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Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

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In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Publication Date: February 28, 2017 by Broadway Books

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

I will admit that I was hesitant to pick up this book after seeing that the author was a white, male who teaches at Harvard. I clearly have my own biases to work through, but I was worried that a book about poverty and the role race and gender play in the housing system was not something I wanted to read through the viewpoint of someone like Desmond. I am happy to say I was wrong about my own assumptions as Desmond proved to not only be an amazing writer, but his work as a sociologist is stunning in bringing to light a topic that hasn’t been given enough coverage in this country.

Evicted is a difficult read. Desmond brings to light all the horrific details of what it’s really like to struggle to maintain housing in an American city where eviction is unbelievably commonplace for those living in extreme poverty and helps to explain why so many people find it too difficult to ever “move up” economically-speaking. While some of the statistics or factual arguments Desmond makes are not necessarily new to many readers (myself included), the sociologist approach of sharing the information through the personal narratives of real people makes these issues much more “real” and easier to understand.

People like Larraine lived with so many compounded limitations that it was difficult to imagine the amount of good behavior or self-control that would allow them to lift themselves out of poverty. The distance between grinding poverty and even stable poverty could be so vast that those at the bottom had little hope of climbing out even if they pinched every penny. So they chose not to. Instead, they tried to survive in color, to season the suffering with pleasure. They would get a little high or have a drink or do a bit of gambling or acquire a television. They might buy lobster on food stamps.

Desmond sheds light on what it means to live in poverty and easily squashes some of the typical, irrational arguments I’ve often heard from people who see living in poverty as a “choice”. He also shows the similarities and differences that can arise depending on a person’s race and gender – all within the same city. I can’t imagine a person reading this book and not being affected because while it it clear that Desmond wanted to maintain a personal distance when sharing people’s experiences, I found myself most impacted by the people he wrote about as it made the factual information that much more upsetting.

While Evicted may be a challenging book to read, it is also an extremely important one as it humanizes an issue in our country that people either often overlook or don’t have an opinion on as it doesn’t directly affect them. In his epilogue, Desmond also shares ways that we as Americans could vastly improve the housing crisis in our country if we only chose to focus more on helping the poor rather than the rich.

Most federal housing subsidies benefit families with six-figure incomes. If we are going to spend the bulk of our public dollars on the affluent – at least when it comes to housing – we should own up to that decision and stop repeating the politicians’ canard about one of the richest countries on the planet being unable to afford doing more. If poverty persists in America, it is not for lack of resources.

Although it might be easy to walk away from this book with a sense of despair, Desmond makes it very clear in his epilogue that the poverty and housing issues in this country are not impossible to overcome – if we only could work towards making it a priority in our government. This is a book every American should read.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

 

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Eat Only When You’re Hungry

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In Lindsay Hunter’s achingly funny, fiercely honest second novel, Eat Only When You’re Hungry, we meet Greg—an overweight fifty-eight-year-old and the father of Greg Junior, GJ, who has been missing for three weeks. GJ’s been an addict his whole adult life, disappearing for days at a time, but for some reason this absence feels different, and Greg has convinced himself that he’s the only one who can find his son. So he rents an RV and drives from his home in West Virginia to the outskirts of Orlando, Florida, the last place GJ was seen. As we travel down the streets of the bizarroland that is Florida, the urgency to find GJ slowly recedes into the background, and the truths about Greg’s mistakes—as a father, a husband, a man—are uncovered.

In Eat Only When You’re Hungry, Hunter elicits complex sympathy for her characters, asking the reader to take a closer look at the way we think about addiction—why we demonize the junkie but turn a blind eye to drinking a little too much or eating too much—and the fallout of failing ourselves.

Eat Only When You’re Hungry by Lindsay Hunter

Publication Date: August 8, 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Goodreads

Beer Pairing: Two Roads Honeyspot


My Thoughts:

So that’s what radishes tasted like. Now he knew. They rotted at the bottom of the crisper drawer, they and the lettuce heads and the carrots in their peels. Deb pulled them out a month later, floating in their bags in what looked like lake water, scrubbed the crisper in the sink so it was clean and empty and ready for more bacon.

He guessed that’s what sobriety felt like to GJ: a lurid, hopeful salad that he could not even pretend to choke down.

For such a small book, Eat Only When You’re Hungry packs a serious emotional punch. Hunter’s characters are all broken in their own way and yet there lingered a sense of hope throughout the novel as I found myself desperately hoping that they would each find what they needed to grab a hold of their lives and their broken relationships with one another.

There’s something a bit voyeuristic about reading along with Greg’s narrative and that definitely helped the reader to both understand and empathize with Greg, despite many of his flaws, in particular as a father to GJ. Eat Only When You’re Hungry felt honest because of this brutality and is ultimately what I loved most about Hunter’s writing style.

The Child

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As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

As Kate investigates, she unearths connections to a crime that rocked the city decades earlier: A newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward in a local hospital and was never found. Her heartbroken parents were left devastated by the loss.

But there is more to the story, and Kate is drawn house by house into the pasts of the people who once lived in this neighborhood that has given up its greatest mystery. And she soon finds herself the keeper of unexpected secrets that erupt in the lives of three women and torn between what she can and cannot tell.

The Child by Fiona Barton

Publication Date: June 27, 2017 by Berkley Books

Goodreads

Beer Pairing: Harpoon Citra Sea IPA


My Thoughts:

I’m a bit conflicted about my feelings regarding this book. Perhaps this is partly because of my expectations going into it (I absolutely LOVED Barton’s debut novel, The Widow). Much like The Widow, I enjoyed Barton’s writing style and her complicated, female characters. I think what was different about The Child is that while the chapters transitioned quickly between different points of view, the book as a whole moved at a much slower pace.

While I appreciate Barton’s storytelling and ability to slowly reveal all the hidden layers beneath what “seems” to be a simple crime investigation, I enjoy her characterization the most. All of the women in The Child are complicated individuals and Barton is skillful in both character development and deception – even when I thought I understood a character’s motives, Barton manages to instill enough doubt to make the reader question what is really true.

Dangerous to think you know too much, sometimes, because who really knows someone else? You can scratch the skin, but you never get to the meat of someone else. Into their bones.

While not as fast-paced as her first novel, The Child is a smart, suspenseful crime thriller and I’m excited to see what Fiona Barton writes next!

Lucky You

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Three women, early twenties, find themselves aimlessly adrift in Erika Carter’s fierce and darkly funny debut novel, Lucky You. Ellie, Chloe and Rachel are friends (sort of); waitresses at the same tired bar in the Arkansas college town they’ve stuck around in too long. Each is becoming unmoored in her own way: Ellie obliterates all feeling with alcohol and self-destructive acts of sexual promiscuity; Chloe pulls out patches of her hair and struggles to keep incipient mental illness at bay; changeable Rachel has fallen under the sway of a messianic boyfriend with whom she’s agreed to live off-grid for a year in order to return to “health” and asks Ellie and Chloe to join them in “The Project”. In a remote, rural house in the Ozarks, nearly undone by boredom and the brewing tension between them, each tries to solve the conundrum of being alive.

Lucky You by Erika Carter

Publication Date: March 14, 2017 by Counterpoint Press

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

Sometimes a book doesn’t need a plot with a clear trajectory, likable characters, or a neat ending. In fact, I tend to prefer the opposite of all of those things as long as the writing style suits me. Luckily for me (HA, pun intended) Carter’s debut novel fits the bill.

Carter’s three main characters (Ellie, Chloe, and Rachel) are not necessarily likable, but they’re far from despicable. All three are damaged in their own way and despite attempts to escape their bad habits, it’s clear that they can’t outrun themselves. While the book splits its time between all three women, Ellie is focused on a little more heavily which is what made it easier to relate to her struggle the most. While not suffering from any of the same surface-level issues that these three have, I could easily relate to their feelings of restlessness and that constant itch for contentment that always seems slightly out of reach.

Once Chloe had told her that every seven years the body is made of entirely new material. It made Rachel look into her hands, the network of pink lines in her palms, the blue veins in her wrists, and wonder Who am I really?

I particularly loved the middle section of the book and Carter’s descriptions of their time spent at the house in the Ozark mountains. As their year together progresses, the hidden feelings of tension bubble to the surface when it’s clear that it will take more than just a change of scenery for Chloe, Ellie, and Rachel to deal with their problems. These specific chapters really did a lot to strengthen the internal narratives and characterization of the three women.

While the ending is in many ways open-ended, it is far from despondent and while it’s obvious that all three women are still far from making drastic changes to their lives, there’s a sense of hope in Ellie’s narrative that they still have plenty of time to figure their shit out and that they aren’t doomed to repeating an endless cycle of mistakes.

The Snowman

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Internationally acclaimed crime writer Jo Nesbø’s antihero police investigator, Harry Hole, is back: in a bone-chilling thriller that will take Hole to the brink of insanity.

Oslo in November. The first snow of the season has fallen. A boy named Jonas wakes in the night to find his mother gone. Out his window, in the cold moonlight, he sees the snowman that inexplicably appeared in the yard earlier in the day. Around its neck is his mother’s pink scarf.

Hole suspects a link between a menacing letter he’s received and the disappearance of Jonas’s mother—and of perhaps a dozen other women, all of whom went missing on the day of a first snowfall. As his investigation deepens, something else emerges: he is becoming a pawn in an increasingly terrifying game whose rules are devised—and constantly revised—by the killer.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Publication Date: May 10, 2011 by Vintage Books

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My Thoughts:

I can now honestly say I don’t really understand the hype surrounding Nesbo’s work. Having previously read Midnight Sun and Blood on Snow, I was used to the simplistic writing style and classic crime noir storyline of Nesbo’s books, but The Snowman was not only a bit laughable in plot, but blatantly misogynistic as well.

This was my first full novel from the Harry Hole series. I picked up the first book, The Bat, a few months ago, but ultimately gave up after not gaining interest in the first 100 pages or so. I’ve seen a lot of recommendations for those new to the series to start with The Snowman and after seeing that the movie adaptation was being released in October, I thought it was a good time to give Nesbo another chance.

Initially, The Snowman starts out strong. It’s written very much as a police procedural type of crime thriller and Harry Hole is the typical lone-wolf, alcoholic, brooding detective stereotype that seems to be popular in this type of crime fiction. Despite my misgivings with the stereotypical narrator, I was happy with the pace of the plot for the first third of the novel and felt invested enough to see how things would play out.

Unfortunately, the pacing slows down DRAMATICALLY for the second half of the book and the amount of red herrings that begin to be thrown at the reader becomes much too excessive and just plain frustrating. Like many other readers, I figured out the murderer much too soon and I was disappointed with the reasonings and lack of depth behind his decision to become “the snowman”.

I’m not unfamiliar with the typical police procedural, male-dominated crime thrillers out there, and there are many that I actually really enjoyed. What really concerned me with The Snowman was the blatant sexism and lack of any real female characters (all seem to either die, need saving, or suffer from a nervous breakdown). Women are used in Nesbo’s books as pawns in the plot and while it’s nothing new for a book to focus on an angry man murdering women because he hates them, there is SUCH a lack of attempt to make any of the women in this book more than just flighty and promiscuous side characters and that was ultimately the most disturbing part of the book for me.

Also, the sex scenes were excessive (and not often necessary to the story) and so dominated by the male gaze that they were laughable. Why is it that all women (even the ones that could be smart, well-developed characters all on their own) throw themselves at the men in this book? I was baffled by many of these interactions and didn’t understand what was to be gained from them at all.

I would recommend picking up any of Tana French’s novels instead for those interested in police procedural thrillers. For anyone who doesn’t mind a little bit of fantasy thrown in with their serial killers, Lauren Beukes’ Broken Monsters or The Shining Girls are also fantastic.

Beautiful Animals

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On a hike during a white-hot summer break on the Greek island of Hydra, Naomi and Samantha make a startling discovery: a man named Faoud, sleeping heavily, exposed to the elements, but still alive. Naomi, the daughter of a wealthy British art collector who has owned a villa in the exclusive hills for decades, convinces Sam, a younger American woman on vacation with her family, to help this stranger. As the two women learn more about the man, a migrant from Syria and a casualty of the crisis raging across the Aegean sea, their own burgeoning friendship intensifies, and when a simple plan of revenge goes horrifically wrong, Faoud must go on the run while the women come to terms with the terrible consequences they have set in motion.

Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne

Publication Date: July 18, 2017 by Hogarth Press

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

Part of what makes Osborne’s novels so enthralling is his writing style. Perhaps it’s because of his own life experiences and travels that his descriptions of countries that I have not yet visited are vivid enough to make me feel like I am already there. This was very much the case for Hunters in the Dark and Beautiful Animals is no exception.

Much like Hunters in the DarkBeautiful Animals is suspenseful and smart with its “cat and mouse” plot and complicated characters. Osborne smoothly combines a luscious, exotic landscape with a thrilling crime story that is reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith’s Talented Mr. Ripley series.

What beautiful animals we are, Sam thought, beautiful as panthers.

Naomi is certainly the focal point of the novel and it’s both fascinating and disturbing to see how she influences not only Sam, but everyone else around her as well. Her wish to “help” Faoud is questionable at best and it is clear as the story progresses that Naomi’s ability to manipulate everyone around her is what triggers all the events that come after this initial task. What makes the story even more stunning is that Osborne never truly reveals Naomi’s character so the reader is left to feel uncomfortable in determining her motives throughout the book.

Beautiful Animals is such an intelligent crime thriller that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a complicated plot as much as they enjoy a character study!

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

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In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her own past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.

With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved—in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Publication Date: June 13, 2017 by HarperCollins

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

The story of my life is wanting, hungering, for what I cannot have or, perhaps, wanting what I dare not allow myself to have.

Roxane Gay may insist throughout her memoir that she is not courageous or brave, but I would beg to differ. In Hunger, Gay has chosen to lay bare the darkest parts of her life to open up a dialogue about how things like gender roles and sexual violence can have such a long-lasting impact on a person’s life in ways many of us can’t even begin to imagine.

This is what most girls are taught-that we should be slender and small. We should not take up space. We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to men, acceptable to society. And most women know this, that we are supposed to disappear, but it’s something that needs to be said, loudly, over and over again, so that we can resist surrendering to what is expected of us.

Roxane Gay opens up about the brutal gang rape she experienced when she was barely a teenager and how food and the act of eating became therapeutic in dealing with the trauma. It’s stunning and also heartbreaking to learn that she did not allow anyone else to know what happened to her for so many years. And yet, it’s also not surprising since we live in a culture where victims of rape are often blamed and rapists protected.

I am weary of all our sad stories – not hearing them, but that we have these stories to tell, that there are so many.

There were entire chapters in Hunger that resonated so strongly with me and my own life experience. I may not have much in common with Roxane Gay, but yet at the same time, I do – because we are both women and face so many of the same societal struggles. Gay’s more universal message combined with excerpts of her own personal life experiences makes for an extremely powerful book that I only wish everyone would read and learn from.