Review: Finding Hope

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Review for “Finding Hope” by Colleen Nelson (scheduled to be published in April 2016)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Closer to 1.75 stars, because “Finding Hope” didn’t do it for me.

I won’t spoil this book with small details because there’s still quite some time left before its scheduled publication date. In a nutshell though, this novel focuses on Hope and her brother Eric, teenaged siblings who live in a small town in Canada with their parents. Eric is a promising soccer star with a bright future until he becomes entangled in a vicious meth addiction and gets kicked out of the family home. Meanwhile, Hope is sent to a private boarding school where she falls in (and quickly out) of favor with a cadre of mean girls. Their lives intersect at the most unlikely moment and Hope and Eric both make choices that impact their futures.

The story is told in the alternating POVs of Hope and Eric. This book is all over the place and a lot of topics are covered: sexual abuse, bullying, drug addiction, homelessness, etc. Hope is naive and an enabler of Eric’s addiction, stumbling into one bad choice after another at her new school. Eric’s chapters are far more compelling than Hope’s, but the one thing that got me here was the bland storytelling, the predictable plot lines. There’s nothing in this story that you don’t see coming a mile away. Although I sympathized with both characters, they became quickly forgettable once I turned off my Kindle. There’s nothing the author does here to draw you to either of them beyond just a general understanding of their respective situations.

Wouldn’t read this again, but am open to reading more from this author. On a lighter note, I love the cover art of this book. BEAUTIFUL!

[Note: I received this advanced publisher’s copy from NetGalley and Dundurn Press in exchange for an honest review. :-)]

Other note: TOMORROW, NOVEMBER 29 IS MY BIRTHDAY!! YAYYY! I won’t tell you how old I am, other than to say that I have long been old enough to call myself a true “80’s baby.” I’ll pretend it’s my 32 birthday again, for the umpteenth time. Ha!

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Review: Bad Sex

Ok, so I showed you my fresh-in-the-mail copy of this book last week. Here’s the review…

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Review for “Bad Sex” by Clancy Martin (2015)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Hmm, I read this one in a few hours last week. First impression after finishing: a familiar, but a very dark story.

Bad Sex is about a wealthy woman named Brett who breaks her sobriety and begins to drink again after she begins an affair with her husband’s banker. Eduard (the guy she’s having an affair with) doesn’t necessarily encourage Brett to drink, but he doesn’t discourage it either. Their sexual encounters are very detailed and often include really violent sex (some scenes were quite appalling–I’m surprised no one called the cops). Her husband discovers the affair and kicks her out of their home, and Brett continues with Eduard in a downward spiral of black outs, drinking, and ridiculous behavior.

The writing here is very minimal and told in short chapters. It reads more like a collection of vignettes than a novel, almost as if you are looking at a photo album of an alcoholic’s life. Brett is a highly unlikeable character–she’s rude, obnoxious, and extremely narcissistic. At times I found myself literally rolling my eyes and thinking: Really, bitch? The choice to make this book short was a wise one, as I don’t think I could have put up with reading about any more of Brett’s antics after 182 pages.

Despite everything, I just don’t think this was the book for me. The writing is good but I was literally counting down the pages until it was over, it was so disturbingly uncomfortable I just wanted it to be finished.

[NOTE: I received a publisher’s copy of this book from Tyrant Books in exchange for an honest review.]

Oh yeah…Happy Turkey Day everyone! Gobble, gobble, gobble!

 

 

Review: Challenger Deep

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Review for “Challenger Deep” by Neal Shusterman (2015)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

“Sometimes the darkness beyond isn’t glorious at all, it truly is an absence of light. A clawing, needy tar that pulls you down. You drown but you don’t. It turns you to lead so you sink faster in its viscous embrace. It robs you of hope and even the memory of hope. It makes you think you’ve always felt like this, and there’s no place to go but down, where it slowly, ravenously digests your will, distilling it into the ebony crude of nightmares.”

Wow…I liked this book. It’s one of the few YA books that I’ve read in the past few years (other than Francesca Zappia’s “Made You Up”) that actually manages to explore mental illness in a thoughtful, realistic way without becoming too technical or preachy in the process. I’m tired of YA books that seem to feature the so-called glamorous, damsel-in-distress kind of characters in mental institutions. It’s ridiculously unrealistic, as well as a mockery of the fact that mental illness is indeed real, that real people suffer from it. There’s nothing “beautiful” about it.

“Challenger Deep” is the story of Caden, a likable 15 year old kid who experiences mental illness first hand. The word ‘schizophrenia’ is mentioned only twice in the entire novel. Caden’s diagnosis is never named explicitly to the reader, but his experiences have all the hallmarks of this disease. The chapters are short and erratic, switching between Caden’s clinical observations of reality to highly detailed delusions of his role as a sailor on a ship with an evil captain, moving ever closer to the Mariana Trench and ‘Challenger Deep,’ the deepest point on earth. For a while no one seems to suspect what is going on, Caden mostly keeps his troubled thoughts to himself. As he becomes more and more detached from reality, however, his parents place him in a mental hospital for treatment, where he remains until the end of the book.

If you must have a definitive plot when you read fiction, then this is not the book for you. This story is not so much plot-driven as it is an extended, interior stream of Caden’s thoughts. It is a difficult book to read, the narration goes from third person to first person as he goes from normal to delusional and back again, with no warning as to when these shifts will occur. Every now and then a page is decked out with a haunting kind of scribble drawing, created by the author’s son when he went through his own journey with mental illness. Throughout the whole novel, there’s a weird kind of “calmness” to how Caden becomes unraveled that’s scary and heartbreaking. The confused, lucid manner in which the story is being presented is the only way that Caden knows to cope.

I personally felt that the ending was a satisfying one. We know there’s no cure for schizophrenia, and the author does not put on the pretense that Caden will not have challenges ahead for him. What is important is that this story ends with a suggestion of hope, some of kind promise of a normal life for Caden. This book carries an important message that is definitely worth reading about and definitely worth sharing. Highly recommended.

NOTE: With this story, I do admit that I wonder how younger readers with far less knowledge of mental illness will receive this book. As an adult reader with some background knowledge of this subject, I realized very early on what was going on here. Not so sure a teen reader would have the same experience. I’ve been wrong before though, so I dunno…

 

The book gods hath giveth…

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This book arrived in my mail yesterday. If I requested it from the many blog sites I’m a member of, I can’t remember. If I won it in a giveaway on Goodreads (I’m always entering something there) then I don’t see where I won it. Regardless, it looks bloody interesting and I’ll do a nice review on it soon.

And thanks, Tyrant Books. You’re super swell. 🙂

Review: Beasts of No Nation

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Review for “Beasts of No Nation” by Uzodinma Iweala (2006)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a story that hits you like a grenade. I watched the movie on Netflix and was blown away by the actors’ performances, I cried so much watching it that I knew that I HAD to have this book. It’s short (less than 150 pages) but it took me over a week to read it. The events that are described within it are, in no uncertain terms, some of the most horrific experiences I’ve ever read about. The events are achingly close to the movie adaptation, but the book’s descriptions of the violence was a lot more brutal. The narration was somewhat hard to understand at first because the main character speaks a special kind of “broken” English that took some getting used to. By the third page, however, the character began to make perfect sense, with a cadence that made his words abundantly clear.

This is not a book for the weak-hearted. There were times during the week when I was reading this when I had to put it down, back away, get some air (literally), and come back to it later. It is heartbreaking, tragic, and terrifyingly real. It is the story of Agu, a child in an unnamed African country that is currently in the grips of a civil war. We are never told exactly how old he is, though some clues point to the fact that he is not yet a teenager–perhaps 12, or maybe 13. His mother and sister are taken away to safety in the beginning, he never sees them again. He watches his father murdered shortly thereafter. He hides in the wilderness until he is recruited (well, take that back: forced) to join a rebel army and fight against the insurgency. At first he is quite disgusted by the violence he witnesses, but after a while, he describes taking part in the rapes, murders, and act of burning villages with the same nonchalance as any other enjoyable childhood activity he takes part in.

Agu is morally conflicted: throughout the novel he constantly tells himself (and you, the reader) that he is a good boy, with some degree of moral sense against the acts he takes part in. He tries over and over again to convince his conscience that the violent acts that he is forced to commit are good and proper. You get angry with Agu (a lot, actually) throughout the story, but you remember that he is just a child, a pawn used by evil men. We hate that he does bad things, but what choice does he have? It is clearly a kill or be killed situation. The end does bring some promise of a future for Agu, but you still fear for him as you wonder what kind of effect these experiences will have on his adult life.

So, with that said, why am I rating this five stars? Well, because this is a story that NEEDS to be told. As Americans we complain about bad traffic and too much goat cheese in our salads, yet hardly half a world away children are forced to become a part of brutal acts that are beyond our wildest imaginations. It has become way too easy to turn on the news and hear about ‘those people,’ to donate money and shake our heads in pity and rest assured in our first world lives that these types of atrocities will never happen to us. We view childhood as a time of innocence, but in the wrong hands, we forget that it is actually pretty easy to turn a child into an efficient killing machine.

So, needless to say, I recommend this book. Agu is a special character that stays with you for a long time. Hopefully he will spur you to change your outlook on the world, or at least to learn count your blessings.

Review: Bird Box

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Review for “Bird Box” by Josh Malerman (2014)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wow….

I read this book like a ravenous wolf.

I read this book in a doctor’s office, with sunglasses on and a chemically dilated right eye due to a corneal infection.

It hurt to read this book. But man, it was so worth it.

This book is post-apocalyptic fiction at its best. As is typical of this genre, this book begins with an Event which kills most of the people on the planet. Detailed specifics of the Event are never given, but referred to as the “Russia Report,” a phenomenon that involves people suddenly attacking and killing other people before killing themselves. Before each attack, the person reportedly sees Something that disturbs them so deeply that they are driven to madness. It spreads across the Bering Strait from Russia and pretty soon the entire country’s population is decimated. The only way to protect yourself from the Something is by keeping your eyes closed.

The main character is a young woman named Malorie, whom we learn is hiding in a house somewhere in suburban Michigan with her two young children. The kids have never seen the outside world. Malorie has trained them to hear all kinds of sounds, because they are to be her ‘ears’ as she travels with them to a safer place. They must go by boat, and they must all be blindfolded to avoid seeing the Something that will drive them to madness.

This book goes back and forth between Malorie’s journey with her kids down the river to flashbacks of how she came to be in the house with her children four years before. Before the kids were born, she lived with several housemates who banded together, covered their windows, and stockpiled food in an effort to survive. What follows in these chapters is what made this book four stars instead of five for me–it’s your all-too-typical, post-apocalyptic survival fare. There’s worries over starvation, distrust among housemates, and of course, the ever present fear of the outside world. It is engaging to read, but it’s nothing extraordinary that we haven’t seen or heard already in a weekly broadcast of “The Walking Dead.” Next…

I did love this book, however. There is an ever present dread throughout the story that begins from the first few pages and doesn’t stop until the end. How far would you get in a post apocalyptic world without relying on your sight? The scare factor here isn’t in what you’re seeing, it’s what in the dark around the corner. Or in broad daylight, behind your shoulder. Or sitting right next you. Oh well. You get the picture.

I won’t give away any more of the book here. I won’t even tell you why it’s called Bird Box. But this is a hell of a book, and I heard its recently been greenlit for a movie version. Yay! But definitely DO read this first. Great writing debut by a first time author, a must read.