The Way Through the Woods by Long Litt Woon

“We live in a society that regards death as a defeat for medical science rather than a part of life. In a culture that allows little place for death in the public area, grief becomes a private affair, viewed as a luxury we cannot afford.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 182 pages.
Read from June 16, 2019 to June 20, 2019.

When I spotted this book off Netgalley I was interested in reading it due to its themes on grief, yet I found myself very intrigued with the information provided on mushrooms and enjoying these aspects much more than I thought I would. Woon’s journey through mushrooms is intertwined with the grief of her husband; her passion for mushrooms and the intimate details of her mourning make a unique relationship that intertwines and reads well.

“We are all amateurs at grief, although sooner or later every one of us will lose someone close to us.”

Woon discusses her grieving journey intimately and just how uncomfortable we are with death as a society despite it being a part of literally everyone’s life at one point or another. It’s so uncomfortable that many of those grieving feel utterly alone and abandoned in their mourning as no one knows what to do to provide support or relief.  In social interactions the death and memory of the person are often just avoided altogether, leaving the bereaved to heal on their own. It’s a tragedy in its own right, however, the grieved are still the ones that ultimately have to decide how to move on.

“Grief grinds slowly; it devours all the time it needs.”

This is when mushrooms became paramount in Woon’s grieving process. Woon and her husband had once discussed taking a mushroom course together before he died, something that they never got to do together. Woon found herself drawn to sign up for the class alone and quickly learned to lose herself in the world of mushrooms and the journey that comes in learning about them, picking them, and cooking with them. Woon provides some great facts on the different types of mushrooms in Norway and the mushroom culture. Did you know that not every country can agree on which mushrooms are considered toxic? They deadly ones are consistent but the what one country labels as toxic another considers harmless. The book is complete with drawn images of distinct mushrooms in Norway and even a few really yummy-sounding ways to prepare and cook mushrooms, a great addition to the book that I was not expecting.

Mushrooms are something that I have very little experience in eating and tasting having only really come to enjoy them in my adult years. I have, however, always found them interesting and have been in awe of people who are knowledgable on them. Woon discusses how people usually perceive mushrooming as a dangerous ordeal as the little knowledge that people have when it comes to wild mushrooms is only on how poisonous some can be. Woon details the education process it takes to become an expert in mushrooming and explains that errors rarely happen. The wild mushrooms gathered in Norway are inspected by certified experts before they’re allowed to be taken home. With the right knowledge and by double checking each other’s haul, wild mushrooming is a perfectly safe hobby to have but it’s still hard to convince the general public of it.

Through mushrooms, Woon managed to crawl out of the pit that grief had put her in and slowly put together a new life without her beloved husband. Loss, as Woon explains, means so much more than just the loss of that loved one’s life, it’s the loss of the life that will never be had again. Those that are left behind after someone dies will never be the same. Their lives as they know it, or knew it, will never be the same. The unwanted task then falls the mourning to find their way again and start anew with the perceived insurmountable task of doing it without the person they lost.

This book is a comforting and validating read for anyone grieving and while the glimpse into the mushroom culture and its accompanying facts are extremely interesting, most of the information is only valid only in Norway. Even with that, Woon’s writing is highly engaging, enjoyable and interesting, even if you’re only mildly interested in mushrooms.

Perfectly Hidden Depression by Margaret Robinson Rutherford

No one knows the real you because you never let them in. You’re not comfortable with the reality of you so you pretend it doesn’t exist.  If this sounds all too familiar to you, then you need this book.

5/5 stars.
ARC, ebook, 232 pages.
Read from May 29, 2019 to May 31, 2019.

You always meet your deadlines regardless of how you’re feeling, you push forward through difficult circumstances and hide behind a facade in order to keep an appearance of having it all together. All because you don’t want to be perceived as incompetent or weak, yet inside you’re constantly battling with yourself, your feelings, and your self-worth. You’ve tried to line yourself up with the standard definitions of depression yet you never fully fit it due to your heightened sense of responsibility, your inability to recognise or share your feelings, and the high sense of control you constantly try to implement in your life. No one knows the real you because you never let them in. You’re not comfortable with the reality of you so you pretend it doesn’t exist.  If this sounds all too familiar to you, then you need this book.

After some harrowing experiences with patients, the author of this book noticed a pattern and began to put together the shape of this unique type of depression that often goes unnoticed and undiagnosed. Coined by the author, Perfectly Hidden Depression (PHD) can be the result of a variety of factors such as upbringing, ingrained beliefs, and personality traits. The author states that there isn’t anything in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM) on this type of depression but that this is an acknowledgement and an observation from her own professional experiences (which she details and provides resources for). The author believes PHD is a subset of depression that many practitioners miss because it doesn’t present the way the DSM has listed. The author gives this list of defining features that make up someone with PHD:

  • Are highly perfectionistic and have a constant, critical,
    and shaming inner voice
  • Demonstrate a heightened or excessive sense of
    responsibility
  • Detach from painful emotions by staying in your head
    and actively shutting them off
  • Worry and need to control yourself and your
    environment
  • Intensely focus on tasks, using accomplishment to feel
    valuable
  • Focus on the well-being of others but don’t allow them
    into your inner world
  • Discount personal hurt or sorrow and struggle with
    self-compassion
  • May have an accompanying mental health issue, such
    as an eating disorder, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or addiction
  • Believe strongly in counting your blessings as the foundation of well-being
  • May enjoy success within a professional structure but
    struggle with emotional intimacy in relationships

Think of some of the shocking celebrity suicides that have happened recently, Anthony Bourdain, for example. Everyone thought he has this dream life and that he seemed like a generally happy and satisfied person. What if Anthony was the epitome of PHD? In that, he felt his personal value was only in his accomplishments, driven by how grateful he thought he should feel, and then feeling burdened and overwhelmed by the mask of achievement and perfection that he felt he had to wear. He also had addiction problems. If we knew more about people that presented with this perfectly masked depression we could provide them with better treatment and save them and those around them an immense amount of suffering.

“Anthony Bourdain was apparently not physically ill, not financially destitute, not concerned about getting his next meal, and not lacking in fame. In fact, he remarked he had “the greatest job in the world.”” – Toronto Sun, July 7, 2018

It’s hard not to get personal in reviewing this book as I picked it up from Netgalley out of my own personal interest. After reading The Gifts of Imperfection eight years ago I worked through my own PHD, which at the time was just learning to be vulnerable again. I started talking and writing about my issues and the condition, dermatillomania, that still plagues me, something that would have been unthinkable before. I made steep headway with Brené Brown’s book but it wasn’t enough. This book feels like the acknowledgement and the validation I need to press forward in my own personal growth and happiness in terms of the regressions I have made at this point in my life.

The author of this book is shedding light on an area of depression that requires some serious attention. Her writing is personable, concise, insightful, informative, resourceful and clinical. I have already recommended this book to at least three people I know and I anxiously await its publication as I look forward to adding this to my permanent bookshelf.  At this time, I have not done the reflections recommended in the book as I was excited and anxious to get through all the content because of how alarmingly relevant I found it. I am now looking forward to re-reading the book and diligently doing the reflections which I believe will be immensely valuable. I’ve already started recommending this book which is due to be published on November 1, 2019. I highly recommended this book to anyone who feels they fit this description, and if you do, chances are you’re reluctant to reach out for help, so start with this book, no one has to know.

Rhapsody by Heather McKenzie

The final instalment of the Nightmusic Trilogy is here!

4/5 stars,
ARC/ebook, 382 pages.
Read from January 9, 2019 to January 16, 2019.

The final instalment of the Nightmusic Trilogy is here! A big thanks to Heather McKenzie for graciously allowing me to read and give honest reviews of all of her novels. It’s been a pleasure! Rhapsody was published on January 7, 2019 and is available for purchase.

If you haven’t read the two previous books in the Nightmusic trilogy, stop right now and go and read them as this novel won’t make much sense if you have not read the previous two novels. Besides, this whole trilogy is like an action-rollercoaster of intense excitement and suspense so you’re missing out on some great YA reads if you don’t start from the beginning.

Rhapsody picks up right where Nocturne left off in which the people that Kaya loves most have been taken by her ruthless and vindictive father, Henry. Henry is trying to get Kaya back under his reign so that he can claim her large inheritance for himself and continue with his ethically unsound pharmaceutical company. Luke, Kaya’s lover, and Stephen, her caretaker and real father-figure are currently being tortured at her father’s home. Kaya loves Luke more than anything and she is going to do whatever it takes to get him back in one piece. Kaya’s passion and recklessness when it comes to Luke are tempered only by Seth, Lisa, Oliver, and Thomas whose own care and reasoning keep her safe from harm.

“Henry chuckled. “A deal? I have what you want. So, in exchange for Luke, unharmed and released from his current situation, you will come home. And you will bring Mr. Oliver Bennet—my loyal, adopted son—with you.””

Thomas, whom we initially met in the previous novel, Nocturne, has fallen desperately in love with Kaya. Poor Thomas is in a bid to try and win Kaya over from Luke, a struggle that Kaya herself was not anticipating with matters of her own heart. Oliver, who has yet to get over his own feelings for Kaya, will still do whatever it takes to keep Kaya safe and happy, even if that means directly helping her save Luke. Can this group of friends get away from the grasps of Kaya’s horrid family? Who will Kaya choose? Thomas or Luke?

“Was I in love with two people? The thought of living out the rest of my days without Luke, or Thomas, made the future seem impossibly bleak and unbearable. My stomach twisted up around my spine.”

I don’t think I’ve ever read a YA book with so much blood and action before. The first chapter is a torture scene! I remember being blown away with Serenade with the action-packed plot and excitement and Rhapsody continues to carry that torch. This book balances a mature and intense, violent plotline with the intensity of teenage loveI struggled a bit with Nocturne due to the building of the love-square that takes place with KayaThomas, Oliver and Luke as it was hard to fathom the intensity that these young men loved Kaya. However, this book developed on those relationships further and allowed Kaya more choice with the outcomes of her life.  Kaya was more empowered with her decision making in this novel and the friendships that come out of Kaya’s tragic and tumultuous story are sincere.  Kaya really is a genuine, kind, and tough individual that everyone wants to know and care for.  Some old acquaintances and friends make a come back in this novel, with some who don’t care about Kaya as much as they initially led on but I’ll keep those suspenseful spoilers to myself. I will say this, however, the ending is a happy one and for that, I am grateful.

I’m sad to see Kaya’s story come to an end as I enjoyed it so much but I am looking forward to seeing what Heather McKenzie will come up with next. If you like YA, especially stories outside of the paranormal genre, I would highly recommend this powerhouse trilogy.