Review: I Am Still Alive

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Review for "I Am Still Alive" by Kate Alice Marshall (2018)

Review: 4 out of 5 stars

This was between three and four stars for me. Gary Paulsen’s “Hatchet” meets The Revenant. It’s a compelling read, but not quite what I expected.

When the story begins, Jess, a 16 year old girl, has been sent to the Canadian wilderness to live with her father whom she barely knows. She has recently lost her mother in an automobile accident, the same which has left her without the full use of her legs. She struggles to adjust to life in the remote wilderness where one must live off of the land and only way in and out is via plane. She learns a bit about hunting and fishing through her father and begins to build somewhat of a bond with him until he is killed by two mysterious visitors to their cabin. The men burn the cabin down, not realizing that Jess and her dad’s dog, Bo, are in the woods hiding. For several months, Jess is left on her own, finding food and shelter and surviving in the wilderness. Eventually she discovers the reason behind her father’s death and plots out a plan for revenge.

Essentially, this is a survival story. There is the revenge element, but that plot is not in play until late in the novel. For the first 2/3rds of the book, we are reading about Jess being cold, wet, in pain, and just hating her life in general. While I’m not gonna call her a whiner (hell, I’d be whining too!), I will say that not much happens early on in this book beyond descriptions of her misery. It’s cool–just not quite what I expected. I did keep reading though. Not for the survival stuff, but for the kick-ass revenge part.

I’m not in a rush to recommend this, unless you like survival stories.

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Review: The Other Wes Moore

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Review for "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates" by Wes Moore (2010)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Ack…I DNF’d this one.

The idea behind this book is indeed noteworthy, as we’ve all wondered at some time or another about the life of another individual who, by some stroke of fate, happens to have the same name as we do. In this book, the author does just that as he discovers another man with his same name and similar age, also raised in the city of Baltimore. He begins a prison correspondence with the “other” Wes Moore and sets out to explore where their paths in life diverged. The author is a former White House Fellow, a writer, and an Army veteran. The “other” Wes Moore is serving time in prison, has fathered several children, is a convicted drug felon, and had an attempted murder conviction all before the age of 18.

The premise of this book is flawed, however. Moore points to the commonality of absentee fathers and poverty between the two of them, but this is simply not true. While both Moores grew up fatherless, the author’s father died, he was not abandoned. Secondly, Moore’s mother, even though a widow, had a strong support system. The author half-heartedly acknowledges this, as well as his privilege of attending a private school during his formative years to steer him away from bad behavior and negative influences. Also, while the negative behavior that author Wes Moore speaks of (tagging buildings with graffiti, etc) is akin to a middle class teenager’s ideas of rebellion, the “other” Wes Moore’s descent into drug dealing and criminal behavior is not rebelliousness but a necessity, a way of gaining power in a single parent household as the ‘man of the house.’ Even though the “other” Wes Moore’s choice to delve into criminality was his own doing, the lack of a support system and the presence of poverty in his life cannot be understated.

I stopped reading this book about 2/3 of the way through, once the faulty premise became apparent. Perhaps I’ll pick this up in the future, but for right now, I’m good.

Review: Girl Trouble

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Review for "Girl Trouble: An Illustrated Memoir" by Kerry Cohen (2016)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I read Kerry Cohen’s memoir “Loose Girl” a few years ago, so I decided to see what this book was about. This is a memoir that chronicles the author’s very complex relationships with women, beginning with her older sister and continuing throughout her childhood to the present day. Each relationship is presented vignette-style, with illustrations of several of the characters included within. Some of the relationships Cohen discusses are friendships, others describe a contentious situation (i.e., the author being bullied by another girl), some girls are passing acquaintances.

I certainly understand Cohen’s reason for writing this book. It seems that she wanted to not just talk about girl relationships but to examine the many, many ways in which women can be cruel to one another. There are problems with this, however. One of the main ones here I noticed was that the author seems quick to discuss the many times in which she has been victimized by girls and women, yet minimizes her own actions in some situations in which she was equally cruel. Case in point: a period during the author’s college years in which she admits that she slept with a friend’s boyfriend. She tells us that the boyfriend was not really her friend’s boyfriend, just some guy she was seeing at the time. Either way, when the cheating was discovered, her friend stopped speaking to her. The author meets up with the friend years later after she writes about it in “Loose Girl” and tries to explain herself, yet her tone is not one of contrition (after all, she did go and write a book about it) but one of slight indignation, as if the friend just should have ‘gotten over it’ already. 

There’s other layers here of meaning I could talk about here, but it’s repetitive. After a while each “friend” and each “boy” all sounded the same and reading this became tiresome. And the illustrations, while good, didn’t really add anything to the book. Picture here, more words. Picture there, more words. Blah.

Even though I get the point, I can’t help but to feel that this is essentially the same book as “Loose Girl,” only with a slightly different focus. Many of the same incidents from that book are retold here.

No mas. Two stars.

Top Ten Tuesday: Notable Book Mashups

Ok, so today’s Top Ten Tuesday is technically “Books You’d Mash Together.” Since no one is paying me to write fiction ideas here, I’m going to suggest a few plot mashups that I’ve found noteworthy over the past few years.

  1. I Am Still Alive – Kate Alice Marshall. Currently reading this, it’s about a teenage girl surviving in a remote section of Canadian wilderness after the murder of her father. Mashup: The movie The Revenant and Gary Paulsen’s novel “Hatchet.”
  2. I Stop Somewhere – T.E. Carter. I personally didn’t like this book, but it’s deals with sexual assault, its aftermath, and the afterlife. Mashup: Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones” and Jay Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why.”
  3. The Ritual – Adam Nevill. Four buddies go hiking in the wilds of Scandinavia and find a murderous Satanic cult. I read this book long before it became a semi-scary movie on Netflix, btw. Mashup: The Blair Witch Project (minus the irritating teenagers) meets Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn” meets The Wicker Man meets Deliverance.   
  4. Boo – Neil Smith. A young boy wakes up in heaven, then discovers that he was the victim of a school shooting. Even worse, his killer may also be in heaven. Mashup: Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones” and Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”

        Not Quite Mashups, but Similar in plot…

  5. City of Saints and Thieves – Natalie Anderson —–> Ocean’s 11 (film)
  6. Crimes in Southern Indiana – Frank Bill ——> any episode of “Breaking Bad”
  7. The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir – D. Watkins ——> HBO’s “The Wire”
  8. Bleed Like Me – Christa Desir ——-> Sid and Nancy (film)
  9. The Fates Will Find Their Way – Hannah Pittard ——> Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Virgin Suicides”
  10. Brother – Ania Ahlborn ——> The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (film)

Review: My Year of Rest and Relaxation

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Review for "My Year of Rest and Relaxation" by Ottessa Moshfegh (2018)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I’ll say this and I’ll say it again–at this point in my life I will read anything that Ottessa Moshfegh writes. I’ve read all of her novels (McGlue, Eileen, and her short story collection Homesick for Another World) and I consider them not just reading, but something that, for me, is more of an experience. You find yourself entering another world through her words, a parallel universe. Most of the time the universe that Moshfegh writes about is full of ugly and repulsive people who are trapped somehow–in drinking, drugs, self-loathing.

“My Year of Rest and Relaxation” follows the same theme of unlikable characters that Moshfegh is known for. The unnamed narrator is young, thin, blonde, and pretty and reminds you of this every 10 pages or so. She is wealthy, lives in a great apartment in NYC and works in a hip art gallery. However, she is depressed. Under a “mask” of having it all, she grows up with cold and unloving parents. Her boyfriend treats her like a doormat. The one friend that she has, Reva, is not really her friend, but a punching bag for her passive-aggressive anger.

In response, the narrator decides to take a year off to sleep, and, in her words, ‘hibernate.’ She finds a psychiatrist in a phone book and tells elaborate lies to get every drug imaginable to sleep and stay that way. For an entire year, the narrator exists in this dreamlike, comatose state of waking, sleeping, recalling periodic visits with her friend, watching old movies, pondering the past, and sleeping some more. She comes up occasionally for air to get coffee, or realize that she’s done weird things while under (partying, shopping, talking to strangers online, etc). When she emerges from her year of sleep, the results are quite profound and (dare I say it) bittersweet.

As with Moshfegh’s last novel, Eileen, the plot is not the strong suit here. This is more of a character study with a depressed, highly unlikable character at the center. As with Moshfegh’s other novels, I could not stop reading this book, even as the character’s behavior completely repulsed me. That’s the gift of this writer though, she makes the ugly somehow appealing.

Definitely read this one. 5 stars.

Review: Fever Dream

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Review for "Fever Dream" by Samanta Schweblin (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The experience of reading “Fever Dream” is like sitting in a room with a blindfold on. You can’t see anything but you can definitely feel emotion–fear, anger, dread. Every now and then the blindfold lifts and you get an image of Something, but it’s indistinct and unexplainable. You sit in the dark some more and you get another image, different from the last one. Eventually you attempt to put together what you’ve seen into a narrative, but you can’t. It’s unsettling and wild. Confusing.

It’s hard to describe this novel because it really isn’t about anything. On the surface it is about a young mother, dying in a hospital. Her daughter is missing and she is not sure how she got there. The entire book is a conversation between this woman and a little boy who is not hers about what has happened to her and her daughter. But you know that that’s not really it, it’s just window dressing on a deeper layer of meaning. Through the bits and pieces of the conversation between these two characters you get that this book explores parental fear, transference and counter-transference, environmental contamination, issues of trust, and some heavy duty psychoanalysis. The dialogue between the main character and the little boy is maddeningly circular and strange. It’s weird, but I was totally in for the ride.

I’ve said here before that books that are confusing are not good ones. After reading this, I realize that I may need to walk back that statement. There is so much to unpack here that I will probably reread this, and I’ll be happy when I do that. “Fever Dream” is definitely worth reading, but be aware that it is not a traditional story with neat characters, a detailed plot, and a conclusive ending. This is bizarre and murky and all over the place. If you are into dark and somewhat experimental reads and don’t mind doing a little brain work, I recommend this.

This is a short book, so I would advise letting it hit you all at once. Read it in as few sittings as possible.

Top Ten Tuesday: Popular Books that Lived Up to the Hype

Ya’ll know me…I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum. I read and review what interests me, I don’t care about what books are trendy or popular. Occasionally, however, my curiosity gets the best of me and I pick up a book that everybody else likes too. Below are some “popular” picks that weren’t all that bad after all…

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1. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
I loved this whole trilogy. I don’t care about allegations of plagarism, nitpicky little observations people make about the movies, yadda, yadda. These are all decent books. Sue me.
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2. Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon
Another popular pick I loved immensely. I think I even reviewed it here. Ahh…
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3. Wonder – R.J. Palacio
This book had me crying at a Panera Bread restaurant at 8:30 on a Sunday morning. Not out of pity, but due to an incredible empathy the author manages to make you feel for the main character. This is not easy to do. I wholeheartedly and steadfastly recommend this book to everyone. Yes, everyone.
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4. The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
I’ve read the blogs of those who do flips over John Green books. I’m not one of those people. As a matter of fact, this is the only John Green book I’ve read. However, I really really liked this book. I can see why it has such a wide appeal, for adults and kids alike.
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5. The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls
Another popular nonfiction book that I really, really liked. I haven’t seen the movie and don’t plan to.
Ahh well, there’s 5. Til next time, folks…
xoxo, Kellan