Review: Today Will Be Different

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Review for "Today Will Be Different" by Maria Semple (2016)
Rating: No Rating (DNF)

DNF on page 87.

“Today will be different,” declares Eleanor Flood. She wakes up and decides to be polite: spend time with her son, have sex with her husband. Of course you know that today won’t be different, but anyway, so begins this book.

Zzzzz…

It’s interesting that even the author calls this book what it really is on page 7: “a normal day of white people problems.” It helps to know that even the author knows her character is complete bullshit: a rich doctor’s wife with too much time on her hands, grudging time with her son, her dog, her husband, pretty much everyone around her. It begins somewhat funny, but it declines into one a really bad joke. A book trying to be witty when it isn’t. Bleh.

And oh yeah, the plot is all over the place. Between learning about the main character’s long lost sister, her husband’s secret, her dysfunctional childhood, her former career as an artist–you just don’t care about what else is going to be thrown in during the course of one day in poor, rich Eleanor Flood’s life. I wouldn’t mind this clusterfuck so much if it were not for the fact that she’s not even a likable person–she’s ridiculously self absorbed, uninteresting, and obnoxious while pretending to be friends with people.

Perhaps other people find this book amusing, which is why it’s on the NYT Bestseller list. I normally don’t read books on the list though. I’d feed this book to wolves.

Review: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

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Review for "The Book of the Unnamed Midwife" by Meg Elison (2016)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book is so full of Win I don’t know where to start. Post-apocalyptic feminist fiction. Sign me up.

This novel takes place in a not-too distant future, with an unnamed female nurse-midwife waking up in a deserted hospital after a plague has ravaged most of the world’s population. The plague takes on the form of a fever, striking everyone but mostly women in childbirth, who give birth to dead babies and in turn die as well. Because of the extreme scarcity of women, the world has become a dangerous place for them. There are no rules or civility, and women in the world after the plague are regularly raped, mutilated, and enslaved by lawless bands of men, traded for goods and services, treated as property. It’s harsh stuff to read, but the Unnamed Midwife avoids this fate by dressing as a man and battling for survival. She helps all of the women she meets by rescuing them from their slavers, offering them birth control, and assisting with births. The story follows her as she journeys from San Francisco to the North and beyond, through hell on earth and finally, to something like hope.

This book takes post-apocalyptic fiction and completely turns it into something that I haven’t seen done before. I usually hate it when these kinds of stories don’t explain things (i.e., the cause of the plague, etc) but here I didn’t mind the not knowing, because it’s the story itself that’s so much more important. The midwife is very open about her own sexuality and although (I think) she identifies as bisexual, her constant changing of gender roles through her practice of dressing as a man turns this notion on its head. Either way, I loved it.

This book is a series, and there is a second book available (“The Book of Etta”) that came out earlier this year. I ran to my library and got it a couple of hours after I finished with this. There is also a third book (“The Book of Flora”) that is set to be published early next year, which I plan to read as well.

Meg Elison is an incredible writer and this is an equally incredible book. Do read this. You won’t regret it!

Review: Out in the Open

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Review for "Out in the Open" by Jesus Carrasco (2017)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In a desperate desert land, an unnamed boy flees his home and eludes a bailiff set on capturing him. The boy encounters a kind goat herder and together they brave the harsh terrain as they journey across the land, trying to keep one step ahead of the bailiff. We never find out the reason for boy’s flight or why the bailiff is so intent on killing him, though such an explanation may have helped me understand the story better. :/

Overall, the writing’s good but I wasn’t impressed. There’s a lot of description here of what the characters are doing at ALL times, and after pages and pages of such minutiae, I found myself skimming the book. Comparison between this novel and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” are inevitable, as they both feature pretty much the same elements–an unnamed man and boy, a bleak landscape, pursuit by evil people. Some have called this book dystopian, though for me it had a wild west kind of feel. Needless to say, I like McCarthy’s book better.

P.S. – This is the 3rd book I’ve read this year with unnamed main characters (“Chemistry” by Weike Wang, “One of the Boys” by Daniel Magariel, and this one.) Why is this happening? Somebody care to explain this to me?

[NOTE: I received a free copy of this book thanks to the publisher, Riverhead Books, because I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. Opinions are mine.]

Review: One of the Boys

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Review for "One of the Boys" by Daniel Magariel (2017)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

“One of the Boys” is the story of an unnamed 12-year-old boy, his older brother, and his father who move from Kansas to New Mexico after they win the “war” (his father’s term for his divorce and custody battle). As they settle into their new lives, it is apparent that the boy’s father has deep seated issues, which the narrator becomes more and more aware of as the story unfolds. While the boys go to school, Dad stays in his room for days at a time snorting cocaine, shooting heroin, and doing a myriad of other drugs. Exposed to a parade of weird strangers in their home, the boys are also subject to periods of abandonment and violent physical abuse by their father. Wanting to be “one of the boys,” the narrator desperately wants his father to protect him, but as his father become more and more paranoid, he gradually loses all trust and hope.

This is a nasty, brutal little book. I won’t say that it’s the most disturbing book I’ve ever read, but it comes close. There are some pretty graphic scenes here, so I would recommend reading this all in one sitting, as I did. At 176 pages its more novella than novel, though it still packs quite a punch. I thank God for this book’s brevity, as I would not continue to torture myself by going back to read it over and over had it been even 10 pages longer.

P.S. – This is the third book I’ve read recently where the main characters are unnamed. While I can understand why some characters aren’t named in a story, to not give the main character one is kind of odd. Is this a trend or something? If so, I wish it would go away. Pffft.

Review: What We Lose

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Review for "What We Lose" by Zinzi Clemmons (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I have a confession to make. Like several other online reviewers, I too thought this was a memoir. About halfway through the book, I realized that the author is named Zinzi, and the character’s whose story is within these pages is named Thandi (*smacks forehead*). Though they are two different women their backstory is essentially one in the same, both are born of a South African mother and an African American father. Thandi navigates through life negotiating both identities, never really fitting into one or the other. The book chronicles her life from childhood all the way to adulthood as she stumbles in and out of relationships, loses her mother to cancer, marries, and eventually has a child of her own. The loss of her mother, however, is the clear focal point of this book.

This novel is written in sparse language and presented vignette style. There are photos, poetry, and snippets of nonfiction text, which is a pretty distinctive of a lot of the ‘new school’ memoirs that have come out over the past few years. Clemmons choice to present fiction in this way is interesting, though one of the drawbacks of this style is that all of the ‘space’ left me wanting more Thandi. It’s ok, however, because the words are powerful enough.

Do read this book. Clemmons is definitely a writer to watch.

P.S. – I’ll be disappointed if this book doesn’t win some kind of award this year. It’s that good. 🙂

Review: Bad Romance

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Review for "Bad Romance" by Heather Demetrios (2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It took me a while to read this book. Despite the content I jumped in head first, and perhaps that was the wrong way to read this. Regardless, I found this book dead on in its accuracy of how emotionally abusive relationships work.

Grace is a teenage girl from a troubled home. Her mother is an obsessive nitpicker and neat freak, her stepfather unrelenting in his own dominance and control over her mother and the rest of the family. She eventually meets Gavin, an emotionally unstable rocker who, through jealousy, threats of suicide, and his own insecurities, begins to control everything about her: what she wears, where she goes, who she can talk to. There is no physical abuse but there is a steady emotional violence here, an erosion of her dignity, a trampling of her personhood. It’s hard to watch. It’s even harder to read about.

The ghost of my 16-year-old self made this book so difficult to read. I was Grace in high school–insecure, eager to please, in a relationship for 3 years with a person who was very much like the Gavin of this book. I think the genius of this novel is the way the author shows how impossible it can seem for the victim to get out of these kind of relationships. Thankfully Grace has a support network in her friends, who act as an anchor for her.

I definitely recommend this book to teens, as well as adults.

Review: A Good Country

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Review for "A Good Country" by Laleh Khadivi (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wow, this was good. Timely. Informative. Scary.

The novel starts in 2009 in Southern California with a peek into the life of 14-year-old Rez Courdee, the son of upper middle class Iranian immigrant parents. He is Muslim by birth but does not practice, identifying more with American culture, surfing, hooking up with girls, and smoking pot. In time, several terrorist attacks occur and Rez, who has never questioned his identity, is ostracized by his mostly White peers as ‘the other.’ He begins to find solace with his Muslim friends, starts to practice his faith, and eventually becomes obsessed with the idea of ‘a good country’ overseas, one in which Muslims are accepted and fight for the establishment of a caliphate. I won’t reveal the end, but when it occurs exactly 5 years later, Reza (no longer ‘Rez’) is a completely different person.

This novel is short but the writing is succinct and razor sharp. I thought the sex scenes were a bit overdone, but the plot was powerful and never lost. As you read this novel you realize how easy it is for someone to become radicalized–not just to religion but to any idea, really. We’ve seen this all throughout history and in everyday life; children turned into soldiers with a deadly purpose, young men and women in America go off to boot camp and become trained combat specialists in a matter of weeks.

I may read this book again eventually because there’s so much here to digest. Like you’re looking at a hundred pieces of something spread out on a table that it’ll take a while to put it together. Anyway, excellent book. Do read this!