Book Q & A Monday, Part 4

A book that made you cry?

Jesus…so many. If I had to name one from recent memory, however, it would be A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I reviewed it here a while back but was still in a “good book” haze when I tried to write about it a couple hours later and couldn’t think of a thoughtful way to put how I felt about it into words. One day I will write a thoughtful review on it, but man…lemme tell you…that book, if you ever care to delve into it, is deep. It is about the innermost thoughts of a child whose mother is dying of cancer, thus he invents a ‘monster’ to deal with his grief. It is a YA book, but honestly I think it is for anyone who has ever lost someone and does not know how to begin to deal with their feelings about it. Its one of the most honest books on a subject that I’ve ever read in my life.

Most overrated book?

The Twilight series. I only read the first book, Twilight. It was so god-awful that I threw it into the trash when I finished it. Fished it out 30 minutes later and drove up to Goodwill and threw it in a donation bin. When they asked if I wanted a tax credit, I told them ‘nope’ and drove away. I would have left it in the trash had it not been for my overwhelming need to keep books in circulation, no matter what the subject matter is.

Most thought provoking book?

Another doozy here because there’s been so many. In recent years, however, I read and really thought that There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz was quite profound. Even though it was written in 1991, it is still timely and relevant, especially because when it comes to poverty and hopelessness in inner cities because not much has changed in 30 years. It is a work of nonfiction about a single mother of 8 children living in a housing project in Chicago. The book follows the family for 2 years as LaJoe deals with raising her 5 youngest children in one of the worst neighborhoods you can imagine–horrifying living conditions, crime, poverty, gangs, drugs, snipers on rooftops, bullets that fly through walls, etc. It is a tragedy, but there is something hopeful about the ending.  Very thought provoking.

Favorite classical author?

I’m really into Shakespeare–his sonnets and his plays. I also love Edgar Allan Poe, William Blake, Henry David Thoreau.

Favorite classical work?

Hamlet. I read it in high school and I’ve loved it ever since. I can quote some of those lines over and over and never get tired of them because they’re so damn beautiful. I even found a recording of it and taped it to my belly when I was pregnant with my son and played it before I went to bed, every night until I delivered him. Strangely, he never would kick me during those times (a sign from above that he actually liked it–ha!).

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Review: Daydreams of Angels

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Review for “Daydreams of Angels” by Heather O’Neill (2015)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

So I love Heather O’Neill. If you haven’t read her novel ‘Lullabies for Little Criminals’ then you are sorely depriving yourself of great literature. She has another novel out which I have not yet read (will do this) but this book was available at the library first, so I dove right in.

‘Daydreams of Angels’ describes itself as ‘twisted fairy stories’ and that description is very accurate. There are stories about floating babies, talking bears, gypsies, and cloned Russian dancers. Most of them are flights of fancy (as I said earlier, there is a talking bear) but some feature real people and events. This book as a whole, however, was lackluster. Some of the stories I liked immensely: ‘Holy Dove Parade’ is about a girl member of bizarre cult who commits a crime, ‘Where Babies Come From’ is a weird grandmother’s version of natural events, ‘The Gospel According to Mary M.’ is modern story of Jesus’s life in middle school. Most of the stories though I didn’t really like and I struggled through, like ‘The Story of Little O,’ which I’m still not sure what it was about. Out of all 21 stories here I only liked about 5, the rest didn’t make much of an impression on me. The voice was too monotone, the plots too similar. All in all: meh.

I DO recommend reading Heather O’Neill, but don’t start here. Try reading “Lullabies for Little Criminals” and you’ll thank me for this later.

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.

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.