together and with the authors novel approach. Even though most thrillers have plenty of twists and turns, I don't think I've read anything else like it - although I don't read many thrillers.

Well written thriller but I got a little too caught up in what game the author was playing and which thing I should be invested in or if I was being duped. Your mileage will vary. I think this would be a great book club read though. It should spark a lot of discussion about both the story and the writing!


From: title chapter 8 

Roxy by Neal Shusterman, Jarrod Shusterman

Source: Finished copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Review: Roxy was pitched to me because I enjoyed Dry, a YA dystopian novel, by the father, son duo. But my true love book by Neal Shusterman is Challenger Deep loosely based on his son, Brendan's, schizophrenia. That was such a weird, wonderful, compassionate look at mental illness & I was curious what he would do with the subject of addiction and the opioid crisis. 

Roxy follows siblings Isaac, the "good" son and brother with ambitions to get into the best aerospace engineering programs for a future at Jet Propulsions Laboratories (part of NASA), and Ivy, the "screw-up" daughter and sister. She of the bad choices, loser boyfriend, partying too hard.

After an injury, Isaac fears he will be sidelined from playing soccer. Something he desperately needs to help boost his grade point average up that fraction he needs to get into the school of his dreams. He gets help from an unexpected place - grandma - who gives him one of her Oxycontin pills just to take the edge off so he can finally get some sleep. 

Meanwhile, even Ivy gets sick of the constant drama with her boyfriend and failing her classes, so she finally agrees to go to the psychologist and take Adderall for her ADHD.

This is where things take a strange turn...we get the added pov's of Roxy (Roxycontin) and Addison (Adderall), as well as other drugs that they meet at "The Party".

Much like Challenger Deep's use of high concepts and fantasy mixed with reality, the Shusterman's use of allegory and anthropomorphizing of drugs in Roxy make this wholly unique as we watch both Isaac and Ivy enter the slippery slope of prescription drug addiction.

So, there are several cool things going on in Roxy. Each chapter has a hidden message in bold within the title. 

*In this photo - Isaac, Ivy, and the infinite loser = the finite. I loved those little details that were also relevant to the chapter..

Although Roxy and Adderall are the main drugs, they interact with the others like Al - Alcohol, Crys - Crystal Meth, Dusty & Charlie aka The Coke Brothers - Cocaine, Hiro - Heroine, Molly - MDMA/ Ecstasy, Lucy - LSD. All with their own personalities that match their effect on people. This is somewhat cliche at times, yet effective.

There's a hierarchy within the group as they jockey for stature, influence and power. But the worst fate is to become irrelevant.

 We also watch them choose their next potential target, stalking them almost like prey. Although not all are bad. Addison just wants to help Ivy be more focused and achieve her goals, until he gets goaded into a competition with Roxy who wants to make it all the way to the top.  

They develop relationships with Isaac and Ivy, whispering sweet nothings or give pep talks, whatever is needed to keep them close and continue using to win their bet.

Honestly, this took some getting used to. Roxy and Addison (& the others) become real to you as do their developing relationships with Isaac and Ivy and then you remember they aren't real, just a voice in Isaac/Ivy's minds and it's a head scratcher at times lol Particularly with Roxy and Isaac where it takes on a more romantic tone (but don't worry this is not a romance!)

There are also interlude chapters with drugs like Phenobarbital and Morphine as they ease their patients into their final slumber without pain. The final interlude was just brilliant. I can't say who or why but the text in itself was haunting but also the hidden text within was equally so.

A few small quibbles though: Why is there no glossary for the drug names so I could figure out who they all were? While I knew or could figure out about 50% of the older drug names, I was at a loss for some of the newer ones and had to google many. Future editions should really include this!

I really hated where the Isaac/Roxy relationship was headed. The romantic aspect of it. But I loved the way it was handled. So I add it in the quibbles in case you read it and are annoyed. The payoff is worth it, IMO. Hang in there.

Roxy, Addison and all the drugs take on such life, that they almost overshadow the real humans, Isaac and Ivy. 

Overall: Roxy was a fascinating exploration of the pharmaceutical system, addiction and how it could happen so easily, to anyone - written in a way that's as compelling as it is totally bizarre.

A content note: Now, this book is very controversial, mainly because of it's portrayal of addiction to Adderall. Many readers feel that it stigmatizes people who have been helped by the medication and they don't need further ammunition for people to use against them.

I'm going to be honest here and say I have both used and abused drugs (not to the point of addiction like in the book but I was headed down a bad path as a teen). I have taken them for anxiety as an adult, with no problems. I have people in my life who use Adderall, opioids and antipsychotic drugs and it has saved their lives. But addiction is real and seemingly endless with a new drug taking over every generation. Roxy does an excellent job at showing how easy it is to fall down that path and just how difficult it can be to climb back out. This is that story.

But to address the complaints. I've read several of Neal Shusterman's answers in interviews and responses to readers. He feels that they balanced the good that drugs can do with the potential risk. I did feel the book was skewed in one direction - drugs = bad. While it does show that Adderall is helpful, he still always had Ivy pushing too hard and on the edge. Grandma was on Oxycontin for pain and did fine with it but, it mostly showed the "good" side of drugs as easing (mostly older) patients into a painless death while every other one relating to teens was jockeying for control and ultimately to kill their ward.

I think they absolutely got the lure and fall into addiction right (in my opinion and through my own experience - I understand that's not everyone's experience). It might not be the right fit for every reader and I haven't found anyone (that I saw) on Adderall who has reviewed it favorably so proceed with caution if you think it might upset you. 


  1. A thriller turducken! I love that description.

  2. Its always interesting how certain books that wouldn't normally work for us, somehow end up pushing our boundaries a bit and delivering in ways that we don't expect.

    Great reviews you shared here and hope you are well.

    1. I'm in a very weird reading place right now. I never know what I'm in the mood for and with audio, I can listen to genres I wouldn't normally read.

  3. Still can't log in on your site (Jen). Those are some out there books. I'd read a review from someone else for The Library one and they enjoyed it. It did sound confusing tho. As for Roxy... I didn't read, I won't read (not my thing), but I think showing the dark side (or just one side) of an issue like drugs is okay for entertainment value. I understand where critics come from, and I agree with their points, but this is a story and the story is told in a certain way.

    1. I'm sorry that keeps happening. At least you're not going to spam??? lol

      Roxy - I think when you tackle a subject like that, and as a warning, you should be careful with it. Having said that, I felt it was about one particular side of prescription drug use and got it right.

      But! I can see how, because it only showed one side, it could further stigmatize the use of the drugs for people who need and benefit from them. The inclusion of a character (other than the elderly) would have gone a long way to show that.

  4. I love that These Walls Behind Us began with an "lol."

    I would probably lose my mind with the non-linear storytelling.

    Also being a good blogger is overrated!

    1. "I love that These Walls Behind Us began with an "lol.""
      I missed it!...LOL.

    2. Total mistake on my part that I JUST noticed & fixed and before I read your comment lol It was supposed to go with What. Is. This. book. before I made those headers. *face palm*

  5. "Also, these are not mini's so sorry for the longish post! Since I probably won't post again for 2-3 weeks, read one a day/week and pretend I'm being a good blogger and posting regularly lol"

    "Every girl in this story is haunted - it's just a matter of how. Whether it's by innocence lost, overwhelming guilt, the desire to be seen or...haunted by actual ghosts."
    I love this line. Very true, though I didn't think of it at the time I read it (twice so far).

    Wow, these reviews must have been exhausting, but they're all excellent - I especially liked the Roxy one, because you went into detail without spoiling it, and gave it a personal, very honest twist. I've been wanting to read Shusterman again after Challenger Deep, but I've always been afraid that his other books wouldn't live up to my expectations. Maybe this one?

    1. *blushes* Thank you. That's high praise coming from you.

      I don't think Dry is for you. While good, it's fairly conventional. Now, Roxy is definitely more like Challenger Deep and I think worth reading. Whether you like it or not though...It's hard for me to say because it matters if you can let go and buy into the premise of the drugs as characters. I still love CD way more but I liked so much about this one and the writing style that I feel like it was worth it. I'm even keeping it. lol

      I think Challenger Deep was a bit easier because it was his hallucinations (which made sense for his condition) - yet reality if that makes sense

  6. I laughed so hard when I saw your title with the Suma book because I felt the same way. I remember it being dark and weird, but well written.

    1. Lol I sort of get what happened but maybe not? I don't know ha!

  7. This is the first I'm seeing The Walls Around Us reviewed and I am intrigued. I'm going to put it on my TBR for next year seeing that it's on Hoopla, and I'm not losing any money if I hate it and DNF. 😁

    I have wanted to read Roxy for a while. I'm not quite sure why I keep forgetting about it. Maybe I haven't shelved it on Goodreads. 🤔

    1. I started Roxy three times over the past year but kept setting it aside. I was never in the right frame of mind but I liked it a lot.

  8. First, congrats on three books! Second, can you PLEASE explain The Walls Around Us to me? I read it as an ARC and I still don't understand it, nearly a decade later. Maybe I should re-read it, see if I have gained any smarts 😂 Second, I am cackling at "Thriller Turducken" because that is exactly what it sounds like! Perfect description! I am confused by the synopsis itself, so this will not be the book for me, clearly!

    I wholly agree with your assessment of Roxy, too. And I really appreciate that you gave us some firsthand experience, too. That was my fear- that since I didn't have said experience, I was like... wrong in my feelings about the book, you know? But I absolutely appreciated the way the authors handled it, and I loved the cleverness of making the drugs actual characters- and I agree, at times, I was a little more invested in the drugs' stories heh.

    Anyway, wonderful reviews, and awesome that you stepped outside your comfort zone so much, too!

    1. I have my theory about Walls but I'm not sure it holds water if you start questioning it lol

      I think Roxy can be a very personal reading experience, depending on your own life situations. I did start with taking opioids, in the 80's, & escalated but I was mostly about the wine lol I had one really bad experience and quit cold turkey because I could see it wasn't heading anywhere good but I think the Shusterman's got all of it right.

      But, like I said, I know people who use many of these drugs and NEED them to function. it has literally saved their lives, so I get it.

  9. Love the title of your post. I like a good WTF read once in a while, but other times they're like... no. The woman in Library sounds... interesting. I'm not sure if I'd like it or no ha. And oh yeah I remember you talking about the book where the drugs were characters. That's a trip (ha) and I am soooo curious about that now...

    1. I really should have done 3 posts but I do wanted to say WTF reviews lol

      Thrillers are tough for me, in general, so I'm not the best audience. But I loved several aspects of it, even if not how it resolved itself

      Roxy was a trip! Very weird but cool way of approaching it.

    2. Maybe WTF reviews should be a regular thing? :)

      Thrillers are funny. I've been all over 'em lately, but yeah they're hit or miss. I did just read a pretty good one- it's called Or else by Joe Hart. Fairly short and good. He wrote an SF thriller called Obscura a few years ago that I LOVED.

      I forgot to mention last time that Phenobarbitol jumped out at me when I read your thoughts. I took that drug briefly as a kid (I had a very mild form of epilepsy that basically went away) but yeah I used to take it for a year or two. This sounds so fascinating...

    3. For some reason I've been reading in themes lately lol I did a punny reviews last month. Oddly, I usually hate wtf books but my slump has sent me into weird reading territory. I like anything totally different than what I'm used to.

      Phenobarbital was Phineas in the book lol

  10. I only read the first review because you said I could and I don't have the focus for three right now lol. Sometimes it's the books that make us question lots of things that stick in our minds the most. Interesting that you liked the things other people seemed to dislike. It's weird when that happens!

    1. Very weird! And all the of these are books I never would have read before. Not sure I love them but they all challenged me in some way.
      And yes, permission to read just one! Lol

  11. I haven't read any of these but this was funny. That title sure caught my attention.

  12. I do want to read The Woman in the Library. Good to know I should kind of just go for the ride whenever I do get to it. LOL I have Roxy, but I'm not sure if I want to read it or not. It sounds like a good book overall.

    Lauren @

    1. It's strange. You have to be in the right mood for it. I started and stopped 3 times before I finally read it.

  13. "Read one a day/week and pretend I'm a good blogger." LOL I love that. :) It was interesting reading your notes on Roxy. I can where opinions on that one could be very subjective, based on a reader's own background/experiences. Coincidentally, I just finished a book where a character was suffering from PSD and mentioned that she might benefit from medication, and another character immediately said no, you don't need medications, drugs are addictive. Well, while true in some cases, they also help many people and can do a lot of good. That kind of hard line stance seemed odd to me and I wondered if it was from the character or the author.

    1. Yeah, personal experience will really skew how you read that one. I can honestly see both sides of it. But that does seem too hard of a line.

  14. Look at those long reviews! I am impressed.

    Also, that first one, yeah, I mean maybe, or it would be a total failure for me. Hard to know

    1. I don't think i would have liked it if not on audio lol

  15. Haha love this feature. Well, you know how I felt about Woman in the Library. I just wanted a mystery in a library and got ... something a bit weird. I have read Nova Ren Suma before and had the same feeling. I think her books are a little too out-there for me.