Review: Ghost Wall

Ahhh, I know it’s been a while. Forgive me for my lack of updates. It is almost the end of the spring semester, so my dissertation and scheduled presentations have been taking up most of my reading time. Updates may be a bit slow until mid-May.

Anywho, I do have a quick book review for you guys. Sorry it’s not a good one, but you know me. 🙂

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Review for "Ghost Wall" by Sarah Moss (2019)

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Nah, I didn’t really like this. Thank God it was short.

Teenage Silvie and her Mom and Dad are a part of an experimental anthropology course that involves spending several weeks in the forests of a remote part of north England, living as if they were people during the Iron Age. They make tools, forage for food, wear antiquated clothing, and sleep in huts, just as if they were people from that ancient time period. With an abusive father and a mother that acquiesces to his will, Silvie is more of a hanger-on to this bizarre anthropological experiment.

During their time in the forest, Silvie meets a young woman named Molly, student in the class. She challenges Silvie to question her life, including why they are participating in the experiment. As the story moves forward, it is quite clear that there’s some very sinister, weird shit going in Silvie’s dad’s ‘lil Iron Age LARP adventure…

What bothered me the most about this book is that even though the plot sounded good on paper, the writing and the characters really weren’t all that engaging. You know from the first 3 pages that there is something ominous that is going to happen to these role-players, you’re just not sure what. The suspense is drawn out through most of the book (thankfully it’s short) but by the time the end arrives it’s nothing that you haven’t predicted already. The style was also an issue–with no punctuation and few line breaks, much of the novel runs together in huge paragraphs, a slog to read.

Somebody out there will appreciate this–it just wasn’t me.

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Review: Imani All Mine

Reviewing an oldie but goodie today. Enjoy!

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Review for "Imani All Mine" by Connie Porter (2000)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Let me start off by saying that this book had me in tears. Big, watery, and unapologetic. Whew…

“Imani All Mine” is the story of 15-year-old Tasha, a teenager living with her single mother in upstate New York. At the beginning of the novel, she has already given birth to a daughter whom she names Imani, based on “some African language” that means ‘faith.’ Tasha loves her daughter dearly and speaks about her daughter as any new mother would, yet her worldview remains very much that of a 15-year-old girl. Tasha’s dialect and the language throughout the novel is nonstandard English (words like ‘nam’ for “them”) and very much consistent with that perspective. We later learn through flashbacks that her daughter’s existence is the result of a violent rape at the hands of a stranger. Ashamed, Tasha tells no one of her assault and hides her pregnancy from everyone, including her mother.

Despite this, as well as the obstacles of poverty, an impoverished neighborhood, and her physically and emotionally abusive mother, Tasha makes strides and manages to go to school and be a good mother to her daughter. Much of the book is simply Tasha’s observations of the life of a typical teenager–boys, family members, people in the neighborhood, people at school. Tasha defies common stereotypes of teenage single mothers of color by having a strong will and vision for her future.

I loved reading this book. There was never a moment when I didn’t understand Tasha and her love for her child, her struggle, and her motives. I definitely recommend this.

A word of caution: this isn’t YA. Although the language makes it super-accessible, I would only give this book to teens if they were super mature. This is definitely an adult read with a child protagonist.

Review: The Water Cure

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Review for "The Water Cure" by Sophie Macintosh (2019)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“The Water Cure” is the strange tale of three sisters–Grace, Lia, and Sky–who live in isolation on a remote beach island with their mother and father. At the beginning of the novel, we are told that their father (aptly named ‘King’) has left to get supplies, but after an extended period, has not returned. We learn that the reason why the family lives in isolation is because, many years before, King took them from civilization in order to protect them from a “toxic” outside world. The source of ‘toxicity’ is never explained, and it is unclear throughout the book whether an actual environmental catastrophe has occurred or if its strictly symbolic (i.e., toxic ideas, toxic values, etc).

In time, the sisters come to believe that the world beyond their island home is ‘toxic.’ In order to cleanse themselves, their parents perform painful “therapies” and rituals in order to cure them. The “therapy” often takes on the form of physical and emotional abuse, the disturbing details of which are given in each of the sisters’ perspectives. Mother is particularly sadistic; as a result all three of the girls have serious health issues, with Lia predisposed to self-harm. We’re also informed that women visitors used to come to the island a long time ago to ‘cleanse’ themselves of toxicity and male violence, leading the reader to wonder if King is running some kinda weird cult here. Once again, the whole back story behind this is unclear.

About mid-way into the book, three strange men wash up on shore. The narrative switches to Lia’s perspective and the bulk of the action takes place over the few days that follow. I won’t give away what happens, other than to say the lack of a narrative back story make for very interesting reading. I did notice that there is a coldness and detachment to the writing here, none of the characters drew me in. I imagine that this is an outgrowth of the ambiguities of the story, of questions left unanswered. I don’t know if I liked it, but the constant wanting to know managed to hold my attention until the end.

This novel is being marketed as feminist dystopia, and I don’t know if I agree with that label. ‘Dystopian’ is a hazy label here, because it’s unclear if this book takes place in the future, the present, or the past. I don’t like ‘feminist’ to describe this either, so much of it is so rabidly anti-feminist and anti-woman that for me it was hard to reconcile the character’s actions with any kind of redeeming hope for anything resembling a future.

I do recommend this though, if you don’t mind books that are purposely ambiguous or like experimental types of writing.

Most Wanted Reads for Spring

Since I missed yesterday’s Top Ten Tuesday, I’m just going to post 10 of my most anticipated reads for this coming spring, in no particular order. Enjoy!

Fiction

Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams (March 19)

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The Other Americans – Laila Lalami (March 26)

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A Woman is No Man – Etaf Rum (March 5)

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Lot – Bryan Washington (March 19)

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The Dreamers – Karen Thompson Walker (January 15)

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Nonfiction

Shout – Laurie Halse Anderson (March 12)

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The White Book – Han Kang (February 19, US Edition)

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What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker – Damon Young (March 26)

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Young Adult/YA

Internment – Samira Ahmed (March 19)

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With the Fire on High – Elizabeth Acevedo (May 7)

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Review: Looker

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Review for "Looker" by Laura Sims (2019)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

From the blurb on the inside of this book, we’re told that it’s a thriller, but I think this story is far more complex than that. It is definitely a story of obsession, a character study of a gradual undoing, a woman’s loss of her grip on reality.

“Looker” is the story of an unnamed woman narrator whose life is, quite frankly, in shambles. Her husband has left her after many rounds of IVF have been unsuccessful in producing a child. Her job as a lecturer at a local college is unfulfilling. All that she really has is the cat that her husband has left behind and her obsession with a famous actress that lives in an expensive brownstone on her block. The actress lives with her husband and her three young children. The narrator watches the actress obsessively–her daily comings and goings, her life, her movies. She begins to feel as if her and the actress could actually be friends, if only they could just talk to each other. As events at the narrator’s job spiral out of control and divorce proceedings begin against her, the narrator views a potential interaction at an upcoming neighborhood block party as the catalyst that will kick off her and the actress’s friendship. Needless to say, it doesn’t go well.

This novel is less than 200 pages and a quick read. The escalation of the narrator’s obsession is clear, and the suspense paced rightly so. The ending was a bit abrupt, but this definitely kept my attention. 4.5 stars.

[Note: there is a scene of animal cruelty in this book, a particularly disturbing act involving a cat. If you’re upset by this, I’d skip this part. I wouldn’t avoid the book though.]

Review: Waylaid

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Review for "Waylaid" by Ed Lin (2002)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Ok ya’ll…it’s the last entry of my ‘older’ book reviews for a while…

“Waylaid” is the story of an unnamed 12-year-old Chinese American boy who works in his family’s sleazy, pay-by-the-hour Jersey shore motel. The narrator’s obsession with sex and his fantasies with the porno mags and other sexual artifacts that he finds in his hotel rooms make up a large part of the book. The johns who routinely come by his hotel do nothing to quell his burning desire to find a girl he can sleep with. In addition to school and long nights and weekends spent working at the hotel, the narrator has very little freedom to be a kid. This gives him a wealth of knowledge beyond a typical preteen, which is played out throughout this book. Although he considers himself American, he continually faces racist comments by the guests, which he is forced to accept with a smile.

The only reason I gave this book 3 stars is because I didn’t care for the ending, which seemed kinda rushed to me. This story is definitely entertaining and funny, it’s worth checking out.

Review: The Cost of Living

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Review for "The Cost of Living" by Rob Roberge (2013)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

(Still on my ‘older’ book kick. Bear with me.)

Bud Barrett is an aging ex-rockstar who’s spent most of his life being a junkie. Most of his life he’s either been high, doing schemes to get high, calculating how long it will take to get to the next high, or coming back from a high. His life has been no cakewalk: his mother committed suicide when he was a young child and his relationship with his father has been nonexistent ever since he witnessed him kill someone for reasons he doesn’t understand. These two traumatic events lead Bud into a life of drugs and drinking, and finally, some kind of reckoning with the past.

I love the non-linear style in which this book is presented. Each chapter is essentially its own story, presented at various periods of Bud’s life. In some accounts Bud is quite the addict, in others he’s clean, and in some he deals with the toll of his addiction on his relationships with friends, family, and his estranged wife. It’s a hell of read, I enjoyed every page of it.

4.5 stars.