Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Can’t Believe I Read

More Top Ten Tuesday goodness.

This was a list that was fairly easy to write. Some books you get through because you have to (your grade depends on it), others you read and you wonder how you got to the end. Was it magic? Perhaps you were dreaming. Either way, you’re at the end and now it’s umm…the end.

  1. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad. NEVER, EVER read this book for pleasure! You will find yourself completely vexed, walking around at 3 am in your cold dorm room, wondering why you’re being tortured and how someone can write sentences that go on for 3 pages. Lord, I hated this book. I did finish it for class, but after that I found that I hated the teacher too. Ughhhh.
  2. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami. This is a book about a young man who has difficulty making friends. Eventually he finds a group of people that he likes to hang out with and one day, for an unknown reason, they stop speaking to him. He spends years alone, trying to figure out why he was cut off until one day, he gets an answer. I listed this book here because this is, quite literally, a novel about nothing, with such minimal action that it should be criminal. However, I read this book from cover to cover and was completely enthralled. This is the novel that eventually brought me closer to Murakami and his genius, his work is often very minimal and about the most mundane of topics, yet something in the writing compels you to read it. This man can make a damn phone book sound interesting. Not many people have that gift.
  3. It’s No Secret: From Nas Jay Z, from Seduction to Scandal, a Hip Hop Helen of Troy Tells All, Carmen Bryan. I read this on a beach in Daytona Beach, Florida. It’s hella bad and mad forgettable. Written by the ‘baby mama’ of rapper Nas, Miss Bryan gives a detailed account of her relationship with Nas, how she cheated on him with Jay Z and pretty much every other rapper that was popular in the late 90’s. At the end she’s mad because Nas won’t pay her $10k more in child support for their daughter. After reading this I wanted to wipe myself down. Yuck.
  4. True Love, Jennifer Lopez. I’m a closet J Lover, ok? Plus the pics were cool. Next…
  5. Note to Self, Connor Franta. YouTuber Connor Franta talks about his battles with depression, self-acceptance, and anxiety. It would have been cool if the whole thing didn’t come off like a long-ass, typical millenial’s Tumblr post, complete with photos. His writing so generic you wonder how it got published, but wait a minute…oh yeah, he’s a YouTube star. Blah.
  6. what purpose did i serve in your life, Marie Calloway. More hipster lit. The first book with nude photos that I skimmed.
  7. Things We Lost in the Fire, Mariana Enriquez. Disturbing set of short stories that it took me forever to read. There’s Satanic sacrifices, kids being beheaded, girls who set themselves on fire, haunted houses where people get tortured…and umm, that’s just the first 4 stories. There is something here, but be prepared to suffer through it to get there.
  8. The Bees, Laline Paull. I somehow got through this book and I HATE bees. I know we need them but I can’t stand their buzzing, and will high-tail it like a runaway slave whenever they’re around. How did I endure a 350 page book about a creature I don’t like? The writing, that’s how. Wow!
  9. So Sad Today, Melissa Broder. The overshare of this book is icky. I always tell people that if you want to hear about Melissa Broder’s vomit fetish, read this book (btw, I did skip that essay). Books that are meant to shock never really shock me, they just make me annoyed and want to close them. That’s it.
  10. Rape: A Love Story, Joyce Carol Oates. Book about a rape victim who’s ‘put on trial’ with the perpetrators. It’s an ok book, except the title. For those familiar with JCO though, you know that she’s a decent writer but sometimes she’s a little too extra–you just wish she would write the damn story and stop with the cringe-inducing metaphors. This is such a book.

Review: A Kind of Freedom

Review for "A Kind of Freedom" by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a really good book. Set in New Orleans, it’s a family saga that spans three generations and roughly about 70 years, from 1944 to 2011. There are three distinct third person narrators from each generation: Evelyn, the well to do daughter of a Creole family, Jackie, Evelyn’s daughter, and T.C, Jackie’s son.

Evelyn is a middle class girl from a family with high hopes. Her father is one of the first Black doctors to practice in the city of New Orleans. She falls for Renard, a sincere but working class man who her parents strongly disapprove of. Their disapproval continues even as he goes off to fight in WWII. The second story is that of Jackie, Evelyn and Renard’s youngest daughter. The year is 1986 and although Blacks officially now have equal “rights,” low wages and lack of job opportunities is the catalyst that pulls Jackie’s husband, Terry, into crack cocaine addiction. The last story is that of T.C., Jackie’s son. As the story begins, he is being released from county jail for yet another criminal charge. He decides to make money for his upcoming son’s birth by selling home-grown marijuana. He soon discovers that leaving ‘the game,’ however, is a lot harder than he imagined.

There are three story lines in this book, and they switch back and forth. Because this was such a short book (less than 250 pages), there’s only plot and not much else. At the end of the day, I felt like I really didn’t get the depth with the characters I wanted. By the time I was reading one section, the switch was made and the time period and character had changed. Bummer.

This is a good book though, so I won’t go under 4 stars. New Orleans always makes a captivating tale, and Margaret Wilkerson Sexton is definitely a writer a watch.

Review: Good Me, Bad Me


Review for "Good Me, Bad Me" by Ali Land (2017)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I finished this book a few days ago and gave it three stars. I’ve since lowered it to 2 stars.

Annie is a fifteen year old with a mommy who’s a serial murderer known as the Peter Pan Killer. After her mother lures nine children to their deaths in her home, Annie has enough and finally reports her mother to the police. She is given a new name, Milly, and promptly taken in by a foster family, a psychiatrist named Mike, his wife, Saskia, and their daughter, Phoebe. Supposedly only Mike knows Milly’s mother’s true identity, but this doesn’t make her adjustment to life after her ordeal any easier. From the start, Milly is an outsider in her new home and school and is targeted for bullying by Phoebe and her friends.

The story is narrated by Milly, who often addresses her mother throughout the novel. She wants to be normal, yet fears she is more like her mother than she cares to admit. She wants to stay with her foster family, though it is apparent that staying long-term will not be the case. Without giving away everything in this book, I will say that the narration here is a jumbled mess. Short sentences. Strung together. A bit like stream of consciousness. Kind of writing. But not really. Ugh.

The characters in this book are your stock actors: Saskia is a desperate housewife-bot who stays at home all day shopping and doing yoga and lacks any kind of maternal instinct, Mike is a goody-goody father who naively only sees the good in the people around him and plans to write a book about Milly’s case, and Phoebe is a mean girl and a rude, contentious bully. The bullying scenes were numerous and over the top and could have come from any YA book written in the last 15 years. At one point I put the book down, thinking: my god, what else is left to be done to this girl? I get the point that the author was trying to make, but 80% of this book just seems like one long episode of “Mean Girls.” Not impressive.

I did manage to get to the end of the book whilst skipping pages. Predictable, of course.

There is little graphic violence here, but that doesn’t make reading this any more enjoyable. Actually, it just prolongs the agony of reading it. All in all, this book isn’t suspenseful or as “gripping” as I had hoped.

[I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Hated but Love to Discuss

The original topic of this edition of Top Ten Tuesday (as stated on the website that sponsors it) is “Books I Really Liked but Can’t Remember Anything/Much About.” Well, I’m changing this one a bit. I refuse to let my reading memory fail me, my handy dandy moleskine notebook in which I catalog and write down everything makes sure brain erasure never happens. I will, however, change this one to “Books I Hated but Love to Discuss.”

Most of the selections I’m about to list here have been reviewed here at some point as a one star or a no star rating. Reasons for a one star review is obvious, but a no star rating is usually reserved for books I did not finish (DNF) or, in one case, because the subject matter of the book presented itself in such a way that I simply refused to rate it. I do however, think that all the books that I don’t like (and yes, even you don’t like) are open to discussion. It’s the American way, right?

Anywho…in no particular order:

  1. Tampa, Alissa Nutting. This is a controversial book about a female middle school teacher who teaches for no other reason than to seek young male students to fulfill her sexual desires. The author goes deep into her mind, with long (long!) passages that describe her deviant ways. While I didn’t like this book (reading it requires bathing in Dettol afterward), it raises an important point about how society views a female sexual predator vs. a male.
  2. Peach, Emma Glass. Very short novel about the aftermath of a young girl’s sexual assault. Written in a very experimental style, so weird and trippy that I can’t even tell you what the hell happened in the last 50 pages. I’d love to get some other people’s perspectives here. Hmm.
  3. Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple. Page 7 tells me why I hated this book and didn’t finish it (“one normal day of white people problems”). Other than that, just some rich lady bitching about her life for 250 pages. No thanks.
  4. Mexico: Stories, Josh Barkan. A book of short stories all about violent, narco-criminal Mexicans who kidnap and kill Americans. Entitled “Mexico” but these are not the stories of Mexico or Mexicans, these are the fears of privileged white Americans who watch too much Fox News.
  5. A Beautiful, Terrible Thing, Jen Waite. Pretty bartender meets another bartender, marries him, and has a kid. He cheats on her and suddenly she becomes an expert on psychopathic relationships. Not sure why this story warranted 200 pages, or even a memoir at all. We’ve all been cheated on, ma’am, move to the back and take a number…
  6. Inside the Criminal Mind, Dr. Stanton Samenow. Leave it to Dr. Samenow, people who smoke marijuana on the weekend are in the same category of deviance as Jeffrey Dahmer. He also disregards addiction as disease pathology, when about 40 years of research into the topic will tell him differently. Dummy.
  7. Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked, James Lasdun. Was he being stalked by his student or not? Beats the hell out of me. What I’m mad about is that out of 250 pages, only about 50 deal directly with this story. The rest is a paper wash. Jesus.
  8. Universal Harvester, John Darnielle. Another trippy book. I wish I could tell you what it was about. Hmm.
  9. The Incest Diary, Anonymous. A recent review on a subject that is so disturbing that I had to include it here. Some people actually do like this book, I’d love to talk to them about why they feel that way.
  10. Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E.K. Johnston. A YA book about the aftermath of a sexual assault. It’s a brave book, but also one that I found grossly unrealistic in how it deals with the subject. I’d love to hear more opinions on how other people viewed this one.

Ok, lemme get back to work. Yeah, I’m actually blogging at work. Go me!

Review: When They Call You a Terrorist

Review for "When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir" by Patrisse Khan-Cullors (2018)
Review: 4 out of 5 stars

Ahhh, this is a good book. Even though it is about the life of one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, there is sooooo much more than just BLM rhetoric here. It begins with Cullors’ childhood in Los Angeles, growing up poor and constantly harassed by law enforcement. Her single mother works multiple jobs and never quite gets by, and without much adult supervision, both of her brothers eventually end up in the prison system. One of her brothers, whom she spends multiple chapters describing the plight of, was severely mentally ill and systematically abused by the prison system. It is tragic and harrowing, anyone who reads this book will come away with a detailed understanding of Cullors’ rage at law enforcement, the justice system, corrections, and pretty much every institutional system in America.

The author herself is bisexual (she describes herself as queer). She spends a lot of time discussing the fact that Black Lives Matter was founded by three queer women and is a mostly women and LGBTQ-headed movement–though the way it is conveyed in the press, you would not know this. There is also a discussion of the full agenda of the movement, which encompasses far more than just an end to police violence against people of color. In addition to the rights of Black citizens, Black Lives Matter stands for economic justice, health insurance, prison reform, educational reform, ending domestic violence, an end to the abuse of immigrants and unfair deportation, and so on.

Regrettably, much of what Cullors and the Black Lives Matter movement has worked for in the last few years has been undone in the past few months by the current president and his administration. This is lamented in the last part of the book. It’s not an ending, however, but a call to action, hope for the future.

Once again, this is a timely read and great book.

[A digital copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Stay With Me

Review for "Stay with Me" by Ayobami Adebayo (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Yejide and Akin, a married Nigerian couple, are two college sweethearts desperate to have a child. After years of trying to conceive and undergoing dozens of traditional remedies for their infertility, cultural expectations and familial pressure eventually lead Akin to take on a second wife. It doesn’t go well, and what follows is a severe, tragic desperation that takes hold of both characters. The majority of this novel is the sheer length to which Akin and Yejide go through to fulfill their desires.

I really can’t tell you any more than a basic summary here because this book’s got more twists and turns than an episode of the Jerry Springer Show. For me, the astounding number of unexpected events is one of its greatest weaknesses–there were just too many secrets, too many curve balls. I would even go so far as to say that the number of ‘reveals’ here had the opposite effect of moving the novel forward and watered down some of the major themes that the author was obviously trying to convey (political instability, class divisions in modern African society, etc). Also, I did not like the ending, after all that I’d read it just seemed a little too convenient for plot’s sake, a little too deus ex machina-ish to me.

Still, I won’t go lower than 4 stars here. Despite some of the flaws, this book is still intensely readable. I can also say that I learned a lot about Nigerian culture (food, songs, stories, cultural beliefs) in the process, without feeling like I was reading a textbook. Adebayo is definitely an author to watch.

Top Ten Tuesday #1: Bookish Resolutions

To flex my blogging muscles a bit I’ve decided to follow a weekly feature for now. I may not do a Top Ten Tuesday posting every week because I honestly don’t see myself answering all the topics they’ve got posted over at Also, I may not always give ten responses so this isn’t truly a Top Ten, per se. In the meantime, however, I guess it’s fun to take a departure (whichever way it’s taken) to peek inside my head a bit.

I don’t really make resolutions, but I do make changes in my reading habits fairly consistently. Here’s a few:

  1. Read the myriad of books I already have. About 90% of the books I review here come from the library. I have about another 100-300 books sitting on my shelves here at my home, unread. Most of them are tagged as ‘Want to Read’ on Goodreads, but I really should get with it and just stay out of the library and clear them off and read them. Even if I wanted to buy a new book, I’d have nowhere to put it. Sheesh.
  2. Continue to mine sources (other than bestseller lists) for great books. I follow some really swell book-friendly IG accounts, plus I get newsletters from sites like Electric Literature, Signature Reads, and NetGalley throughout the month on titles coming up. Buzzfeed Books is also cool too. Whatever I do, I prefer the less-traveled corner of book recommendations.
  3. Continue to extol the virtues of DNF. I realized a long time ago that one way to make reading more effective is to realize when you’re not having fun doing it. If a book doesn’t make an impression on me within 50 pages, I will usually stop reading it with absolutely no apologies. This isn’t high school, I’m not doing a book report. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is simply too much to read out there in the world without stressing myself out over reading something that bores me to tears.
  4. Follow more book blogs on WordPress. I see ya’ll following me and I appreciate the love. I will try to follow more of you guys, I promise. I just rarely have a chance to sit down at my computer and scroll through to find sites I like. When everybody’s reviewing the same 12 books over and over, finding ones that stand out from the pack can be a daunting task, you know?

I think that’s it for now. I told you this isn’t a Top Ten so much as it is just a chance for me to have you get to know me better. I hope it’s working.

Love, KWS

Review: Mean

Review for "Mean" by Myriam Gurba (2017)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is a doozy of a book. It’s a non-linear narrative, opening with a violent account of a woman being raped and murdered in a park. Gurba then switches to a host of different topics that are seemingly unrelated to the first but yet still interesting: growing up as a mixed race Chicana, having a family member with mental illness, discovering her identity as a lesbian. Later in the book we discover that the attacker referenced in the first part is the same that would go on to sexually assault Gurba as a college student.

There’s a lot of wordplay in this book, particularly around the occurrence of rape. I don’t like it.

God is like rape. Rape is everywhere too. Rape is in the air. Rape is in the sky… p.98

Gurba writes about ‘meanness’ as a kind of armor worn by women of color out of necessity. She isn’t trying to censor herself or make the reader comfortable with her descriptions and I get it, I really do. But it’s still unsettling nonetheless.

The writing’s decent here. Three and a half stars.

Review: The Wolves of Winter


Review for "The Wolves of Winter" by Tyrell Johnson (2018)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

“The Wolves of Winter” is a post-apocalyptic tale that takes place in a not-so-distant future in which most of the world has been ravaged by nuclear war. Shortly after, a deadly flu virus breaks out that kills the rest of the remaining population. Lynn, 12 years old at the time, escapes with her mother, father, and older brother to the Yukon wilderness for safety, where the flu is of a weaker strain. She eventually loses her father to the disease and takes up with her remaining family, living a mostly peaceful existence for several years until a mysterious stranger, Jax, wanders into their homestead. Jax brings a dangerous, government sponsored agency on his heels called Immunity which seek to capture him at all costs. Lynn is enthralled with Jax, who she comes to trust in discovering her personal connection to the flu epidemic.

I liked this book alright. I’d call it a PG-13 version of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” minus the cannibalism and much of the gore. Even though Lynn is in her early twenties, this book had a YA-ish kind of feel to it. I’m not sure if the author intended it that way, though the character of Lynn sure seems like she was originally intended for a YA novel. For one, Lynn falls girlishly hard for Jax despite their almost non-existent chemistry (cue pop music and the hallway locker scene). Second, she requires rescuing–a lot. Whether it’s in a snow storm or a tent encampment or in a fight with baddies, Lynn is constantly being dragged to safety by someone. It’s annoying.

The other characters are rather bland as well. The Immunity agents never rise above stock villainy, complete with descriptions of their wolf-like sneers and general menace. I also had trouble keeping up with the good-guy male characters because they’re so much alike you don’t remember who is who after awhile. And then there’s the dialogue, which at times, just seemed kind of clumsy. The action takes forever to get going, but once it did, this book was surprisingly readable.

Not bad for a debut. I’d definitely give this book a chance, particularly if you like sci-fi inspired, dystopian reads as much as I do.

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