Review: Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House


Review for "Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House" by Donna Brazile (2017)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

On the surface, this is an interesting book, particularly if you’re into ‘inside’ information on the recent political campaign that sent everyone into a tailspin. Donna Brazile, a DC insider with years of political campaign experience, tells the story of everything that went wrong with the Democratic National Convention’s (DNC) game plan, from Russian hackers to not getting any funding and inept leadership.

While I like Donna Brazile, I think she overplays her significance to this story. For one, she knew what she was up for as the interim chair of the DNC, especially after the mess the last chairperson left it in. Also, while it’s obvious that she likes to makes a big thing of her political achievements, the truth is that she hasn’t won much. She was manager of Al Gore’s campaign back in 2000, which was also a raging hot dumpster fire. She also conveniently dodges giving a real answer on whether or not she gave Hillary debate questions ahead of time, among other things.

Other than that, this book is mostly Brazile releasing a lot of angst. Maybe she talked to a therapist and they told her to write this book. She talks for pages and pages about being snubbed by “Brooklyn” (Hillary’s people), about how she was denied money that could have led to victories in certain states, how much money the DNC leadership wasted on trivial matters (personal assistants, etc), and how she had to tell certain people multiple times to fuck off. All seriousness aside, it’s a endearing story, and Brazile’s accounts of drinking liquor, gardening, and praying with holy water are certainly not to be missed.

Three and a half stars.


Review: Long Way Down

Review for "Long Way Down" by Jason Reynolds (2017)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Not the first novel in verse I’ve read but certainly one of the best.

Will is a teenager who has just lost his older brother in a shocking act of violence. The morning after, he finds his brother’s loaded gun and gets on his building’s elevator, going down, in pursuit of his brother’s murderer to kill him. At each floor, the elevator stops and a different person from Will’s past “gets” on, imploring him to think about his choices before it’s too late. It’s a fascinatingly interesting story, one that I think I actually respected more for the fact that it was written in verse–extraneous details skipped, only the bare bones here. It’s 300 pages or so but only took a couple of hours to read. The ending was a bit confusing, but after several reads I came to appreciate it for what it was–completely and superbly ambiguous to the reader.

As a former teacher I can see this being used in middle or high school classrooms, because there’s so many dialogue and discussion possibilities present with this book. It takes place during anytime and anyplace and anywhere and doesn’t offer any easy answers. Despite inevitable criticism to the contrary, I don’t see why this book should make the problem of violence a simple one, as everyone knows that it’s a complicated cycle that repeats itself over and over again. It’s also great reading for adults like me, I loved this book immensely.

This novel sets a pretty high bar for all other YA poetry books, which is good because I am starting to feel that this form of story-telling is becoming somewhat over saturated. Definitely recommended.

Review: Peach


Review for "Peach" by Emma Glass (to be published on 23 January 2018)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Thick stick sticky sticking wet ragged wool winding round the wounds, stitching the sliced skin together as I walk, scraping my mittened hand against the wool.

“Peach” is a very short, very violent, and very dark little book. It’s more novella than a novel at less than 150 pages, with a highly artistic, experimental writing style. Some sentences are short, while other sentences run on and on. Some character’s names aren’t capitalized. There’s no punctuation when anyone speaks. And when there’s emphasis (for instance, a character is shouting or thinking aloud), the author uses sTiCkY cApS (uhhh, yeah). Eimear McBride’s “A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” quickly comes to mind in comparison (the style of which I didn’t care for either) but this book sounded interesting enough to try, so I did.

The beginning of this book is a very visceral one–you’re immediately thrust into the aftermath of a young girl’s brutal sexual assault. Shocked and horrified, Peach manages to compose herself enough to walk home and clean herself up. Her parents, way too occupied with one another and a new baby, do not seem to notice at all that she has come home bloody and bruised. The imagery in this section is physically painful and absolutely heartbreaking.

In response, Peach chooses to keep her ordeal a secret. She attempts to retain a sense of normalcy by going to school and finding comfort in her boyfriend, Green. It’s all too much, though. Her attacker begins to stalk her and the memories and smells of that night become deeply unsettling for Peach, who begins to have violent fantasies.

At about 60% in, the narration became so muddled (stream of consciousness, other goobledegook) that I honestly can’t tell you what happened. The writing style of this book was so confusing that I couldn’t tell between Peach’s thoughts and reality or what was even really happening in the story. And the end (or, let’s say, what I interpreted as the events that occurred at end) was just plain weird. Ewww.

I’m going to give this book 3 stars. In the end, the writing style just wasn’t my cup of tea. I’d recommend this to readers who aren’t afraid of experimental writing, artistic slants, surrealist material.

[A free digital copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury USA, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: The Incest Diary

Review for "The Incest Diary" by Anonymous (2017)

Rating: none
—– Trigger Warning——

This is a very, very disturbing book.

The New York Times is very accurate when it called reading this book “a dive into the abyss.” This is almost correct. Reading this book was like a jump off of a cliff, hitting every single rock on the way down. There’s no way I enjoyed reading this, so I’m not giving this book a rating.

The writer of “The Incest Diary” is an anonymous woman who describes, in very frank detail, being raped by her father starting at age 3. The sexual abuse continues throughout her childhood until she begins, in a sadistic way, to crave his abuse. He exerts a perverted sense of control over her until she’s in her 20s and finally stops letting him dominate her. By all accounts, her mother was well aware of the fact that the author’s father was raping her and did nothing. There is also physical and emotional abuse inflicted by both her father and her mother, as well as multiple times in the narrative in which she told other people about it, but nobody does anything. It’s infuriating.

But that’s not the worst of it. There’s a jarring sense throughout this book that the author’s frank descriptions are not for the purpose of story-telling, but to titillate and eroticize her experience. While I can understand that prolonged sexual abuse can cause confusion and mixed emotions, words like ‘cock,’ ‘dick,’ and ‘pussy’ to describe the incest just made this book come off as training manual for people who do this sick shit with children. It’s a revolting thought, but it permeates this book.

Given the title, one might ask why I read it in the first place, knowing what it would entail. Honestly, I read this book because it was sitting in the library and I have to admit that it intrigued me. We hear about sexual abuse every day–in memoirs, on the news, in #metoo posts on Twitter–yet we don’t really want to hear their stories, do we? As a reviewer of books I am compelled to explore the human experience, and sometimes parts of that experience are cruel, dark, and scary. I think of myself as an intellectual who transcends fear of dark places.

Needless to say, I don’t recommend this book unless you have nerves of steel.

Review: Ultraluminous


Review for “Ultraluminous” by Katherine Faw (to be published on 5 December 2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I like Katherine Faw. I also liked this book.

No one in this short novel has a real name, including the narrator. Everyone she meets assumes she is Russian, so there are a series of Russian-influenced pseudonyms here (Katya, Karina, Katinka) that substitute for her identity. The narrator works as a prostitute, specializing in high end clients and girlfriend-experience type encounters. On constant rotation are her experiences with such clients such as “the junk bond guy,” “the calf’s brain guy,” “the art guy,” and “the guy who buys me things.” There is also “the ex-Army Ranger,” a man that she never charges, and “the Sheik,” a man she worked for in Dubai.

Not only does the narrator not tell you her name, she never reveals her thoughts either. We only witness her actions, a bizarre series of ‘patterns’ that the narrator adheres to like clockwork. In addition to her clients, she loves trips to Duane Reade for sushi, getting waxed, snorting heroin, trips to Duane Reade for sushi, getting waxed, snorting heroin…and so on. The sex and drug encounters are blunt and matter of fact, she simply moves from one event to the next. The silence between the printed words makes this story interestingly ambiguous until it comes into clear focus at the end.

Four stars. Read if only if you’re looking for an adventure or an experimental type story.

[A free, digital copy of this book was provided by NetGalley and the publisher, MCD, in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: The End We Start From

Review for "The End We Start From" by Megan Hunter (2017)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


I’ve had a few hours to digest this one and honestly I’m not quite sure what to tell you about it. At 160 pages, “The End We Start From” is a very short, almost novella-like dystopian novel told in quiet, sparse paragraphs.

In the beginning (or is it the end?) of this very short novel, an unnamed young mother’s water breaks and she gives birth to a son, Z. The water levels around London are rising and Britain is mostly under water. The narrator and her husband, R, move from their home to stay with his parents in the mountains until food becomes scarce there and then they move again, this time to a makeshift camp with other disaster refugees. Baby Z grows, and the narrator’s husband R eventually leaves the family at the camp to investigate other living prospects. During their separation, the narrator continues to observe life around her, make friends, and bond with her baby, Z.

I think I like the concept of this book more than its actual execution. There’s a lot of interesting things juxtaposed here that I could go on and on about: birth, death, the deterioration of civilized society, the creation of new life. There’s also references to the book of Genesis all throughout which fit quite nicely with those ideas. I just don’t care too much for the writing style, it was too sparse for me. The sense of detachment here was also a problem; the constant use of characters’ initials instead of their names made it hard to remember who was who and vexed me to no end. Too much was left unsaid, I wanted more.

Despite my misgivings, I’m not sorry I read this book. There’s a very unique narration style here that definitely bears notice and may tickle the fancy of others. 3 stars for me, but I invite others to make their own judgment call.

[A free digital copy of this book was provided by NetGalley and Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: She Rides Shotgun


Review for “She Rides Shotgun” by Jordan Harper (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was about ready to give up on Jordan Harper after I read and loathed his short story collection, “Love and Other Wounds.” Glad I didn’t.

Anyway, “She Rides Shotgun” is a dark story about a father who has just got out of a California prison and run afoul of a vicious prison gang, leading to a ‘green light’ being placed on him, his daughter Polly, and his daughter’s mother. Unable to protect Polly’s mother, he takes his daughter on the run. Fighting for their lives and keeping away from the eyes of the law, eventually his daughter becomes involved in his criminal schemes. I won’t give away the book, but needless to say, I found myself cheering for these two (somehow) until the end. The writing is sparse but beautiful and manages to keep you interested.

Four stars, decent debut novel.