Book Review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

I’ve got a problem. A NetGalley problem. Like most other bookworms, I’ve got eyes bigger than my stomach when it comes to free books–I will request way more than I can feasibly read!

However, when I saw karen’s review of The Weight of Blood, I knew I had to make space on my crowded iPad–and even more crowded TBR list–for this debut novel. I’m grateful I did–based on this novel alone, Laura McHugh is an author to watch.

In the small Ozarks town of Henbane, Lucy Dane sees a friend go missing with no explanation and no closure. She has already lives without a mother, who–according to town memory–killed herself in the extensive cave system in the wild lands surrounding the area. After finding a clue as to her friend’s disappearance, Lucy begins to pursue the twin threads of the missing women in her life. In the process, she begins to unwind the network of secrets and lies that her family, and the people of Henbane, have woven to keep her and themselves safe.

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Book Review: Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, by David Simon

Omar knows what’s up. 

I only started watching HBO’s The Wire about a year ago, but damn if it isn’t as good as everyone says it is. I don’t really know why I waited to watch as long as I did, but I’m almost glad–I feel like I can appreciate its messages and subtitles better now that I’m a bit older and have more life experience. It also means that I can draw out my watching of The Wire to avoid having it end too soon.

Before I had even starting watching, I knew that it (and the show Homicide) was based in part on a nonfiction book by David Simon called Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. What I wasn’t prepared for was for how engaging and eye-opening the book was on its own.

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Book Review: Zoology by Ben Dolnick

My feelings about this novel exactly.

I can be bored by books, or bewildered by the author’s choices, or unable to suspend my disbelief enough to buy into a story, but it’s rare that I feel the visceral level of dislike that I felt while reading Ben Dolnick’s debut novel Zoology.

Henry Elinsky fails his first year of college. To escape the boredom of living at home with his parents for the summer, Henry accepts his older brother’s offer of a place to live in New York City and a job working at the Central Park Zoo. He ends up befriending another summer transplant, Margaret, and bonds with her as various tragedies befall them both.

Zoology is a slim novel, topping out at 300 pages, but it felt longer for me. A huge stumbling block was our “hero” himself, Henry, who is just straight-up unlikeable and not in an interesting way–in an 18-year old man-child way. I kept getting the sense that Dolnick was trying to reach for Holden Caufield-esque protagonist in Henry. But Holden, despite how you may feel about him, felt things and felt them strongly–not just about himself, but about the injustices and hypocrisies he saw in the world around him.

Henry is, by contrast, a boring sadsack. He has no sense of relativism, no curiosity, no unselfishness, no compassion. He gets angry when a girl he likes doesn’t want to date him and hopes that by staying friends with her, he’ll win her away from her boyfriend. (Um, respect her choice, dude; she said no.) Perhaps I’ve been spoiled, but the 18-year old boys I grew up with–like my brother and my boyfriend–were not like Henry at all. Thankfully.

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Book Review: The Bitches of Brooklyn, by Rosemary Harris

Thanks, Thranduil. 

I always say, when asked, that I read “everything,” and I do usually mean it. My tastes are pretty wide ranging, from hard sci-fi to poetry, from literary fiction to true crime. Upon reflection, however, there are some genres that I have tended to avoid: romance (of all flavors, paranormal and otherwise), mysteries, and what is often somewhat-pejoratively referred to as “chick lit.” Not because I think poorly of those genres, but because I know myself and my tastes. And as you can see from previous reviews, when I’ve been fooled into reading romance in the guise of sci-fi or fantasy, I’ve been…less than kind.

With all of that in mind, you might wonder why I decided to read mystery writer Rosemary Harris’s latest, The Bitches of Brooklyn. Three words: title and cover. They were eye-catching and kind of hilarious, and I couldn’t help myself. Additionally, I live in New York City and enjoy reading books that take place here, especially in the boroughs. So I thought, “ah, what the hell,” and clicked to download The Bitches of Brooklyn e-book.

It didn’t take me too long to realize I had made a mistake, but I’m too stubborn to stop reading a book I’ve started.

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Book Review: Hemlock Grove, by Brian McGreevy

My honest reaction upon finishing Brian McGreevy’s debut novel Hemlock Grove:


See more on Know Your Meme

And I was so, so disappointed, because I had wanted to read it since it first came out, even moreso after I heard it was being adapted into a series on Netflix. I love werewolves, I love post-industrial town settings, and I love creepy paranormal murders, all things that I was promised in this updated take on the Gothic novel.

Instead, I got lackluster characterizations, a slow and frequently-lost plot, bizarre allusions to concepts that were never resolved, tortured writing, and some final twists that were eyeroll-inducing.

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Book Review: xoOrpheus, Ed. Kate Bernheimer

I read xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths, edited by Kate Bernheimer, last year, and am only getting around to reviewing it now. Usually I try to force myself to write my responses to what I’ve read no more than a week after I’ve finished it; I’m a fast, enthusiastic reader, but I have a terrible memory and will often struggle to recall plot points, or character names, or anything deeper than a surface recollection. (Is it true playing Sudoku helps improve memory? If so, I need to get on that…but I’ll probably forget.)

orpheus

In this case, spending a bit of time away from short story collection xo Orpheus was a good thing. It helped me to determine which stories actually moved me and gripped me beyond the short time I spent reading them, which stories went completely and bafflingly over my head, and which stories produced images or descriptions that are still lingering in my mind today. In a collection that I found to be somewhat frustratingly uneven, some distance was necessary for a more tempered–and hopefully more helpful!–review.

xo Orpheus is a collection of fifty “new myths,” or  myths from a variety of times and cultures that have been altered without becoming unrecognizable. Many are the familiar Greek myths that many of us were raised on–including several different takes on the myth of Persephone–while others come from cultures that may be less well-known to a modern Western audience. Still, all of them dealt in some way with the same very human themes: love, death, loyalty, fear. Life, really. Some of the stories take myths and adapt them for contemporary settings; others expand upon the original myths in their intended time and place by giving us a new point of view or an epilogue. I commend the idea behind this collection, because as Bernheimer herself says in her introduction, myths themselves are timeless; they have had a hold on the human imagination for centuries, and have certainly not lost their grasp on us yet.

I’ve highlighted below the stories in xo Orpheus that made the biggest impact on me, but the beauty of a collection this large, spanning so many authors and so many myths, is that there is truly something for everyone. For example, while some of the more postmodern offerings (“The Story I am Speaking to You Now,” “Belle-Medusa,” “In a Structure Simulating an Owl”) were not to my taste, I know people who would have delighted in their unconventionality!

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Book Review: The Savage City, by T.J English

The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge was incredible. I couldn’t put it down. (And that only usually happens when I’m reading fiction, to be completely honest.) I was reading it on the subway, on the walk to the subway, in bed at night, and in the morning when I should have been walking the dog or showering. After finishing it, I recommended it to just about everyone I knew; I became that annoying friend at a party who tries to convince you and everyone around you that this is just the BEST. BOOK. EVER. and who refuses to take “no” for an answer. I wish that I had multiple copies of this book, just so I could hand them all out at the same time!

At this point, unfortunately, it has been a few months since I first read The Savage City, and so many of the details are fuzzy. I put off writing this review for so long because, in all honesty, it’s difficult! English covers so much history, both personalized and urban, so deftly and so well, that even attempting to summarizing it feels a bit sacrilegious. A truncated version of the summary, from Goodreads:

 In the early 1960s, uncertainty and menace gripped New York, crystallizing in a poisonous divide between a deeply corrupt, cynical, and racist police force, and an African American community buffeted by economic distress, brutality, and narcotics. On August 28, 1963—the day Martin Luther King Jr. declared “I have a dream” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial—two young white women were murdered in their Manhattan apartment. Dubbed the Career Girls Murders case, the crime sent ripples of fear throughout the city, as police scrambled fruitlessly for months to find the killer. But it also marked the start of a ten-year saga of fear, racial violence, and turmoil in the city—an era that took in events from the Harlem Riots of the mid-1960s to the Panther Twenty-One trials and Knapp Commission police corruption hearings of the early 1970s.

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