Book Review: The Frederick Sisters Are Living The Dream by Jeannie Zusy

Happy Thursdays!
Did anyone watch the Nintendo Direct from earlier this week? I actually cried at the announcement of the Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life remake. A childhood favorite brought to the present, sure makes the swellest present! Unfortunately, Alear’s god awful design in the newest Fire Emblem: Engage announcement, from the same Direct, has ruined the presentation for me. It’s just…that Colgate, Nintendo Switch colored hair. Just…why?? Fantastic art otherwise, not too sure about the animations, and not too keen on the unoriginal “yet another revived Fell Dragon in need of slaying” plot. Am I still getting it? For sure!

This week’s book that’s up for review: The Frederick Sisters Are Living The Dream by Jeannie Zusy. Thought to have been long overdue for a review, now that I have checked the publishing date, I actually made it on time for release! Phew!

Book Title: The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream: A Novel
Series: [Standalone]
Author: Jeannie Zusy
Length: 306 Pages (Paper) > Paperback ARC Edition
Publication Date: September 20th 2022
Publisher: Atria Books
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Family, Humor, Literary Fiction, Womens Fiction

Goodreads: >LINK<
Amazon: >LINK<

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me, via a Goodreads Giveaway, in exchange for a fair and honest review. A huge thank you to Goodreads, the author, and Atria books for this copy! All opinions are my own.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine meets Early Morning Riser with a dash of Where’d You Go, Bernadette in this very funny, occasionally romantic, and surprisingly moving novel about how one woman’s life is turned upside down when she becomes caregiver to her sister with special needs.

Every family has its fault lines, and when Maggie gets a call from the ER in Maryland where her older sister lives, the cracks start to appear. Ginny, her sugar-loving and diabetic older sister with intellectual disabilities, has overdosed on strawberry Jell-O.

Maggie knows Ginny really can’t live on her own, so she brings her sister and her occasionally vicious dog to live near her in upstate New York. Their other sister, Betsy, is against the idea but as a professional surfer, she is conveniently thousands of miles away.

Thus, Maggie’s life as a caretaker begins. It will take all of her dark humor and patience, already spread thin after a separation, raising two boys, freelancing, and starting a dating life, to deal with Ginny’s diapers, sugar addiction, porn habit, and refusal to cooperate. Add two devoted but feuding immigrant aides and a soon-to-be ex-husband who just won’t go away, and you’ve got a story that will leave you laughing through your tears as you wonder who is actually taking care of whom.

Oh, this was such a refreshing read that I thoroughly enjoyed!
Three sisters and all of the worries, self-doubts, and struggles between them. What’s on the surface is never “just the only things” that’s going on.

I struggled to get into and start the book because every time I cracked it open, there are no chapters but rather, four long parts. Stopping in the middle of a reading session was always awkward, but it wasn’t that much of a problem when you finally get into the book. Even if I didn’t like the way the book was divided, I fell in love with the intensity of the writing and the realism from every character. It felt like reading right off Maggie’s private journals, like listening to a friend tell me about her day, like being in her head and hearing and experiencing all of her worries. The writing is choppy in places but I loved most of everything else; the tension, the frustration, the thoughts of both Maggie and those around her, and of course all of their joys and mini celebrations too.

The story begins with Maggie driving Ginny back to live in New York, to be closer to her. It’s a trip from Maryland, somewhere Ginny will never see again and she doesn’t even know that yet. Virginia (Ginny) has an intellectual disability and despite living just fine on her own and away from her siblings, ever since she’s retired from her job, her life has gone downhill, her health in decline. She’s no longer able to take care of herself and her diabetes is not being properly managed, causing her to end up with sepsis and nearly dying. She doesn’t want to move, and oldest sister, Betsy (Bets), says that Maggie should just be allowed to live how she wants to live. If that means leaving her to her own devices and she dies from it…well…

So, against both her sisters’ wishes, Maggie brings Ginny closer to her, in upstate New York. Because what does Bets know? She’s off in California, surfing up her dream life and appearing on television!

This was a heartwarming read. I know it’s listed as humorous, but I felt kind of sad through the book. Sad for Ginny’s loss of freedom and loss of independence, something she’s had for decades. Sad for Bets and sad for Maggie and Ginny who know that something’s up with Bets to act so aloof and distant (physically and mentally), but we never know what and why. Sad for Maggie who is a bit neurotic and lonely but means well with all her heart. Sad for the kids and how the “divorce” affected them. But it was also refreshing because it shows the complex emotions and issues that make up a family: the relationship between the sisters, loneliness of the husband living separately but the kids also never being home, coming to terms about past mistakes and the growth, the bickering that stems from misunderstandings, the burnout, the drinking, the “am I really doing this for Ginny’s health or my own selfishness?”, the “When is it Maggie’s turn to be taken cared of?” Emotions are very strong here and I know I’ve cried a few times.

The characters here are wonderful, so well-developed, and again, as real as it gets. Bets is far away and acts like she doesn’t care that Ginny is no longer able to care for herself or the fact that she nearly died. She acts aloof, but from the beginning you know, through her brief encounters and calls, that something’s wrong on her end and nobody knows what until the end. Just as much as it affects Maggie, it too lingered in my mind from the very beginning, “What’s wrong with Bets? It’s bad, but we don’t know what and she won’t say anything.” Maggie always means the best, but at times she can be controlling and even intimidating in her “never wrong” attitude. She means well, but her work goes unappreciated on all ends. She knows that she can be controlling, but she also knows that the alternative is that the world falls apart: Bets will grow farther and farther away, Ginny could die, her sons could leave her for good.

Ginny struggles with her many losses too, from nearly dying to being torn from her own home, in Maryland, to first being put in a nursing home and then, against her will, put in a house that Maggie helped her find only to have a home-aide follow her everywhere and not let her do the things she enjoys (such as cutting back on a lot of sweets). She can’t even hold her own dog anymore and she loves Rascal!

Still, it’s not all sad and there are sprinkles here and there. I wouldn’t call it a depressing read nor would I call it a comedic one either. The best description may be, bittersweet with a hint of warm cinnamon. Life is hard with a rare treat in the middle. It’s a dark chocolate cupcake kind of bittersweet humor. Every character has their ups and good sides and their downs and flaws. As hard as things are, and as distant as the three sisters have become, the ending was relieving and as everyone comes back to some form of connection and a mutual understanding is made, you could almost feel the weights lifted from everyone’s shoulders, main and side characters alike. Bets tells Maggie of her own struggles, in both past and her current life, and Maggie sees Bets off on a warmer ground. Ginny begins to love New York and Maggie has something great to look forward to again.

It’s a hard read for sure, the tone, even with all the bits of humor thrown in, is still serious. Oftentimes, my heart clenches after an argument because I understand how hard the situation can be. It was a wonderful read and I enjoyed it enough to add it to my very small pile of books I would reread when I get a chance to.

Heart touching, heartwarming, heartbreaking. Special and loving.

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Book Review: Dome City Blues by Jeff Edwards

Prior to this book, I’ve probably picked up only one book that had been labeled as Cyberpunk. It was a good read and afterwards, having been genre hopping at the time, I hadn’t thought about reapproaching Cyberpunk again. What stirred my interest in the subgenre again was having played Astral Chain and watching playthroughs of Cyberpunk 2077 back when it had released in December of last year. After that, my interest in Cyberpunk, and sci-fi in general, only continued to grow. By the time I made my September TBR I was so ready to dig into Dome City Blues that I was vibrating with excitement at the anticipation of reaching the book.

The other reason that I was so excited in getting to this book was because it was long overdue for a review. I had received this book a while back (many years!!) as a Goodreads giveaway book, and when I had gotten around to it, it was in the middle of moving homes (and I’ve moved a lot in life). During one of the many moves, I’d gone and lost my copy (along with a couple others). In yet another move, I’d unearthed it. You should have seen the joy on my face! It was like Christmas from clumsy past me!

Book Description

Title: Dome City Blues
Author: Jeff Edwards
Publisher: Stealth Books (2011)
Length: 300 Pages (Paperback)
My edition was a Goodreads Giveaway First Reads and may be slightly different as GR has it down as 318 pages, but I only have 300.
Genres: Science Fiction > Cyberpunk, Science Fiction > Dystopia, Mystery > Crime, Mystery > Noir, Thriller

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me, via a Goodreads Giveaway, in exchange for a fair and honest review. This does not affect my review in any way and all opinions are my own.

TW/CW: Violence and Blood, Graphic violence, Language, Death, Loss of love one, manipulation of a memory of lost one, PTSD, graphic scenes of suicide, home invasion, sexual scenes (mostly fade to black), prostitutions, sexual exploitation of minors (not on screen, but in ch. 11, David investigates a lead that brings him to a club where some of the girls are extremely young).

Story

The book sets in ruins of LA; a future world where a decent life is manageable only for those that live under the Domes. Outside? The air is thick with pollution and radiation that stings the skin. Without adequate preparations, it’d be hard to wander outside unless you were running from the law or something.

Our protagonist is David Stalin (Sarge by his best friend, and Joe by his childhood friends; an inside joke referring to his last name). A sculptor now, David is actually an ex-PI, having quit after what should have been an easy case left his partner and wife dead. At the start of the book, he encounters a woman named Sonja Winter who begs for him to take a look at an old and closed file. But, having been retired and traumatized over his final moments as a PI, David refuses to accept the job and sends her on her way only to find her at the door of his home trying to get him to accept if he would only listen to her story. Eventually he reluctantly agrees to at least take a look for her, but that’s about it, just a look.

But the more he investigates this case, the deeper in he’s dragged until there’s no turning back. He knows too much…to live. 

The storyline was pretty good and there are good handful of moments where our hero finds himself in a scuffle. After a solid few hits made on him, he knows that he’s poking his nose in the wrong (or rather right) places and the recipient isn’t too happy about that. Dead cases ought to stay dead and he needs to mind his own business.

The ending was completely unexpected. I wasn’t expecting the perpetrator to be who they were. There was a fraction of a second where I had suspicions of a certain person but I didn’t follow through with it. The final few scenes were interesting, the climax was a bit heartbreaking, and the actual ending had me cheering. 

I thought it was a compelling read and found myself easily eating through the book, but there weren’t too many scenes that actually had me gripping the book. There’s a couple of hooks, but for some odd reason, I didn’t find myself particularly drawn towards the story. 

I did like the story for some of the trapped moments. Here, David starts out as the investigator to a closed case. He’s prepared for scenarios and he’s the one leading the hunt against the criminal. That is…until the first hit is made on the man and suddenly the tides are turned. The hunter turns prey and David eventually is backed to a corner, so deeply in that corner that the case becomes a personal matter. He’s invested too much into this, blood included.

Worldbuilding

The worldbuilding, however, I loved. There was a fantastic amount and level of imagery and I was able to picture most scenes. I love the descriptions of everything from the laser styled weapons to the lev, the neon signs, the robotic and cybernetic humans, holograms, and even Turing Scions.

And speaking of the Turing Scions, I found that fascinating. Here we have a way to essentially immortalize a human being via data uploading their personality into a machine where they will remain forever. Miss your significant other? Just plug the machine in and you’ll find an exact copy of your best friend, down to the personality; a machine, someone who isn’t alive but believes they are.

But Turing Scions are for the world. There’s still no true way to achieve self-immortality. If a person dies, they still die, it’s just this data copy that’s left of you. The Scions are there for others, maybe someone who is still grieving the loss or a scientist who needs to ask a deceased expert a question. Even bringing them back won’t make the Scions who they really were anymore.

Cancer is no longer a thing here. There’s even cancer immunizations. Now there’s other diseases to think about like AIDS II! 

There’s also a home AI. Your average Joe seems to have one in their home. Essentially your entire house is an AI and (at least David’s houses had these, not too sure if this is normal for all houses) physical actions are done by the AI’s drone extensions that fly around and deal with things like the dishes. It’s like Alexa on crack and built into the very walls of the house. Want ambient music? Just tell your AI. What them to set your shower up with a particular program? Run the security systems and camera? Have them grab the dishes? Just tell the AI. David affectionately calls his, “House.” The SUPER cool thing? David was able to turn his ENTIRE WALL into a security monitor!!

The funniest thing about this was that, at the end of the book, the author has an authors note that explains how this book’s first draft was back in 1992. When he finally released Dome City Blues maybe 20 years later, he had to debate on whether he needed to majorly edit his book. Afterall, what was “futuristic technology then” might already exist now. Technology evolves so fearsomely quick after all.

Jeff kept it. I thought it was a good idea. In keeping the original level of technology, the reader gets this funny mixture of technology that is supposed to be futuristic but currently already exists, what is now obsolete and gone in our world, and what still doesn’t exist. I made this note because, while I thought it was extremely cool at first, now that I’m writing the review…a house AI sounds a lot like some of the technology that already exists now. 

Sure, it’s not to the level that the house AIs in the book have it (drones to control what needs physical assisting), but we’re pretty darn close. Alexa and Google CAN connect to your home security systems (just not your whole damn wall), can turn to a specific music program, and can set the lighting in your home! Heck, Alexa can even beatbox!

Now, what I really need is that shower system. With a shout to House, David was able to find himself showering in the the middle of the forest, the spray of his shower turned to mimic what a rain shower would feel like!

Characters

I thought that the characters were alright. Nobody really drew my attention or kept it, but they were interesting enough. David is a man who is traumatized over what happened to his wife in a past case. She’s gone and he lives with the scars from it. He’s a sculptor now and refuses to return to his old life, but when he needs to, you can see he hasn’t lost his edge. Much of his skills and knowledge on the field might need a bit of brushing up, but it’s there even if it’s under a light coat of dust. 

I thought some of the other characters were pretty interesting. I didn’t care for the love interest or for David’s best friend, but they were vibrant people with distinct personalities. 

I was particularly interested in some of the people that David encountered, his street help. In fact, I think I found nearly all of them interesting, especially the ones he encounters later on in the book. There are pieces of evidence, mostly “insane people” and graffiti that points towards a group of people that later on helps David, but mostly as a part of something much bigger. I can expect to see them in the next book.

The antagonists had me slightly in shock and their motives and history was even better than I had expected. I had said that the story wasn’t particularly drawing, but there were still small moments that had me sitting there in disbelief. I thought that revelation chapter was amazing!

Overall Thoughts

The story wasn’t particularly drawing but there were still moments where I sat there gasping or even gapping. There were some characters I wasn’t too interested in and some that I was fascinated with. However, for me, what drew me in the most (and kept me around) was the worldbuilding. The imagery fascinated me. With the draft starting over 2 decades ago, I thought it was amusing to note the mixture of old, new, and current technology to compare to our worlds to. 

The story’s climax, revelation, and conflict were all pretty good. I was shocked with who the antagonist turned out to be, but the story behind them and their motivation was fantastic.