Review: I’m Thinking of Ending Things


Review for “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” by Iain Reid (2016)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a hard book to review because it is not a book for everyone. It’s a very dark story and its ending is completely and superbly ambiguous. Personally I loved its nebulous-ness, that there’s no right or wrong answers because it all depends on what your interpretation of the events were. This book is a great conversation piece, there’s even a website with a forum where you’re free to debate with other readers on what you think it was about. Now I’m not a genius here at 29chapters…but a book that keeps people talking about it after they read it whether it was good or bad is definitely a book to read, if for no other reason then to see what the damn fuss was all about. Conversation = good literature, nahmean?

To tell you detailed info about this story other than what you’ll find on the back cover or online is to give this book away, which is out of the question for this review. I will say that it starts off innocuously as a story of a young couple’s road trip, with an unnamed female narrator who is “thinking of ending things” with her boyfriend of several months, Jake. As she ruminates over their relationship, you get this weird feeling that things just aren’t “right.” Things get really really weird during their visit to Jake’s family’s farmhouse, weirder than ever on the couple’s way back from the farmhouse, and by the ending it was so freakin’ weird that I had to reread the last 50 pages just to understand and appreciate the brilliance of the weirdness that had just been presented to me. Cleverly interspersed within this story are conversations by other unnamed narrators on the aftermath of the two main characters involved. It’s beautiful.

This is not so much a book about what happens, but more about the atmosphere and the crazy tension you have to endure to get to the end. There is a sense of dread, of something terribly unsettling in the midst of events that at first seem completely ordinary. It is not fast paced, but a slow burn of a psychological thriller. You won’t see zombies, a killer in the woods with a bloody axe, or dead bodies. The freak-out here isn’t in what you’re seeing, but in what you’re not seeing: the human condition and what happens to the mind in the state of complete isolation.

At 224 pages, this is a short book. I would recommend reading it in 1 or 2 sittings, just because you don’t want to prolong the sweet agony of reading it any longer than you need to. Five stars here. If you read nothing else this summer, read this. Excellent!


Review: Wink Poppy Midnight


Review for “Wink Poppy Midnight” by April Genevieve Tucholke (2016)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A hero. A villain. A liar. Who’s who?

This book begins with the tagline above. There are three main characters–Wink, a wild child with tea-leaf reading mother and siblings she calls “Orphans,” Midnight, a beautifully misguided boy-child who’s mourning the loss of his absent mother, and Poppy, a spoiled, rich brat of a girl who gets anything she wants. To tell you anything about how or why these three become connected is to give away what little plot this book does have. The problem with this book is that we already know that people are villains, people are heroes, and people are liars. The characters are thin, and the main point of this story seems to be the all-too-common theme that people aren’t what they seem. The author goes straight into the narrative of the three characters right away, with short chapters narrated by each. About 70% of the way in you find out that there is some kind of conflict here, but you never had enough time in the beginning to figure out what the truth was anyway. When the so-called ‘twists’ are revealed in the end you could care less because you had nothing to work with in the first place.

And let’s talk about the writing here. It’s reminiscent of a style that you find in the fantasy genre, with images of cobblestone walks, twisting forest paths, the scent of jasmine, etc. But at about 25% in, the author’s schtick becomes repetition, repetition, and more repetition. Usually in groups of three. It’s awful.

“Clawing, scratching, scrape, scrape, scrape…”
“I hate that place, hate it, hate it, hate it.”
“Not again, not again, not again…”
“…I’d snap back, cruel, cruel, cruel, relishing every little lick of my tongue.”
“I’m bored with being mean. Bored, bored, bored.”

I wish I was making this up. In response I’m closing, closing, closing this book forever.

Thankfully this is a quick read. About the only good thing I can say is that it’s got a swell cover.

Review: Towers Falling


Review for “Towers Falling” by Jewell Parker Rhodes (to be published in July 2016)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

It’s hard to believe that the 9/11 tragedy was almost 20 years ago. While I can still remember it vividly (I was a grad student living in Madison, Wisconsin at the time) and can tell you EVERYTHING I did on that day, my son (born in 2004) knew nothing at all on September 11th until he asked me about it several years ago during a newscast. Like many parents, there’s always a desire to shelter my child from the knowledge of bad things–mass murders, school shootings, stories of innocence gone, war, terrorist attacks. I had been waiting until he was an “appropriate” age to tell him specifically about 9/11. However, when he was 5 1/2 years old, he brazenly asked on his own.

This book sets out to answer why it is important for the next generation of kids to understand this particular tragedy. Its a pretty good book, told through the eyes of Deja, a whip-smart 5th grader who lives in a homeless shelter with her parents and her siblings. Her father has no job and has headaches and severe anxiety around buildings, and her parents refuse to tell her why. With two of her school friends, she uncovers the truth about 9/11 and exactly why her father experiences nightmares.

It’s an ok premise, but I felt like this story kind of lacked. Why is a 10 or 11 year old child growing up smack dab in the middle of Brooklyn never once heard of 9/11 before? With radio and television and live memorial services and the internet, I thought this was kind of weird. I’m willing to suspend some degree of disbelief to accommodate this notion, but Deja’s complete naivete of any and everything just seemed kind of ‘false’ to me. But I dunno though…this is a kid’s book, so maybe I’m being too analytical here. Pardon me.

I’d recommend this book for middle grade readers, 3-5 grades.

[NOTE: A digital copy of this book was provided to me from Net Galley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: My Best Friend’s Exorcism


Review for “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” by Grady Hendrix (2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

To read this book is to step into a E.T. movie freaked, Day-Glo’d, Swatch watch filled, Phil Collins and Tiffany mall rat music crazed past. I’ve been all about getting this book for the past few weeks, because any book that takes place in the 80’s is truly a book after my own heart. From the first page, I must say that Grady Hendrix completely nails the setting of this story. Going to the roller rink, watching The Equalizer on TV, the ever-present “satanic panic,” crimped hair…lemme tell ya’ll, there was so much of myself in this book that it was hard to control myself from shedding nostalgic tears. Partly because the 80’s were my childhood and one of the definitive times in my life when I was truly happy. The other part is because I saw so much of myself in the lives of the two main characters.

The novel focuses on the friendship of Abby and Gretchen, two teenage girls that have been the best of friends since grade school after bonding during an E.T. skating party gone horribly wrong. As they enter the tenth grade, they merge into a four girl clique. One night, after a skinny dipping disaster and a bad LSD trip, Gretchen disappears in the woods and later reappears acting strangely. Gretchen’s parents refuse to intervene to help her, and things continue to go downhill for Abby at school. Eventually Abby makes the determination that Gretchen is possessed by an evil demon, and the “exorcism” begins…

Now this book doesn’t stray too far from tried and true cliches of any exorcist-themed horror story–there’s projectile vomiting, dead birds crashing into windows, bloody maxi pads, and demons that supposedly speak in German. Some scenes were genuinely scary and others were just plain gross. I won’t give away all the specifics, but this book does mess with your head a lot. Is Gretchen truly possessed by the devil? Although you’re led to believe that something sinister is definitely happening, the inclusion of such cliches makes you wonder. There’s a kind of magical realism at work as Hendrix writes about these things as if he’s serious, but all throughout reading you have to stifle your laughs. There’s an undertone of humor here that can’t be ignored and made all of the cheesiness (at least for me) forgivable. Besides, it was less about the horror element for me and more about the power of female friendship, which kept me reading and shone through everything else. I never stopped feeling for Abby or Gretchen and what brought them together in the first place. As I’ve said before, there is so much of myself in this book: finding a best friend, experiencing the time of your life with your best friend, going through the depths of hell and back with your best friend. That’s what it was all about.

I think this book is best enjoyed by those who promise themselves before reading it not take it that seriously. With chapters named after popular 80’s songs (“We Got the Beat,” “I Would Die 4 U,” “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and “867-5309/Jenny”) you can’t, because you’re caught in an 80’s time capsule and don’t want to be let out.

Rock on. And gag me with a spoon.

Review: This is Where it Ends


Review for “This is Where it Ends” by Marieke Nijkamp (2016)

Rating: none

DNF’d at 250 pages. Yep, I was actually almost finished. But the horror of this…oh no, not today, Satan…

What this is: a narrow, ridiculously unclever book told from the perspectives of four students in an Alabama high school surrounding the events of a 50-minute shooting spree/hostage situation. Several students, teachers, and the principal are gunned down after the student shooter traps the unsuspecting student body in the auditorium during an assembly and kills some and terrorizes others for nearly an hour. The characters are bland and indistinguishable from the other, and the shooter is so cartoonish in his evilness it’s laughable. It’s literally just bang bang bang…then one of the characters presents us with a flashback. You get to the end and find out that he shoots and kills his classmates not because he was bullied or had a mental problem or he was angry but because well…he wanted to.

Maybe it was the violence at the LGBTQ club in Orlando the night before that caused this book to strike such a sour note for me. I am not saying that mass shooters aren’t evil, but the acts they commit cannot afford to be reduced to such simplicities. I don’t shun violence in literature, but it pays to give those who perpetrate it depth, specifically if you would like to understand why it occurred in that particular context in the first place.

I recommend Jennifer Brown’s “Hate List,” Jim Shepard’s “Project X,” and Shaun David Hutchinson’s “Violent Ends” if you’d like more fleshed out, realistic, and thoughtful discussions of school violence in YA literature.

Review: If I Was Your Girl


Review for “If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo (2016)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is truly a book after my own heart. It’s really really good, and I mean that. I had heard a lot of buzz about this book before it was published, so after a few weeks of watching my reserve status at the library, I finally got a notice to pick this up. Needless to say, I read this book in three days. I only paused to work on my lit review for my summer class, eat, and sleep.

Yes, it was that serious. This book had my soul.

“If I Was Your Girl” is the story of Amanda, a male to female transgendered teenager. When we first meet her, she has just moved from her mom’s house in Atlanta where she has recently been physically attacked to her dad’s apartment in a small town several hours away. At her new school, she quickly attracts the attention of a popular athlete and they begin a romance. Amanda is also surprised by how fast she makes friends and gains their trust, yet never revealing her own secret because she knows that her life could be in danger.

I can’t tell you how this story compares to other stories of transgendered individuals, because I have to admit that this is the first of its kind that I’ve ever read before. There is no discussion of genitals or body parts, because from the first page you are simply seeing the character as you are intended to see her–as a girl named Amanda. There are several flashbacks throughout the book that give you a bit of info on Amanda’s past (instances of bullying, a suicide attempt, her parents’ divorce) but from this I came away with even more of an appreciation of Amanda and her bravery to live her life in the way that makes her happy.

There is a note by the author at the end that clears up some of the criticisms I could have made about this book. For one, Amanda is able at a young age to have the surgery and access to the hormones that so many cannot afford. She’s also able to seemlessly transition into life as a female (she’s told that she’s beautiful, other people cannot tell that she was born male). The author writes that she did this so that readers could fully accept Amanda as a teenage girl. There is so little fiction right now that focuses on the trans community, so I think the author gives a decent argument for why she chose to portray Amanda this way.

“If I Was Your Girl” is one of those stories that, in my opinion, has to be out there right now. The fact that the author gives numbers for suicide hotlines in the conclusion shows that as a society, we have not progressed as far as we think we have when it comes to accepting people as they are. As a resident of North Carolina and home of the HB2 legislation (the infamous ‘bathroom bill’ that bans transgendered people from using the restroom that coincides with their chosen gender) makes it all the more important that we hear stories like Amanda’s and remind ourselves that she and people like her are real people who deserve legal protection, consideration, and respect–just like anyone else.

Needless to say, I loved this book. If you read nothing this year, save room on your TBR list for it. You will NOT be disappointed!

Review: Suffer Love


Review for “Suffer Love” by Ashley Herring Blake (2016)

Rating: 3.5

First impression: mehhh….

Hadley St. Clair and Sam Bennett are two teenagers that have gone through an emotional wringer in the past year, and just so happen to be paired together by chance for a school project. Hadley’s dad, a college professor, had an affair with Sam’s mom, a graduate student, which leaves everyone involved (including the children on both sides) angry and emotionally despondent. Very early on, Sam learns who Hadley is and despite his misgivings, starts to fall in love with her. He chooses not to tell her what he already knows about her. Meanwhile, Hadley likewise begins to fall for Sam, completely unaware of his connection to her family. This novel follows their courtship, the revelation of the secret that binds them, and their eventual ending.

The writing of this book is quite nice. I managed to get sucked in early on and found myself not wanting to put it down. Sam and Hadley narrate in alternating chapters, which I liked, as their voices are very distinct and allow the story to unfold quite nicely.

So why 3 stars?

Despite the ‘niceness’ of this book, it never seems to rise out of generality, its own bland pedestrian-ness. Think: a taco with no sauce, sweet tea with no sugar. Sam likes Hadley, Hadley likes Sam. It stays this way for about 100 pages. Ho hum. We know their parents are cheaters, but why? We’re never given a reason why their seemingly perfect parents screwed around or why their kids know so much about their sex lives. There is a hint toward the end of forgiveness and normalcy, which I guess makes this a cool book overall, but there were so many Dr. Phil moments that I wondered why the author bothered to go there. This book is pretty on the surface, but ultimately lacks depth, which makes it just ok for me.