Posts Tagged 'five stars'

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.

Continue reading ‘Book Review: The Savage City, by T.J English’


Review: Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel

It’s so, so deliciously fun to read about characters who are unrepentantly good at what they do–even (or especially) if what they do isn’t very nice. Competent, confident characters are just cool. Think about it: Wolverine. Michonne. Han Solo. Samuel L. Jackson. Dean Winchester. Thomas Cromwell.

The things you think are the disasters in your life are not the disasters really. Almost anything can be turned around: out of every ditch, a path, if you can only see it.

Yes, Thomas Cromwell, friend and minister to King Henry the VIII of England. Cromwell is a magnificent bastard, and I mean that in the best way possible. Even as he helps to engineer the downfall of Anne Boleyn, I couldn’t help but root for him; he does what he needs to do to ensure Henry’s happiness and his own house’s security, and does it with ruthless competence.

In Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s sequel to her Man Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, she follows Cromwell in the weeks immediately preceding the fall of Anne Boleyn. Whereas Wolf Hall took place over the course of a few years, the action in Bring Up the Bodies is compressed, to great effect: we jump right into the action and the pace doesn’t let up until the final pages. I found it just as un-put-down-able as Wolf Hall, which was one of my favorite reads of 2010.

Continue reading ‘Review: Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel’

Review: Averno

I don’t consider myself a huge consumer of poetry. There are some individual poems I like well enough, but I can count the number of poetry volumes I have on my bookshelves on one hand–and these tend to be by very well-known and popular poets.

That being said…Averno, by Louise Gluck, is breathtaking.

I was playing around on The Academy of American Poets’ website–something I do when I need inspiration for creative writing–when I came across Gluck’s poem The Myth of Innocence. (Do yourself a favor and click that link!) I was so taken aback by the beauty of her language and imagery that I ordered Averno immediately.

Averno itself is a lake in Italy that the ancient Romans believed marked the entrance to the underworld. This collection of poems fittingly concerns itself with death, love, mothers and daughters, nature, and the soul. The myth of Persephone and Hades is the strand that holds many of the pieces together, and Gluck’s take on it is mournful and exuberant all at once, a far cry from the original, simple tale of lust and abduction. If, like me, you loved getting lost in Greek mythology as a kid, you would probably enjoy this more nuanced, adult rewriting of a myth.

It would have been easy, I think, to have gotten lost in myths and legendary figures, but Gluck is insistent on realism, humanizing not only Persephone but also herself, as an artist, a friend, and a lover. She speaks about her own soul, the artist’s soul, and her relationships with the same lofty, dreamlike language she uses to describe Persephone. Her talent is intimidating but also inspiring.

Here’s a sample, from a poem called “October”:

The light has changed;
middle C is tuned darker now.
And the songs of morning sound over-rehearsed.

This is the light of autumn, not the light of spring.
The light of autumn: you will not be spared.

Chills, right?

No matter how eloquently I write about Averno, it’s but a shade of how impressive the actual poems are. Click here for the New York Times’ (arguably much better) review of Averno, but do yourself a favor and just read the book itself!

Bookwanderer Rating: Five out of five stars

Review: Fingersmith

YOU GUYS. This book is so good. Let me tell you how good this book is:

Recently, I had to get up very, very early to get on an Amtrak train. Like, 6 am early. I am really not a morning person, and on this particular morning I’d only gotten four hours sleep, so I was struggling. Once on the train, I had a choice: I could go back into warm, delightful sleep, OR I could keep reading Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. And I chose to read.

A book has to be seriously good to make me choose it over sleep. It’s a testament to how gripping and well-plotted Fingersmith is that I did. No spoilers!

On its surface, Fingersmith is a Victorian thriller about an orphan, Sue Trinder, who plots with a fellow named Gentleman/Richard Rivers to trick lonely, also-orphaned Maud Lilly out of her fortune. Sue becomes Maud’s maid, in order to better persuade her to marry Gentleman, so they can get their hands on her money…and then get rid of her. Seems straightforward, doesn’t it? The twists and turns that the plot takes makes it SO much more, and turns a gothic drama into a sprawling tale filled with love and betrayal and huge secrets that you never saw coming. There are madhouses and villains and dead mothers and crossings and DOUBLE crossings and ack, my heart could hardly take it all.

Now, if you know anything about Sarah Waters, you know that she’s reknowned for her treatment of lesbian relationships. The emotionally-charged relationship that develops between Maud and Susan is handled deftly and with a light touch. I thought it was a thoughtful, sensitive exploration of a love that, due to the restrictive socio-sexual beliefs of the era, was not only looked down upon but was taboo, and actually considered a mental disease that could be cured. (Actually…that sounds sadly familiar). Fair warning for the faint-hearted or intolerant: Fingersmith does contain some (in my opinion, very innocuous and not gratuitous) sex.
Trying to avoid spoilers here, so let’s move on! Waters is a genius at creating atmosphere. You can pretty much FEEL the grit and smog of London accumulating on your clothes and making its way down into your lungs; the streets are confusing and crowded and threatening. The country manor Briar, on the other hand, is silent, cold, and dreary. Each place is stifling in a different way. (It actually reminded me very much of the atmosphere in the novel Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, in terms of feeling the wet and cold coming right off the page.) And both places are by turns menacing, dull, and “home.”

Okay, I am stemming the flow of gushing now. Just…go read Fingersmith. Read it now!
This book counts towards the Women Unbound Challenge.

Bookwanderer Rating: Five out of five stars

Bookwanderer Tagline: Villains and lovers and schemers, oh my!

Second opinions:
A Striped Armchair
books i done read

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