Review: Blood Barrios

36376789

Review for "Blood Barrios: Dispatches from the World's Deadliest Streets" by Alberto Arce (2018)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This book will tell you about all the bad things that happen in Honduras. Within its pages are the author’s dispatches from the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, where he writes about narco traffic, police and government corruption, kidnappings, murder, torture, rampant gang violence, and extortion. Murder cases are rarely closed, because they’re hardly ever opened. Murder of criminals and ordinary people alike occur with such regularity in Honduras as to be unremarkable, with the police merely collecting the bodies afterward while journalists like the author write or snap pictures. Fear keeps people immobilized. No one talks and no one investigates.

Although this book is interesting to read and I finished it rather quickly, I realized that its sensationalism was what kept me plowing through it at breakneck speed. While people in Central America live these realities day in and day out, Americans like myself merely rubber-neck at their tragedy and keep it moving. I feel guilty in admitting that, however, it is this kind of apathy that this book represents. The author loves to talk about violence in Honduras, yet there is very little in-depth analysis about how American meddling in the politics of this country over the last 40 years has directly and indirectly caused much of the misery there today. The prime example of this is the U.S.’s ill-advised policy of the deporting of MS-13 gang members from American soil, only for them to return home, reorient themselves, and grow even stronger and more violent, only this time in the absence of any kind of functioning law enforcement in Honduras.

So I don’t know…3 stars here, I think. Read this if you want something sensationalized, without a lot of heart for real investigative journalism.

Advertisements

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Podcasts

Another boring designated Top Ten Tuesday topic has ensued this week, so today I’ll talk about my favorite podcasts. Why podcasts? Because they’re interesting. There’s a myriad of great apps out there to search, save, and listen to them depending on whether you’re an iPhone or Android user. I use the Stitcher app and I get an updated stream of my favorite podcasts in my car, sitting at my desk at work, or at home over my Bluetooth speaker. I find podcasts to be a very powerful storytelling medium in the same intellectual space as the books I read.

Before reading this, please note that I tend to be partial to news-heavy content and true crime. So yes, here goes…

My Top Ten Favorite Podcasts

This American Life – Oldest, longest running, and pretty much the gold standard of podcasts, hosted by Ira Glass. A new episode comes out every Sunday, and they’re always chock full of just plain interesting stuff.

Reveal – Another highly engaging podcast that fuses high-quality investigative reporting with great content. A lot of great topics are covered here: immigration, racial discrimination, advances in technology, education, etc.

Monster – A must, especially if you’re into true crime shit like I am. This season is about the Zodiac killer, last season was about the Atlanta child murders. Killer synth music too.

Cults – A great podcasts all about, well, cults. Christian cults, occult cults, Satanic cults, Buddhist cults, cults that kill, secret cults…you get the picture. It’s great.

Ear Hustle – Very cool podcast that’s actually written, researched, produced, and hosted by inmates at San Quentin maximum security prison in California. Lots of criminal justice issues discussed here, along with the daily goings on of people behind bars. It’s not always depressing, it’s actually very informative and funny.

Crimetown – Another great anthology-style podcast all about crime and corruption in a particular American city. Last season, the featured city was Providence, Rhode Island, this season is Detroit, Michigan. Very detailed investigative reporting.

Serial – Another gold standard, with hype surrounding it that’s completely deserved. Each season is different, though I must say that this past season was probably the best. In this season, the host takes an in-depth look at the criminal justice system in Cleveland, Ohio.

Generation Why – Weekly podcast with two hosts (Aaron & Justin) that break down and discuss theories and details surrounding selected topics. Not just true crime, they take on murder cases, disappearances, conspiracies, supernatural stuff, controversies, and good, fun mysteries.

Lore – Another gold standard, bi-monthly podcast that breaks down mysteries, the supernatural, nightmares, and just plain dark stuff. I compare listening to Lore with the feeling you used to get with the book “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” with the creepy pictures back in grade school.

The Trail Went Cold – Very cool, DIY-ish produced podcast that discusses missing persons and cold cases. A lot of the topics the host covers were previously discussed on NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries, so there’s heavy nostalgic value here, especially if you were a fan of that show. The host is Canadian (I think), so hearing him say words like “house” (sounds to my American ear like “host”) is funny. Anyway, I love this show…

That’s it for now, though there’s a bunch more. Maybe I’ll do another favorite podcasts, part 2 soon. Until then…

xoxo, K

Review: Waylaid

193574
Review for "Waylaid" by Ed Lin (2002)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Ok ya’ll…it’s the last entry of my ‘older’ book reviews for a while…

“Waylaid” is the story of an unnamed 12-year-old Chinese American boy who works in his family’s sleazy, pay-by-the-hour Jersey shore motel. The narrator’s obsession with sex and his fantasies with the porno mags and other sexual artifacts that he finds in his hotel rooms make up a large part of the book. The johns who routinely come by his hotel do nothing to quell his burning desire to find a girl he can sleep with. In addition to school and long nights and weekends spent working at the hotel, the narrator has very little freedom to be a kid. This gives him a wealth of knowledge beyond a typical preteen, which is played out throughout this book. Although he considers himself American, he continually faces racist comments by the guests, which he is forced to accept with a smile.

The only reason I gave this book 3 stars is because I didn’t care for the ending, which seemed kinda rushed to me. This story is definitely entertaining and funny, it’s worth checking out.

Review: The Cost of Living

16449086

Review for "The Cost of Living" by Rob Roberge (2013)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

(Still on my ‘older’ book kick. Bear with me.)

Bud Barrett is an aging ex-rockstar who’s spent most of his life being a junkie. Most of his life he’s either been high, doing schemes to get high, calculating how long it will take to get to the next high, or coming back from a high. His life has been no cakewalk: his mother committed suicide when he was a young child and his relationship with his father has been nonexistent ever since he witnessed him kill someone for reasons he doesn’t understand. These two traumatic events lead Bud into a life of drugs and drinking, and finally, some kind of reckoning with the past.

I love the non-linear style in which this book is presented. Each chapter is essentially its own story, presented at various periods of Bud’s life. In some accounts Bud is quite the addict, in others he’s clean, and in some he deals with the toll of his addiction on his relationships with friends, family, and his estranged wife. It’s a hell of read, I enjoyed every page of it.

4.5 stars.

Review: Kinda Like Brothers

I’m going to be reviewing some older books for a while. While I am always reading new books, ARCs, and what’s coming straight off the press, I find myself pouring back over some reads that have been on my TBR list for a while lately. So today, I present you with a children’s lit book that I think is pretty darn impressive.

First off, lemme extol the virtues of children’s lit. As a former middle school teacher, I believe it’s important to give kids access to all varieties of literature for their success. Not only is literature important for cognitive skills, it’s where I believe that kids first learn to really truly appreciate culture–not just theirs, but others’ as wellIt’s also where we develop emotional intelligence around life events such as death, tragedy, happiness, etc.

So I’ll never stop reading kid’s books. I find them fascinating, because many of them ‘teach’ the values that kids learn. It’s like coming home full circle for me.

20578939

Review for "Kinda Like Brothers" by Coe Booth (2014)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This is a really great book–not just for its intended audience of children’s/middle grades readers, but for adults as well.

“Kinda Like Brothers” is the story of Jarrett, an 11-year-old from Newark, NJ, whose mother routinely takes in foster children. While they are often babies in need of dire care after being removed from abusive homes, Jarrett is shocked when a special needs infant named Treasure arrives with her 12-year-old brother, Kevon. Immediately, Jarrett is angry that he must share his room with a stranger and irritated that he isn’t privy to the reason why these children have come into his family’s lives. Kevon is highly guarded over Treasure at first, but slowly begins to let Jarrett’s mother physically care for her. In time, the boys form an unsteady truce.

Jarrett’s life is also beset by other problems. He doesn’t read very well and must take a remedial summer reading program in order to pass the 5th grade, which brings him embarrassment among his peers. He secretly wishes that his mother would stop taking in foster children and spend more time with him. He also has a crush on a classmate, who barely knows he’s alive or that he’s failing the 5th grade. His best friend is hiding a secret from him and has been acting strangely since his return from a trip home to Jamaica. Jarrett is also taken with his mother’s boyfriend, who also wishes that Jarrett’s mom would stop taking foster children too. All of these things swirl around in the story until the end, when Jarrett’s meddling into Kevon’s family situation brings bad consequences.

I thought this book very realistically portrayed the life of an urban youth, who are very often dealing with multiple sensitive issues at once (foster families, school failure, etc). I also liked how everything wasn’t necessarily ‘solved’ at the end, because, let’s face it, many of the problems that Jarrett has cannot be safely tucked away by the end of a book. In Jarrett’s world, having a foster brother and sister sharing your small apartment is not just a temporary problem, it’s part of reality. There are also discussions about homosexuality and police brutality that are very well constructed and presented in this book.

I’d read this again and again. Definitely 4.5 stars.

Review: The Good Demon

38945097
Review for "The Good Demon" by Jimmy Cajoleas (2018)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Set in a small Southern town, “The Good Demon” is the story of Clare, a teenage girl who hasn’t been the same since her exorcism by a local preacher. The demon (named ‘Her’) wasn’t evil, but protected Clare from danger: the trauma of her dad’s death, her stepdad’s abuse, an attempted sexual assault. Her leaves behind a mysterious note, which Clare is compelled to follow. It reads: “Be nice to him. June 20. Remember the stories.”

Eventually, Clare falls for the son of the preacher who performed her exorcism. After following many clues, she learns about a secret cult in her hometown practicing a sinister form of magic. After a visit to the enigmatic cult leader, Clare is forced to make a choice to be reunited with her demon.

I liked the premise for this story. It’s very Southern gothic, with mystery and some fantasy thrown in for good measure. The tag line mentions True Detective (the first season, of course) as an inspiration and the plot is very much in that same vein, which I liked as well. The bad part is that it took me nearly two months to read this book, and that was no accident. I’d read 20-30 pages, lose interest, come back a few days later, repeat. Perhaps if there had been more character development I would have been more engaged, more history of the town. A lot of characters and situations here seemed thrown together and happenstance. Hmm.

Three stars.

Review: Adele

40265073

Review for "Adele" by Leila Slimani (2019)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Adele is a mess. A hot, raging dumpster fire of disarray. But despite this, I couldn’t stop reading. Oui…

Adele is a Parisian (oui, oui!) woman with a nice surgeon husband and a small son. She has a career as a journalist, money, a nice home, and on the surface, everything in life that is desirable. We come to learn that this is the face that she shows to the outside world, because secretly, Adele is addicted to sex. The seedier the better–restrooms, hotels, back alleys. Sometimes the men are nameless, other times they’re coworkers, acquaintances, the husbands of friends. She has no desire to love these men or to see them again once the act is over. In addition to Adele’s mishmash of a life, there’s the portrait of a marriage with no value, as well as glimpses of the relationship with her family, which is dysfunctional as well.

This novel is very well written. Throughout this book Adele enraged me, shocked me, and inspired my deepest sympathy. The ending is also highly subjective, there’s no indication on whether Adele decides to change her ways or not. I am surprised to see the plethora of one-star reviews on Goodreads, perhaps those who expected to find some kind of closure here, a happy ending. This book is about sex but it definitely isn’t porn, it leans toward the erotic. Perhaps erotic writing bothers people. I don’t know.

As far myself, I took this book for what it is, a psychological study of a person with an addiction. The word “addiction” is never written or explicitly named, but it is certainly there. I think the author is careful to simply write the ‘how’ of Adele and leave the judgments to us.

I definitely recommend this book. I certainly found it to be interesting, and its content pleasantly debatable.