Review: Brass

Review for "Brass" by Xhenet Aliu (2018)

Rating: none (DNF)

DNF. Got to about the 35% mark before deciding not to continue.

In the 90’s, Elsie is a working class teenage waitress who falls for a married Albanian cook at the diner where she works. In the present day, her daughter, Luljeta, gets an rejection letter from NYU. The novel is told in the dual perspectives of both mother and daughter, living and loving in the their working class Connecticut town.

It’s not the writing here–it’s actually quite gorgeous. It’s just the story itself that I didn’t find very compelling. I kept putting the book down after several pages or so and coming back to it, not quite remembering what had happened before. It then occurred to me that perhaps this story is less about the plot and more of a character study–which is fine, but I think that sometimes that approach has its drawbacks, the down side being that I couldn’t seem to get into the characters either. The 2nd person perspective of the daughter also threw me for a loop. Instead of drawing me in, it completely distanced me from her story.

I may try this book again at a later time. For right now, though, I’m going to have to pass on this one.

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: Aftercare Instructions


Review for "Aftercare Instructions" by Bonnie Pipkin (to be published on 27 June 2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I liked this book. A couple of online reviewers have called this book “brave,” and I will capitulate on that. This IS a brave book. There is friendship, heartbreak, an abortion, and a teenage girl in the middle of it all just being herself. What more can I say? I get it, and it’s great.

“Aftercare Instructions” is about Genesis Johnson (called ‘Gen’ throughout the book), a high school senior who is abandoned by her boyfriend immediately following an abortion at an NYC Planned Parenthood clinic (wtf?). Her father has died of a heroin overdose and the whole school has found out. Her mother is not handling his loss well (pill popping, locking herself away, etc). She can’t stand her grandparents, who take care of her sister and whose faux-religiousness she despises. Genesis’ life is pretty much her friend Rose and her boyfriend Peter. And Peter has just left her in the middle of Manhattan and won’t take her calls.

To top all of this off, another friend has been cozying up to Peter in Genesis’ absence. There’s drama. There’s a catfight. Genesis is suspended from school. In the meantime, she discovers herself and her true passion: theater. As the story flashes back to the past, it is completely in play dialogue. I liked it.

I loved the fact that Genesis was a strong character, yet unafraid to be vulnerable. She has issues, and yes, those issues hurt. I liked that. I can’t tell you how many YA books I’ve read in which the author seems so stuck on the idea of a strong female voice that he/she forgets to make the character believable. I also liked the fact that abortion was explored in the book, minus any yay or nay political message or proselytizing by the people in the character’s orbit.

Anywho, read this book when it comes out. You won’t regret it.

[Note: A free digital copy was provided to me from the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion and review.]

Review: Be Light Like a Bird

Review for "Be Light Like a Bird" by Monika Schroder (2016)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I liked this novel. I repeat: I really, really liked this novel.

“Be Light Like a Bird” is the story of a 12 year old girl named Wren who loses her father in an airplane crash. Before she can grieve properly or come to terms with his loss, her mother burns all of her father’s things and moves them to Tennessee, and then several weeks later to Ohio. They finally settle in Michigan, where she makes friends with another outcast, a bird-watching boy named Theo. Their friendship has a healing effect on Wren, as well as the discovery of the potential destruction a pond where the birds they love to watch congregate.

This is a really great story for young readers. The chapters are short, and it deals frankly with grief and the loss of a loved one. I totally would recommend this to anybody though, it really was that good.

[Note: A free, digital copy of this book was provided by Capstone Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.]

Review: Saint Death

I just realized that this is my third NetGalley book that I’m about to write a less than flattering review about in the past few weeks. Ya’ll know how I feel about my reviews though. Anyway, on with the show:

Review for "Saint Death" by Marcus Sedgwick (to be published in the U.S. on 25 April 2017)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This was a really strange book. The tone is dark and so is the subject matter, particularly for a YA book. It explores the world of Mexican immigrants, as well as a dark, spiritual world of guns, gangsters, violence, gods, and money.

Arturo is a young man living in the border of the U.S./Mexico in a shack, working for scraps at a garage and hustling card games for quick cash. Enter Faustino, a childhood friend who Arturo hasn’t seen in years who urgently needs Arturo’s assistance to get his girlfriend and their child across the border to a smuggler, who is to facilitate their illegal entry to the U.S. Together the two pray to Santa Muerte (Saint Death), and make a plan to go after some dangerous men for the money they need. Of course not everything goes according to plan and they run afoul of some gangsters in the process, and of course, there are consequences to pay.

I didn’t really like this story. It’s all over the place with the immigration plot, the supernatural elements of Santa Muerte, the narco stuff, and a couple of other subplots that I could go on and on about. I understand that the author is going for a modern retelling of the Faustian legend (if you missed it, one of the main character’s names is literally Spanish for “Faust”), but Arturo and his friend were never characters that I completely understood or related to. The action was too slow in coming and when it did come, I actually found myself skipping pages. Interspersed throughout the story were also informational factoids about NAFTA and borders and U.S. corporations, all of which could have been edited out for clarity and none of which seemed to match the tone of the story.

Even though I didn’t like this one, I don’t think I would rule out this author’s work in the future.

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

Review: Marlena

Review for "Marlena" by Julie Buntin (to be published on 4 April 2017)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

After the bitter divorce of her parents, 15-year-old Catherine (nickamed “Cat”), her mother, and her older brother move to a trailer in a rural town in northern Michigan. It is there next door that Cat meets wild child Marlena, a beautiful, eccentric girl whose father is a meth cook. Cat quickly becomes caught up in Marlena’s life, and the two become the best of friends.

It’s apparent early on that this is a story told largely in flashbacks, with an adult Cat telling us the story of her past from her current state as a sad, functional drunk. We also learn within the first few lines of the book that it is within a year of Cat and Marlena’s first meeting that Marlena will be dead. I hate that the author gives us that critical detail on the back flap (it isn’t a spoiler), because the rest of the book becomes an interminable wait for the inevitable to happen. Even though the book is well written, there’s no suspense, there’s no surprises, and ultimately there’s no fun here. It’s a pretty depressing book and I found it unsatisfying.

P.S. – If you’re really interested in a recently written book on complex, destructive teen girl friendships I’d recommend “Girls on Fire” by Robin Wasserman, and “The Girls” by Emma Cline. Both of these books are five stars.

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

Review: Lotus

Review for "Lotus" by Lijia Zhang (to be published on 10 January 2017)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

‘Lotus’ is a buildungsroman of a young woman from present-day China. With her mother dead and her father living as an abusive drunk, Lotus dreams of a better life and leaves her rural village to seek work in one of the large factories on the coast. Nearly all of her money goes home to care for her younger brother, who also dreams of leaving the village and enrolling in college. When a fire breaks out at the factory, she does not return home but remains in the city and finds work as a ji, a prostitute, at a low-budget massage parlor.

Enter Bing, an older, middle aged photographer. He’s divorced with a young daughter. He begins taking photos of the ji he encounters in his ramshackle neighborhood and finds his calling in telling their stories to the world. One of the ji that he photographs is Lotus. Together they eventually form a relationship that transform both of their lives.

This story is told through the dual perspective of Lotus and Bing. Personally I liked Lotus’ chapters a lot better, they’re crisper and, in my opinion, a lot more interesting. Bing grows too as a person, though not in the same manner as Lotus. This novel documents how these young women, the ji navigate the perils of modern China–corrupt police, filial responsibility, their assigned roles as the lowest of the low in society.

There’s quite a few sex scenes in this book (ooh la la!), although I don’t think their purpose here is to titillate the reader. Although the main character’s work and experiences as a prostitute are emphasized, it’s not the bulk of the novel, which I liked. There’s also a lot of general scenes that could have been edited out just for clarity, though that’s forgivable for now (this is a galley copy, btw).

Three stars and a half stars here.

[Note: A free digital copy was provided by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]