Review: Edge of the Wind

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Review for “Edge of the Wind” by James E. Cherry (2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Alex van der Pool is a young Black writer with a mission. A schizophrenic living with his sister, he is off his meds and ready to unveil his poetry to the world. He listens to the voice in his head, Tobi, as he takes a poetry class at a local college hostage. As his family and the local sheriff watch helplessly, he shares his innermost thoughts with the reader and the terrified hostages.

I will avoid giving the intimate details of the book away. However, I will say that this is a tense, beautiful read that immediately grabs you and doesn’t let up until the very end. I definitely recommend this novel, as James Cherry is a gifted writer with a knack for getting inside the heads of his characters. Definitely a must read!

Note: Thank you to the author, James E. Cherry, for a copy of this book. More info on this author can be found at http://www.jamesecherry.com/

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Review: Livia Lone

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Review for “Livia Lone” by Barry Eisler (to be published on 24 Oct 2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I’m not sure what drew me to this book on NetGalley. Perhaps it was the dragon with the lady’s picture superimposed on the cover, or the description of a bad ass woman character that held some kind of promise. As soon as I got a hold of this book, I couldn’t let it go.

Livia Lone is not a woman I’d want to meet in a dark alley. Beneath an attractive exterior, she’s a Seattle PD sex crimes investigator, a jiu jitsu expert, and a motorcycle enthusiast. She’s also a killer, hunting down rapists at night to extract a form of justice that was denied to her as a child. In flashbacks, we learn she was once known as Labee, a girl from a remote hill country in Thailand. After her and her younger sister were sold by their parents to human traffickers, they endure a horrific ordeal in a shipping container and wind up in America, where Labee is separated from her sister and adopted by a local businessman. Her nightmare doesn’t end in America, however, as the events that take place shape her life over the next several years in a dramatic way.

I loved reading about Livia. She’s reminiscent of Lizbeth Salander, an outcast riding on her motorcycle. As she searches for her sister outside of her job and kicks ass in the process, I couldn’t help but to root for her. It’s a disturbing read, and the author’s thorough research into the topic of sex abuse and human trafficking really shows. Even though there were a lot of graphic scenes, I still found the story compelling enough to continue without skipping any parts. I would be excited to continue to read about Livia Lone, as I hope this is the beginning of another series character.

[Note: Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, Thomas & Mercer, for a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

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Review for “13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl” by Mona Awad (2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book had been on my radar for a while but was never available at the library. When I finally spotted this on the “New Reads” shelf a couple of weeks ago, I jumped at the chance to finally read it.

This novel is composed of interconnected short stories about Lizzie, an insecure young woman whom we follow from her teen years all the way to adulthood. Her life is marred by struggles with dieting, weight gain, weight loss, and body image. What is fascinating about this book is that the title is appropriately fitting, each of the 13 stories has a different perspective, or way of ‘looking’ at the main character: some by Lizzie herself, one by a boyfriend, yet another by her husband.

Mona Awad gives Lizzie one of the most honest voices that I’ve heard in a while. She never holds back and her thoughts were refreshingly honest while making me laugh out loud at the same time. I don’t think you have to be a woman, or even struggling with weight to take something away from this book. I felt her pain, particularly when it came to her need for acceptance from the world around her. There are no happy endings or ‘good’ characters, just real people on paper. I loved this.

This book isn’t perfect though. The first half documents Lizzie’s struggle with her weight, which was much more insightfully written than the second half, which focuses on Lizzie’s life after she loses weight. It’s still good stuff, but momentum is lost and second half doesn’t quite have the depth or the magic of the first. Do still read this, however. It’s powerful, engaging writing, and Mona Awad is a writer to watch!

Review: The Way I Used to Be

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Review for “The Way I Used to Be” by Amber Smith (2016)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

As you’ve probably already heard, this is a book about the aftermath of a rape/sexual assault. It joins the plethora of other recent YA books I’ve read over the past few years about this very same subject: Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak,” Louise O’Neill’s “Asking for It,” and “Exit, Pursued by a Bear” by E.K. Johnston. Each book takes the female victim’s perspective in a different direction, with very different results and conclusions.

It took me almost 2 months to read this book. This is partly due to my horrible case of reading ADD (I’m always book-switching) and partly because this was absolutely exhausting to read. When the book opens, we meet Eden, a likable 14-year-old girl who is viciously raped by a friend of her older brother. She tells no one of the incident. We follow her over the next four years of high school as she tries to make sense of her assault by becoming more and more rebellious–sleeping around, drinking, using drugs, fighting with her parents. While these things should have kept me interested and on the edge of my seat, they didn’t. Instead of wanting to reach out to hug her, I wanted to grab her and shake her.

Any therapist will tell you that there’s a range of victim responses to the trauma of rape and sexual assault. Some may become withdrawn (Melinda from Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak” stops talking), while others ‘act out’ with rebellious, angry behavior, as with the character of this book. Knowing this, however, doesn’t make reading about it any easier. I tried to suspend my judgements of Eden for this reason but each time I went to open it, it was more sex, more drugs, more drinking, more yelling at her parents about what glasses she wants to wear. Watching her downward spiral was truly frustrating, mind-numbing, and exhausting.

There is some hint of a healing process in the story, but it’s a very brief sliver at the end. I wish there had been more of this.

This is a great debut. It’s worth reading, but there’s no way I’d ever re-read this.

Review: The Heavenly Table

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Review for “The Heavenly Table” by Donald Ray Pollock (2016)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

At this point in my reading life, I’ll read anything that Donald Ray Pollock writes. The tone of his writing is darkly refreshing, and his characters are always fascinatingly dysfunctional with just the right amount of humor so that you don’t take them too seriously. He’s a master of transgressive fiction, with the power to create people that manage to draw you in and repulse you at the same time.

“The Heavenly Table” is also one such novel. It is set in 1917, and features a farmer named Pearl and his three sons–Cane, Cob, and Chimney. Very early in the novel (and this is not a spoiler), Pearl dies and his three sons decide to strike out on their own dangerous path across the countryside. Meanwhile, the Fiddler family begins their own search for their wayward son, Eddie, who has run away from home. Both sets of characters eventually meet in a way that’s somewhat predictable, with dozens of other characters introduced in between. Typical of Pollock’s style, there are a plethora of other stories explored here: a homicidal barkeeper, a pimp who runs his business out of a barn, a Black male drifter by the name of Sugar, a outhouse inspector, a nefarious Army lieutenant, and so on.

As much as I wanted to like this, this book is not as good as his first novel, The Devil All the Time, and definitely not as good as his collection of short stories, Knockemstiff. For me, there are far too many characters that the plot became way too scattered and was worn so thin by the middle of the book that I found myself skimming pages until the end. Not the way I like to read, so this was a 3 for me. If you’re new to Donald Ray Pollock’s writing I would start with his other books first, they’re way more entertaining.