Book Q & A Monday, Part 3

I’m backkkk…

Do you eat or drink while reading?

Drink, yes. Eat, no. Perhaps it’s because the coordination it requires to chew and read simultaneously is simply not there for me. But I generally don’t eat and read at the same time.

Do you read, chat, listen to tv while reading?

I do listen to music. Usually it’s something mellow like NIN (ok, Nine Inch Nails is far from mellow!) but there are some tracks NIN has that go well with reading. I also listen to classical, Lana del Rey, Radiohead, Bjork, tons of other bands while reading I won’t list here because there would be too many to name. I typically don’t talk to people while reading, and even though TV may be on in the background, I’m usually not watching it during that time.

Is there a certain spot you prefer for reading?

Hmm,not really. I read on my couch at home, at the library at school, at my desk at work. I am a bed reader–I sit on my bed and read, or lie under my covers and read until sleep sadly overtakes me. I know, I know. Zzzz…

Bookmark or scrap of paper?

I have to have a bookmark. I hate scraps of paper stuck in pages and dog-eared books. Now I will dog-ear a book if nothing is available, but I’ll always make a note to go back and mark it with a bookmark at my earliest convenience and gently ‘flatten’ back out the fold like I found it. I have hundreds of bookmarks I’ve collected over the years from libraries, reading programs, vendors at school conferences, etc. Whenever I see a display with them at a library or something I’ll usually go by and swipe a handful, place it in my bag, and then casually act as if I did nothing wrong.

Do you highlight or write in your books?

With nonfiction books I read for school–yes. It’s just easier for me to digest the information and retain it that way. I highlight in those books, I also write notes in the margins because these are ones that I will usually keep and never get rid of. I never write in fiction books, even if I buy them. Something about my fiction must remain pristine, just in case I want to give it away to someone or sell it used to get credit for a new book.

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Review: What Lies Between Us

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Review for “What Lies Between Us” by Nayomi Munaweera (scheduled to be published on February 16, 2016)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

It’s hard to quantify this book. There were parts that I loved, parts I hated. A novel that makes you run the gamut of these emotions, however, is probably a good one.

“What Lies Between Us” is the story of an unnamed narrator’s (we don’t know her name until the very end) journey from childhood to a prison cell, where we meet her for the first time. The novel is split into five parts–the first is the narrator’s comfortable life as a child of privilege in Sri Lanka, the second part is how she adjusts upon arriving in America. The last three parts deal with her adult life and the events that led to her shocking crime.

I won’t lie to you, now…the beginning of this book started off s-l-o-w. Once it did get interesting, though, I could not stop reading this book. The writing here is spectacular. Ms. Munaweera can definitely move you with words, and in that regard this book didn’t disappoint.

4.5 stars because there were some passages that could have been taken out, because they didn’t really propel the story forward. I won’t fuss too much about it though, this was a uncorrected/galley copy and it will probably undergo a final edit before publication.

But…I would definitely like to check out this author’s other novel. Ms. Munaweera is an author to watch.

[This book was given to me free, courtesy of NetGalley and the St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: The Fishermen

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Review for “The Fishermen” by Chigozie Obioma (2015)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is one of those books that you pick up and time stands still, because you’re so engrossed in what’s going on that nothing else seems to matter. I picked this up at the library on a Friday afternoon and sat right down on the couch there and dove right in, not realizing that an hour had passed and librarian dude was standing next to me, about to tap me on the shoulder to warn me they were about to close.

“The Fishermen” is the story of four brothers–Ikenna, 15, Boja, 14, Obembe, 11, and Benjamin–who is 9 years old when the story begins. The novel is told from the point of view of the youngest child, Benjamin, who looks up to his brothers and decides to join them when they begin skipping school to fish at the local river. At the river they encounter an outcast, a local madman who makes a terrifying prophecy: that Ikenna will be murdered by one of his brothers.

From this point onward, nothing is ever the same. Each of the brother’s fates change for the worst and the entire family as a stable unit gradually becomes undone. But this is more than just a retelling of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, this book has all of the complexities of a Shakespearean tragedy. There is a lot of violent imagery in this novel, coupled with beautiful words that I found myself going back and reading over and over again. There are also thoughtful references to the work of Chinua Achebe, and one can’t help but to read this book as an allegory of the African continent–ravaged from the outside and left to corrode through corruption, greed, and other inside forces.

When I checked the Internet for some info on this book I saw that it had been long-listed for the 2015 Man Booker Prize. I do hope it wins a major prize, it’s really that good. Loved this, A+

Review: Cutter Boy

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Review for “Cutter Boy” by Cristy Watson (to be published in September 2016)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

As I’ve said earlier, the 10 years I spent as a 7th and 8th grade Language Arts teacher guides my reading choices. In addition to simply liking the genre, I often I select YA books to see how they deal with particular issues in our society. This was one such book. Right now I’m undecided about this. Three stars is out of the question, two is being generous here.

The rundown: Travis is bullied in school and ignored by his parents at home. Cutting himself with a razor blade is the one way he finds relief from his anguish and a way to control his pain. He becomes friends with a girl at school, Chyvonne, and eventually reveals his secret to her. Inspired by an unconventional teacher and his new friend, he eventually takes up the art of paper cutting as a way to avoid harming himself.

While I appreciate the author’s attempt to write a book about boys who self harm (an important subject that doesn’t get written about much) the ending seemed forced and terribly unfinished. The suggestion that art is a better form of therapy than cutting is suggested as a resolution here, but further details beyond this are left out. For such a large problem that cutting can be for a person, the resolution here just seemed too convenient, too simple. I am not a person who self harms, but I do know people who do. Pushing a piece of paper in front of them to cut instead of their bodies is an interesting prospect, but hardly a ‘solution’ to resolving the anger, pain, and depression that drives them to cut in the first place. I also did not like the way that the act of cutting was romanticized either. We don’t need to read about “beauty” swirling down the drain, or the smooth surface of a razor being “like ice, like glass” to understand what you’re referring to. These are tired, boring metaphors that don’t really portray cutting as the harmful action that it truly is. Like just...stop already.

Character development is also lacking here, big time. Travis, Mom, Dad, Chyvonne, and “the twins” (Travis’ sisters) all seem to move about this story with no real solid sense of purpose. I still don’t feel like I know anyone any better than I did when I first started. For a book that aims to engage reluctant readers, this book succeeds, but that’s about it.

[Note: I received a free publisher’s copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked

Hey there, folks!!

The semester is kicking my arse. I’ve been reading though. I’ll be back with my feature on Monday. Till then…

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Review for “Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked” by James Lasdun (2013)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

This book is so bad it’s laughable.

Being the curious person I am, the title drew me in. Stalking has always been a subject that’s received considerable attention, so I read it.

Man, I am SORRY I read this.

It’s supposed to be a true story. Sadly, I don’t believe much of it.

Mr. Lasdun is a creative writing professor at some college in NYC when he meets Nasreen, an Iranian student in his class who he believes shows talent in her writing. She asks him to look over her manuscript, and after several refusals, he eventually agrees to, as well as introduce her to his agent. Around this time they begin (in his words, of course) a “friendly” correspondence through email. At some point, Mr. Lasdun feels their conversation has gone too far and he reminds her he is happily married. This is the point where, according to him, all hell breaks loose. Nasreen begins a complicated campaign of online harassment, spreading accusations of plagiarism and rape among his colleagues, threatening him and his family, making anti-Semitic statements, etc.

But all that’s not my beef with this book. Although I do not feel like Lasdun is being completely honest (I do believe a little more happened between him and this student that he is not telling us), that’s not why this book got 1 star from me. You see, I don’t care about the drama. On page 30 I wondered aloud why this so-called ‘intelligent’ man didn’t just change his email and move the hell on with his life. It’s the execution of the story that fails miserably here. Mr. Lasdun tells you the stalking story, along with pages upon pages on extraneous information: musings on architecture, the writings of D.H. Lawrence, a 37 page train ride that had ZERO to do with the story. Oh God, and the last 55 pages of this had almost nothing to do with anything at all, the content is so far afield it’s almost like another book entirely.

I almost DNF’d this sucker had it not been for my extraordinary power of skimming to get to the end.

Don’t read this book. If you do decide to take the plunge, for God’s sake, don’t buy it. Get it from the library. Stand in Barnes and Noble and sip a latte and skim it. Read parts 1 and 3, skip 2 and 4. You’ll have the whole story right there. Guaranteed.

Book Q & A Monday, Part 2

What is your routine for reading?

I always look at page counts. With my current classes and work demands, I can usually do about 50-100 pages of pleasure reading per day. Usually I will select a book based upon its page count and my schedule. For example, I can expect to finish an average length book (250 pages) in about 4 to 5 days. If I select a book that is over 300 pages I either: a) really really wanted to read that book and don’t care how long it is, or b) am on an extended weekend or vacation or time away from work or class and can spend an extended time reading it.

Do you skip ahead while reading/peek at the last pages?

I’m almost embarrassed to say this…but yes, if it’s boring. Sorry, I have low tolerance for books that aren’t stimulating enough to keep me engaged to wait and find out what happens at the end.

Finish it or quit it?

I’ve posted on this before…but I say that if you are reading for pleasure (as in, not for a class assignment) then you have the right to stop reading that book at any time, for any reason. Reading that you do in your spare time should always be enjoyable to you and never feel like a chore or an assignment. 50 pages is usually my cutoff for any book, if it still bores me to tears I will start skimming it first. If that doesn’t work I will put it down and not pick it back up.

Depending on how far I got with a DNF’d book determines whether or not I will rate it. If it’s early in the book, I leave it blank. If it’s after the middle, I do give it a starred rating.

To spoil or not to spoil?

It depends. As a rule, if I generally like the book, I will not spoil it. If I don’t like it, spoiling it is the least of my concerns. The urge to explain an epic fail goes back to my days as a teacher, where the best practice has always been that if you are going to give a student a failing grade, you should always have a compelling reason why. It’s not enough to simply say in a review that a book has “uneven writing” or “poor character development” because the person reading it has no context to base your critique on.

How do I acquire books?

I love getting advance copies from publishers, but about 90% percent of my books I review here come from my city’s public library. Charlotte, North Carolina has 10 branches all over the city and they’re all fairly accessible with a pretty decent and diverse selection of books. When a book is not available I usually do interlibrary loan, or check it out through my university’s library. Occasionally I also buy popular bestsellers and other books on my Kindle because it’s convenient and cheaper than going into a bookstore and buying it in print.

Review: Far From You

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Review for “Far From You” by Tess Sharpe (2014)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I didn’t like this as much as I probably should have. On the surface, it is quite perfect: a contemporary YA novel in which the main character is a bisexual teenage girl fighting an addiction to prescription pain meds, the suspicion of her parents, and solving the murder of her best friend. I should have been impressed. But I was only half-thrilled.

This is the story of Sophie, a teenaged girl living with her parents who is sent involuntarily to rehab after the murder of her best friend, Mina. She is clean at the time of the event, but because she is a recovering addict and cops found pills in her jacket at the scene of the murder, her parents and the rest of the community assume that the two girls got themselves in trouble, caught in a drug deal gone bad. Once she gets out of rehab, Sophie goes about solving the murder of her best friend and clearing her and her best friend’s name.

The book switches a lot between Sophie’s past, where we learn she was seriously injured in a car crash (her injuries are the reason for her subsequent painkiller abuse) and her present, where she tries to live with the trauma of losing her best friend. While I understand the author’s intention, every time the ‘time’ switched I almost felt like I was reading another, separate book. The novel moved from past, to present, to further past, to furthest past, back to present, back to further past, etc. Although there was a label whenever this happened (i.e., “two years back,” “now/June”), it was not a very cohesive narrative here at all. I am not arguing that this book need be presented chronologically, but the back and forth here was more of an annoyance than anything else. Add in the current murder mystery plot and it seemed as if there was way too much here being juggled at once.

Despite my problem with the logistics of the story, I did actually like the main character here. Sophie is strong, outspoken, and a survivor. This is also the first YA novel I have read with a bisexual female main character. I thought that Miss Sharpe did an excellent job with this–the character’s sexuality never overshadowed the narrative, and the narrative never overshadowed character’s sexuality–somehow these two components synced up and worked together perfectly. After reading the novel, I could totally understand how Sophie loved Mina and also had relationships with boys. In today’s society where a lot of teens are discovering their sexual identities, I thought the author’s choice to present a character in this way was a bold move, and a good one.

I must say, though, that the ending was kind of anti-climactic. You get to the end and you’re just like: really? As several other reviewers have pointed out, the larger point here did not even seem to be the answer to the whodunit, but the way Sophie handles life after trauma. All of which is cool, but why call this a mystery if the mystery wasn’t the point to begin with? Hmmm.

Solid 3 stars here. Read with caution.