Review: A Head Full of Ghosts

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Review for "A Head Full of Ghosts" by Paul Tremblay (2015)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Didn’t like this. I’m surprised by how many kudos it’s gotten on Goodreads. The plot is interesting enough: a middle class family with two daughters, the youngest bearing witness to her older sister’s supposed demonic possession and the family’s decision to share it on reality television.

The pacing of this book is slow, and trust me…’slow’ is a compliment here. After 150 pages, there’s not much happening beyond the standard cliched “Exorcist” fare, you know…green vomit, talking in different voices, etc. There are also major structural concerns here, one being the fact that much of the book is broken up with written anecdotes by an anonymous person critiquing the reality show of which the main characters are a part of. Other than a few pop culture references, these blog passages in the book are completely useless.

There’s a twist at the end if you care enough to make it there. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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Review: Harmless Like You

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Review for "Harmless Like You" by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (2017)
Rating: None (DNF)

I DNF’d this book, so there’s no star rating. I didn’t want to, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

This book is a like a cloudy day with no sun, just black clouds everywhere. Every time I picked it up it was the same thing, just leaving me more and more empty on the inside. The writing is good but the characters are stiff and wooden, the action was super slow to develop. I made it to page 200 before just putting it down for good.

‘Harmless Like You’ is the story of Yuki, a Japanese-American girl growing up in NYC in the late 1960s. Her parents move back to Japan around the age of 16 and leave her in the care of her friend, an amoral model by the name of Odile and her mother, Lillian. Lillian is physically abused by her boyfriend, Lou. Yuki begins starving herself, and eventually moves in with Lou, who also ends up abusing her. She quits school and longs to be an artist, yet she doesn’t pursue this dream. Yuki marries a friend, a boring dude who stifles her creativity. They have a son.

Cut to present day: the novel also follows the story of Jay, a douchebag of a guy who hates his wife. He also feels no paternal instinct toward the baby he has with her and eventually cheats on her. We later learn that Jay is Yuki’s son whom she abandoned many years before in pursuit of her artistic dreams.

Yuki’s chapters are in a detached third person, Jay’s in brief, first person narration. It doesn’t do anything for the unrelenting bleak tone of this novel, it’s the same all throughout.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with somber reads. I just think what killed this book for me is that I have to be in the mood for such reading and now was not such a time. I do recommend it, however, perhaps you will get something out of it and can explain it to me. :/

Review: City of Saints and Thieves

 

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Review of "City of Saints and Thieves" by Natalie C. Anderson (2017)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Tina is a Congolese refugee and a motherless child, as well as one of the few female members of the Goondas, a gang of street thieves in Kenya. She cares for her younger sister, Kiki, while she fantasizes about revenge on Mr. Greyhill, a wealthy business magnate and employer of Tina’s mother, whom she suspects had her murdered after learning of his shady business dealings. With the help of the Goondas, Tina breaks into the Greyhill’s estate and is discovered by their son, Michael. The two form a reluctant alliance and go deeper into the dark side of Kenyan society to discover who murdered Tina’s mother.

With all that said, this was supposed to be a good book. The writing is fine, the setting is well-researched, and the character is kick-ass, there’s no complaints there. I think where this book lost me is somewhere in the middle when it lost the feel of a true revenge thriller. There really is only one suspect, and we find out before the middle of the book is over that it isn’t him. Although we know Tina seeks revenge for her mother’s death, that plot turn is also settled fairly early on in the novel. That left this book kinda hanging by a thread and less about the mystery we were promised and more about a girls’ search for her past. Not bad, just not quite what I expected.

Three stars–no more, no less.

Review: Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go

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Review for "Hold Tight, Don't Let Go" by Laura Rose Wagner (2015)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It’s rare when a book touches you down to your core. You cry (maybe more than once), you read certain passages over and over, you find yourself thinking about the characters in those moments you’re not reading it. This was one such book.

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go is the story of two 16-year-old cousins, Nadine and Magdalie, raised as sisters by Nadine’s mother in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. The story opens during the first frightening moments of the devastating January 2010 earthquake, with the cousins losing their home, their aunt, and everything they own within several minutes. They eventually move into a makeshift camp with their uncle and scrape by, surviving through the oppressive heat, the lack of food, and the horribly unsanitary conditions there. Eventually Nadine’s father in the U.S. sends for her and she leaves Magdalie behind, promising to send for her later.

From this point, this is really Magdalie’s story. She hopes for Nadine to send for her, but as time passes it becomes obvious to our character that this is not going to happen. We follow Magdalie over the next two years as she makes a living in the Haiti that struggles to rebuild after the quake and the range of emotions she takes in the process–desperation, anger, and eventually hope. I don’t want to give away the ending, but this is a beautiful book. The descriptions, the sights, the smells, the music, I really felt like I was there. It is clear that the author spent time in this place and her understanding of the culture of this land is evident.

5 stars. Do read this.

Review: Tricks

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Review for "Tricks" by Ellen Hopkins (2009)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is my second book by Ellen Hopkins. My first was “Crank,” her novel in verse about a girl hooked on crystal meth, based loosely on the life of her own daughter. Hopkins is quite a prolific YA writer, tackling many of the issues that people tend to avoid when writing for teenagers. She’s written about drug abuse, mental health issues, sexual abuse, eating disorders. I’m not so much a fan of her verse as I am her fearlessness, because I admit that I’m drawn to her books for much of the reason I imagine most people are, to see how certain issues are portrayed for a YA audience.

“Tricks” is no exception; it tells the story of five teenagers who find themselves for various reasons lost in the dangerous world of prostitution. Eden is the daughter of a conservative religious family who is sent away to a Bible camp; Seth is a farm boy who struggles with his sexuality and finds himself a Vegas sugar daddy; Whitney is a goody-goody who stumbles into the arms of a drug-dealing pimp; Ginger is from a broken home and her entrance into the sex trade mirrors her own mother’s, and Cody is a kid who sells himself to men to ease his gambling debts.

I would have preferred to read each character’s story straight through, much like a short story. Instead, Hopkins focuses on one character for while, then abruptly switches to another. The constant starting and stopping of the narrative made it hard to get to know each character and made the book as a whole hard to follow. It never really had a good sense of cohesion and gave it the feel that it was five separate stories instead of one. There was some overlap of the characters, but it was fairly minor (one character mentioning another did occur, but only in passing).

This book is also really explicit in its sexual scenes. I won’t go into detail but if you’re unfamiliar with gay porn or girl-girl-guy threesomes I would leave this book on the shelf. I’m in my 30’s and I felt uncomfortable reading it, not because I’m a prude, but for the sake of the audience it was written for. Personally I wouldn’t allow my teen son to read this unless he was super-mature, which he isn’t. The details were a little too salacious for my taste and the story got lost in the process.

There is a second story in this series that picks up where the action of this story left off. I may read it eventually, but for right now I think I’m good with this.

Review: Saint Death

I just realized that this is my third NetGalley book that I’m about to write a less than flattering review about in the past few weeks. Ya’ll know how I feel about my reviews though. Anyway, on with the show:

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Review for "Saint Death" by Marcus Sedgwick (to be published in the U.S. on 25 April 2017)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This was a really strange book. The tone is dark and so is the subject matter, particularly for a YA book. It explores the world of Mexican immigrants, as well as a dark, spiritual world of guns, gangsters, violence, gods, and money.

Arturo is a young man living in the border of the U.S./Mexico in a shack, working for scraps at a garage and hustling card games for quick cash. Enter Faustino, a childhood friend who Arturo hasn’t seen in years who urgently needs Arturo’s assistance to get his girlfriend and their child across the border to a smuggler, who is to facilitate their illegal entry to the U.S. Together the two pray to Santa Muerte (Saint Death), and make a plan to go after some dangerous men for the money they need. Of course not everything goes according to plan and they run afoul of some gangsters in the process, and of course, there are consequences to pay.

I didn’t really like this story. It’s all over the place with the immigration plot, the supernatural elements of Santa Muerte, the narco stuff, and a couple of other subplots that I could go on and on about. I understand that the author is going for a modern retelling of the Faustian legend (if you missed it, one of the main character’s names is literally Spanish for “Faust”), but Arturo and his friend were never characters that I completely understood or related to. The action was too slow in coming and when it did come, I actually found myself skipping pages. Interspersed throughout the story were also informational factoids about NAFTA and borders and U.S. corporations, all of which could have been edited out for clarity and none of which seemed to match the tone of the story.

Even though I didn’t like this one, I don’t think I would rule out this author’s work in the future.

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