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Love Letters to the DeadFrom Goodreads: It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more; though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was; lovely and amazing and deeply flawed; can she begin to discover her own path.

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Love Letters to the Dead spans Laurel’s 9th grade year as she tries to sort through her life—her older sister May has only recently died and the circumstances behind her death remain shrouded in mystery as the novel unfolds, spurring readers on as Laurel relays many different facts about her life.  This is an extremely well written epistolary novel that captured my attention immediately.  I really adore novels told through letters, diary entries, and the like, and Dellaira does a superb job getting Laurel’s voice across using this writing style.

When the novel first picks up, Laurel is writing a letter to Kurt Cobain, and as she begins to relate to him through their shared experiences, she starts to tell the story of her sister, and soon finds herself working her way through multiple letters and truths about the past, present, and future.  With the death of May, Laurel’s family fell apart; her mother now lives in California, and Laurel splits her time between the homes of her father and aunt, yet none know the truth as Laurel does.  And as the story unfolds, readers learn that there are many heavy underlying truths that Laurel must eventually face in order to move from the past and begin living in the present.  I will admit that it took me a little while to warm up to Laurel, but as she pours out her heart, I found it impossible to not connect with her and her experiences, both trials and triumphs.

One aspect of this novel that I truly love is that, as Laurel writes letters to the dead, she connects the dead’s lives, music, accomplishments, and decisions with those that she is currently experiencing.  It flows together seamlessly, and helps bring validity and emotion to the novel as Laurel tells her story, asks her questions, and struggles with the answers.  The letters show how Laurel is on a downward spiral, and as it all comes to a head, we learn what Laurel really knows of the night her sister died, and why Laurel has slowly allowed herself to become someone else as the school year progresses.  It’s an intriguing, heartfelt read that I highly recommend.  Four stars.

4 stars

In exchange for an honest review, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) have been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on April 1, 2014.

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Dancing With DualityFrom Goodreads: Betrayed at the age of 21 by the first love of her life, Stella Vance embarks on a life of fearless adventure. She travels the world, adding notches to her lipstick case with lovers from all over the world, and surviving harrowing experiences, including abuse, addiction, abortion, date rape, and cult involvement. Along the way, Stella undergoes a spiritual transformation. Once awakened to the reality of nonduality, she gradually realizes that life is just a game, that death is just another dimension, and that nothing “out there” can really hurt her. This inspiring page-turning memoir begins in the 1970s, with Stella as a Christian zealot. Subsequently questioning all religious dogma, Stella’s mystical quest leads her to delve deeply into the realms of dreams, psychic readings, astrology, tantric yoga, reincarnation and her own past lives, the entheogen ketamine, Indian holy men and women, revolving-door relationships, the seeker culture of southern California, and finally, the ultimate path of Advaita Vedanta. At the same time, she deals with anorexia and bulimia, addictions to cigarettes, marijuana, and alcohol, unwanted pregnancies, teaching in public schools, the death of several loved ones, foreclosure, and emigrating to South America. The life of Stella Vance embodies all the adventure, drama, romance, humor, and philosophy of a free spirit set loose in the ’70s and finding its way into the new millennium. Reading Dancing with Duality provides evidence that life is meant to provide entertainment, as well as to teach us how to be grateful, forgive, and heal from all its vagaries. In the end, Stella’s free spirit journey takes her on the path to the ultimate freedom: freedom from the mind with all its fears, judgments, limiting beliefs, and worries.

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Though Stella’s viewpoints on life are indeed vastly different from my own, this was a beautiful memoir full of enlightenment and truths, such as, “be careful when you judge someone; you may end up doing a similar thing.” This statement shows up time and time again, and it carries a very heavy weight not only within the story, but within all our lives. While we may not always agree with Stella’s choices, she shows readers that her own judgments came back to haunt her, and she did, indeed, end up doing similar things, even though she may have told herself “never in a million years.” It’s a very interesting look at like growing up in the 60s and 70s, and how free spirited she really was. Stella lays it all bare, discussing both trials and triumphs, and it’s such a conversational, beautiful tone that I was taken with her story from the get go. We have all made mistakes, but it takes an extremely strong individual to write a book about them and showcase it to the world. What Stella has done is shown how she has become a free spirit, and how her life decisions ultimately brought her to where she is now. It’s a great read, and even if you feel like you might not have the same mindset as Stella, I suggest you pick up this memoir, because it’s extremely enlightening and very interesting.  Beginning with her parents divorce, her onset of an eating disorder, her love of foreign men (who doesn’t!), and her time an University, Stella wraps the reader up tight in her life, gluing us to the pages until the very end. Four stars.

4 starsI received this memoir from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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