Review: Marlena

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Review for "Marlena" by Julie Buntin (to be published on 4 April 2017)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

After the bitter divorce of her parents, 15-year-old Catherine (nickamed “Cat”), her mother, and her older brother move to a trailer in a rural town in northern Michigan. It is there next door that Cat meets wild child Marlena, a beautiful, eccentric girl whose father is a meth cook. Cat quickly becomes caught up in Marlena’s life, and the two become the best of friends.

It’s apparent early on that this is a story told largely in flashbacks, with an adult Cat telling us the story of her past from her current state as a sad, functional drunk. We also learn within the first few lines of the book that it is within a year of Cat and Marlena’s first meeting that Marlena will be dead. I hate that the author gives us that critical detail on the back flap (it isn’t a spoiler), because the rest of the book becomes an interminable wait for the inevitable to happen. Even though the book is well written, there’s no suspense, there’s no surprises, and ultimately there’s no fun here. It’s a pretty depressing book and I found it unsatisfying.

P.S. – If you’re really interested in a recently written book on complex, destructive teen girl friendships I’d recommend “Girls on Fire” by Robin Wasserman, and “The Girls” by Emma Cline. Both of these books are five stars.

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

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Review: History of Wolves

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Review for "History of Wolves" by Emily Fridlund (2017)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Didn’t like this book, which is odd because it has really high ratings on Goodreads. Did we read the same book? Or am I just being a Negative Nancy again? Hmm…

Here we have a character with three names (Linda, Mattie, Madeline) depending on what part of the story you’re reading. She’s a 14-year-old girl in a rural Minnesota town with a lot of deep thoughts, none of which left an impression on me. She babysits for a very weird couple with a young son, and a series of events occur between her and this couple that left me wondering if her relationship with the Gardners was really real at all or just some symbolism that I was supposed to be connecting to the whole ‘wolf’ theme of the book. Either way, the tone here is detached, and Linda/Mattie/Madeline is far too cerebral and disengaging for me to get into.

There is a subplot in this story involving a teacher at Linda/Mattie/Madeline’s school who’s accused of having sex with a student. This plot has absolutely NOTHING to do with the rest of the book. As interesting as this story is, it never goes anywhere or connects to the main story. Why was it here? Maybe I missed something?

Oh yeah, the ending is weird too. I’ve watched a lot of David Lynch movies, so maybe it was supposed to mean something too. I don’t know.

(*sigh*)

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

Review: Mischling

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Review for "Mischling" by Affinity Konar (2016)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

First off, let me say that I’ve read a lot of Holocaust stories. This particular one sounded as if it would venture into a different territory, so I placed it on my reading list as soon as it came out. Dr. Mengele, the infamous Auschwitz “Angel of Death” was known for sending millions to the gas chambers, as well as his cruel, torturous ‘experiments’ on prisoners, identical twins, and multiples with no regard to the health or safety of his subjects. Mischling is the story of 13-year-old twin girls, Pearl and Stasha, who arrive at Auschwitz in 1944. Each twin narrates an alternating chapter, filling the reader in on the horrifying details of life inside of Mengele’s “zoo.”

I did not care for this book. The writing is not bad, but it failed to suit this story and make a real emotional impact here. Instead of a groundbreaking Holocaust story, what we get is a familiar and predictable story of this time in history that doesn’t really rise above the standard Auschwitz account. What I mean by that is that you don’t really learn anything new here other than what you already learned about the Holocaust in middle school: the separation of families, the gas chambers, heavy work and starvation, etc. Mengele’s experiments (the info I really wanted to know) through the experiences of the narrators are discussed, but the author relies heavily on metaphor to describe these events. While there’s nothing wrong with metaphor, the story got lost and it disengaged me from the novel and left me completely confused.

I regret finishing this book, as I would have DNF’d it a long time ago if it had not been for my curiosity about the end. I would have preferred a much simpler prose style here.

Review: The Last Policeman

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Review for "The Last Policeman" by Ben H. Winters (2013)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The premise of this book is indeed an appealing one: solving a murder in a crumbling world that’s only months away from certain annihilation from an asteroid called Maia. Harry Palace is a rookie cop who encounters a insurance agent’s body hanging in a McDonald’s, quickly dismissed by his peers as another suicide, as there’s plenty of those to go around these days. Palace, however, suspects something more. He begins investigating the man’s death as a murder, and digs up far more than he bargained for.

Perhaps I expected more chaos, more action…I don’t know. What I got here was a depressing, uncompelling narrator and a ho-hum story. We understand that Palace is driven to do the right thing in a world that could care less, but I found his character unconvincing, unmovable, and just plain boring. The plot is also terribly slow, as there wasn’t enough meat in this story to keep me satisfied in waiting until the end. Then I get to the end and there’s the answer to the mystery and that’s just kinda…it. Blah.

I loved the setting of this story, which I why I won’t go lower than 3 stars here. I just wish the character here was meatier, more interesting. General curiosity draws me to the other two books in this series (this is the first in a trilogy and I’m a sucker for apocalyptic fiction) but right now I think I’ll chill on this one.

Review: Mexico

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Review for "Mexico" by Josh Barkan (2017)
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Josh Barkan’s “Mexico” is a collection of short stories from people (mostly Americans) of all walks of life living and working around modern-day Mexico City. Running throughout these selections is the theme of violence, mostly from drug dealers, gangs, cartels, and other figures involved in the narcotics trade. In “The Kidnapping,” an American becomes a victim of a violent abduction by a cartel. “The Chef and El Chapo” is about a chef who is forced to cook for the infamous criminal, and “The Sharpshooter” is about a U.S. government agent on a secret mission sent to kill, well, you guessed it…a narco criminal.

Needless to say, I didn’t like this book. In today’s political climate just the mention of the word Mexico is used to connote all things wrong with immigration, the War on Drugs, the American economy, and life in general. Do we Yankees really need more scary stories about what a crime-laden, drug filled place Mexico is? I went into this volume of stories knowing that the majority of it would be about violence, but after reading it my opinion is the same. There’s nothing new here, just a lot of non-emotional storytelling about the dregs of society and the people caught in its grip. It’s yet another narrow, limited view of a multi-faceted country with beautiful and hardworking people, the majority of which are NOT a part of the narco trade.

And there was something else that bothered me…Josh Barkan is a white, Ivy League educated world traveler. The back flap tells us he lives in Mexico City, yet I’m not impressed with this fact. Although the book is titled Mexico, it’s main characters are white people in Mexico, who speak from a self-imposed position of privileged authority. The Mexicans in this volume are mere props, one-dimensional characters from which white folks learn their life lessons about the evils of world. It’s a colonialist’s wet dream, and I hated it.

Do yourself a favor and don’t read this.