Witches’ Dance by Erin Eileen Almond- ARC Review

Hilda Greer discovered the violin at the age of seven, when she attended a performance by the virtuoso Phillip Manns. She believed him with a child’s faith when he declared himself the reincarnation of Niccolò Paganini and then dashed from the stage, his mind in ruins. Manns disappeared from the music world after that catastrophic performance, but Hilda’s love affair with the violin was just beginning.

Nearly a decade after his breakdown, Phillip Manns lives a reclusive life, safely insulated against the temptations of music—until a former colleague begs him to teach at a nearby conservatory. It’s there that he meets Hilda Greer, who’s come to audition at the insistence of her mother. She plays for him the piece that started it all: Paganini’s Le Streghe, or Witches’ Dance.

Entranced by the character of Hilda’s playing and unable to resist the siren call of music, Phillip takes Hilda under his wing. The two start a witches’ dance of their own, a whirlwind that sweeps them toward the International Paganini Competition. When their curtain falls, one will bask in the music world’s acclaim—and the other’s world will be shattered completely. (taken from Netgalley)

                 Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on October 22nd.

Aside from pointing out that a book might be too harsh for some, I don’t use trigger warnings. In this case,I think I really need to have an official warning, though, because this book is incredibly harsh at times.
**Trigger warning: self-harm, sexual assault**

From moment one, I was drawn into this book. Haunting and beautiful, it’s so lyrically written, I could almost hear the violins playing. I’ve never wished for anything remotely resembling musical talent as much as I did during the beginning of this book.

The characters are so multi-faceted! Phillip Manns was a musical prodigy who, after announcing that he was Pajanini, hid from the world, cutting himself off from all music. He didn’t realize how much he missed it until he found an old record player at a yard sale. Listening to it again, he opens that door into the hidden, flawed parts of himself, and starts down a road that is dangerous to his health and his sanity.

Enter Hilda: a brilliant violinist in her own right, she was at the performance that ruined Phillip Manns’ career. Many years later, she’s still playing, but struggles with severe stage fright and low self-esteem in general. It’s just Hilda and her mother, her musician dad having left when she was young.

Claire (the mom) and Hilda have a very complex and unhealthy relationship. Claire has always had a string of lovers, turning herself into whoever she thinks they want her to be. She needs to feel seen, oftentimes at the expense of her daughter.

One of Phillip’s old friends convinces him to try teaching the violin during a program that Hilda has just enrolled in. She plays the Witches’ Dance, and Phillip recognizes not just her skill but her passion. Things build from that moment.

This book is not comfortable. I skipped certain scenes because I knew they’d be too much for me. But, the author made me care deeply about the story and the characters. She easily showed the ripple effect one small circumstance can cause. I saw the moment that Phillip’s life derailed, and the choices that came closer and closer to taking what he had left.

I saw poor Hilda, and the things that could have destroyed her. I saw her broken relationships with her parents and I wanted to fix them. I understood how she was taken advantage of so completely, mistaking love of music for love of something else. I so badly wanted her to realize her own worth.

There was a certain moment, where someone triumphed despite instead of because, that nearly brought me to tears. And that’s saying something. This is an incredibly harsh book, but it’s stunningly gorgeous. If you can handle reading about harsher circumstances, I highly suggest you pick this book up. It’ll stay with me for quite a while.

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The Somnambulist by Johnathan Barnes

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“Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It’s a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in dreadfully pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and willfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.”
                                                                                                                                  -The Narrator

I don’t think I’m smart enough for this book. It’s set in London, in the late Victorian era. It’s about Edward Moon, a has-been magician and amateur detective. Together with The Somnambulist, a huge, silent man who doesn’t bleed when stabbed, Edward Moon sets out to solve what may be their last big case.

It starts as a simple murder, but soon evolves into a complicated morass that is simultaneously interesting and incredibly confusing. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this book. There are good things about it- like the unreliable narrator-, but there are also things I really didn’t like (there are a ridiculous amount of unimportant characters to try to keep track of). I’m not entirely sure I even understand the ending, although that might be because I was sick and groggy when I finished the book.

Usually, I love ambiguous endings, but this book left so many threads dangling, that I’m left unsure as to whether or not it actually ended. There is a sequel, but it was written many years later. I wonder if it was written specifically to answer some of the many questions remaining.

Regardless, the author is very talented. Whether you end up enjoying the book or not, you will be unable to deny that it is one of the most original out there.

The Lady and the Highwayman by Sarah M. Eden- ARC Review

Elizabeth Black is the headmistress of a girls’ school in 1830s Victorian London. She is also a well-respected author of “silver-fork” novels, stories written both for and about the upper-class ladies of Victorian society. But by night, she writes very different kinds of stories—the Penny Dreadfuls that are all the rage among the working-class men. Under the pseudonym Mr. King, Elizabeth has written about dashing heroes fighting supernatural threats, intelligent detectives solving grisly murders, and dangerous outlaws romancing helpless women. They contain all the adventure and mystery that her real life lacks.
 
Fletcher Walker began life as a street urchin, but is now the most successful author in the Penny Dreadful market, that is until Mr. King started taking all of his readers. No one knows who King is, including Fletcher’s fellow members of the Dread Penny Society, a fraternity of  authors dedicated to secretly fighting for the social and political causes of their working-class readers. The group knows King could be an asset with his obvious monetary success, or he could be the group’s undoing as King’s readership continues to cut into their profits.
 
Determined to find the elusive Mr. King, Fletcher approaches Miss Black. As a fellow-author, she is well-known among the high-class writers; perhaps she could be persuaded to make some inquiries as to Mr. King’s whereabouts? Elizabeth agrees to help Fletcher, if only to insure her secret identity is never discovered. What neither author anticipated was the instant attraction, even though their social positions dictate the impossibility of a relationship.
 
For the first time Elizabeth experiences the thrill of a cat-and-mouse adventure reminiscent of one of her own novels as she tries to throw Fletcher off her scent. But the more time they spend together, the more she loses her heart. Its upper-class against working-class, author against author where readers, reputations, and romance are all on the line. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on September third.

This book is a mixed bag for me. There were things that I thought were done well, but others just didn’t work. I was at a bit of a disadvantage with this book anyway, because I don’t read romance. I was hoping it’d be more historical swashbuckling adventure and slightly less on the heaving bosoms and fluttering hearts. Alas, if I had anything remotely resembling a heart, I might have enjoyed this more.

I thought Fletcher and his Dread Penny Society misfits were interesting. That he used his success as a penny-dreadful author to fund endeavors to improve the life of poverty-stricken children made him a multilayered character. Elizabeth, though, was boring. I hated reading the parts written from her perspective.

I did like the cat-and-mouse aspect of the book. It added some fun and made the story move along nicely. What I didn’t like were the random chapters of each character’s separate penny dreadful that were interspersed throughout the book. It kept grinding the story to a halt, taking me out of what was happening to the characters at the time.

All in all, this book wasn’t for me, but if you’re into romance with some other stuff thrown in for good measure, you might really enjoy it. I just needed more buckling of swash, and less of the syrupy sweet romance.

Needful Things by Stephen King

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I’ve read a few Stephen King books in the past, but not too many. To be honest, my opinions on the books I had previously read ranged from indifference to dislike, so I was a bit uncertain on how I’d feel about this one. I decided to read Needful Things because I loved the show “Castle Rock”, which is loosely based on Stephen Kings’ works.

Needful Things takes place in Castle Rock, Maine, which is the setting for several of King’s stories. It’s a sleepy little town. At least, it would be if it hadn’t been the site of some seriously bizarre violent happenings over the years. Leland Gaunt, a charming man, comes to town and opens a store called “Needful Things”. It seems to be a curio shop, or an odd antique store. People from the town start coming in and, luckily for them, find the thing they most want.

Leland Gaunt sells things for an intriguing price- what the shopper can pay in cash plus one prank. Just a harmless little prank. Except, it’s Castle Rock, Gaunt isn’t who he seems, and suddenly these pranks have less than harmless consequences.

The idea is fascinating, Not because someone who deals in more than currency is a new idea; it’s not. But someone who uses pranks as currency is very original and the way the story progressed is unique. I’ve never heard any version of the Peddler who deals in that sort of trade. So, right away, I was intrigued.

Stephen King is an incredibly talented writer, no one will deny that. At times, I did feel like there were too many background characters, and there were a few parts that I think could have been condensed (for example, there were multiple Elvis Presley sexual fantasies, which seemed redundant). Overall, though, I really liked it. By the end, the story was barreling along at a breakneck pace and taking me with it.

I especially liked Sally because she had so much to lose. More than anyone else in the book, her “needful thing” was really needed. Leland Gaunt was truly terrifying, while being an incredibly complex character. I loved the way things ended between Gaunt and Pangborn (I won’t say, don’t worry).

There was one scene in particular that was extremely difficult for me to read; I ended up a little sick to my stomach. Be aware that Stephen King never pulls punches. His books are not for the faint of heart.

All in all, I enjoyed it. The snowball effect was fascinating, the ending was unexpected, and I got chills during the epilogue. If you enjoy Stephen King, or horror in general, I’d recommend this book.

Two Like Me and You by Chad Alan Gibbs

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Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for an honest review.

I recently read a review for this book on Paul’s Picks blog. He made it sound so good that I just had to check it out myself. I’m happy to report that he has excellent taste. This book was funny, sweet, and heart warming.

Edwin Green has been in mourning since his ex sort-of girlfriend unceremoniously dumped him. He’s been unable to move on, since she’s now super famous and the constant topic of conversation at his high school. He’s been trying to become famous himself, in an effort to get his ex’s attention. Unfortunately, Edwin’s Youtube channel is less than popular.

That’s the state of things when his class is given an assignment- conduct interviews with a WW2 veteran. His partner is the only other ongoing topic of rumor at his school: Parker Haddaway. She’s sassy, confident, and not much is known about her. They speak to Garland Lennox, a cantankerous vet who convinces them to break him out of the nursing home. The three of them embark on an adventure of a lifetime overseas, trying to track down his long-lost love.

What I love about this book is how well everything just fits together. Each character has their own unique voice and motivation, as do all the people they meet along the way. While I have a soft spot for poor, pining Edwin, Garland is what pushed this book above and beyond for me. The stories he told about his life- maybe a third of which are true- were such fun to read about. The truth underneath his b.s. was heartwarming, and the resolution for his character was bittersweet and perfect.

And the hijinks they manage to get into! I laughed out loud at the incident involving a French police officer. This is one not to miss. It’ll make you smile.

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky- ARC Review

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available to purchase on October first.

As soon as I started this book, I was presented with a problem: Do I read it as quickly as possible to see what happens next? Or do I drag it out as long as I can, enjoying Stephen Chobsky’s fantastic writing? I’m sure you, reader, have been in this position before. Ultimately, the choice was made for me; I couldn’t put this book down.

I’ll start with the characters. They were wonderfully three-dimensional, every one of them. Christopher was such a sweet little boy and I absolutely loved his mom. She was a fighter in every sense of the word. With the many characters this book had, the fact that they were all well developed and had distinct personalities was impressive, to say the least.

In this book, Christopher goes missing for several days. He shows up again, thanks to “the nice man”, whom no-one else has seen. He’s not the same, though. He has a friend that no one else can see. Thanks to this friendship, Christopher learns that he has a very important job that only he can complete. If he doesn’t finish by Christmas, all hell will break loose.

Normally at this point in a horror review, an excellent writer will be called “the next Stephen King”, or some such thing. I can’t do that, though. Chobsky’s writing is so unique that there’s no comparing it to anyone else. His book was very cerebral. To be honest, it got under my skin. He has a knack for knowing exactly what wigs me out. There are layers upon layers in this book, and it kept me fascinated from start to finish.

I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say this: this is a horror book and some people do horrific things. There might be things that would trigger some, so be aware of that as you read. Normally, some of the things touched upon would really bother me, but it was written in a way that I was able to handle.

For those who haven’t recognized the name, Stephen Chbosky is the author of the absolutely incredible The Perks of Being a Wallflower (if you haven’t read it yet, you really need to rectify that problem. I’ll wait). The fact that he is able to write such disparate genres speaks highly of his ability to weave a tale. He also somehow managed to make me tear up at parts, then scare the living daylights out of me a chapter later. He is a master in his craft.

Read this book.

Firefly Book Tag

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I thought I’d try my hand at a my own book tag, for the first time. Of course it has to be Firefly-related, to make my nerdy heart happy. So… take me out to the black, tell ’em I ain’t coming back!

Malcolm Reynolds- A Book with a Conflicted Character

“Mercy is the mark of a great man.” (stabs defeated opponent) 
“I guess I’m just a good  man” (stabs opponent again)
“Well…I’m alright.”
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The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman: Tanis is a very conflicted character. He’s often at war with himself, just like Mal. He’s also in a leadership role and feels that weight immensely.

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Zoe- A Book With a Hardcore Female Character:
Mal: “Well, look at this! Appears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us?”
Zoe: “Big damn heroes, sir!”
Mal: “Ain’t we just.”

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Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake: Each of the three queens is strong in her own way, although at the moment Katharine (the poisoner queen) comes to mind.

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Wash- A Character or Book With a Good Sense of Humor:

“We’re all doomed! Who’s flying this thing?! Oh right, that would be me. Back to work.”

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Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

This book is so stinking funny, and its sequel is even better. I love clever humor and this book has it in spades.

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Jayne: A Violent Book or Character
“You know what the chain of command is? It’s the chain I go get and beat you with ’til ya understand who’s in ruttin’ command here.”

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Red Rising by Pierce Brown
One of the many things I love about this series is that no character is safe. The body count builds rather quickly. When revenge turns into revolution, things tend to get messy.

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Kaylee- An Optimistic Book or Character:
Mal: “I don’t think there’s a power in the ‘verse that can stop Kaylee from being cheerful. Sometimes you just wanna duct tape her mouth and dump her in the hold for a month.” 
Kaylee:  “I love my captain.”

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The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky:
Okay, hear me out on this one. This book deals with some incredibly heavy subjects. It makes me cry every time (and I reread this one a lot), but it ends on a feeling of hope. I can’t really explain it. If you read it, you’ll get what I mean.

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Inara: A Book or Character that’s mysterious:
Mal: “How’s business?”
Inara: “None of yours.”

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: One of the many things I love about this book is the air of mystery and impossibility of the Cirque Des Reves, as well as the characters.

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Shepard Book- A Book or Character involving faith
“You don’t fix faith. Faith fixes you.”

Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman: I don’t read a lot of faith-based books, just my Bible. But this book really resonated with me.

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Simon Tam- A Book or Character that’s highly intelligent:
” I don’t care what you’ve done, I don’t know what you’re planning on doing, but I’m trusting you. I think you should do the same. ‘Cause I don’t see this working any other way.”
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The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford-English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

This book is fascinating, and I definitely learned some things while reading it. Who knew the dictionary had such an interesting beginning?

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River Tam: A Book or Character that’s a bit creepy:
“Also, I can kill you with my brain.”

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chobsky:
I’m about two thirds of the way through this book, and I can honestly say it’s given me the wiggins. I am loving it so far.

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Well, that’s it for my first attempt at a book tag. If you want to try it with your choices, please be sure to tag me as the creator. I’d love to see what you come up with!

Book of Dave by Peter Lingard- ARC Review

Dave Wilson is a London barman who, in late December 1995, sifts through telephone numbers accumulated during the year. Each chapter tells the story behind one number. He joins a band of people who wear pink underwear every Friday, goes to sea in a collier, helps a client sell his invention, takes a sick woman to hospital and has other adventures. He becomes friendly with a less than honest policeman, and flies to New York where he falls for an unobtainable woman. There are stories of Christmas parties and egotistical celebrities. Humour weaves through this collection of slices from different lives. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review. This will be available for purchase on July first.

First: I loved the idea for this book! Having several stories all told from the point of view of a barman in a pub is such a clever idea. There’s so much that could be done with that. Really, the sky’s the limit (literally; there could be a story involving a pilot; but I digress). The thing is…this book didn’t deliver.

In the beginning of the book, you see Dave- the main character- going through receipts, napkins, etc, that he’s gotten while working at a pub over the years. The book continues by detailing where each number came from. The numbers themselves come from an array of characters: a less-than-moral cop, a woman on a train to Scotland, a member of the PUFFS (Pink Underwear For Friday) club. But, still, the book didn’t go anywhere.

The problem is, Dave isn’t likable at all. He thinks with only one head, and it isn’t the one on his shoulders. It felt very cliche to have a main character whose sole goal in life was to hook up. There were so many excellent set-ups too, but ninety percent of them just turned into a story detailing the beginning of a short-lived relationship. For example, there’s a story in which he rides with a sick woman to the hospital–which turns into a hookup. In another story, Dave meets Captain Sam, a woman who runs a ship—it turns into a hookup. See where I’m going with this? I kept getting distracted, thinking of all the std’s Dave probably had.

I was so disappointed because this book could have been so much and it just wasn’t. The writing style is solid, but the descriptions were lacking (how many times can you mention a woman’s curvy calves or cleavage without it getting old?), and it just wasn’t for me. I do hope that Mr. Lingard continues to write, but I doubt I’ll read anything of his in the future.

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence- ARC Review

Ready Player One meets Stranger Things in this new novel by the bestselling author who George RR Martin describes as “an excellent writer.”

In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this, in exchange for my honest opinion. This is available to purchase now.

This was one of those books that I didn’t hate, but I also didn’t love. The idea is solid, and I can understand why this book would be considered a gut-punch for some, but it just didn’t resonate with me. It’s kind of a bummer, because I was so excited to read it.

I honestly think I would have enjoyed it more if it had been a full-length book. It really was too short for me to get all that invested in the characters. I do love the D&D angle (I happen to play myself), but I don’t think it was explored as well as it could have been.

The biggest strength in this book is the author: man, Mark Lawrence can write! However, it wasn’t quite enough to pull me from a “meh” reaction to a “holy guacamole” one. That being said, the shorter format might work better for others than it did for me.

It was a worthy effort, but it fell a little flat.

Mental Illness Awareness Week 2019: Bookish Opinions

**This post discusses mental illness and might include something upsetting. Please continue at your own discretion.**

Here’s the thing: I live with mental illness. Along with many, many others, I don’t often talk about it. Why? Stigma. It’s hard to talk about something that is often belittled or disbelieved. Over the years, I’ve gotten some seriously odd (and at times, harmful) comments regarding my bipolar. But I’ve realized something: there is absolutely no reason for me to feel ashamed or embarrassed by my mental illness. Yes, sometimes I am fighting a battle with myself. But I’m fighting, which I think I should be proud of.

Being me, I have several books that I’ve read over the years that portray mental illness in a way that helps me. Here are a few of them. And please know this: if you struggle with mental illness, you are not alone. You are not lesser than. You are not a burden. Not ever.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini : inspired by Ned Vizinni’s own mental hospital stay. It discusses suicide, depression, and finding hope.

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“People are screwed up in this world. I’d rather be with someone screwed up and open about it than somebody perfect and ready to explode.”
Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story

If You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For by Jamie Tworkoski : Written by the founder of To Write Love on Her Arms, these emails and poems discuss depression, drug use, faith, and accepting help.

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You are more than just your pain. You are more than wounds, more than drugs, more than death and silence.There is still some time to be surprised. There is still some time to ask for help. There is still some time to start again. There is still some time for love to find you. It’s not too late. You’re not alone. It’s okay –whatever you need and however long it takes- its okay. It’s okay. If you feel too much, there’s still a place for you here. If you feel too much, don’t go. There is still some time.”  -Jamie Tworkowski, If You Feel Too Much

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison : Jamison’s autobiography is incredibly uplifting because, not only did I completely relate, but she is a talented mental health professor despite (because of?) her illness.

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I have seen the breadth and depth and width of my mind and heart and seen how frail they both are, and how ultimately unknowable they both are. – Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chobsky: This beautiful book discusses ptsd, depression, possible unspecified mood disorder, and drug use.

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So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.- Stephen Chobsky, Perks of Being a Wallflower

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher: talks mainly about bipolar disorder.

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“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.
They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.” 
― Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking


Are there any books that you feel portray mental illness well? What are they? I’d love to get a list going!