because bibliophiles require refreshment

Phoenix by Cecilia London

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I’m pretty much running out of words for this series. It’s brilliant and painful, overwhelming and fully realized. Cecilia London is an evil genius that excels at ripping my heart out while I’m fist-pumping with joy.

I’ve written about the first three books in the series (Dissident, Conscience, Sojourn) here and in a few other places as well. I’ve tongue bathed it on Goodreads, gushed about it on a podcast, pressed it into the hands of family and friends. (My sister both currently loves and hates me for introducing this one to her, I think.) I believe in this series because it has important things to say and London is taking her time saying them. We’re promised a happy ending for Jack and Caroline, but we are going through every painstaking step with them. We’re going to earn that happily ever after just like they are. There’s not many authors that have the patience to be as holistic as London is being and I’m thankful she trusts her readers and treats us like adults. There is no hand holding here, there is just the raw emotions of a man and a woman trying to sort out how to react to living their worst nightmares.

This book picks up exactly where the last one left off. Caroline and Jack have been reunited but it does not feel good. Jack makes a pretty large emotional error, Caroline reacts badly, everything goes to hell in a handcart. Welcome to the marrow of a story. This is Bellator’s Two Towers – no one really enjoys it, but the story cannot work without it. Jack and Caroline have no idea how they’re going to navigate out of this place and we don’t either, but we know they’re going to.

So much of life is like that, isn’t? When we’re sitting in the aftermath of trauma, there’s moments where we aren’t sure things are going to be okay, but there’s more moments where we know it will be, we just have no idea how long it’s going to take to get to “okay” or how painful that journey will be or if we’ll ever be the same again. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know we won’t be. Trauma rearranges our marrow, scars our souls, and reshapes our lives. We learn to live in the new reality, the shifted foundations, and soldier forward. That’s where our beloved friends are in this book: their marriage feels like it’s on quicksand, their personal and professional identities are in chaos and the adrenaline of staying alive has finally subsided and they’re learning how to live in this new reality.

Phoenix is both hard to slog through and a book that had me nearly beating my Kindle to hit “next” as quickly as possible. This the darkest season of Caroline’s soul – she’s physically safe but no longer knows how to trust that safety. Her being has been bruised and battered and these first halting steps towards choosing healing are rough. As a social worker who has seen folks try to rebuild their lives while living with PTSD, it’s also breathtakingly authentic.

However, if London hadn’t written this book this way, I’m not sure I would have trusted her with these people. If she’s going to take them where she’s taken them, if Caroline is going to spend a whole book being tortured, then London has to let them sit in the pain of this book. There is no other authentic option and I’m so glad she was brave enough to take it. I closed my Kindle when it was over and whispered, “Okay, lady. I trust you. Let’s go.”

If you’re not reading this series, you’re doing it wrong. It’s that simple.

As far as beverages go, there are two ways you can go. This is an emotional read, so comfort could be key. A hot tea, perhaps. Or, you can go with a numbing agent, like whiskey. I chose tea for this one, for the record. A good Earl Grey was soothing as I walked around in these lives.

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Further Reading:

  • Books on dealing with PTSD: If you or someone you love is a trauma survivor, you may find some of these helpful.
  • Torture is a political tool and used throughout the world. If you are interested in the military aspect of it, check out this list from Amnesty.
  • One of my favorite characters in this book is Nadia, the accidental therapist. In events of massive trauma (natural disasters, terrorists attacks), counselors are in high demand and getting qualified people to places to help is hard. Check out this link to see how you can help.

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I was given a copy of this book by the author herself in exchange for an honest review. I know she expected me to hate it, so I’m sure this was a pleasant surprise. 

 

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