June was a slow month for me, but I still managed to read 5 books (four hard copies and one Kindle book). I currently work in education and so June is historically one of the busiest months of the year. Now that we are officially in July and I am officially on vacation, my TBR pile should begin to dwindle quite a bit! In the meantime, I’ve included brief reviews below on my June reads. Enjoy!
In a memoir hailed for its searing candor, as well as its wit, Alice Sebold reveals how her life was transformed when, as an eighteen-year-old college freshman, she was brutally raped and beaten in a park near campus. What ultimately propels this chronicle of sexual assault and its aftermath is Sebold’s indomitable spirit, as she fights to secure her rapist’s arrest and conviction and comes to terms with a relationship to the world that has forever changed. With over a million copies in print, Lucky has touched the lives of a generation of readers. Sebold illuminates the experience of trauma victims and imparts a wisdom profoundly hard-won: “You save yourself or you remain unsaved.” Now reissued with a new afterword by the author, her story remains as urgent as it was when it was first published eighteen years ago.
Lucky by Alice Sebold
Publication Date: May 2, 2017 by Scribner (first published in 1999)
I like to stay involved in my community and I usually participate in activities related to human rights on a fairly regular basis. April is a major campaign month for sexual assault awareness (known as SAAM – “Sexual Assault Awareness Month”) and so when I happened upon the knowledge that Scribner was generously providing free copies of Sebold’s memoir as a way of supporting SAAM, I was grateful for the chance to read Lucky.
Sebold’s memoir is not an easy book to read and it’s not meant to be. She openly shares all that she experienced when she was brutally raped in college and her blunt honesty is exactly what is needed to help others understand what a woman goes through when she is the survivor of sexual assault.
It was an early nuance of a realization that would take years to face. I share my life not with the girls and boys I grew up with or the students I went to Syracuse with, or even the friends and people I’ve known since. I share my life with my rapist. He is the husband to my fate.
Sebold is candid in describing the reactions of friends, families, and even how strangers and potential lovers behaved towards her knowing what had happened. Seeing how often both men AND women treated her like damaged goods or questioned her truthfulness is yet another reason why SAAM is so important in educating the community – Sebold is honest about knowing she was “lucky” for not only surviving the rape and having the opportunity to testify and see her rapist go to prison, but also for the fact that she was such a solid witness (educated, white college student) and had been not only sober and fully-clothed at the time of the attack, but a virgin as well. It’s devastating to think how the trial may have gone if she had been scantily clad and drunk – since people often think women could have done things differently to “avoid” being raped.
Lucky is such a powerful and important novel and I would recommend this to both men AND women alike. Thank you Scribner for sharing a free copy of this amazing book with me!
Nineteen-year-old Nayeli works at a taco shop in her Mexican village and dreams about her father, who journeyed to the US when she was young. Recently, it has dawned on her that he isn’t the only man who has left town. In fact, there are almost no men in the village–they’ve all gone north. While watching The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli decides to go north herself and recruit seven men–her own “Siete Magníficos”–to repopulate her hometown and protect it from the bandidos who plan on taking it over.
Filled with unforgettable characters and prose as radiant as the Sinaloan sun, Into the Beautiful North is the story of an irresistible young woman’s quest to find herself on both sides of the fence.
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
Publication Date: June 16, 2010 by Back Bay Books
I actually picked this book up for this year’s NEA Big Read to buddy-read with a friend and fellow reader. I haven’t read a lot of Mexican literature and Into the Beautiful North was a great introduction to it!
The book actually starts out with a much darker tone than I anticipated and quickly transitions into a more lighthearted plot line. While there is plenty of serious subject matter (Nayeli and Tacho’s road trip across America to find Nayeli’s father is both comical and darkly realistic in the racism they encounter along the way), Urrea keeps Into the Beautiful North from turning into a Cormac McCarthy novel with his characterization.
This novel is very much character-driven and that’s ultimately what made it such a fun book to read. While it was still a very honest portrayal of immigration issues in the United States, Urrea’s novel was much more personal than many of the books out there dealing with the same topic because his characters felt so real (and lovable). I particularly felt drawn to Nayeli and Tacho and found myself missing them upon finishing the last page.
This is a great book for those interested in Mexican culture who are looking for something a little different than the books already out there dealing with border issues. I only wish books like Into the Beautiful North were required reading for our public schools – it’s a stunning defense against the vicious racism that’s running rampant in much of our country.
When grandmother Maureen Phelan is surprised in her home by a stranger, she clubs the intruder with a Holy Stone. The consequences of this unplanned murder connect four misfits struggling against their meager circumstances. Ryan is a fifteen-year-old drug dealer desperate not to turn out like his alcoholic father, Tony, whose feud with his next-door neighbor threatens to ruin his family. Georgie is a sex worker who half-heartedly joins a born-again movement to escape her profession and drug habit. And Jimmy Phelan, the most fearsome gangster in the city and Maureen’s estranged son, finds that his mother’s bizarre attempts at redemption threaten his entire organization.
Biting and darkly funny, The Glorious Heresies presents an unforgettable vision of a city plagued by poverty and exploitation, where salvation still awaits in the most unexpected places.
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
Publication Date: May 19, 2017 by Tim Duggan Books
I am such a sucker for films and novels about Irish culture and The Glorious Heresies did not disappoint in this aspect. While it is hailed as crime fiction, McInerney’s novel doesn’t fit the standard mold and I found it was more driven by the relationships than the initial crime that is committed.
I wouldn’t say any of the characters are “likable” in any standard way, but I did find myself empathizing with many of them and it was easy to understand how they could continually find themselves sinking back down into situations that weren’t what they saw in their future. In this way, McInerney raises a lot of questions about socioeconomics and the constant struggle of the working class and how it impacts the choices many people feel they are limited to.
While all the characters in the book are well-developed, I found myself particularly drawn to the juxtaposition of the women in The Glorious Heresies. They felt unapologetically real and it was interesting to see how each reacted to their (often dysfunctional) relationships with men.
While I can’t wait to see how things turn out for Ryan in McInerney’s next novel, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more invested in continuing with Maureen’s story. Perhaps I just tend to find it more difficult to relate to teenage boys, but I found Maureen’s character to be much more compelling and I was excited to see how the novel came full circle for her.
Thank you, Blogging for Books and Tim Duggan Books for providing me a copy of The Glorious Heresies in exchange for an honest review!
A Presence of Absence is the first book in The Odense Series. Although this is a solid crime novel, it also begins and ends with grief for many of the characters, personal demons and life decisions.
A gritty murder case gets in the way of the characters’ everyday lives and sends the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish city of Odense, into a panic.
British detective Simon Weller escapes the fallout from the recent suicide of his Danish wife, Vibeke and heads out to her home city of Odense. But once there he is paired up with a local detective, Jonas, who is also about to his rock bottom in his home life, and they must overcome their differences and personal problems to try and catch one of the worst serial killers Odense has ever seen. The case takes them back into past decades as history starts catching up with some of the local inhabitants. When Simon realises that his wife’s suicide may not be all it seems and her name appears in the cas, his integrity within the case is compromised, how far will he go to find out the truth of Vibeke’s past and hide it from his already troubled police partner?
Back home in London Simon’s family are struggling with their own web of lies and deceit and the family is falling apart.
With one family hiding a dark secret, the whole case is just about to reach breaking point.
A Presence of Absence by Sarah Surgey and Emma Vestrheim
Publication Date: March 15, 2017
This novel holds a lot of promise. Surgey and Vestrheim are able to fairly seamlessly co-write a piece of crime fiction that blends British police procedural fiction and Nordic crime noir – two of my favorite genres.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the lack of editing – there were so many typos and misplaced names/pronouns that I often had to stop and re-read sentences to avoid miscommunication. Some of the awkward sentence structures could have easily been fixed as well (i.e. “Starting to feel slightly out of breath due to the adrenaline which was pumping around inside him rather than it being the twenty-minute jog he had just completed, Thomas breathlessly reached the office” – WHAT?). This ultimately took away from my reading experience despite A Presence of Absence being such a fast-paced novel.
I believe that with an outside editorial eye, the Odense Series could be a great addition to the world of crime fiction. Many of the sections dealing with Jonas’ and Simon’s family issues could have been cut down to avoid too much repetition of information. There was also some awkwardness blending the two story lines that needed a little more attention.
Knowing that the authors worked hard to publish this first book on their own, I still stand strong by my statement that the Odense Series shows a lot of potential – I just would like to see a bit more editorial work put into the second novel!
Serial meets Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood in this inventive and twisty psychological thriller about a mega-hit podcast that reopens a murder case—and threatens to unravel the carefully constructed life of the victim’s daughter.
The only thing more dangerous than a lie…is the truth.
Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father’s murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidant, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay. The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past—starting with her last name.
When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future.
Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber
Publication Date: August 1, 2017 by Gallery Books
This was such a fun read and exactly what I needed to kick off my summer vacation! While of the lighter variety compared to many of the other psychological thrillers out there at this point in time, I enjoyed the originality in Barber’s debut novel and the fast pace of the plot (I was compelled to finish the book in a 24 hour period). It reminded me a lot of Clare Mackintosh’s I See You and I could also see fans of B.A. Paris’ The Breakdown really gravitating toward Barber’s writing.
The impact social media has on people’s perception of reality is a key point to the storyline and the inserted chapters with Twitter feeds and the podcast transcripts were an inventive addition to the plot. While the majority of the book is told from Josie’s point of view, it was interesting to see how the opinions of those on social media could easily stir up a storm of doubt in Josie and her previously solid convictions about her father’s murder (I was reminded of the popular documentary, Making a Murderer).
The one major issue I had with the novel is that the podcast author, Poppy Parnell (oh, what a name!) felt too much like a caricature and fit too easily into the “evil villain” role set out for her. While the rest of the characters in the book were multi-dimensional and didn’t easily fit into the “good” or “bad” mold, Poppy just seemed a bit comical in her portrayal as the “enemy”.
Ultimately, I flew through this book and enjoyed it for a lighter, summer read. Knowing this was Barber’s debut novel, I’m intrigued enough to see how Barber’s writing style will evolve with her future work.
Thank you, Netgalley and Gallery Books for providing me a copy of this book in return for an honest review!