Review: The Story of Vicente, Who Murdered His Mother, His Father, and His Sister: Life and Death in Juarez

I’ve been on a nonfiction reading kick lately. A little real life adventure never hurt anyone anyone, does it? Anyway, on to my next book…

Review for "The Story of Vicente, Who Murdered His Mother, His Father, and His Sister: Life and Death in Juarez" by Sandra Rodriguez Nieto (2015)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

True crime/investigative journalism book that uses the murder by a young man of his parents and sister to explore many of the issues that plague Juarez, the infamous Mexican border city that’s only miles away from El Paso, Texas. Only the first few chapters discuss the actual details of the crime and what happens to Vicente in the aftermath (he only got a measly five years in prison, btw). It’s not Vicente’s fate that drives this book as much as its overarching message: that when violence occurs in a place with impunity, it effects everyone–including a 16-year-old who decides to slaughter his family.

Nieto spends the majority of the book breaking down the rampant political corruption, cartel wars, gang conflicts, and the other cogs of the machine that are the cause of the epidemic violence that go on in Juarez. At the height of the violence in 2010, there were 20 homicides a day and 8 kidnappings. It’s pretty shocking stuff. Brutal kidnappings, dead bodies left in the street, in front of schools, in neighborhoods. Criminals that walk right out of prison because well, umm, the guards left the door open. Oops. There’s also a chapter that discusses the joke of a police department Juarez has. How does a city rack up thousands of murders in one year? It’s because they don’t even bother to investigate. Case received, case closed. Next…

I recommend this book for anyone interested in current issues, particularly in Mexico.

Review: Boy Erased

Review for "Boy Erased" by Garrard Conley (2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Just finished this book. Wiping away the tears. Whew…my allergies.

This is a beautifully written book. From the first couple of pages I was completely enthralled, not wanting to do anything but turn to the next page. Garrard Conley certainly has a way with words, his beautiful sentences coming from a place of so much pain and isolation, sadness that I did not have to be an LGBTQ individual to understand, to feel in the very depths of my soul.

This story is all about Garrard, a boy growing up in a super religious Missionary Baptist family in Arkansas, the son of a pastor. From the time he is an adolescent, he knows he is gay. He tries to pray it away, to talk to God about it, all to no avail. When he is ‘outed’ to his parents by a phone call while at college, his parents suggest a ‘cure’ for his ‘problem.’ With nowhere else to turn, he attends several sessions of Love in Action, a “sexual re-orientation” program that uses ‘conversation therapy’ to change gays and lesbians to back to straight people.

This book is not a linear narrative. Scenes from Conley’s life are interpersed with his memories of ex-gay therapy, and a couple of times I found myself putting the book down and thinking to myself: do people really believe this shit? According to LIA, homosexuality is a sickness, a result of the past sins of our family members, sexual abuse, a lack of sports participation, subconscious effeminizing influences, and too much of our mother’s meddling. It’s crazy. But at no time does Conley demonize the people who clearly wronged him, he simply tells the story in a way that leaves you no choice but to listen and feel. I loved that about this book.

I’d recommend this book to people who are interested in a narrative of the intersectionality of LGBTQ identity and religion. I am a Christian, and even though I am of a progressive and inclusive mindset, I gained a much deeper understanding for LGBTQ individuals who grew up in deeply religious communities.

Review: The Postmortal

Review for "The Postmortal" by Drew Magary (2011)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

“The Postmortal” is an interesting lil’ science fiction novel with a dystopian slant (and I’m a sucker for anything dystopian, lemme tell ya). The premise of this book is what drew me to it: a world in which a cure is discovered for aging. With an injection, recipients will never age past the day they received their “cure,” and the only death they can anticipate will not be a natural one, but a violent one that they either bring to themselves or someone else brings upon them.

We follow one character, John, as he receives the cure in the beginning of the novel, sometime in his early 30’s. The book tracks his trajectory over the next 80+ years through his journal entries (apparently being shared with us from a time even farther in the future) as the society around him pretty much goes straight to hell. The cure for old age has deleterious effects on not only society, but the world as we see the fallout from the fact that people aren’t dying naturally anymore. The world becomes overpopulated, random violence and terrorism increases, resources become scarce, and people begin doing what’s known as “cycle” marriages. Sure it’s weird, but I liked this aspect of the book. If you’re into dystopian lit, as I’ve stated that I am, nothing fascinates you more than watching the planet inch itself toward doom. Seriously.

What I didn’t like was the main character, and really all of the characters in this book. Everyone felt rather flat and as bland as dishwater. Society is crumbling around them, yet none of the characters seemed to care, going about their daily business without alarm or feeling the slightest bit scared. As a reader, you’re far more invested in their future than they are, which doesn’t make for the best reading and completely disengaged me from this book.

Once again, this isn’t a bad read, but one I wouldn’t necessarily recommend if you’re into an all-around good read.

Review: Girl at War

Review for "Girl at War" by Sara Novic (2015)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This book begins with a girl character at the dawn of the Croatian War for Independence, sometime in the early 90’s. Ana goes to school and spends the days with her friends as air strikes in her village become more frequent and news of impending destruction take over her parents’ fears. Eventually her sister’s illness forces the family to seek help beyond their country’s borders, and what follows after this is one of the most horrifying experiences that I’ve ever read about. In the tragedy’s aftermath, Ana leaves the country and finds her way to America.

The rest of this book was a bit of puzzle for me. As an adult, Ana’s tone is mostly cold and disengaged. While I can understand that the character’s detachment is an element of the story (as well as an effect of her war experiences), I just couldn’t embrace it. The writing is excellent, and I certainly learned more about Croatia than I knew in the past, but I came away from the book just feeling…I don’t know…empty. Like I was looking at a grand, beautiful picture, but not really a part of the emotions in which it was created in.

Three stars. I certainly will not rule out reading anything from this author in the future

Review: Difficult Women

Review for "Difficult Women" by Roxane Gay (2017)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Lemme say this first: I love Roxane Gay. She’s a fearless writer, and has a great sense of humor on social media. I liked her collection of essays, Bad Feminist, and her novel, An Untamed State, was nothing short of sensational. When I got approved to read her latest book of short stories through NetGalley, I was absolutely thrilled.

Needless to say, this collection of stories is ummm…well, less than thrilling.

This book is hard to quantify. There are a lot of stories here (twenty-one, to be exact) and they range in length from a couple of pages to over twenty. Some of the stories use fantasy and elements of magical realism, others skip all of that and are very much rooted in reality. There are a lot of recurring themes in this book, many of which were highly disturbing to read about. For one, there is a lot of occurrences of rape in this book. A lot. Physical abuse and masochism are also prominent–scenes of not just women being arbitrarily beaten by the men in their lives, but women characters who actually want to be beaten, raped, abused, punished. It’s bizarre. And it’s in story after story here. After a while it just gets exhausting, but perhaps that was the whole point. I didn’t like it.

More prominent themes: the relationship between twins (male and female), siblings, desolate surroundings, interracial relationships, loss. There’s also a lot of sex. I repeat, a lot of sex. Just about every story has some pretty graphic sex content. Not that I care, but damn, Roxane, I didn’t think you rolled like that…lol.

I won’t go through all of the stories here but I will say that “I Will Follow You,” “Difficult Women,” and “Strange Gods” were probably my top three faves. Overall, this is three stars for me because I just found the themes and the characters far too bleak for me to connect with it. I didn’t care so much for the content as I would like to hear the conversation that will probably come up in circles who read this book. Either way, I’ll continue to read Ms. Roxane Gay, she’s definitely a talent to be reckoned with.

[Note: A free digital copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, Grove Atlantic, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Review for "The Most Dangerous Place on Earth" by Lindsey Lee Johnson (to be published on 10 January 2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Happy New Year!!! I’ve got a goal of 130 books this year, up from 125 from last year. It’s highly likely I’ll accomplish it, given my classes and my personal schedule. Of course, you guys will be along for the ride, getting all the best of my reading adventures!

Anywho, this book’s four stars. Solid.

This novel begins with a group of young people in the 8th grade living with their parents in a small enclave near San Francisco. They are children of privilege–not Park Avenue or Hollywood Hills rich–but they are definitely living the life of affluence with parents who work long hours in high paying jobs. They have nice homes and luxury cars, high academic expectations. Credit cards given to sons and daughters with no spending limits. As 8th graders, they are learning their place in the world, as well as establishing cliques and pecking orders, of which their classmate Tristan Bloch happens to be at the bottom of. This book follows the next several years of the lives of the students who eventually bully and cyber-harass Tristan to his suicide.

There are also teachers in this novel, and the story follows the stories of two in particular: Molly Nicoll, an idealistic, early twenty-something teacher fresh out of college who can’t wait to teach and get to know her students, and Mr. Ellison, a creep who also loves his students (literally). Miss Nicoll’s evolution throughout the course of her first year of teaching is interspersed throughout the book in short vignettes.

Each student has a chapter that is told from a third-person point of view. Although I liked hearing their voices and backstories, the kids here were nothing more than your classic stock characters in a typical high school drama. There’s the jock, the pretty girl, the bad boy, the plain Jane athlete, the whip-smart drug-dealing slacker, the hippie, and the boy overachiever. Interestingly, the boy overachiever (and the only minority character in the whole book) happened to be Asian. Because all Asians are super-smart, right? Gtfoh.

Despite the lack of character development, the writing here is pretty extraordinary. It’s a quick and engaging read that kept me engrossed for the entire time while reading it. I actually finished this book way ahead of schedule, just because I liked it so much.

Definitely worth a peep. Check it out!

[Note: A free digital copy was provided to me by the publisher, Random House, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]