Archive for the 'book review' Category

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: 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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Book Review: Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri is a goddess. Her writing is just as exquisite as it was in The Interpreter of Maladies, and she still possess that unique ability to be both searing and tender to her characters.

In Unaccustomed Earth, Lahiri weaves eight short stories (sometimes approaching novella-length) about the Indian immigrant experience in America. We watch young Indian-American men and women struggle to fit in with their schoolmates, to balance the pressures exerted upon them by familial duty and their own desires, and to determine what “happiness” actually looks like for themselves. But many of the stories transcend genre, to my mind; they can be read as coming-of-age stories, as pure literary fiction, a few as creative non-fiction. And we are always carried along by the soothing, sensitive, and authentic prose that Lahiri is so deft at creating.

As always, it’s difficult for me to review a short story collection, but Lahiri’s products are remarkably even and I don’t think that there were any particularly weak chapters.

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Book Review: Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon

This book was not for me, and I knew it within the first 200 pages or so. And yet, I persisted in finishing it. Testimony to Gabaldon’s ability to spin a yarn, or to my own masochism in attempting to complete the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge? Whichever it was, by the time I was able to turn the last page of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, I was also ready to say goodbye to our intrepid heroes Claire and Jaime.

At the same time, I feel like it’s unfair for me to have disliked Outlander as much as I did, because it has to do with my own expectations of the book’s focus and scope. Before reading Outlander, I had assumed it was a fantasy time traveling novel much like that of Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book or Blackout. I expected intrigue and action, following a spunky heroine trying her best to fit into a new (or old, as it were) society without her origins being discovered before making it back to her own time. From its coverage on sites like io9, I simply assumed that this was a fantasy book first and foremost, despite its historical setting.

What I did not expect was romance and sex (both consentual and non-consentual) to take such a central place in the story and plot. As in…the entire story and plot.

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Book Review: Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry

A sweeping epic that covers about 3,000 miles, a large cast of characters, and 945 pages (!), Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove is a gripping and enjoyable read. Those 945 pages flew by for me! At times, reading Lonesome Dove felt like watching a movie. I actually missed my subway stop one morning because I was so engrossed in reading a particular scene, only looking up and realizing what had happened when my subway moved aboveground. Oops.

The story starts in Lonesome Dove, Texas, where former Texas Rangers Woodrow Call and Gus MsCrae have settled down, digging wells, shoeing horses, and generally living quiet lives. That all changes when an old friend of theirs comes into town, with the idea of driving cattle to the fresh, green pastures of Montana. We follow the outfit as they traverse miles of dangerous territory and try to keep from being killed (or killing each other).

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Book Review: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, by Dee Brown

Surely revolutionary at the time that it was released, and even now, still an incredibly incisive look at how white American politics, backstabbing, greed, and genocide decimated the American Indian population, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West is not a comfortable read. Wounded Knee is relentless in its documentation of the betrayals and battles suffered by the United States’ indigenous populations, from the Comanche to the Blackfeet to the Kiowa.

I often had to put this one down while reading, due to the sheer injustice and treachery suffered by literally every tribe of American Indian, even those who considered themselves allies of Washington and the Great Father (the U.S. President). This is the real history of the West, which was far from the empty plains the U.S government painted it as; Native Americans had rich, vibrant, established societies that were displaced and destroyed by Manifest Destiny and westward expansion of industrial and agricultural interests. Knowing how the story ends–with the systematic removal of American Indians to tiny, poorly-served reservations–doesn’t lessen the blow.

Wounded Knee also gives us a deeper look into the lives and motivations of prominent American Indians like Red Cloud, Mangas Coloradas, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull, all of whom consistently tried to serve and protect their people however they could, despite the overwhelming odds facing them. It was especially interesting to see the divisions between American Indian leaders like Red Cloud, who tried dealing with the U.S. through legal channels, and those like Crazy Horse, who chose guerrilla warfare and resistance. The photographs and illustrations of these brave men were a welcome addition to their stories.

While the ending to Wounded Knee feels rather abrupt, it is still probably one of the most complete investigations of American Indian history out there, and the choice on Brown’s part to end it with the Ghost Dance saga was especially haunting. Wounded Knee is a difficult but important read, and anyone who considers themselves a student of the history of the West or Native American history would do well to read it.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was on my to-read list for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge, hosted by Roof Beam Reader!

Bookwanderer Rating: Four and a half out of five stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.”
Other Reviews:  At Home with Books, A Variety of Words,

Book Review: The Best of Everything, by Rona Jaffe

It would be impossible to review The Best of Everything, by Rona Jaffe, in 2013 and not make mention of the television show Mad Men. Both are concerned with life in and around New York City in the ’50s (and ’60s and ’70s, for the show); both depict what life was like for working women before the feminist movement made gains in achieving equality; both are a masterful blend of gallows humor and real pathos. I think the two serve as comfortable companions for one another–especially if you would like to see more of Joan, Peggy, and Betty on the show.

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