Review: The Weirdness

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Review for "The Weirdness" by Jeremy Bushnell (2014)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I hate that it took me two months to finish this book. Not because it was bad, but because I have severe book ADD and I own this copy, so the task of finishing it kept getting pushed farther and farther to the back of my reading pile. Anyway, this is a great book. I read Jeremy Bushnell’s other novel “The Insides” and loved it so much that I decided to go for this one too. I’m glad I did.

“The Weirdness” is about a 30-year-old schnook named Billy Ridgeway. He’s a wannabe writer looking for his big break and working part time in a sandwich shop. Him and his girlfriend have drama, he has no money for rent, his roommate’s gone AWOL. Billy doesn’t think his life could get any worse until he encounters the devil in his apartment one day, with freshly brewed coffee and ready to make a deal with him. Retrieve the devil’s lucky cat, the Neko of Infinite Equilibrium, from a dangerous warlock and he’ll make sure that Billy’s book is published to rave reviews.

I don’t want to get too far into the plot with this one because there are hella twists and turns. There’s also a lot of fantastical elements (time portals, God machines, hell-wolves), so you have to step outside of realm of the rational and relax just for a little while. There’s also a healthy dose of black humor, which I appreciated.

This is definitely a fun read. Four stars.

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Review: All God’s Children

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Review for "All God's Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence" by Fox Butterfield (2008 reissue, originally published in 1995)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book is fascinating. It’s a shame that the original hardcover edition is out of print and quite hard to find at any library in my city. In the end, I had to order it through interlibrary loan.

Anyway, “All God’s Children” traces five generations of the Bosket family, from their days as slaves in rural South Carolina all the way to Willie Bosket’s incarceration in 1978 as one of the youngest murderers in New York City’s history. At 15 years old, Willie, recently free from a reform school, killed two subway riders in cold blood and shot another. Under the laws of the time, the maximum he could get was 5 years. The public outcry was so great against this that the Juvenile Offender Act was passed later that year, making it possible that children as young as 13 could be tried as adults.

Fox Butterfield uses Bosket’s family history as a way to discuss the history of violence in America. Willie’s great grandfather was a violent man, his grandfather, as well as his father. Details of all of their lives and crimes are given here. He avoids the typical fluff arguments about the causes of violence (poverty, television, etc) and instead characterizes it as something deeply embedded into the fabric of American life, a product of the White slave-holding class, the pre-Civil War South. He also discusses the violence of reform schools and prison institutions whose function is to “correct” violent individuals. Willie believes he is merely the product of these institutions in its grossest form. I can’t disagree.

The amount of research in this book is exhaustive. I commend the author for writing this book. I just wish that it was more available in 2018.

Review: Emergency Contact

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Review for "Emergency Contact" by Mary H.K. Choi (2018)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This book is wildly popular right now. I follow the author, Mary H.K. Choi, on Instagram. A Facebook book club I’m in spoke in glowing terms of this and recommended it. I’ve gotten three emails in the past month from Kirkus Reviews, they also recommended this. Hell, even Rainbow Rowell recommended this. It’s like God himself was screaming at me to read IT, so I did.

And errr…this book was kinda meh for me.

Without giving away too much of the plot: Penny is a introvert with a MILF-y mom that annoys her immensely. She goes off to college an hour away and meets Sam, a tattooed hipster dude who works and lives in a local coffee shop. They bond over their personal crises, texting each other as they deal with their respective family and personal issues. Penny discovers her love of writing fiction, Sam nurtures his desire to be a filmmaker. In the end, exactly what we expected to happen between these two happens–they fall for each other.

I said I wasn’t going to give away the plot, but I actually kinda just did. I’m sorry. But honestly, that’s like, it with this book.

This book is sweet and the language is kinda cool, but there’s nothing here that I haven’t read before. I suspect that one of the reasons why this book is so popular is because it has a rose gold toned, super cute Forever 21-ish looking cover. I know that sounds harsh, but dude…seriously, what’s really here? It’s just a run-of-the-mill YA love story. While I appreciate the way that the author does try to give the protagonist some depth, I realized that after I close this book I probably won’t remember much about Penny anyway. What I most remember about Penny is her annoying tendencies, i.e., her hopeless fascination with Sam at first sight. No less than 5 times we’re reminded by Penny of Sam’s tattoos, ooooh ahhhh, as if we’ve never seen a tattooed man before. Is Penny’s fawning, otherworldly reaction to Sam even real? Of course not. Girl, have a seat please.

Once again, not a bad book, but one that didn’t really excite me either. Three stars.

Top Ten Reasons I DNF Books

Let’s talk about the DNF today, beloveds…

For those that don’t know, DNF is book-speak for a book that you start and, for whatever reasons of your own, decide not to finish. I’ve been rather outspoken about the fact that I DNF and that I do it quite often, with no absolutely no shame and no apologies for it. Some readers are outspoken for the opposite, that they never DNF a book, no matter what the reason. Other readers/book bloggers I encounter do DNF, but don’t speak about it publicly.

To DNF or not to DNF is a complex thing. There are many, many reasons why I stop reading a book, which I’ll explain below. Generally as a rule I give a book 50 pages to capture my interest and if it fails to do so, I’ll stop reading. These days, however, I find that my 50 page rule has gone wayyy down–hell, it’s 40 pages, in some cases, 25. Sometimes I will review the book here if I got past the halfway mark, but I will not give it a rating. I will certainly tell you why I didn’t like it though.

There’s a couple of factors that make me DNF-friendly, which I have to admit here. For one, I rarely buy books. About 85% of the books I read come from the library, so 86’ing it is no big deal, I just take it back and get another. I also find that I tend to DNF fiction much more often than nonfiction. Probably because it’s so author-driven, while non-fiction–not so much. With NF you are welcome to disagree with the author, skip pages and see if they change their mind. I usually don’t DNF memoirs though.

So here goes…

Top Ten Reasons I DNF (do not finish) a Book

  1. It’s boring. ‘Nuff said. If I wanted to fall asleep, I’d put on my Sleep Sounds playlist on Spotify. Seriously. I steadfastly maintain that if you are reading for pleasure, it should engage you and make you want to pick it up and keep going. If it’s nothing but a chore to read it, then put it down. Pleasure reading does not = boredom.
  2. Not in the mood, dawg.Β Sometimes I will pick up a book, read a few pages, then gauge my feelings. If it’s aΒ nahhhh, then I’ll put it aside. This is not to say that I will never read it again at some other point in time, it just means that I am simply not feeling it in that current moment, right then. I will usually keep these books in my TBR pile but save them for later.
  3. I don’t get it. I’d rather have bad writing than confusing, incoherent, or just plain weird writing. If I can no longer (or I never did) discern what’s happening, then I’ll leave it in the dust. I don’t have time for code-cracking, it ain’t that deep.
  4. Large amounts of gratuitous, objectionable content. I don’t necessarily mind sex, drugs, and violence–but there is a point (and I’ve posted on this before) where such scenes just become, well…too much. It’s like a cheap horror film–we know the killer kills with an ax, but do we really need the camera to linger on the severed head for 5 minutes? We get it, he’s dead. Cut to the next shot. More of the same? Well, forget it. I have no interest in being “shocked” into reading further. If ultra-violence is the only rabbit they can pull out of their hat, then they’ve lost me.
  5. There is NO plot.Β None whatsoever. Nada. Zilch. Just pages and pages of no action, no character building, no dialogue, no nothing at all. Or there’s pages and pages of all of the things I just mentioned, but it’s a downward spiral into a yawning, mind-numbing void. I would have left this under the label ‘boring,’ but this is so bad it deserves its own category.
  6. I’m not connecting to the character. This is not the same as not liking a character. There are quite a few book bloggers that say that they will stop reading if they don’t like a character. Nah, I’m not that petty. I can stick through disliking a character’s actions and thoughts, but I can’t stick with one who I don’t find compelling. Strong dislike is a compelling reason to read further, it’s the macaroni to my cheese. It’s kinda like that Morrissey song “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get.” Damn right.
  7. It’s too familiar, I already know what’s going to happen. The girl dumps the boy, but you know they’ll get back together in the end. Nerd boy falls in love with manic pixie dream girl. An abused wife leaves her husband, but you know he’s not dead, so a showdown will occur, somewhere in the last 50 pages. Do I need to go on? Let’s find more plots here…
  8. Writing style is too difficult to follow. No capitalization, no quotation marks, heavy use of parentheses, run on sentences, wordsthatruntogether. I know that some authors employ these devices for artistic reasons, but sometimes I just can’t be bothered with trying to decipher between thought and dialogue, which character is which. GTFOH…
  9. It ain’t gettin read, no matter how hard I try. I tend to read several books at once, so if there is a book lingering in my “currently reading” pile that’s been there for 3 months or more, I will usually extinguish it. It usually means something else has gotten my attention and my own behavior indicates that I’m avoiding it for a reason. Whether or not I come back to it later depends, though if I do, I will usually start the book over again.
  10. Not my cuppa joe. Sometimes I will stop reading because I just don’t believe I’m the right audience that the book was intended for. It’s not a bad book, it’s just not for me. Therefore my reading it won’t matter, the writer probably ain’t talking to me in the first place. I’m ok with that. So rather than reading it, wasting my time, and being pissed off, I’ll just stop reading it. Blah.

So what do ya’ll think? Do you DNF? Why or why not?

Review: Passage

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Review for "Passage" by Khary Lazarre-White (2017)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

“Passage” is a short novel set in NYC in the winter of 1993. Warrior, the main character, is a highly intelligent young Black man who personifies the rage and pain of his everyday existence. He hates cops (cleverly called “blue soldiers”), school has little usefulness to him. It is not hard to imagine why, as this story lays bare much of the reasons for Warrior’s nihilism. He is also fighting the demons from the past and present that threaten to take his soul, literal and figurative battles that come up in this text time and time again.

It is interesting that 1993 is the date given for this novel; it is about a year after the world saw the rage of the Los Angeles riots. Even though it is set in Black America’s collective past, this story definitely could have been the present, or even the future. Despite talk of a post-racial society where things are said to be “equal” and every person can still achieve their dreams, it is quite clear that racism still exists, that the legacies of slavery still exist. The title “Passage” alludes to multiple themes: the Middle Passage, the dehumanizing journey that Africans were forced to take by ship to the New World to be sold as slaves, Black men’s rites of passage invoked as means of everyday survival. Even the cover art calls your attention–it’s of a young Black man in profile, a hoodie covering half of his face. Echoes of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin are still very much alive in this novel.

In the end, I still gave this book three stars. It wasn’t because this book was bad, but because, in theory, I liked the idea of it more than its actual living form. There’s a hazy mix of mysticism, magic, and spiritualism here that, in my opinion, should not have been so hazy. Reading this took massive amounts of effort, mostly due to frequent interpolations of various plot points. Clearer storytelling would have helped immensely.

I definitely recommend this book, however.

Review: Heads of the Colored People

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Review for "Heads of the Colored People" by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (2018)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Short story collections are always hit or miss. You end up either liking some or none of the stories at all. The stories are either too long or too short, the plots are too much of the same or too loosely put together with little overall theme. “Heads of the Colored People” was an exception, I liked every last story in this volume.

Nafissa Thompson-Spires hits the ball out of the park with this one. All of these stories are of Black people living on the fringe of what’s considered “normal” behavior. In this volume, there are Black men who cosplay, Black women who do AMSR (yes–even I had to look it up), Black men and women with anxiety issues, Black women at war with their bodies, Black men professors who passively aggressively war with coworkers, Black millenials obsessed with social media attention. Some of the stories were connected, with several selections detailing the ongoing saga between two Black girl frenemies, Fatima and Christinia. Some of the stories were funny, some of them were quite cringe-inducing, but it was alright because it’s clear that they were meant to be that way. Clearly, Thompson is a writer who is not afraid to write with honesty and just go there.

In the end, I believe this book is effective because it achieves exactly what the title suggests. The author gets deep into what’s in the “heads” of Black people, which, we find out, are a multitude of pressures–the pressure of being the only Black person in their environments, the pressure of being a representation of what non-Black people think of when they conceptualize typical Black “behavior,” the pressure of being Black in American society. Questions like: how does one cope with being angry–without being perceived as the stereotypical “angry” Black man/woman? characterize this book, and I’ll be thinking about the answers for a long time after I read it.

I loved reading this from start to finish. I will definitely watch for future efforts by this writer.

Top Ten Tuesday: Fiction Pet Peeves

Oh, fiddlesticks…the wtf topics keep occurring over at Top Ten Tuesday, so I’m making my own today. Since I did nonfiction last week, I’ll delve into fiction today. Here goes:

Top Ten Pet Peeves in Fiction

  1. The “woman of stone.” I love kick-ass women characters, but sometimes, in the pursuit of the ultimate bad-ass gal, the author will create a woman character so devoid of emotion that she is, in many ways, psychologically a man. Just the trophe the writer seeks to avoid by making the character a woman. I think it is ok to make women characters that do kick ass and take the time to do other things, like pause and cry, for instance. Nothing wrong with that.
  2. Atypical boys = homosexuality. I love quirk, but all too often quirk (lack of sports interest, nerdiness, awkwardness around girls, etc) in male characters is imagined as a gay character. I don’t have a problem with gay characters, but I do have an issue with the perception that there is only one way to be a straight boy, and anything beyond an interest in sports and chasing girls means he must be gay. I find this a lot in YA. Ugh…stop it.
  3. Contrived diversity/tokenism. Of course in the whitest of all White settings, the main character manages to have two chatty, Black girl best friends. Like, of course. For example, in the novel Moxie, we’re talking a very small Texas town that’s nearly 98% White. How, then, does the main character happen to find the only Latina, Black, and lesbian girls in town and befriend them in the name of feminism? Beats me. This is why tokenism sucks–it appears to be ‘diverse’ on the surface, but there’s no yielding of the dominant narrative and absolutely no knowledge of a different perspective is gained. The “color” here was for the purpose of symbolism only.
  4. Rape/torture porn. I’ve written about this a lot here, so I won’t go into super detail because you already know how I feel about this, but it goes like this: we don’t need any more excessively detailed descriptions of rape, torture, violence, sexual abuse, etc. on paper. We know what these horrors are and what they do psychologically and physically to a victim. If a writer does choose to explore those subjects in a book, I feel like it should be political/critical in nature or to emphasize the development or growth of a character. Simply writing about a woman getting raped over and over does not challenge the abuser or the act, it just assents to the notion that women should be somewhere suffering for the sake of good storytelling. Not cool.
  5. Love at first sight. I don’t know about ya’ll, but I’m tired of YA characters finding their soulmate on the first day of school as their lab partner in bio class. They have no chemistry, but he’s “hot” and after dating only once, they’re hopelessly and endlessly in love. Bitchhhhhh….please.
  6. Change through abuse. This is kinda related to torture porn, but in a different direction. Here, the love interest from bio class is an abusive jerk whose function is to change or “soften” the strongly-willed (usually female) main character. It’s a sad and very old, sexist trope–that “change” must occur through domination, the breaking of someone’s will. Also not cool.
  7. Forgiveness, always. I love the idea of forgiveness as much as the next gal, but sometimes the person hurting you is just so plain nasty that I don’t think forgiveness is possible. And that’s ok, Dr. Phil, because not everybody deserves to be forgiven. I’ve found this kinda kumbaya, “let’s-hug-it-out-at-the-end” b.s. in a lot of books where family dysfunction is at the forefront and it sucks, because let’s face it, sometimes family members will do more fucked up things to you than a stranger. It’s ok to say no to abuse and mistreatment, even by family members.
  8. Books where the writer describes the main character’s appearance. Yep, this is still happening. I always maintain that a good book need not describe the character’s looks–if the writer is doing their job right, details on their appearance never need to be explicitly shared. You can still have a fleshed out character without going into detail about how he’s a Harry Styles clone, ma’am. LOL.
  9. Very slow action. Like, reeeaaalll slow. Like, we’re on page 50 and the main character is just now leaving the house. Molasses in the plot, snails in the dialogue. First I’ll flip ahead, then it’s a quick DNF, next.
  10. Side characters with no real purpose. We all know this: books with a evil side character whose only purpose for existing seems to be to foil the main character’s intentions. Why are they so bitchy? Well, this is never explained. I understand that the novel isn’t from their perspective, and that’s fine, but if you’re going to make a side character psychopathic in their badness, a little insight is warranted, yanno?

Ok, back to studying…