- Book Review #33: The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel (2020)
Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Familiar Dark: A Novel
Author: Amy Engel
Published: 2020 (Dutton Books, New York)
Pages: 238 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Crime, Suspense
CW: murder, corrupt police, family abuse, violence, mentions of sexuality
Two reviews in one week! But the book I’m here to talk about was a quick read. Anyways, I read another spooky book, but this one was more crime-thriller spooky than horror spooky (the next book in my stack is a monster of a novel, though). Currently, that book is The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel, who also wrote The Roanoke Girls. Engel is a thriller novelist who also, fun fact, used to be a criminal defense attorney (according to Goodreads). I don’t talk about this enough on my blog, but I actually like reading blurbs about the author’s I read. I view it like finding a credible news publication, sometimes the insight into their backgrounds makes the content all the more worthwhile. This definitely is not the case every time though.
“I thought about all the press conferences I’d seen over the years, parents trotted out for missing kids, killed kids, abused kids. Everyone feels sorry for those parents, those mothers, until they don’t. Until the mothers are too put-together or not put-together enough. Until the mothers are angry. Because that’s the one thing women are never, ever allowed to be. We can be sad, distraught, confused, pleading forgiving. But not furious. Fury is reserved for other people. The worst thing you can be is an angry woman, an angry mother” – Amy Engel, The Familiar Dark
Eve is a single-mother living in a small town called Barren Springs in the Missouri Ozarks, and is a lot like the others in the town: poor white trash, knocked up as a teenager, and hanging onto the hope she will leave Barren Springs one day. When her 12-year-old and only child, Junie, is murdered on a playground she once played on, Eve discovers she wants revenge and takes a page from her own abusive, cruel mother’s book to make whoever committed the crime pay. During which, Eve battles her own grief, while facing her own demons and the injustices she’s been handed since she was a child.
“Truth is, there’s no good way to navigate being female in this world. If you speak out, say no, stand your ground, you’re a bitch and a harpy, and whatever happens to you is your own fault. You had it coming. But if you smile, say yes, survive on politeness, you’re weak and desperate. An easy mark. Prey in a world full of predators. There are no risk‑free options for women, no choices that don’t come back to smack us in the face” – Amy Engel, The Familiar Dark
This book was a fantastic crime thriller! I definitely recommend if you can get past the triggers in the CW section I mention at the top. I heavily want to note the violence. But overall what I liked most was the perspective of this novel. Sometimes I’m personally exhausted by the increasing popularity of the ‘true crime’ podcasts, books and Netflix shows. As interesting as they are, at the end of the day, the producers and authors are showcasing a family or friend’s tragedy and putting it on display for the world to comment and criticize in a sick fascination. That’s it. Only occasionally do these publications ‘help find the killer’. Otherwise it’s the same thing as publishing a shooter’s name in the news, I believe. (But on a rare occasion I watch/listen to these so I’m fully acknowledging right now I’m slightly hypocritical…) I believe The Familiar Dark comments on this by offering the mother’s perspective with her own criticisms on how others are handling her daughter’s murder. The book also briefly addresses the ‘true crime’ craze, and it was certainly somewhat enlightening.
Why should you read this book? If you enjoy crime thrillers taking place in a small Ozark town in the victim’s family’s perspective, this is the one for you.
I give this a 3 out of 5! (I didn’t think this book was absolutely amazing or original)
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- Short Review #21: The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher (2019)
Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Twisted Ones
Author: T. Kingfisher (alias of author Ursula Vernon)
Published: 2019 (Gallery/Saga Press, New York)
Pages: 385 (Hardcover)
Genres: Horror, Thriller, Fiction, Folk Horror, Supernatural
CW: violence, supernatural elements, mild sexual themes, abuse
Hello, everyone! This week’s review is going to be pretty short. Not because of anything negative about this book, but because I do not have much to say on it. This is the first book I’ve read by alias T. Kingfisher, a.k.a Ursula Vernon, who by her real name writes children’s books and comics. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this one, and by the end of it, I was mostly not disappointed.
“A semi came screaming around a bend in the road, interrupting my thoughts and reminding me suddenly of why walking by the side of the road on a country lane was best reserved for historical romance and Led Zeppelin songs” – T. Kingfisher, The Twisted Ones
This work of supernatural and folk horror is about a young woman nicknamed Mouse as she goes to clean out her recently deceased grandmother’s old home in North Carolina. Mouse’s grandmother was a a hoarder, and a pretty severe one at that. But as Mouse starts clearing away the piles of creepy dolls and newspapers, she finds something more sinister watching her from the woods. Between the creepy tales from her step-grandfather’s journals to noises that go bump in the night, this tale is pretty sinister from start to finish.
“Books on World War II appear spontaneously in any house that contains a man over a certain age. I believe that’s science” – T. Kingfisher, The Twisted Ones
I liked this spooky read! Lovecraftian in style and execution, The Twisted Ones keeps the reader guessing. This book was spine-tingling creepier in certain aspects, but lacking in actual gory and bone-chilling horror. The author’s writing was simple but witty, and to me, the narration fell in line with the fast paced quips of a true crime podcast. The only part I wish were different is more emphasis on character development, and focus on some of the lesser-mentioned characters. But maybe because this book was supposed to feel more like an oral tale, the character details were not the main focus. I would read another book by T. Kingfisher, but maybe not by Ursula Vernon… but only because she writes children’s books.
I give this a 3 out of 5!
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- Book Review #32: Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell (2020)
Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐
Title:️ Utopia Avenue: A Novel
Author: David Mitchell
Published: 2020 (Random House, New York)
Pages: 574 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Contemporary, British Novel, Music Scene, LGBT
CW: Drugs, Sexual Content, Violence, Mental Illness, Child Death
Hi all! This week I did not read a spooky book, but the next one I have lined up is pretty spooky. Anyways, I finally got my hands on this new release from the library, Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell. British-born Mitchell is the author of a fairly well-known novel Cloud Atlas (which side note, I did not care for the movie version). He has written several other popular novels over the years, and Utopia Avenue is his latest release.
“My Dutch grandfather used to say, ‘If you don’t know what to do, do nothing for eight days’, Dean asked ‘Why eight?’, ‘Less than eight is haste. More than eight is procrastination. Eight days is long enough for the world to shuffle the deck and deal you another hand’” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue
Utopia Avenue follows the rise of a fictional psychedelic, folk-rock band by the same name. Based out of Britain, the band consists of four very different persons: folk singer and higher-brow front woman and pianist Elf Holloway, demon struggling blues-style bass guitarist Dean Moss, psychologically troubled and talented guitarist Jasper de Zoet, and rough-and-tough Yorkshire drummer Peter Griff or ‘Griffin’. Their adventures start from very different styles and beginnings to a masterful partnership and family found in each other. The band is fictional, but several of the characters mentioned are based on real persons in the 60s music/art scene. The story and vast dialogues are filled with art, music, drugs, mental illness, love, family and of course, psychedelic tropes and ideas of the 1960s.
“… For a brief spell, we share a stage. Other are coming to kick us off. But while you’re here, write yourself a good part. Act it well…. There’s nothing else to say because there’s nothing more to say” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue
Overall, I really enjoyed this one. I felt invested in the counterculture of 1960s Britain, and how it’s youth were changing and forming music at the time. Mitchell does a great job of immersing the reader in the story and characters. The contemporary style of storytelling also really emphasizes the trippy and imaginative feel of this novel. This is, admittedly, the first novel I’ve read by Mitchell, but I’ve heard a lot about him. As I kept reading, I felt like I had no idea what to expect next. I didn’t think this book was absolutely amazing, but I was invested in the demanding and sensory prose. The way he brings the reader into the music scene during this time, and makes them feel like they’re apart of what’s happening was my favorite part.
“Your best teachers aren’t always your friends. Sometimes your best teachers are your mistakes” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue
But I do have to say, this book was super long. I haven’t read a book this verbose in a while. It honestly felt like I was reading Charles Dickens at certain times, like some passages seemed so unnecessarily lengthy. But of course, the story itself was long and spread over a certainly wide period of time, I believe. Plus there were a lot of flashbacks, and rapid back-and-forth between current and past moments for each main character, which only added to the contemporary feel.
“‘It’s your body,’ says Elf, ‘Your news. Your timing’… ‘If that’s feminism’ says Imogen, ‘sign me up’…’It’s not feminism. It’s just… true’” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue
Why should you read this book? If you enjoy contemporary but historical fiction novels about 1960s British psychedelic rock bands that challenges societal notions and difficulties, this is the book for you. It really was good, but I don’t think this author is as fantastic as everyone says it is. He’s definitely talented and invested so much care in crafting his stories, but that’s all he is, admirable and celebrated for his efforts. I would have also liked to see more involvement and focus on other side characters and one of the main band-mates (I won’t say who, but it’s not the bassist this time..), instead of only the four band-mates, and at rare times a few of their family members.
“Art is memory made public. Time wins in the long run. Books turn to dust, negatives decay, records get worn out, civilizations burn. But as long as the art endures, a song or a view or a thought or a feeling someone once thought worth keeping is saved and stays shareable. Others can say, ‘I feel that too’” – David Mitchell, Utopia Avenue
(The above quote is my favorite, by the way) I give this book a 3 out of 5!
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- Book Review #31: Writers & Lovers by Lily King (2020)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5⭐️
Title: Writers & Lovers: A Novel
Author: Lily King
Published: 2020 (Grove Press)
Pages: 324 (Hardcover)
Genres: Literary Fiction, Contemporary, Adult, Romantic
CW: sexual content, cancer, pedophilia, assault, adult situations
Hi all! This week I read a book that was not-so-spooky. Writers & Lovers has caused a lot of hype in the book community since its release, and I’ve seen so many reviews for this novel online. Already a celebrated author, Lily King really hit me in the gut in numerous ways with her humorous and fractured protagonist in Writers & Lovers. And fair warning – I have a lot to say about this one.
“I don’t write because I think I have something to say. I write because if I don’t, everything feels even worse” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers
The novel centers around 31-year-old writer and former golf prodigy, Casey Peabody, a woman down on her luck after a failed romance, piling student loan debt she cannot pay off, and losing her mother. Casey moves back to her hometown in Massachusetts to start over somewhere familiar, and finish her novel. The reader divulges into the nook-and-cranny aspects of Casey’s life, along with her heartache, ambitions and conflicts. Casey is a highly relatable character, who honestly made every other section of this novel a punch in the gut if you’ve ever been a woman who lost direction in life, lost a relative/friend, been through a horrible breakup, assaulted in any way or just been through any emotional crisis at all. The reader follows Casey’s journey while she writes her novel, and the relationships she has on the way during the summer of 1997.
“There’s a particular feeling in your body when something goes right after a long time of things going wrong. It feels warm and sweet and loose… For a moment all my bees have turned to honey” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers
I definitely did not love this novel as much as others. For how amiable I seem towards it, I was really unsure of both this book and myself as I put it down after finishing. The writing was definitely well-done, and almost poetic at times. But I almost thought it was a bit pretentious, not just with the main character, but her community as well. I probably would have given it a higher rating if it hadn’t been so, and also if it had flowed better in real emotion. Maybe the pretentiousness was purposefully done, to show us how the literary community actually interacts and treats each other, and I understood that at times. The characters just seemed so privileged and tedious, including the main character even though I know she went through horrible traumas, and no one of note was down to earth about literally anything whatsoever. Casey is either complaining about not having money or about others who have money/status/fame for a majority of the novel, but my question is: how was she able to live in Spain, and travel all around the world throughout her 20s? There had to have been some money somewhere. I know she pulled out loans for school, but I’m sorry, if you had the time/ability to get an Bachelor of Arts and a MFA in Creative Writing, and sit in cafes talking to other writers a lot of your time when you weren’t waitressing, you’re not that underprivileged. But I leave the possibility open that I may not have understood something about her situation. How can I better summarize this book? It was like Girls (the HBO series created by Lena Dunham) meets Kicking & Screaming (1995 indie film), but was written by Nora Ephron.
“I squat there and think about how how you get trained early on as a woman to perceive how others are perceiving you, at the great expense of what you yourself are feeling about them. Sometimes you mix the two up in a terrible tangle that’s hard to unravel” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers
This novel was full of familiar tropes and situations, but King’s style of storytelling and prose was refreshing and humorous. Despite my negative comments before, I did enjoy reading this novel, and my heart ached at times during some of Casey’s experiences. I found some aspects of her romances and debt experiences almost painfully too familiar. Plus, the experiences of working in the food industry such as waitressing were on par… even in the 90s when this story takes place. And the summarization of the misogyny problem among male writers in the literary community was also spot on.
“Nearly every guy I’ve dated believed they should already be famous, believed that greatness was their destiny and they were already behind schedule. An early moment of intimacy often involved a confession of this sort: a childhood vision, teacher’s prophesy, a genius IQ …. Later, I thought I was just choosing delusional men. Now I understand it’s how boys are raised to think, how they are lured into adulthood. I’ve met ambitious women, driven women, but no woman has ever told me that greatness was her destiny” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers
Like I said, I would have given this novel 4 stars, but the pretentiousness made me question how much I was actually enjoying it. It was like a charming, privileged New American Colonial setting meets psychological and societal problems among ‘failure to launch’ Gen-X’ers. Honestly, I’m not sure why I’m so critical of this novel, because it’s not like I haven’t read books with privileged characters before. But anyways, I found this novel highly quotable with enjoyable quips (can you tell by how many quotes I included in this review?). I also loved the prose and conversations between characters, except for Casey and Silas… That relationship I’m still questioning even as I write this. I won’t say why, because I do not want to give away spoilers.
“I hate male cowardice and the way they always have each other’s backs. They have no control. They justify everything their dicks make them do. And they get away with it. Nearly every time. My father peered through a hole at girls, possibly at me, in our locker room. And when he got caught, he got a party and a cake” – Lily King, Writers & Lovers
Why should you read this book? If you enjoy contemporary, literary fiction about Gen-X’er writers who are down on their luck, among their romantic escapades, this is the book for you. This book was in fact about writers and lovers. On a side note, I had to listen to my 90s alternative, indie rock playlist as I wrote this review. Looking back now, this is one of my lengthier reviews… maybe I thought higher of this book than I evaluated?
I give this a 3.5 out of 5! (Still super conflicted about my rating)
- Short Review #20: The Invited by Jennifer McMahon (2019)
Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Invited: A Novel
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Published: 2019 (Doubleday, New York)
Pages: 353 (Hardcover)
Genres: Thriller, Mystery, Horror, Paranormal
CW: violence, paranormal
October is officially here! 👻 And what better way to kick off spooky month than reading a paranormal horror novel? This week I read The Invited by Jennifer McMahon. I don’t remember where I heard of this one, but I liked the synopsis and thought it was going to be spooky. I read mixed reviews, and especially harsher ones from who have read previous thrillers by McMahon.
“What people don’t understand, they destroy” – Jennifer McMahon, The Invited
Helen and Nate are a married couple who decide to quite their teaching jobs in a city of Connecticut, and buy a plot of land in rural Vermont and build a farm home. They’re seen as outsiders by the local townspeople while adjusting to a quieter life near the wilderness. Soon, strange things begin to happen as Helen investigates the dark history of their property in line with a local legend, Hattie Breckenridge, a suspected witch killed in the 1930s who may still be roaming the property and bog today. As they adjust into their new lives and meet some new faces, the couple begins to suspect they’re really building a haunted house for a questionable purpose.
Overall, I thought it was a great ghost story. I can see why others thought it was a bit slow moving at times, but honestly I was a fan by the end. But this is the first book I’ve read by McMahon so maybe I’m not biased enough. There were a few parts that I thought could have gone quicker, but the storytelling and atmosphere of the novel were strikingly told. By the end, I did have some chills running down my spine, and I didn’t guess the chilling ending either. To me, it was an interesting concept to write a novel where the couple is building the haunted house, not moving into one. Definitely kind of an original concept, to give McMahon credit. I thought the story was going to go in a different direction based on the premise, but I’m not complaining either.
Why should you read this book? If you’re looking for a fairly original haunted house/ghost story taking place in rural Vermont, you’re reading the right review. It is definitely a great, chilling pick for spooky season!
I give this one a 3 out of 5!
- Short Review #19: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin (2019)
Review: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Escape Room: A Novel
Author: Megan Goldin
Published: 2019 (St. Martin’s Press)
Pages: 356 (Hardcover)
Genres: Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Wall Street
CW: Sexual assault, alcoholism, violence, cancer, trauma
Hello all! Have I been posting more often? Yes. I only realized that today myself as I’m writing this review. I’ve been taking more time for myself, and for reading and reflecting due to mental health reasons so if you see me posting a lot more often, that’s why. It doesn’t help I’m on a reading kick too since there are so many books I want to read/am waiting for on my library’s waiting list.
“Exactly. I pointed to the f*cking rock on her finger and told her that investment bankers don’t need religion. We don’t need to wait for the next life to enjoy paradise, not with the money we make” – Megan Goldin, The Escape Room
The quote above basically summarizes the entire vibe of this book. Australian author, Megan Goldin’s thriller centers around a sinister plot, greedy implications and a destructive cast of characters. The narration flips between a team of four Wall Street finance powerhouses, and a woman whose connection to them we don’t fully understand until the end. An elevator in a brand new building in the South Bronx becomes a prison for four employees at a fictional financial firm called Stanhope and Sons, who are trapped in an ‘escape the room’ game after their company deems their participation as a ‘mandatory team building exercise’. As the story unfolds, the reader learns more about why the team becomes trapped in the elevator, along with the realities and problems with working on Wall Street. Do I know if these realities and problems are truthful? No, but I imagine they may be given the author’s investigative journalist background. I also kept picturing Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street the entire time I was reading this book, by the way. Not that it’s similar, but I kept connecting the issue of too much greed from wealth.
I saw a lot of reviews that said this book was cheesy, and I agree. The story painted a vivid picture of what it could be like to work in finance on Wall Street. I did not get a lot out of this one, but I was grossly entertained. I finished this book in 3 days, which doesn’t happen to me a lot. But I kept getting pulled in, and I really wanted to know how this book finally ended. It dragged on, and I don’t mean that in a negative way, but more like a ‘this has gone on long enough, how does it end??’ kind of way. I do not like revealing spoilers, so I won’t go into what I thought of the ending.
Why should you read this book? If you like cryptic thrillers and twists from horribly behaved characters with just maybe a hint of revenge, and can tolerate reading so much about Wall Street, read it! I honestly think this book could be a blockbuster mega-hit thriller movie or a cheesy B-rated horror/thriller movie.. either way it should be a movie.
I give this a 3 out of 5!
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- Short Review #18: Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey (2019)
Review: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Magic For Liars: A Novel
Author: Sarah Gailey
Published: 2019 (Tor Books, New York)
Pages: 336 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Urban Fantasy, Magic, Adult, LGBT
CW: magic, alcoholism, cancer, light gore, teen issues
This book was a real interesting one, if I do say so myself. And side note: I love the cover. To continue my journey into spooky book season, this week I finished Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey. This is the first book I’ve read by Gailey. I kept seeing a lot about her latest book recently called Upright Women Wanted. And after reading Magic For Liars, I might have to give that one a chance as well!
“People didn’t stick because I was made of f*cking Teflon. I’d always told myself that it was better that way, that being alone was easier. That I wasn’t a coward for easing my way out of friendships before they could really start” – Sarah Gailey, Magic For Liars
Magic For Liars was a lot less magical than I thought it was going to be. The plot focuses on Ivy Gamble, a fairly successful private investigator working out of the Bay Area, and is not living the most ideal life, but is content with her drinking problem and life alone. When a faculty member is murdered at an exclusive school for magically-able kids or mages, Ivy is hired to investigate the crime after the governing magic police rules it as a ‘spell gone wrong’. It gets complicated though, because Ivy’s estranged twin sister Tabitha is a teacher at the school, and was born magically-able, while Ivy is and considers herself not special. As Ivy gets closer to solving the murder, she expands upon understanding herself, her hangups, and her relationship with Tabitha. Magic For Liars is a thrilling, and magical mystery filled with all the typical twists and turns of a thriller, while keeping the reader guessing about the magic itself.
“’It’s a lot like sticking your hand into a black box that may or may not have cobras in it’ I blinked. ‘That’s the most coherent explanation of magic I’ve ever heard’” – Sarah Gailey, Magic For Liars
I enjoyed this book overall! It was not as fantastical as I thought it was going to be. It didn’t have the otherworldly fantasy elements of the Harry Potter series, even though this takes place in a school openly filled with magic. The mystery was compelling, and the book was a quick read. Magical realism is the best phrase I can think of for summarizing this book. The plot doesn’t fully submerse the reader into a magical universe, and it keeps its toes into the real world and real world problems. The plot derives the focus on Ivy, the normal, not-magical character, and her views of the magical school. I also liked the LGBT representation in this book as well, and thought it was well-done. The novel had the feel of a YA novel, but with slightly more adult themes and relationships, and less about the teenagers of the school. Maybe that’s because the story does contain quite a bit of teen issues that makes it read like a YA novel.
Why should you read this book? If you enjoy urban fantasy novels with a dark twist along with a magically gripping adventure, this is the book for you. I was surprised by the lack of more magical elements… like floating staircases, flying brooms or moving paintings. I know the title of this book indicates that this book already contains dark humor and looming situations, but if the topics I mentioned in the CW are difficult for you, I would be wary of this novel.
I give this a 3 out of 5!
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- Book Review #30: There There by Tommy Orange (2018)
Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: There There
Author: Tommy Orange
Published: 2018 (Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York)
Pages: 292 (Paperback)
Genres: Literary, Fiction, Adult, Native American, Contemporary
CW: violence, sexual and reproductive topics, domestic violence, strong language, alcoholism, guns
I wanted to read this book two years ago, I remember when it first came out. Looking back, I have no idea why I didn’t read it. I remember hearing such good things about this book across the board. When I saw it in one of my favorite used book/movie/record stores last week, I knew I had to buy and read it. And I definitely was not disappointed! Now I’m more mad at myself than anything that I didn’t read this one sooner.
“‘You know what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland?’ Rob says…. ‘There is no there there’, he says in a kind of whisper…. Rob probably didn’t look any further into the quote because he’d gotten what he wanted from it. He probably used the quote at dinner parties and made other people like him feel good about taking over neighborhoods they wouldn’t have had the guts to drive through ten years ago… He hadn’t read Gertrude Stein beyond the quote. But for Native people in this country, all over the Americas, it’s been developed over, buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory. There is no there there” – Tommy Orange, There There
There There is by what I can tell the first book by MFA graduate and writer Tommy Orange. This book is the story of 12 different fictional persons, each chapter in their own perspective, all eventually gathering in Oakland, CA for the Big Oakland Powwow, a large gathering of Native Americans from different communities. Each person’s story reflects a reality of Native American life, and their own personal struggles and backgrounds. This book was beautiful, and I was blown away by the writing and the stories. By the climactic end, I was a fan.
“I’d clicked to download ‘The Lone Ranger’. Everyone agreed on how bad it was, in so many ways. But I was excited to see it. There’s something about seeing Johnny Depp fail so badly that gives me strength” – Tommy Orange, There There
Sometimes I forget how powerful stories can be, especially ones that are truly well-written and told from the heart. Any reader can tell Orange’s story and dialogue is told from a personal place, which made this book all the more special. The stories themselves were not depressing (though at times this book is very sad), but real perspectives based on fact to take in and digest. From what I can tell, this book was hopeful in the best sense, and was meant as a way to inform, and to keep alive Native stories. Orange has a unique voice, and really did an amazing job keeping this in a Native voice, and honing in on identity issues in Native communities. This book is definitely a worthwhile read, and I definitely recommend this one. It’s not only because of the subject that this is a great book, I believe it’s also in Orange’s passionate and observational way he tells the story.
“If you were fortunate enough to be born into a family whose ancestors directly benefited from genocide and/or slavery, maybe you think the more you don’t know, the more innocent you can stay, which is a good incentive to not find out, to not look too deep, to walk carefully around the sleeping tiger. Look no further than your last name. Follow it back and you might find your line paved with gold, or beset with traps” – Tommy Orange, There There
The setting and focus is not something I expected. Orange kept the focus on Natives, not in a reservation setting, but in the urban setting of Oakland, CA and other locations, even before the powwow. He covers many, very real topics such as cultural and ethnic identity, family, addiction, tradition, violence, disadvantaged youth, and community. And this is only by what I can tell, by the way. Orange’s writing, dialogues and interludes of information were eloquently told regarding a complex topic and history. Honestly, besides being great fiction, if you’re looking for a really good book told in a Native perspective that makes you think, and evaluate what you know about Native American history in the US, this is the book for you. I recommend this book for everyone (well at least over 16+ because of certain subject content). Go into this one with an open mind, and learn. And get your own opinion on this one.
“There’s a secret war on women going on in the world. Secret even to us. Secret even though we know it” – Tommy Orange, There There
I give this book a 4 out of 5! (I thought about giving this a 5 star rating, but as you all who regularly read my blog know, I’m picky about book ratings)
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- Short Review #17: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (2015)
Rating: 3 out of 5⭐️
Title: A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel
Author: Paul Tremblay
Published: 2015 (William Morrow, HarperCollins, New York)
Pages: 286 (Hardcover)
Genres: Horror, Fiction, Thriller, Suspense, Supernatural
CW: violence, religious motifs, sexual content
Hello! To continue my tour into spooky novels since it is spooky season, I read A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay this week. It has finally cooled down weather-wise at the moment in Arizona, which is a miracle at this point… So now I can finally say it’s starting to feel like fall, which equals spooky season!
“Ideas. I’m possessed by ideas. Ideas that are as old as humanity, maybe older, right? Maybe those ideas were out there just floating around before us, just waiting to be thought up. Maybe we don’t think them, we pluck them out from another dimension or another mind” – Paul Tremblay, A Head Full of Ghosts
I saw a lot of mixed reviews about this novel before I went into it. I knew I wanted to read a book by the horror author Paul Tremblay, who has won the Bram Stoker, British Fantasy, and Massachusetts Book awards, because I’ve been hearing about him a lot. But honestly, I couldn’t decide which one to read. I went with A Head Full of Ghosts, because it seemed to be one of his higher rated ones and it looked good. Side note: I might read The Cabin at the End of the World one day by Tremblay, but I’m not sure yet. I was between that one, and the one I’m currently talking about.
A Head Full of Ghosts is a novel about a dysfunctional fictional family who went through an exorcism that was filmed for a reality TV series for their oldest daughter, Marjorie. The story is mainly told in the perspective of the younger sister, Merry, looking back on the circumstances of the events. Marjorie was suspected of having schizophrenia when she starts to display bizarre behavior at age 14, which soon led to the family believing she was possessed by a demon and needed an exorcism. As Merry comes to terms with what happened as an adult after she agrees to sell her story to a publisher that will be turned into a book, her story becomes a lot stranger and will have you second guessing.
I enjoyed this book for the most part. The story was creepy, and entertaining as hell. But I was not a fan of how the blog portions of the book were written. It was kind of difficult to get through at times, and the writing was jumbled and manic. I imagine that was maybe done on purpose for character development (maybe), but it was still hard to read through, especially since it went on for multiple pages at a time. I loved the suspense elements, and the storytelling itself was well-done.
Why should you read this book? If you’re looking for a spooky supernatural horror novel that reads like reality TV and leaves you guessing the character’s motivations, this is the book for you.
I give this book a 3 out of 5!
- Book Review #29: I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid (2016)
Review: 4 out of 5⭐️
Title: I’m Thinking of Ending Things: A Novel
Author: Iain Reid
Published: 2016 (Gallery, Scout Press, New York)
Pages: 211 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Horror, Suspense, Contemporary
CW: sexual content, violence
This. Book. I can tell you right now this book is a wild, and unnerving ride. For anyone who is considering reading this book, do not go into this thinking you understand the ending. I heard a lot about this horror/thriller on Instagram. And this was before announcements of the upcoming movie of the same title directed by Charlie Kaufman based on this book, reached me (the movie comes out tomorrow, 9/4 on Netflix, by the way). Honestly, at certain parts I was not sure I liked the book, but other parts confirmed I was a fan overall.
“Seeing someone with their parents is a tangible reminder that we’re all composites” – Iain Reid, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
The story starts out unassuming; a girlfriend and her boyfriend named Jake drive out to Jake’s parent’s farm in order for her to meet them for the first time. A lot of the story is the girlfriend’s internal monologue, she is ‘thinking of ending things’ with Jake. From there, the story builds into an unsuspecting display of awkwardness. And I do not mean awkward in a negative light by any means, I refer to the unsettling feelings as the situation developed and became, essentially and predictably, worse. The story flow, at first confusing, ended up becoming one of my favorite parts about this novel. I can hopefully say without spoilers, that even though this book was not particularly gory or action-packed, the creativity executed and build up to create dread was very well done.
“Even considering the data that shows the majority of marriages don’t last, people still think marriage is the normal human state. Most people want to get married. Is there anything else that people do in such huge numbers, with such a terrible success rate?” – Iain Reid, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
I’m Thinking of Ending Things was full of quipped quotes, very dynamic characters, and eerie moments. By seeing my review history on this blog, I’ve only begun to get back into reading horror novels so by no means am I an expert. But I really think this is a horror and suspense novel that should be celebrated. If I was a writer, I wish I could write like Reid to create the same feelings of intensity from beginning to end. He really knew how to exploit the unknowns of suspense.
“Sometimes a thought is closer to truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought” – Iain Reid, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Why should you read this book? I recommend this book simply if you’re a fan of psychological horror novels with a contemporary twist. Also so, if you’re curious to see if the book is better than the upcoming movie. I’m not sure yet if I’m going to watch the movie after it comes out. In my opinion, there seems to be some obvious differences than in the book by watching the trailer (I’m definitely not the first person to say that phrase..). But I think the movie looks like it will be good, or at least well done in a cinematographic way. On another note, spooky season is almost here, and I’m hoping to read more spookier novels. Comment below if you have any good horror/thriller/mystery/suspense book suggestions 🎃
“Just tell your story. Pretty much all memory is fiction and heavily edited. So just keep going” – Iain Reid, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Overall, I give this book a 4 out of 5!
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- Short Review #16: Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier (2020)
Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Pizza Girl: A Novel
Author: Jean Kyoung Frazier
Published: 2020 (Doubleday, New York)
Pages: 198 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Coming-of-Age, Humor
*Disclaimers: contains sexual content, strong language and references to alcoholism
Happy almost Friday! I read the oddest little book this week. At first, I was probably more attracted to the cover of this book more than anything else. Just look at it! (pictured above) I love the retro cover art, especially the colors. Anyways, this week on my reading list was Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier. This is Frazier’s first novel.
“I think about life as one big Laundromat and some people have just one little bag to do – it’ll only take them a quick cycle to get through – but others, they have bags and bags of it, and it’s just so much that it’s overwhelming to even think about starting. Is there enough laundry detergent to get everything clean?” – Jean Kyoung Frazier, Pizza Girl
I found this book charming, a little weird, and overall a thoughtful read. The story is narrated by an 18-year-old pregnant, pizza delivery girl in Los Angeles who goes unnamed. She just graduated high school, and is quirky, a little lost and grieving over her somewhat recently deceased father. Our protagonist becomes obsessed over one of her customers, a tired mom, newly moved to Los Angeles named Jenny who orders a pickle covered pizza every week for her homesick son, Adam. As her fascination with Jenny grows, the narrator comes face-to-face with her own dissatisfaction, and we get to know a weirdo who is still trying to figure out life.
“I wished stained-glass windows were everywhere, not just churches. How lovely a McDonald’s would be if you could order a Big Mac while being surrounded by stained glass” – Jean Kyoung Frazier, Pizza Girl
This book was a pretty quick read at only 198 pages. I found the main character unsettling at times, but I think that’s pretty much the point. The narrator’s observations were penetrating, and I enjoyed the writing and how Frazier details the flashbacks. Pizza Girl is a contemporary novel and coming-of-age story about an outcast. Why should you read this book? Read this book if you enjoy literary fiction novels about a flawed and complicated character who finds herself in a tough predicament, while dealing with family, pregnancy and discovering herself. Plus there is a little witty humor thrown around as well.
“I would have found something else to lose myself in. If you were pushed off a cliff, you’d grab hold of anything resembling safety” – Jean Kyoung Frazier, Pizza Girl
I give this novel a 3 out of 5!
- Short Review #15: The Party Upstairs by Lee Conell (2020)
Rating: 3 out of 5⭐️
Title: The Party Upstairs: A Novel
Author: Lee Conell
Published: 2020 (Penguin Press, New York)
Pages: 309 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Literary Fiction, Adult
*Disclaimer: Recommended for 18+, contains strong situational content, sex and harassment
Hello everyone! I’m typing this as it rains on a dark and stormy summer night here in Arizona. There isn’t a lot of rain this time of year so that means it’s monsoon season! As you can probably tell, I’m excited. This weather was much needed during this tough week. And reading the book I’m about to talk about provided a much needed break too. This week I read The Party Upstairs by Lee Conell.
“Their relationship had been like one long mutual unpaid internship. They had each felt slightly exploited, but they’d also each hoped the experience would help them achieve something greater in the future” – Lee Conell, The Party Upstairs
I heard a lot of mixed reviews about this book. But when I read the synopsis, it sounded right up my alley. The novel centers around young liberal arts college graduate, Ruby, and her hard-working apartment building super father, Martin. Ruby grew up as the super’s daughter in a fancy Upper West Side apartment building living among some of New York’s wealth, but their class differences couldn’t be further apart even living among them. Now as an adult, Ruby moves back home with her parents in her childhood basement home after breaking up with her boyfriend, and having no job. The novel takes place over the course of a certain day where Ruby’s privileged childhood best friend, Caroline, throws a party in her childhood penthouse home in her building, and a series of events lead to a tense climax.
“She had instead changed into an oversize sweater and long spandex skirt with plaid print… She looked like how Ruby must have looked in her interview outfit, except Caroline was wearing this outfit because she had a choice. She was demonstrating to the world all the ways she was empowered in her rejection of the feminine norm. Or something” – Lee Conell, The Party Upstairs
I really enjoyed this one. The main relationship of the novel between father and daughter was introspective and gripping. The novel’s repeated commentary on class and privilege was also fascinating. It was definitely a little slow in the beginning, but by the end, I was glued to the story from the tension. The narrative throughout the course of a day perfectly built up the surrealness and suspense felt between the reader and characters. The way Ruby and Martin interact with the other characters in their own points of view were meaningfully conducted, and attributed to the personality of the novel. Why should you read this novel? If you enjoy literary fiction taking place in New York surrounding class privilege commentary and tense situations, this is the book for you.
I give this a 3 out of 5!
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- ARC Review: Grown Ups by Emma Jane Unsworth (2020)
Review: 2.5 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Grown Ups: A Novel
Author: Emma Jane Unsworth
Published: 2020 (Gallery/Scout Press, New York)
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Adult, Women’s Fiction, Humor
*Disclaimer: Highly recommended for ages 18+
~This book is available in the US on August 18th, 2020~
This is my first Advanced Readers Copy review! I got this book in a giveaway on Instagram, and was sent a copy (along with the pin pictured above) by the publisher, Gallery/Scout Press an imprint of Simon & Schuster. The pin is pretty cute, by the way. I received this book closer to the publication date than I thought I would, but I wanted to talk about this book before it came out anyways, especially since this is my first ARC review. I have no idea why I was asked to read this, because my blog is not that successful. But I figured I’m probably among their target audience too – female, millennial and I am a fan of Fleabag and Normal People.
I should clarify – this novel was already published in the UK titled as Adults in January 2020. Grown Ups will be published in the US and released on August 18th. So there was already a lot spoken and circulating about this book. I added this book to my Amazon wish list a long time ago, and then forget about it until I saw it pop up on my Instagram feed a couple months ago.
Emma Jane Unsworth’s newest and biting fiction novel is about a woman named Jenny McLaine, a 35-year-old Londoner who writes for a magazine, owns a house, is reluctantly going through a bad breakup with her longtime partner Art, and has a social media addiction. This novel is mostly a mix of internal, agonized thought, text/email conversations, and rough drafts by the main character. I really wanted to love her new release, I did. But I did not. The writing was not terrible, some of the jokes were well executed and hilarious, and I found some of the story and dialogue compelling. But the characters felt one-sided and vapid. The main character Jenny’s story was relatable, but it lacked a certain something, including organization. Maybe I had too high hopes for this book. I felt like I was reading a choppy script for a TV sitcom.
This book is specifically targeted for some millennial and mainly Gen-X women, who enjoy dark humor. She covers difficult and unspoken topics that women go through in their personal and professional lives. I think the reader will only understand, and even enjoy the book, if they’re in Unsworth’s target audience. It was like heterosexual chick-lit, but with more coke. At certain parts of this book, her writing made me feel something. It almost triggered some negative emotions in me from some difficult moments and reactions Jenny goes through. But that was just my experience.
Why should you read this book? If you enjoy women’s literature about relatable life experiences surrounding a sassy and self-sabotaging British woman, this is the book for you. But in the end, the book felt like it was trying too hard to be like some other work in pop culture, like Fleabag (some of the plot was set up similarly too). And I felt oddly uncertain at some moments.
I give this a 2.5 out of 5! (I was tempted to give it a 3, but I just couldn’t. I would not read this book again, ever)
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- Short Review #14: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones (2020)
Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Only Good Indians: A Novel
Author: Stephen Graham Jones
Published: 2020 (Saga Press, New York)
Pages: 310 (Hardcover)
Genres: Thriller, Horror, Fiction, Native American
*Disclaimers: Recommend for 17+, strong horror themes and commentary
Today is National Book Lovers Day! I didn’t know about it until I looked at Instagram today. Still, I’m happy to spend this time talking about a great book by a new author for me. And it was a bone chilling one indeed. I heard a lot of good things about this new release since it came out last month. The premise of The Only Good Indians sounded mysterious, and it had been awhile since I’ve read a horror novel from a new author. Also, the title was a little alarming, and caught my interest.
“The ladder tilts the opposite way, like it doesn’t want to be involved in anything this ugly, and all of this is in the slowest possible motion for Lewis, his head snapping as many pictures as it can on the way down, like they can stack up under him, break his fall” – Stephen Graham Jones, The Only Good Indians
Native American author, Stephen Graham Jones, has written 15 novels and is a fan of the horror/slasher genre. After reading his newest book, I may have to read some of his others! He comes highly praised for his writing and stories, and I couldn’t agree more. The Only Good Indians is a novel of revenge and suspense surrounding four close friends – Lewis, Ricky, Gabe and Cassidy- who grew up together on the same Blackfeet reservation. After an ill fated elk hunting trip in their youth, the four become literally haunted by their past mistake, and are hunted down by an unknown entity one-by-one.
Jones does a wonderful job building suspense and setting the scene through his writing. He also integrates commentary on Native cultural identity and tradition in between his character’s interactions and internal struggles. Jones definitely has a different voice when it comes to creating horror, and there were certain moments where I felt the hairs on the back of my neck raise. The story was fairly original, perfectly executed, and definitely unexpected. Why should you read this book? If you’re looking for a thrilling, horror novel binding together supernatural revenge and cultural identity, you have the right book.
I give this book a 4 out of 5! (Because honestly, I couldn’t see why not. I love a well-done horror novel)
- Book Review #28: Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (2020)
Review: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Death in Her Hands: A Novel
Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Published: 2020 (Penguin Press, New York)
Pages: 259 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Suspense, Thriller, Adult
*Disclaimer: Contains sexuality and strong language/themes, Recommended for 17+
Hello! First of all, another thing you need to know about me is that I love Ottessa Moshfegh’s writing. I loved her writing before I started this blog. The first book I read by her was Eileen, and the story has haunted me ever since. This is my first review on the blog regarding a work by Moshfegh, and I cannot communicate how excited I am to be talking about her newest release. Moshfegh is a fiction writer from New England who has written two novels, a novella and a book of short stories. She has been nominated for, and a winner of, literary awards and grants.
“It’s very stressful to be plucked from one world and plunked down in another. One loses her roots, no matter how hard traditions are clung to. I’d seen it in my parents – traditions change. Food, holidays, modes of dresses. One assimilates, or forever lives as though in exile” – Ottessa Moshfegh, Death in Her Hands
Now, back to Death in Her Hands – a book with a literally haunting cover. I saw there were more negative reviews than I thought there would be. But I was not entirely surprised. Death in Her Hands is a novel narrated by an elderly woman named Vesta, who just lost her long-time husband Walter, and moves across the country to a small town and buys a cabin remote in the woods to start over. She lives alone, almost in complete isolation, with her dog, Charlie. Vesta lives for her routine until she comes across a mysterious note in the woods that says, Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body. This note begins a spiral and adventure for Vesta as she investigates this supposed murder, and tries to solve the mystery behind the note and its author.
“There is nothing more heartbreaking than a squandered opportunity, a missed chance. I knew about stuff like that. I’d been young once. So many dreams had been dashed. But I dashed them myself. I wanted to be safe, whole, have a future of certainty. One makes mistakes when there is confusion between having a future at all and having the future one wants” – Ottessa Moshfegh, Death in Her Hands
This book left me asking a lot of questions and evaluating every hint, every word. Honestly, I loved it. Despite already being bias towards her writing, this novel was well-written, insightful, and penetrating. Moshfegh dives into Vesta’s inner most thoughts, and invades a vision of the comfortable American rural life. Vesta faces challenges, interruptions and recalls her days with Walter in her grief. This novel was also suspenseful, and the mystery kept me on my toes at every page. I can see how redundant and almost too confusingly ominous the novel could be, but I think it was the author’s intention to make the reader uncomfortable and keep them guessing about Vesta’s state of mind.
“It was enough for me, I’d thought, but I didn’t know what I really deserved. I’d deserved what any nice young lady deserves” – Ottessa Moshfegh, Death in Her Hands
Why should you read this book? This novel is fascinating, personal and a captivating mystery and thriller. The concept was fairly original, or if anything, it was unusual and there are not many like this. Through Vesta, Moshfegh dives into feelings kept private in day-to-day life, such as feeling like an outcast, insecure, and being obsessed over coincidental details. Prepared to be challenged, and pay attention to the details if you, reader, dive into this book. This story is not for the faint of heart.
I give this book a 4 out of 5!
Click here to read about how I rate the books I write about on this blog!
- Book Review #27: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager (2020)
Rating: 3 out of 5⭐️
Title: Home Before Dark: A Novel
Author: Riley Sager
Published: 2020 (Dutton, Penguin Random House)
Pages: 384 (Hardcover)
Genres: Thriller, Horror, Mystery, Fiction
*Disclaimer: Recommended for ages 18+
I was excited to finally have the opportunity to read Riley Sager’s fourth and newest release, Home Before Dark. I read all three of Sager’s previous novels, Lock Every Door, The Last Time I Lied, and Final Girls. I wrote reviews for the more recent two around when I first started this blog, and I definitely enjoyed his campy thrillers. So when I heard his newest book was being released, reading this one was a must! There were many and mixed reviews online about this book. Many 4 and 5 star reviews, but quite a few negative reviews. More negative reviews than what I expected from one of his books. I went into this novel with an open mind, and tried not to compare it to other similar horror/mystery plot lines, like the synopsis reveals. The more famously mentioned ones that I found are: The Haunting of Hill House (TV series/book) and Amityville Horror (book/movie).
“Every house has a story to tell” – Riley Sager, Home Before Dark
The plot centers around Maggie Holt, a troubled and willful designer and home renovator, whose life is made famous by her father’s book called ‘House of Horrors’. The book reveals the supernatural horrors Maggie’s father Ewan, mother Jess, and 5 year-old Maggie experienced inside their home, Baneberry Hall, a Victorian estate in Vermont. When Maggie’s father passes away, she discovers he left her Baneberry Hall, the place that caused the book that ruined her life. When Maggie goes to Vermont to renovate and eventually sell the estate, a turn of events lead Maggie to start asking some bigger questions about what exactly happened at Baneberry Hall 20 years ago.
This book was basically as expected, and entertaining as hell. I heavily enjoyed this spooky novel, and the only major problem I had with this book was the ending (which will not be spoiled in this review). I felt like this book differed from Sager’s typically novels with more suspense and horror. Even more than Lock Every Door, which also had a little more of a supernatural element. Some moments in Home Before Dark put you on the edge of your seat. The dual perspectives between the protagonist, Maggie, and chapters from her father’s book regarding the haunting flowed, and were refreshing to the story. I probably would have considered giving this one 4 stars if the ending was better and not so rushed.
“Few things in life are more disappointing than knowing your parents aren’t being honest with you” – Riley Sager, Home Before Dark
Definitely give this one a chance. It was a quick read, spooky and kept me guessing at every turn. Sager uses all the typical haunted house tropes, which made this book appear cheesy. But if there is any indication the story seems copied from another book/movie/TV show, I think it’s purposefully done as a homage, and not to steal from another author. Why should you read this book? Read this one if you’re looking for an easy, supernatural haunted house thriller with a lot of campy lines and situations. This is typical Riley Sager, but in a haunted estate.
Overall, I give this a 3 out of 5!
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- Short Review #13: Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue (2016 English Translation)
Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Sudden Death: A Novel
Author: Álvaro Enrigue, Translator – Natasha Wimmer
Published: 2016, English (Riverhead Books – orig. 2013 Anagrama)
Pages: 272 (Hardcover)
Genres: Literary Fiction, Latinx, Historical, Postmodern
*Disclaimers: Novel contains sexual content and strong language
Good evening and maybe good morning to some of you! I have not posted in a while, because I started working again (Yay! I was so not getting stir crazy…). So I have a little less time for reading, blogging and reviewing. But here I am, because I finally got through the crazy, surreal book called Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue. This one was a trip to read, indeed.
“Maybe all books are written simply because in every game the bad guys have the advantage and that is too much to bear” – Álvaro Enrigue, Sudden Death
I had mixed feelings about this novel. It was difficult for me at first, but once I understood how the author was telling the story, I appreciated it more. The author jumps through different exaggerated and almost truthful moments in 16th century history, while breaking the fourth wall it seems sometimes to this century. He reflects on using history and literature to better understand the world, and dove into some audacious historical figures. I also never understood how complicated the history of tennis was until I read about it in Enrigue’s novel. His writing is emotion-driven, filled with dry humor and bordering the postmodern. I would have loved to read this book in the original Spanish to understand the author’s true meaning, but unfortunately, my Spanish understanding is pretty bad. The author was even hilariously bias of translation in the novel.
“The sole duty of a writer is to minister to his readers: to liberate them from inexactitude out of respect for the mysterious and touching pact of loyalty that they make with books” – Álvaro Enrigue, Sudden Death
I would only read this book if you can get past the punching style, and backwards way he tells the story. It is not a traditional beginning-middle-end kind of novel. The story in itself is unique, at least to me. I would have given it a higher rating, but some of the story is rather slow and dense. And it was not even the philosophical elements that made it slow for me. I would say if the synopsis sounds good to you, reader, give this book a chance!
Overall, I give this book a 3 out of 5!
P.S. Here is part of the synopsis from Goodreads anyways:
“Sudden Death begins with a brutal tennis match that could decide the fate of the world. The bawdy Italian painter Caravaggio and the loutish Spanish poet Quevedo battle it out before a crowd that includes Galileo, Mary Magdalene, and a generation of popes who would throw Europe into the flames. In England, Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII behead Anne Boleyn, and her crafty executioner transforms her legendary locks into the most sought-after tennis balls of the time. Across the ocean in Mexico, the last Aztec emperors play their own games, as conquistador Hernán Cortés and his Mayan translator and lover, La Malinche, scheme and conquer, fight and f**k, not knowing that their domestic comedy will change the world. And in a remote Mexican colony a bishop reads Thomas More’s Utopia and thinks that instead of a parody, it’s a manual”
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- Book Review #26: The Sellout by Paul Beatty (2015)
Review: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Sellout: A Novel
Author: Paul Beatty
Published: 2015 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York)
Pages: 289 (Hardcover)
Genres: Literary Fiction, Humor, Satire, Race in America
Disclaimers: Book contains strong language and sexual content, recommended for 18+
Hello everyone! This week I read the almost incomparable novel, The Sellout by Paul Beatty. This is the first novel I have read by Beatty, and I felt truly shocked throughout reading this one. The Sellout was a sort of genius, brash and humorous narrative about racism in America. But it was highly unexpected.
“…You have to ask yourself two questions, Who am I? And how may I become myself?” – Paul Beatty, The Sellout
Do not go into this novel believing this is a politically-correct, eloquent conversation about racism. This book challenges a ‘post-racial America’ with bitter satire and highly clever prose. The narrator is a black man living in the erased fictional town of Dickens in the Los Angeles-area trying to find himself and his purpose. Nicknamed “Bonbon”, our narrator is a farmer and comedian trying to save his town that no one wants to bring back due to city-wide embarrassment by reinstating segregation (and inconsequentially, slavery), landing him in the Supreme Court.
“My father had a theory that poor people are the best drivers because they can’t afford to carry car insurance and have to drive like they live, defensively” – Paul Beatty, The Sellout
This novel had me saying ‘oh my god’ out loud to myself several times. Another reviewer on Goodreads described this book as if “Kurt Vonnegut and Dave Chappelle had a baby”, and I agree. The novel read like poetry and comedy perfectly combined. It was not meant to make the reader comfortable, and the writing and story came off almost as pure absurdity. But I believe it was intentional, and I mean that as a compliment. This book is a craftily curated satire about what it means to be black in America. To me, this novel felt like a rejection of the White Gaze from a black voice, and it was wonderfully told.
“Daddy never believed in closure. He said it was a false psychological concept. Something invented by therapists to assuage white Western guilt. In all his years of study and practice, he’d never heard a patient of color talk of needing ‘closure’. They needed revenge. They needed distance. Forgiveness and a good lawyer maybe, but never closure. He said people mistake suicide, murder, lap band surgery, interracial marriage, and overtipping for closure, when in reality what they’ve achieved is erasure” – Paul Beatty, The Sellout
Why should you read this book? I recommend this book to anyone who wants to deep dive into the notions of racism in America from a different viewpoint, who also want a dash of satire-like comedy. This book was written by Paul Beatty, a black author who won the Booker Prize in 2016 for this novel among other awards and nominations for his writing, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I would read something else by this author.
“That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book—that we can turn the page and move the fuck on. But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you” – Paul Beatty, The Sellout
Again, his writing is stellar. I almost gave this book 5⭐️ based solely on the writing, which hit the mark and beyond on quality, enjoyment and ability. This book is a ride itself, and challenges the reader’s viewpoint. The metaphors and narratives are dripping with humor and creativity. At first, this book seems brash, but I encourage the reader to keep going, because the story heads in unpredictable and entertaining directions.
I give this one a 4 out of 5!
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- Book Review #25: Dominicana by Angie Cruz (2019)
Review: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Dominicana: A Novel
Author: Angie Cruz
Published: 2019 (Flatiron Books, New York)
Genres: Literary Fiction, Historical, Coming-of-Age, Latinx
*Disclaimers: Book contains sexual content and domestic violence
I have two reviews in one week, since I read this last one in 3 days! Surgery recovery has left me with a lot less to do. Yesterday I finished reading the coming-of-age, American Dream novel, Dominicana by Angie Cruz. I started this book on the Fourth of July holiday, while resting up from my surgery. This explains the plastic, festive star necklaces in the picture above. But considering the Fourth of July holiday reminds me that the US was built by immigrants, I thought it was an appropriate time to start reading a novel about a young girl from the Dominican Republic coming to the US. Plus this book has been on my TBR list for awhile.
“Dreaming is good to do when you’re sleeping. But as long as we’re awake, nobody wants to go hungry” – Angie Cruz, Dominicana
Dominicana was a charming novel filled with dynamic characters and a vividly told story. Taking place in 1965, the story centers on Ana Canción, a 15-year-old girl who marries a man named Juan Ruiz, who is twice Ana’s age, in order to come to America and start a new life. Living in New York soon becomes a struggle as Ana adjusts to a new country very much unlike her own. And being kept to her apartment in Washington Heights by her controlling husband does not help either. After Juan leaves to go to the Dominican Republic to protect his family’s assets during political upheaval, Ana begins to experience a freer way of living in her new country when she starts spending time with Juan’s younger brother César, and is left with choices she was not prepared to make.
“In New York I’ll have a closet full of dresses and jewelry. All kinds of purses and shoes. And Juan will pay for me to go to the salon every week and get my nails done. And he’ll take me to see shows and we’ll go dancing with live bands. And our house will be full of his friends and family. Every day will feel like a party” – Angie Cruz, Dominicana
I loved this book! Maybe that is why I read this one in 3 days. The story had me hooked as soon as I started reading. The book acutely shows what being an immigrant in the US is like through Ana’s eyes and dreams. I loved Ana’s character, along with her vulnerability shown through her actions and inner thoughts. The author, Angie Cruz, based the novel off her mother’s story. In the Acknowledgements section of the book, Cruz talks about the research done to accurately represent the Washington Heights’ Dominican community and immigration stories, which only makes this novel better. I was hooked on Cruz’s writing style, which is easy to digest and straightforward, but also full of figurative details about each character and scene.
“A man doesn’t know what he thinks until a woman makes him think it” – Angie Cruz, Dominicana
I recommend this book if you’re looking for a historical fiction novel centered around a wonderful US immigration tale and coming-of-age story. Through tales of family and discovery, Cruz transports the reader into Ana’s tumultuous and eye-opening story. I did not have many complaints about this one, and I almost gave it 5 stars (which I never do, if you follow my blog). The only downside is that this was not the most overwhelming or capturing story ever read, and felt some details could have been better resolved. But this should not sway you, reader, from taking a chance on this book!
I give this book a 4 out of 5!
- Short Review #12: Happy & You Know It by Laura Hankin (2020)
Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Happy & You Know It: A Novel
Author: Laura Hankin
Published: 2020 (Berkley, New York)
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Thriller, Chick Lit, Adult
Hello! I have not published a review in a while, because I recently broke my left wrist and just had surgery. I’m doing okay though, and resting up this holiday weekend. I hope everyone is having a fun weekend, or for some of us a fun long weekend.
“Someday when you’ve got a screaming infant… I hope the people you encounter are understanding… And I hope you are so, so grateful that not everyone is a d*ckhead like you” – Laura Hankin, Happy & You Know It
This book was fun to read! Hankin’s witty and gripping story kept me glued from beginning to end, and was a good distraction from my current medical issues. The novel centers on Claire Martin, a young woman who is down on her luck after being kicked out of her band right before they made it big. She takes a job as a playgroup musician for a group of wealthy New York stay-at-home moms and their babies. Afterwards of course, chaos ensues. The story is told from the perspectives of key characters in the group as well, like gorgeous leader and mom influencer of the group Whitney, former fabulous career woman turned stay-at-home mom Amara, and type-A observant Gwen.
The story is a sharp telling of motherhood in hilarious and sometimes dark situations. It’s even entertaining for someone who doesn’t have children like me. The twists were also well executed, and one of them I really didn’t expect. I would not read this book if you cannot sit through books told in a feminine perspective.
Overall, this novel is an entertaining easy-read for those who enjoy satirical writing about the social issues women face as mothers and those who are unsure about becoming mothers. Filled with scandal and mystery, this book is about more than a group of woman who drink wine during the day at their children’s playgroups.
I give this a 3 out of 5!
*DISCLAIMER: Book contains light sexual themes, recommended for ages 18+*