Review: All the Dirty Parts

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Review for "All the Dirty Parts" by Daniel Handler (2017)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Well, this is umm, interesting…

Daniel Handler’s (aka Lemony Snicket) latest novel is a look inside the mind of Cole, a teenage boy with one of the most intense obsessions with sex in the history of literature. At the beginning of the novel Cole tells us that so far he’s had sex with 11 girls and has even developed quite a reputation at his school for sleeping around. He also watches porn endlessly, masturbates, trades dirty stories with his friend Alec. Things continue in much of the same manner for the first 50-60 pages until Cole eventually meets a girl he likes, whose sexual appetite appear to closely match his. I won’t give the rest away, other than to say that I found this book really disappointing.

Of the 134 pages of this book, there is no blank space that does not focus on the character’s thoughts of sex or detail some aspect of him engaging in it. While the highly sexualized subject matter didn’t really offend me, the lack of a plot did. This novel is a stream-of-conscious, helter skelter jumble of thoughts that seemingly go nowhere. There is some vague idea of a ‘lesson’ that the main character learns in the end, though it could have been executed much, much better. In the meantime there’s nothing here that really keeps you going, other than a need to finish.

I also take issue with the description of this book by the publisher as ‘an exciting novel that looks honestly at the erotic impulses of an all too typical young man.’ OMG…there is nothing about Cole’s all consuming obsession with sex here that suggests that his behavior is ‘typical’ of a teenage boy. To me, he came off as a raging sex addict in need of some serious psychological help. While Cole’s actions and thoughts may indeed be normal teenage impulse and logic, the ways in which he used sex to act on those his emotions was not, in my opinion, ‘typical.’

This certainly is not a YA book, and some adults may question why they are reading such a pornographically detailed account of the life of a teenage boy. The whole time I’m reading this I’m wondering who the real audience of this book is. Not that it matters so much, but just a consideration. Hmm.

2 stars. Blech.

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Review: The First Rule of Punk

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Review for "The First Rule of Punk" by Celia C. Perez (2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I loved this book!

Maria Luisa (or as she wants you to call her, Malu) is a Mexican American girl who loves punk culture (zines, clothing, music). She is uprooted from her life in Florida and moves with her mother to Chicago, where she comes up against a principal and social queen who hate her punk look, her punk band, and pretty much everything about her. With the help of her dad, as well as people in her neighborhood, Malu learns to be herself and embrace the many aspects of her personality–punk, the Spanish language, and her Mexican heritage.

When people say that ‘we need diverse characters in YA literature’, this is truly it. I have read many books with punk characters as well as many books with characters of color, but never a YA book that blends it together quite like this. I also loved the inclusions of Malu’s zines all throughout the novel, which really gave it a touch of realism. I also loved the fact that I learned quite a bit about Mexican culture through reading this, without it sounding heavy-handed or preachy.

Do read this this. You’ll thank me.

Review: Eat Only When You’re Hungry

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Review for "Eat Only When You're Hungry" by Lindsay Hunter (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a short little book that packs a helluva punch. I’ve loved Lindsay Hunter ever since her first novel Ugly Girls. Her writing is concise, smart, and she’s just not afraid to go there. This book is no exception to her genius.

Eat Only When You’re Hungry is the story of Greg, a overweight, depressed, middle aged accountant, who rents an RV and travels cross country to try and find his missing drug addict son, Greg Jr (GJ). For the entire novel we’re mostly in Greg’s head, flashing back and forth between his RV trip and his earlier marriage to GJ’s mother Marie, past scenes of his son’s gradual decent into addiction, and his present stale marriage to a fellow accountant, Deb. In many ways and more, Greg is just as messed up as his son, GJ: he has an unhappy childhood and in turn is a uncommitted father to his son, a bad husband to his first wife, and is a bad husband to his current wife. He eats junk food constantly to numb his pain, or any kind of reminder of his past failures.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a short book (about 200 pages), but an absolute beast to read. I liked it, but make no mistake–this is some dismal subject matter here. Addiction is always a scary subject, and I certainly applaud Ms. Hunter for exploring it. Booze, love, control, drugs, food, sex–everybody in this story has some kind of craving for something. The words kept me going, though I can’t say that I loved my experience with this book. None of the characters are particularly likeable, and many of the character’s actions are repetitive to the point where you just want to scream “enough already!” Bad choices outweigh good ones, and the cycle of fucking up and coming back again to the same poor choice is, as you come to realize, the language of broken people who don’t realize how broken they really are. It’s also the nature of hunger, which is reflected on multiple levels in this novel–hunger for love, for attention, for a sense of belonging.

I definitely recommend this book. Great writing, deep insight. A-

Review: Today Will Be Different

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Review for "Today Will Be Different" by Maria Semple (2016)
Rating: No Rating (DNF)

DNF on page 87.

“Today will be different,” declares Eleanor Flood. She wakes up and decides to be polite: spend time with her son, have sex with her husband. Of course you know that today won’t be different, but anyway, so begins this book.

Zzzzz…

It’s interesting that even the author calls this book what it really is on page 7: “a normal day of white people problems.” It helps to know that even the author knows her character is complete bullshit: a rich doctor’s wife with too much time on her hands, grudging time with her son, her dog, her husband, pretty much everyone around her. It begins somewhat funny, but it declines into one a really bad joke. A book trying to be witty when it isn’t. Bleh.

And oh yeah, the plot is all over the place. Between learning about the main character’s long lost sister, her husband’s secret, her dysfunctional childhood, her former career as an artist–you just don’t care about what else is going to be thrown in during the course of one day in poor, rich Eleanor Flood’s life. I wouldn’t mind this clusterfuck so much if it were not for the fact that she’s not even a likable person–she’s ridiculously self absorbed, uninteresting, and obnoxious while pretending to be friends with people.

Perhaps other people find this book amusing, which is why it’s on the NYT Bestseller list. I normally don’t read books on the list though. I’d feed this book to wolves.

Review: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

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Review for "The Book of the Unnamed Midwife" by Meg Elison (2016)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book is so full of Win I don’t know where to start. Post-apocalyptic feminist fiction. Sign me up.

This novel takes place in a not-too distant future, with an unnamed female nurse-midwife waking up in a deserted hospital after a plague has ravaged most of the world’s population. The plague takes on the form of a fever, striking everyone but mostly women in childbirth, who give birth to dead babies and in turn die as well. Because of the extreme scarcity of women, the world has become a dangerous place for them. There are no rules or civility, and women in the world after the plague are regularly raped, mutilated, and enslaved by lawless bands of men, traded for goods and services, treated as property. It’s harsh stuff to read, but the Unnamed Midwife avoids this fate by dressing as a man and battling for survival. She helps all of the women she meets by rescuing them from their slavers, offering them birth control, and assisting with births. The story follows her as she journeys from San Francisco to the North and beyond, through hell on earth and finally, to something like hope.

This book takes post-apocalyptic fiction and completely turns it into something that I haven’t seen done before. I usually hate it when these kinds of stories don’t explain things (i.e., the cause of the plague, etc) but here I didn’t mind the not knowing, because it’s the story itself that’s so much more important. The midwife is very open about her own sexuality and although (I think) she identifies as bisexual, her constant changing of gender roles through her practice of dressing as a man turns this notion on its head. Either way, I loved it.

This book is a series, and there is a second book available (“The Book of Etta”) that came out earlier this year. I ran to my library and got it a couple of hours after I finished with this. There is also a third book (“The Book of Flora”) that is set to be published early next year, which I plan to read as well.

Meg Elison is an incredible writer and this is an equally incredible book. Do read this. You won’t regret it!

Review: A Beautiful, Terrible Thing

Behold! A negative review. I’m sorry.

For those who read me often, you’ll know that you don’t see bad reviews often on 29chapters. But yes…occasionally I do encounter a book that for whatever reason, did not offer me a pleasurable nor informative reading experience.

Perhaps you will read it and completely disagree. In the meantime…

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Review for "A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal" by Jen Waite (2017)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

After reading the description, I took the last word in the title, betrayal, and expected something mind-bending and completely unbelievable to compel me to read all 258 pages of this work. This book was neither of those things. Sure, Ms. Waite’s husband is guilty of being a cheating and lying jerk, but how is this different from thousands of other women and men whose lives are ruined by a partner’s infidelity? I also understand that she was deeply hurt by his actions (as I would be), but what is so remarkable here? Why is this a memoir? Who published this drivel?

Most of the first half of this book is made up of adolescent-ish, ‘dear diary’ prose, with “Before” and “After” scenes documenting the beginning, middle, and end of her marriage to Marco, an Argentinian bar tender, serial liar and cheater. Somewhere in all of this she discovers her husband is having an affair and we’re forced to watch as she goes back and forth with omg why omg why omg why this happened. We watch as she scours her husband and his mistress’ social media, phone records, an Uber account. It’s exhausting. It’s obsessive. It’s creepy. And after pages and pages of this, we also don’t care.

I also take issue with her use of ‘psychopathic’ to describe her husband’s behavior. Yes, he cheated on her and lied to her–but does this really make him a psychopath? What medical expertise does the author have to make such a diagnosis? Of course, we’ve all called at least one person we know ‘crazy,’ but the author spends a great deal of time in this book, with no medical expertise at all, utilizing Google searches, internet message boards, and a Wikipedia page to self-diagnose her husband’s mental condition and actions. Well alrighty then.

I don’t recommend this–no way, no how. Sorry.

Review: Out in the Open

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Review for "Out in the Open" by Jesus Carrasco (2017)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In a desperate desert land, an unnamed boy flees his home and eludes a bailiff set on capturing him. The boy encounters a kind goat herder and together they brave the harsh terrain as they journey across the land, trying to keep one step ahead of the bailiff. We never find out the reason for boy’s flight or why the bailiff is so intent on killing him, though such an explanation may have helped me understand the story better. :/

Overall, the writing’s good but I wasn’t impressed. There’s a lot of description here of what the characters are doing at ALL times, and after pages and pages of such minutiae, I found myself skimming the book. Comparison between this novel and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” are inevitable, as they both feature pretty much the same elements–an unnamed man and boy, a bleak landscape, pursuit by evil people. Some have called this book dystopian, though for me it had a wild west kind of feel. Needless to say, I like McCarthy’s book better.

P.S. – This is the 3rd book I’ve read this year with unnamed main characters (“Chemistry” by Weike Wang, “One of the Boys” by Daniel Magariel, and this one.) Why is this happening? Somebody care to explain this to me?

[NOTE: I received a free copy of this book thanks to the publisher, Riverhead Books, because I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. Opinions are mine.]