Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Weight of Blood-Laura McHugh

Weight of Blood-Laura McHugh

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 302
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel

The body of a peer, Cherie, was found displayed which sends Lucy on a quest to understand what happened to her mother-a beautiful outsider who captured her father’s heart and disappeared soon after her birth- as well as why Cherie was killed so graphically.

If previously I had read a book that one might call well written chick lit and ended up ambivalent, this was the perfect antidote. This is also a book focused upon character development and the relationships between people (the things that make up ‘chick lit’) but it is also gritty. The Missouri hills are both gorgeous and dangerous-echoing the tangled social and historical landscape of the town. The characters are strong characters-well written with realistic reactions to some pretty awful situations. The plot is focused upon outsiders and the way they may be treated in a small town. There are allies (a romantic interest that is handled well) as well as villians. This might be overwhelmingly depressing in other hands (especially with a name like Weight of Blood) but there was something optimistic about McHugh’s ending that solidified my enjoyment of the book.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Best of Us-Sarah Pekkanen

The Best of Us-Sarah Pekkanen

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 338
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2013
novel

Four women and their husbands go on an all-paid vacation to Jamaica. The various burdens the women have get exposed and run their course during the week.

I didn’t really read the synopsis thoroughly enough before requesting it because I was expecting a bit of a thriller/mystery. Not this character-driven novel. The characters- trophy wife, woman struggling to handle too many children, etc-are stereotypes. The romance was a bit….also archetypical-the infatuation, the struggling marriage on the cusp of divorce, the superficial ‘affection’ etc. There was also no real setting-it was a bit of a generic beach. I definitely was not the target audience for this sort of plot. I was kept reading by an eye for detail and the characters did grow but in the end I just had to conclude that it was not for me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Other Side of Paradise-Julia Cooke

Other Side of Paradise-Julia Cooke

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 248
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
memoir

Julia Cooke (yes, a non-Cuban) writes about living in Cuba.

There was a definite focus on the youth of Havana but it does expand beyond the typical narrative of stereotypes of Cuban people. There’s a fitting sense of the chaotic and constant turmoil of the city. Cooke has the typical narratives of the noise of the Havana streets and the underground events organized. The prose is show, rather than tell, which I definitely appreciated. The stories and anecdotes are well chosen and told sympathetically. Her perspective is definitely skewed to upper middle class Havana younger than 40 but she does take care not to generalize their experiences to other demographics. My own experience is with the older generations living in the provinces and saw nothing of what Cooke did but I enjoyed this memoir nonetheless.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Last Clinic-Gary Gusick

Last Clinic-Gary Gusick

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 264
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2012
novel

Part of the Darla Cavannah mystery series, this is set after Cavannah’s husband died. Roused from her mourning, she is partnered with an Elvis impersonator to investigate the death of an anti-abortion reverend.

I have to say this book was like an anti-Jackson ad for me. I despised pretty much every racist, bigoted, misogynistic character Darla met. It was like a parade of people I’d least like to spend time with rendered really well. With the level of hatred I was operating on, I have to admit I finished the novel a bit ambivalent about it all. I have to say though, it takes guts for Gusick to tackle abortion as a central theme of a mystery so I did admire that. I liked Darla herself though-she was competent (especially compared to the Elvis impersonator) and driven. She found clues and followed them. But then there was a bit of insta-love which...probably also contributed to my ambivalence.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

One Night in Winter-Simon Sebag Montefiore

One Night in Winter-Simon Sebag Montefiore


the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 480
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel


Set in the Soviet Union, the children of various top officials are questioned as potential traitors to the ideals of communism.


The oppression of the period came through viscerally. Montefiore’s prose reeks of secrets and intrigue even without the plot of actual secrets and intrigues. The interrogations felt cold and the late nights with Stalin felt tense. I don’t rightly know how Montefiore did it but he nailed atmosphere and setting without ever smothering you with details. And despite employing a vaguely Lynchian beginning, I never felt lost as to what was happening. Indeed, it was sometimes hard to remember that the characters are a mixture of real life and fictional-they all felt alive. You were in their heads flinching when they flinched. I’d describe the characters as strong characters in hard positions. I particularly was impressed by how the entire novel was pure romance without anything stereotypical of a romance. I loved this novel, I’d happily reread it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cracked-James Davies

Cracked-James Davies

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 372
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2014
non fiction-mental health, social crit

In an effort to enlighten a new generation about its growing reliance on psychiatry, Crackedinvestigates why psychiatry has become the fastest-growing medical field in history; why psychiatric drugs are now more widely prescribed than ever before; and why psychiatry keeps expanding the number of mental disorders it believes to exist.

Let's be upfront here, I've always been on the side that says society is over-medicalising...everything. I think it natural to assume that if big business is involved in something that profit becomes the rule at the expense of what is best for the individual no matter the industry. So as such, Davies' scorching chapter by chapter criticism of biopsychiatry and corporate pharmacology was not exactly a game changer for my world view. But even though he was preaching to the choir in my case, the extent of the abuses left me reeling.

Davies has conducted numbers of interviews and received (shockingly) honest answers that contribute to his point by point criticism (encompassing the myth of chemical imbalances as well as the devious marketing strategies at play). One can read this as a (skewed) overview of the debate since I could not think of a stone Davies left unturned. I know there's a bit of self-confirming bias at play but I garnered so much more ammunition from this book that strengthened my own vague, hazy criticisms. His research feels meticulous and I enjoyed his trans-Atlantic research (as an American, I had no idea that the British had their own manual).


I have two points of contention. One, though written in easily accessible prose with clear structure, there was a bit of a lack of clarity about the primary terms that the general public may struggle with. I, myself, only vaguely remember the difference between psychiatrists, psychologists, and the various other professionals working within the industry and I took AP Psych a mere 8 years ago (oh god). I worry that it'd be easy to read this entire book and not end up clear exactly which, out of the 487643987 approaches to mental health, this criticism is aimed at (despite the subtitle). The other is somewhat related. Alternatives are not really discussed. So, okay, here we are, convinced pills are not the answer, the DSM is a made-up manual, now what? We've set up this system-who do I now turn to?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells-Sebastian Faulks

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells-Sebastian Faulks

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 243
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel

Bertie, nursing a bit of heartbreak over the recent engagement of one Georgina Meadowes to someone not named Wooster, agrees to “help” his old friend Peregrine “Woody” Beeching, whose own romance is foundering. That this means an outing to Dorset, away from an impending visit from Aunt Agatha, is merely an extra benefit. Almost immediately, things go awry and the simple plan quickly becomes complicated. 

This is not high brow literary fiction but it is highly entertaining. It is a light hearted romp with loads of plot to keep you going. The switcheroo plot embroils Bertie into a web of interpersonal relationships that is, objectively, tricky to get out of (and arguably in, as well but no matter). The pacing charmingly transparent. The prose is written irreverently and self-referentially and it all added up to something quite charming. And I surprised myself by actually liking the characters involved.


I had always assumed the Jeeves series was not really for me. I mean, hearty British gentlemen reinforcing hierarchical class systems? Oh please, I lived in the North where the gentlemen are hardier but also rougher so those genteel types with stahff really get on my tits. So, I'm not entirely sure why I requested this homage on netgalley but I know I'm glad I did. I'm now in full intention of picking up one of the Wodehouse originals.