Monday, February 15, 2016

Book Review: Lady Cannibal by Jessica Rhodes

CW: This blog post will discuss some difficult themes that are portrayed and dealt with in the book, including descriptions of domestic violence, murder, cannibalism, child abuse, suicide, mental illness, and rape.

Welcome to the inaugural review on Drink Read Love. I'm *really* excited. This is the first book review I've done in a while, much less a review that isn't academic and/or of an academic book for school, and it's been fun. Anyways. On to business. Today I’m reviewing Lady Cannibal (Book 1 in The Serena Raymond Series) by Jessica Rhodes. Lady Cannibal is Rhodes' debut novel, published on October 31, 2015 by Immortal Publishing. Quite frankly, I had trouble deciding on a single book for my first review, but as I was reading Lady Cannibal, the review sort of started to write itself in my head with specific sentences and questions, so I decided this was probably a good book to start with.

In Lady Cannibal, we read the story of Sarah Neville, a woman who has been convicted of murdering and eating her husband after years of terrible abuse at his hands. Sarah resides in Twin Streams, a prison/mental health facility in New York. After years of keeping her mouth closed about the murder of her husband, Sarah is finally ready to tell her full story to Dr. Serena Raymond, described to us as a "shrink".  Dr. Raymond, after years of appointments, is pleased to finally get the story of what led Sarah to the point of committing her crime. After Sarah tells her all this, Dr. Raymond asks if Sarah would be willing to tell her about her childhood as well, feeling that this may give some added context. 

All of this sets off a chain of events that leads down a progressively darker path through Sarah's past. Unfortunately, Sarah - after being wrongly transferred to a different mental institution - suffers some very traumatic events and eventually begins to see the husband she thought was dead. Serena, Sarah, and other supporting characters must investigate and try to determine whether Sarah's husband is truly back from the dead or if her mind has finally snapped under the weight of so many years of trauma, exacerbated by traumatic events that take place in the two institutions she resides in during the course of the book. 

I was really excited to read Lady Cannibal, partly because I love to read the writings of my friends and family (and I have some *very* talented loved ones) and partly because the book description from Amazon was so intriguing that, combined with the title, my interest was thoroughly piqued. Once I started reading, I didn't want to put it down, and only did so reluctantly when it was demanded by circumstances in real life (don't you just hate when real life interferes with reading?). The main characters - Serena and Sarah - were easy to connect with. Rhodes has a masterful way with words, painting a vivid picture that easily comes to life in the mind of the reader. The sensations she describes easily translate to being able to imagine yourself seeing, feeling, hearing, and tasting the things that are happening in the book. It was an immersive experience. 

This brings me to my main issue with the book. I felt that it could definitely have used a TW or CW. The descriptions of the abuse Sarah suffers are often very thorough, including a rape scene. It was progressively more uncomfortable to read the descriptions of the abuse Sarah was subjected to at the hands of first her father and then her husband. To then suddenly find myself reading about her rape at the hands of someone in authority? My jaw literally dropped and I had to put the book down. I vaguely considered not finishing the book, but I wanted to know what happened in the rest of the book, so I did. This could potentially be traumatic and difficult to read by a survivor who isn't prepared for the extent of the abuse descriptions or for what I considered to be a rather explicit rape scene. 

As far as the characters go, I found Sarah to be a complex and engaging character. Rhodes' descriptions evoked sympathy for her history and the impact that had on Sarah leading into her marriage, and on her choice to murder her husband. By the end of the book, I still wasn't quite certain whether the cannibalism actually happened or not, but that may be a question that was intentionally left to the reader's imagination to decide. I'll definitely be asking about that in the upcoming Q&A. Serena was interesting, but occasionally a little confusing. However, that could possibly be because of the switch in perspectives between Sarah and Serena. Alex was a character with whom I found myself in a love-hate relationship. Sometimes I loved him for his sweet caring and concern for Serena, and sometimes I hated him when he turned into a patronizing chauvanistic asshole. I did like that the book mostly focused on female characters and that Serena is such a strong and feisty person.

I had a few other questions that I felt weren't answered very well (or at all) or resolved by the end of the book, but I'll get into those and other loose ends in my upcoming Author Q&A with Rhodes. And really, loose ends can give room for fanfiction and for filling details in with one's own imaginations.

Overall, I'd give it 4 stars. It's generally well written and Rhodes does such a good job of describing the people and situations and places in the book, but the graphic descriptions of abuse and rape without a warning of how extensive it is bothered me a little. All in all, though, Rhodes has done very well for her first novel and I look forward to reading her other works. I especially look forward to reading further installments in The Serena Raymond Series.

On to the drinks... When I told Jess I'd be reading her book for this blog, she recommended pairing Lady Cannibal with whiskey. I tried it with Wild Turkey American Honey but unfortunately, I'm still no more a fan of whiskey than I was years ago. I ended up going with a sort of daiquiri on the rocks instead, made by combining strawberry daiquiri/margarita mix with Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum. The only thing is I didn't have any ice, so the "on the rocks" part isn't really applicable, but I followed the rocks recipe on the box of the mix bottle and that worked well enough. It was a little bitter, but that's because I stored the rum bottle with the pour spout instead of the cap, which is apparently a no-no, so it's lost some of it's spiced flavor and gone a little to the straight alcohol/moonshine taste side of things. But overall, it was delicious, and worked well enough. And Sailor Jerry, when it's stored properly and in it's prime, is delicious. I highly recommend it.

You can find Lady Cannibal online at Amazon. You can find the alcohol at... wherever? I got mine at the PX.

Tune in on Wednesday for a Q&A with the author, Jessica Rhodes.