The Rules Do Not Apply

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When thirty-eight-year-old New Yorker writer Ariel Levy left for a reporting trip to Mongolia in 2012, she was pregnant, married, financially secure, and successful on her own terms. A month later, none of that was true.

Levy picks you up and hurls you through the story of how she built an unconventional life and then watched it fall apart with astonishing speed. Like much of her generation, she was raised to resist traditional rules–about work, about love, and about womanhood.

“I wanted what we all want: everything. We want a mate who feels like family and a lover who is exotic, surprising. We want to be youthful adventurers and middle-aged mothers. We want intimacy and autonomy, safety and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills. But we can’t have it all.”

In this memoir, Levy chronicles the adventure and heartbreak of being “a woman who is free to do whatever she chooses.” Her own story of resilience becomes an unforgettable portrait of the shifting forces in our culture, of what has changed–and of what is eternal.

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

Publication Date: March 14, 2017 by Random House

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My Thoughts:

Daring to think that the rules do not apply is the mark of a visionary. It’s also a symptom of narcissism.

This quote essentially sums up my reading experience of Levy’s memoir. While I enjoyed her writing style, I was baffled by her immense lack of self-awareness and the fact that the idea of her privilege seems to be entirely overlooked.

It’s hard to be critical of the book because I don’t see how it’s fair to judge someone else’s experiences (and yes, she has had some immense losses in her life), but The Rules Do Not Apply was not relatable in the sense that I continued to feel disconnected from Levy’s inability to understand that her experiences are not the experiences of ALL women. Her use of “we” to discuss many of the choices she made in life frustrated me – it wasn’t being female that allowed her these experiences, but rather her privilege. That’s not to say her losses are not to be empathized with, but her discussion of those aspects of her life just felt very limited and self-absorbed.

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The Book of Joan

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In the near future, world wars have transformed the earth into a battleground. Fleeing the unending violence and the planet’s now-radioactive surface, humans have regrouped to a mysterious platform known as CIEL, hovering over their erstwhile home. The changed world has turned evolution on its head: the surviving humans have become sexless, hairless pale-white creatures floating in isolation, inscribing stories upon their skin.

Out of the ranks of the endless wars rises Jean de Men, a charismatic and bloodthirsty cult leader who turns CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state. A group of rebels unite to dismantle his iron rule—galvanized by the heroic song of Joan, a child-warrior who possesses a mysterious force that lives within her and communes with the earth. When de Men and his armies turn Joan into a martyr, the consequences are astonishing. And no one—not the rebels, Jean de Men, or even Joan herself—can foresee the way her story and unique gift will forge the destiny of an entire world for generations.

A riveting tale of destruction and love found in direst of places—even at the extreme end of post-human experience—Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan raises questions about what it means to be human, the fluidity of sex and gender, and the role of art as means for survival.

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

Publication Date: April 18, 2017 by Harper

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My Thoughts:

I loved the idea of this novel much more than the execution. The Book of Joan is at times chilling and unique in its portrayal of a post-apocalyptic earth, but I found the story became too convoluted as it progressed. I know a major part of the novel was meant to be commentary on the importance of the arts in maintaining true humanity and in our current political nightmare, this was a rather fitting aspect of a frightening future. Unfortunately, Yuknavitch’s hints of Shakespearean dramatic comedy just felt out of sync with the overall novel. Trinculo (yes – the jester) was uncomfortably comical and the final chapters of the book were a bit baffling to me.

I had such high hopes for this book so I’m upset that it didn’t live up to my expectations. For those looking for novels with a similar theme, but with a clearer plot I would recommend seeking out Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam trilogy instead.

A Separation

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A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it’s time for them to separate. For the moment it’s a private matter, a secret between the two of them. As she begins her new life, she gets word that Christopher has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged south of Greece; she reluctantly agrees to go and search for him, still keeping their split to herself. In her heart, she’s not even sure if she wants to find him. Adrift in the wild landscape, she traces the disintegration of their relationship, and discovers she understands less than she thought about the man she used to love.

A Separation by Katie Kitamura

Publication Date: February 7, 2017 by Riverhead Books

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Beer Pairing: Brewery Legitimus 


My Thoughts:

It’s been a solid 24 hours since I finished A Separation and I’m still not completely sure how I feel. Kitamura’s prose took some getting used to and her writing style is what ultimately kept me from fully engaging in the novel. There were moments where the narrator’s thought process would stray and a full page or two would be dedicated to something that felt so mundane in comparison to everything else that was going on around her. While blunt at times, there were also sections that seemed so verbose and overstated that I found myself needing to reread passages in order to make sure I didn’t miss anything of importance.

There were aspects of A Separation that I DID enjoy. There was something delightfully claustrophobic about reading an entire novel through the thoughts and observations of just one character – not quite a stream of consciousness, but a similar idea. Ultimately, this made the novel more of a meditation on relationships and despite my clash with Kitamura’s style, I found the book’s development intriguing overall.

I find I tend to read books “seasonally” and despite the novel’s cover art and setting (late summer/early fall in Greece) I wonder if I would have a different opinion if I chose to read A Separation in the darker, colder months when I tend to prefer more contemplative literature.

Vacation Reads – Week 1!

While anyone who is close to me is very aware that I’m actively seeking to make a career change, I will say I am still very appreciative of the weeks off I get during the summer in exchange for working in education. Last week was my first official “work free” week and I took advantage of that time to catch up on some books that have been staring at me from the ever-growing TBR piles. Maybe it’s just the energy I have knowing I get a break from my daily work stressors for an extended period of time, but I have been FLYING through books and not a single one has been a disappointment.  Below are some brief reviews of the books I’ve already managed to read this month, and I’d easily recommend them all!

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In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Publication Date: March 7, 2017 by Riverhead

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My Thoughts:

With a nice balance of both reality and fantasy, Exit West is unlike any book I’ve read yet.  I tend to stay away from romances, but decided to give this one a try in my efforts to expand my diverse reading choices.  For those who love books about people – this is the perfect book to pick up next!

Yes, much of the story focuses on Saaed and Nadia’s relationship, but it is also much more complicated than that. Exit West is a haunting exploration of what it means to be a refugee and gives the reader a firsthand experience of what often is like for those who are considered “outsiders” in a world where too many people are scared of what (and who) they don’t understand (and oftentimes, are unwilling to understand).

One’s relationship to windows now changed in the city. A window was the border through which death was possibly most likely to come. Windows could not stop even the most flagging round of ammunition: any spot indoors with a view of the outside was a spot potentially in the crossfire. Moreover the pane of a window could itself become shrapnel so easily, shattered by a nearby blast, and everyone had heard of someone or other who had bled out after being lacerated by shards of flying glass.

Mohsin also makes the violence we have become a bit too used to on television so very personal.  Nadia and Saeed are both such likable and relatable characters and seeing the increasing violence through their eyes adds to the tension in the story.  Mohsin has taken an experience that seems so far removed for many in the Western hemisphere and made it frighteningly real and he does this with a writing style that is pure poetry.

Exit West turned out to be a blend of two genres that I usually don’t gravitate towards – romance and fantasy.  However, Mohsin writes about events that are very prevalent and he does so while also sharing the very personal experiences of two, well-developed characters.  This in combination with Mohsin’s unique writing style makes for an unforgettable read.

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André is a listless Brazilian teenager and the son of a successful plastic surgeon who lives a life of wealth and privilege, shuttling between the hot sands of Ipanema beach and his family’s luxurious penthouse apartment. In 1985, when he is just sixteen, André’s mother is killed in a car accident. Clouded with grief, André, his younger brother Thiago, and his father travel with their domestic help to Belem, a jungle city on the mouth of the Amazon, where the intense heat of the rainforest only serves to heighten their volatile emotions. After they arrive back in Rio, André’s father loses himself in his work, while André spends his evenings in the family apartment with Luana, the beautiful daughter of the family’s maid.

Three decades later, and now a successful surgeon himself, André is a middle-aged father, living in London, and recently separated from his British wife. He drinks too much wine and is plagued by recurring dreams. One day he receives an unexpected letter from Luana, which begins to reveal the other side of their story, a story André has long repressed.

Flesh and Bone and Water by Luiza Sauma

Publication Date: June 20, 2017 by Scribner

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My Thoughts:

I lie on my back and float, as I did back then, and I almost feel the same. Just flesh and bone and water, just another animal, another Indian swimming in the Amazon.

I was fortunate to receive a free copy of this book from Scribner (who doesn’t love surprise book mail?!) and found myself immediately drawn into Sauma’s prose. Flesh and Blood and Water is best described as a reflective coming-of-age story – chapters switch back and forth between Andre’s present life at the age of about 45 and events that took place in Brazil when he was a teenager on the cusp of adulthood.

The reader learns very quickly that something occurred during this time in Andre’s past that he has worked hard to repress when he receives a letter from his family’s prior empregada (maid), Luana.  This initial correspondence leads to Andre’s reflection of his teenaged years in Rio and through a slow unravelling of his past memories, the reader begins to piece together what it is that Andre is so frightened to revisit.

Remembering Marajo, I feel as if I’m flicking through a filing cabinet, reading files written in a language I once knew, but am out of practice in. The language of being young, of knowing nothing. I’m setting these memories out as though they came to me so simply. This happened, then this and then this. But that’s not how it is. That’s not how it was.

I ultimately enjoyed Flesh and Bone and Water for Sauma’s descriptive prose.  Brazil is a country I’ve yet to visit and I found myself totally absorbed in the environment in a way that let me feel as if I lived there.  Andre is far from a likable character and I didn’t find many aspects of the “big reveal” to be that much of a surprise – I found myself more drawn in to the story of Brazil as a whole.  While I generally love coming-of-age novels (and would definitely recommend this book to those who do as well!), I actually think Sauma’s writing style is what kept me fully captivated throughout my reading.  Knowing that this is her debut novel, I’m excited to see what she writes next!

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A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface—you nevGirl on the er know what lies beneath.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Publication Date: May 2, 2017 by Riverhead

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My Thoughts:

Like everybody else in the literary world, I LOVED The Girl on the Train and so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Hawkins’ second novel.  I was hesitant to start when the initial reviews began to pop up and the overall consensus seemed to be that it didn’t live up to her amazing debut.  I’m happy to report that I had a very different reading experience than many others!

Into the Water is a much slower story than The Girl on the Train, but that doesn’t mean it is any less engaging.  In fact, I found Hawkins’ second novel to show her growth as an author.  Yes,  Into the Water is another psychological thriller with lots of twists and mystery, but it’s also a novel about women.  While the same could be said about The Girl on the Train, I found my reading experience with Hawkins’ follow-up book to be more driven by the complicated female characters and what the story revealed about the experiences women have and how it shapes them than the murder mystery (unlike The Girl on the Train which I felt was much more plot-driven).

Lena’s voice grew cold. ‘I don’t understand you. I don’t understand people like you, who always choose to blame the woman. If there’s two people doing something wrong and one of them’s a girl, it’s got to be her fault, right?’

The style of the book overall DID take some getting used to.  The chapters are often brief and they include a myriad of characters.  It was also rather jolting at times to find that chapters would switch from first person to third person point of view.  Once I came to learn character names, it was easy to follow the flow a bit more.  I also came to really enjoy the changes in POV, especially where Lena was concerned since her chapters were typically in first person and I felt that really added to the impact her narrative chapters had on the book as a whole.

If he knew what I’d been feeling, what I’d been through, I don’t think he’d be holding on to my arm. I think he’d be running for his fucking life.

What makes it so much fun to read Hawkins’ books is that she is SO DAMN GOOD at characterization.  Women like Lena and Jules prove to be much more complicated than first impressions lead the reader to believe and Hawkins never lets a story end without making you question everything you thought you had come to know about the people involved.  Without spoiling anything, all I’ll say is that much like The Girl on the Train, don’t get too comfortable believing that you’ve figured everything out before the last page!

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When a bookshop patron commits suicide, it’s his favorite store clerk who must unravel the puzzle he left behind in this fiendishly clever debut novel from an award-winning short story writer.

Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.

But when Joey McGinty, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s back room, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely, uncared for man. But when Lydia flips through his books she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?

As Lydia untangles the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she unearths a long buried memory from her own violent childhood. Details from that one bloody night begin to circle back. Her distant father returns to the fold, along with an obsessive local cop, and the Hammerman, a murderer who came into Lydia’s life long ago and, as she soon discovers, never completely left. Bedazzling, addictive, and wildly clever, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a heart-pounding mystery that perfectly captures the intellect and eccentricity of the bookstore milieu and will keep you guessing until the very last page.​

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

Publication Date: June 13, 2017 by Scribner

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My Thoughts:

While I enjoyed Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore for its originality, there was a bit of a discord between the two story lines: Lydia’s childhood trauma and the “truth” behind Joey’s suicide. When the book began to divulge what happened to Lydia as a child, I found myself much more invested in the plot and couldn’t put the book down.

While getting to understand who Joey was prior to his suicide is pivotal to the plot overall, the actual process of learning about him and his connection to Lydia’s past jarred with the overall “feel” of the book. There’s a sense of lightness to following a mystery that involves secret messages cut into books that didn’t connect for me with the information the reader comes to learn about Lydia’s childhood trauma.

That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the book – far from it. I found characters like Raj, Plath and Tomas very engaging and felt pulled into the story because of them.  I also found Lydia’s story to be frightening yet fascinating and wanted to know how things would ultimately turn out – I was definitely NOT let down by the ending!

Thanks again, Scribner for sending this unique debut novel my way!

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The three of them—a twelve-year-old boy, his older brother, their father—have won the war: the father’s term for his bitter divorce and custody battle. They leave their Kansas home and drive through the night to Albuquerque, eager to begin again, united by the thrilling possibility of carving out a new life together. The boys go to school, join basketball teams, make friends. Meanwhile their father works from home, smoking cheap cigars to hide another smell. But soon the little missteps—the dead-eyed absentmindedness, the late night noises, the comings and goings of increasingly odd characters—become sinister, and the boys find themselves watching their father change, grow erratic, then violent.

One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel

Publication Date: March 14, 2017 by Scribner

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My Thoughts:

Reading One of the Boys is a visceral and disturbing experience.  I picked this up expecting to just read a few chapters before getting some sleep and instead stayed up until about 2am in order to read this short, vicious book to its conclusion.

As an individual who works with adolescents, I found my heart breaking for the 12 year old narrator since his situation reminded me so much of several of students I’ve encountered over the years. Who are you to trust if you can’t even trust your own parents?

My father snarled at me through the mirror, his hot breath and wet words streaming into my ear. Then he pushed me to the floor, left me panting by the bathtub. I was horrified and confused. I’d seen him whip my mother with a belt before. In fact, there were times when she was so terrorized by him that she would just give up, her entire being, like there was nothing left of her but a plea for mercy. She’d have apologized for the weather if it would have ended his rampage a second sooner. The difference was she deserved it.

Unlike books I’ve read prior that just try way too hard to give a “realistic” voice to a young narrator, I found Magariel’s depiction to be spot-on. As we follow the events through our 12 year-old narrator’s eyes, we see how easily both boys are manipulated by their damaged, addict of a father to believe everything he says (in particular about their mother). It’s only as their father becomes more and more involved in drugs and increasingly violent that they begin to understand the real danger of their predicament.

Our dad was an act with a single end. His trajectory: down, down, down. He was going to kill himself out here. And it wasn’t that I didn’t care anymore. He was my father. It was just that we had spent far too long as his audience, right here on this couch. We’d felt happy, hurt, sad here. We’d been reprimanded, confided in. We’d been dazed, embattled, betrayed. We’d slept here, dreamed here, youthful dreams that would never return.

The anxiety I felt seeing how trapped both boys were in such a horrible and lonely situation never went away while I read One of the Boys.

I am DYING to see what Magariel writes next after reading his stunning debut novel!

 

The Deep

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A strange plague called the ‘Gets is decimating humanity on a global scale. It causes people to forget—small things at first, like where they left their keys, then the not-so-small things, like how to drive or the letters of the alphabet. Their bodies forget how to function involuntarily. There is no cure.

But far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, a universal healer hailed as “ambrosia” has been discovered. In order to study this phenomenon, a special research lab has been built eight miles under the sea’s surface. But when the station goes incommunicado, a brave few descend through the lightless fathoms in hopes of unraveling the mysteries lurking at those crushing depths…and perhaps to encounter an evil blacker than anything one could possibly imagine.

The Deep by Nick Cutter

Publication Date: August 16, 2016 by Gallery Books

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My Thoughts:

Every few months, it’s necessary for me to take a break from my usual heavy psychological book choices and to pick up something more in the lines of classic horror – the kind of story that involves blood and gore and frightening creatures lurking in the dark.

While reading The Deep I was reminded of The Shining because of the combination of intense claustrophobia and the narrator’s inability to decipher reality from fiction. The Deep is terrifying initially just with the idea of being trapped in a facility so deep within the sea. I’ve always been drawn to the National Geographic shows and documentaries about the horrifying looking fish and other sea creatures that survive in a sea level too far down for humans to fully explore and The Deep is the first horror novel I’ve read that incorporates that environment to play on the reader’s fear of the unknown.

The first portion of the book really creates that intense feeling of claustrophobia with the environment. As if being trapped that far down without communication and surrounded by miles and miles of pitch black weren’t enough, the narrator begins to experience sleepwalking, vivid and horrifying nightmares, and moments of confusion about whether or not events have really taken place in reality or if he has dreamed of them. Cutter does a fantastic job of slowly building upon these grey areas of sanity versus insanity and after awhile, it becomes hard to really determine if Lucas is truly losing his mind or if he really is experiencing something more sinister and supernatural.

While in many ways, The Deep is a much slower and a bit more psychological read than Cutter’s previous book, The Troop, fans of his debut will find many of the same gory, vicious elements that made The Troop so terrifying in The Deep as well. This follow up novel did not disappoint and I would quickly recommend it to anyone looking for more classic horror in their contemporary fiction!

June Reads

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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!

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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)

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My Thoughts:

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!

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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

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My Thoughts:

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.

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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

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My Thoughts:

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!

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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

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My Thoughts:

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!

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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

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

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!