Ahem…

Is this thing on???

I’m still around, guys. My third round of dissertation edits is due on Tuesday, September 4th, which has left me little time for this site. I will be back to reading and posting with some exciting stuff by the middle of next week.

Xoxo,

Kellan

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Review: Any Man

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Review for "Any Man" by Amber Tamblyn (2018)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

That’s it. I’m just going to give this five stars.

I’m not really even a fan of Amber Tamblyn’s movies. I just liked her book that much.

This is a very brutal book. It weaves together letters, tv and radio interviews, and Twitter posts to showcase the crimes of a violent female serial rapist named Maude, who cris-crosses several states to prey upon male victims. As she claims victim after victim, all of the usual suspects in this kind of crime get involved: the media frenzy, the court of public opinion which blame the victims, the cops who can’t seem to catch the perpetrator, and the families, which suffer as well. Maude never gives a clear reason for her crimes, but as you continue to read you begin to realize that whatever her motives are, they don’t really matter. It’s the voice of the victims that are front and center here.

As I said before, this is a violent story. I imagine that the author had to make it that way to get the full scope of its point across. What is the emotional and physical aftermath of a sexual assault? There is an incredible amount of insight here into that question, and the result is a tremendous sense of empathy for every single person, female and male, that has ever been violated.

This book hits you hard and fast. I recommend reading it in as few sittings as possible and letting it wash over you all at once

Review: What Girls Are Made Of

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Review for "What Girls Are Made Of" by Elana K. Arnold (2017)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Oooooh…this book is messed up. I don’t mean ‘messed up’ in a bad way–I mean messed up as a frightfully good term that will hopefully compel you to read this.

The book begins when the main character, Nina, is fourteen and her mother tells her that she “could stop loving her at any time” and that there is no such thing as unconditional love. This revelation puzzles Nina and becomes the theme for the rest of the book, as she tries to make sense of what love is and the role it plays in her life. The novel examines three of Nina’s love relationships in particular: her mother, whom she takes a trip to Rome with and they sort-of bond over imagery of women saints and torture, Seth, a boy who Nina becomes completely enmeshed with who clearly does not love her, and her community service assignment at a high kill animal shelter. As a result of a terrible act that ended things for good between her and Seth, Nina must do community service at the shelter, where she witnesses dogs that are injured, abandoned, and put to death.

Interspersed throughout the text are very dark, Margaret Atwood-like stories that Nina writes as assignments for her literature class. These vignettes are very interesting and feature tales of virginal sacrifices, women martyrs, the roles of women in society, and the like.

As I said before, this book is messed up. It is YA, but it’s Grown-Ass Woman YA. There’s all kinds of graphic details about sex, medically-induced abortion (very detailed), gynecological pelvic exams, birth control, orgasms (also very detailed), and masturbation. I loved this book because it goes to the edge and hides nothing. It is a messy book about a messy time in a girl’s life–and it’s not afraid to be confused, terrified, and completely broken. It is also a complete departure from what has now become a YA lit cliche; the gutsy, whip smart, kick-ass-and-take-names kinda girl. The main character presented here, Nina, is not strong and does not kick ass. And for once, I think that’s totally alright. I gave this book five stars because I really really dug that.

I loved this book. Definitely read if you’re into darker, more realistic YA books that hit on real issues.

Review: Waste

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Review for "Waste" by Andrew F. Sullivan (2016)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Larkhill, Ontario, 1989. Late at night two teenage friends, Jamie and Moses, hit a lion while driving down a darkened back country road. They throw the carcass in a ditch and make a promise to tell no one about the incident. Moses goes back to the no-tell hotel where he lives with his eccentric mother and discovers she is missing and begins to look for her. Meanwhile at his job in a butcher shop, Jamie discovers a decomposing body in a can of bone waste. All the while this is going on, there’s a pair of sadistic, bearded ZZ Top looking brothers who love to kill people with power tools, searching for the person who killed their pet lion, Falcor.

Don’t start thinking there’s a light at the end of this bleak-ass tunnel.  (p. 2)

The very first page tells you to not expect anything good out of this book, so I didn’t. Overall, this book is a very dark tale about the goings-on in a small Canadian town.  From the first to the last page it never lets up in its bleakness–nasty hotels, people with dirty jobs, violence with impunity, shuttered factories. Everyone in this book is some version of a loser, stumbling through their wasted lives as addicts, dealers, wannabe skinheads, or just assholes in general. There’s a healthy dose of black humor that breaks the emptiness every now and then, but the bleakness drags this book on much longer than it should. The first quarter moves moderately fast, but the middle was a snooze fest. I considered DNF’ing but wanted to get to the end, which was pretty decent. For a book that’s so keen on violence, the only acceptable end is a violent one. “Waste” certainly delivers that.

Three out of five stars. Read if you’re into Donald Ray Pollock, Chuck Palahniuk, or Irvine Welsh-type stuff.

Review: I Am Still Alive

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Review for "I Am Still Alive" by Kate Alice Marshall (2018)

Review: 4 out of 5 stars

This was between three and four stars for me. Gary Paulsen’s “Hatchet” meets The Revenant. It’s a compelling read, but not quite what I expected.

When the story begins, Jess, a 16 year old girl, has been sent to the Canadian wilderness to live with her father whom she barely knows. She has recently lost her mother in an automobile accident, the same which has left her without the full use of her legs. She struggles to adjust to life in the remote wilderness where one must live off of the land and only way in and out is via plane. She learns a bit about hunting and fishing through her father and begins to build somewhat of a bond with him until he is killed by two mysterious visitors to their cabin. The men burn the cabin down, not realizing that Jess and her dad’s dog, Bo, are in the woods hiding. For several months, Jess is left on her own, finding food and shelter and surviving in the wilderness. Eventually she discovers the reason behind her father’s death and plots out a plan for revenge.

Essentially, this is a survival story. There is the revenge element, but that plot is not in play until late in the novel. For the first 2/3rds of the book, we are reading about Jess being cold, wet, in pain, and just hating her life in general. While I’m not gonna call her a whiner (hell, I’d be whining too!), I will say that not much happens early on in this book beyond descriptions of her misery. It’s cool–just not quite what I expected. I did keep reading though. Not for the survival stuff, but for the kick-ass revenge part.

I’m not in a rush to recommend this, unless you like survival stories.

Review: The Other Wes Moore

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Review for "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates" by Wes Moore (2010)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Ack…I DNF’d this one.

The idea behind this book is indeed noteworthy, as we’ve all wondered at some time or another about the life of another individual who, by some stroke of fate, happens to have the same name as we do. In this book, the author does just that as he discovers another man with his same name and similar age, also raised in the city of Baltimore. He begins a prison correspondence with the “other” Wes Moore and sets out to explore where their paths in life diverged. The author is a former White House Fellow, a writer, and an Army veteran. The “other” Wes Moore is serving time in prison, has fathered several children, is a convicted drug felon, and had an attempted murder conviction all before the age of 18.

The premise of this book is flawed, however. Moore points to the commonality of absentee fathers and poverty between the two of them, but this is simply not true. While both Moores grew up fatherless, the author’s father died, he was not abandoned. Secondly, Moore’s mother, even though a widow, had a strong support system. The author half-heartedly acknowledges this, as well as his privilege of attending a private school during his formative years to steer him away from bad behavior and negative influences. Also, while the negative behavior that author Wes Moore speaks of (tagging buildings with graffiti, etc) is akin to a middle class teenager’s ideas of rebellion, the “other” Wes Moore’s descent into drug dealing and criminal behavior is not rebelliousness but a necessity, a way of gaining power in a single parent household as the ‘man of the house.’ Even though the “other” Wes Moore’s choice to delve into criminality was his own doing, the lack of a support system and the presence of poverty in his life cannot be understated.

I stopped reading this book about 2/3 of the way through, once the faulty premise became apparent. Perhaps I’ll pick this up in the future, but for right now, I’m good.

Review: Girl Trouble

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Review for "Girl Trouble: An Illustrated Memoir" by Kerry Cohen (2016)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I read Kerry Cohen’s memoir “Loose Girl” a few years ago, so I decided to see what this book was about. This is a memoir that chronicles the author’s very complex relationships with women, beginning with her older sister and continuing throughout her childhood to the present day. Each relationship is presented vignette-style, with illustrations of several of the characters included within. Some of the relationships Cohen discusses are friendships, others describe a contentious situation (i.e., the author being bullied by another girl), some girls are passing acquaintances.

I certainly understand Cohen’s reason for writing this book. It seems that she wanted to not just talk about girl relationships but to examine the many, many ways in which women can be cruel to one another. There are problems with this, however. One of the main ones here I noticed was that the author seems quick to discuss the many times in which she has been victimized by girls and women, yet minimizes her own actions in some situations in which she was equally cruel. Case in point: a period during the author’s college years in which she admits that she slept with a friend’s boyfriend. She tells us that the boyfriend was not really her friend’s boyfriend, just some guy she was seeing at the time. Either way, when the cheating was discovered, her friend stopped speaking to her. The author meets up with the friend years later after she writes about it in “Loose Girl” and tries to explain herself, yet her tone is not one of contrition (after all, she did go and write a book about it) but one of slight indignation, as if the friend just should have ‘gotten over it’ already. 

There’s other layers here of meaning I could talk about here, but it’s repetitive. After a while each “friend” and each “boy” all sounded the same and reading this became tiresome. And the illustrations, while good, didn’t really add anything to the book. Picture here, more words. Picture there, more words. Blah.

Even though I get the point, I can’t help but to feel that this is essentially the same book as “Loose Girl,” only with a slightly different focus. Many of the same incidents from that book are retold here.

No mas. Two stars.