Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Fixer-T.E.Woods

The Fixer-T.E. Woods

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 280
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel

Never a doubt. Never a mistake. Always for justice. Never for revenge. She’s the person you hire when you need something fixed—permanently. With a strict set of criteria, she evaluates every request and chooses only a few. No more than one job per country, per year. She will only step in if it’s clear that justice will not be served any other way. Her jobs are completed with skill and precision, and never result in inquiry or police investigation. The Fixer is invisible—and quite deadly. . . .


Oh goodness, the characterization was top notch. The characters are deep-core of the earth deep-and the psychological aspects ring true to my layman's interpretation. Woods is a psychologist herself so I presume there's something to it. I also enjoyed that there was no black and white villains versus good guys. Real life is tricky and Woods balances realism with the comforting idea that there is someone to call to correct injustice. The Fixer and the psychologist in the novel are good characters but quietly Mort Grant slips onto the scene and he's just as interesting. I pretty much finished this book and immediately wanted to read more.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Kicking the Sky-Anthony De Sa

Kicking the Sky-Anthony De Sa

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 336
gender: M
nationality: Canada
year: 2014
novel

It was 1977 when a shoeshine boy, Emanuel Jaques, was brutally murdered in Toronto. In the aftermath of the crime, twelve-year-old Antonio Rebelo explores his neighborhood’s dark garages and labyrinthine back alleys along with his rapscallion friends. As the media unravels the truth behind the Shoeshine Boy murder, Antonio sees his immigrant family--and his Portuguese neighborhood--with new eyes, becoming aware of the frightening reality that no one is really taking care of him. So intent are his parents and his neighbors on keeping the old traditions alive that they act as if they still live in a small village, not in a big city that puts their kids in the kind of danger they would not dare imagine.


This is a tragic story-hard to read-full of homophobia, domestic violence, and the dark side of sex. The Portuguese enclave in Toronto (and elsewhere, the Newark community is the one I'm familiar with) is a community united by the old country and a sense of being different, poorer, than the country they've settled in. De Sa evokes the conservatism of such a community excellently. The church pervading the daily lives locking the inhabitants into unhappy marriages full of domestic violence, rampant homophobia, and xenophobia. The tying of the coming of age of Antonio to the traumatic death of the shoeshine boy (a historical event) is brilliantly handled. He works as an allegory for the loss of innocence of the 1970s. All the sharp edges of crime and pedophilia are softened by Antonio's ceaseless curiosity. This is a community trauma as experienced by an adolescent whose parents want to protect him. He learns more than he should and understands little of what he does know and that makes it seem grippingly real. It was a really impressive novel that walks the line of too hard to read and light hearted. There's dark humor mixed in with the tragic while dealing with so many issues. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Fever-Megan Abbott

The Fever-Megan Abbott

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 320
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel

he Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hocky star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie's best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community. As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town's fragile idea of security. 

Well, I found it to be a very well-written, creepy book. Abbott writes teenage girls like they are. I was a teenage girl not long ago and this was...very close to my own suburban teenagehood. Maybe that's what made it so creepy. Or maybe it was the sparse but evocative descriptive prose that oozed anxiety. I was mesmerized while reading it-I couldn't tear myself away. It managed to be both confused and hazy and absolutely pitch dark.


But then I finished it and...I felt like something I can't explain let it down. It was like there was something just slightly beyond what Abbott did that would have made it a better book. It sounds arrogant since I can't even begin to say what it was but I felt like I suddenly surfaced from a trance and ended the novel ambivalent.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Wake-Anna Hope

Wake-Anna Hope

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 304
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel

London, 1920. The city prepares to observe the two-year anniversary of Armistice Day with the burial of the unknown soldier. Many are still haunted by the war: Hettie, a dance instructress, lives at home with her mother and her brother, who is mute after his return from combat. One night Hettie meets a wealthy, educated man and finds herself smitten with him. But there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach. . . . Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange, through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, she looks for solace in her adored brother, who has not been the same since he returned from the front. . . . Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door, seemingly with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out-of-work veterans. But when he utters the name of her son, Ada is jolted to the core.


Hope paints a multi-faceted view of the UK after World War I and it is fairly bleak and heavy. This is a book full of loss, grief, and escapism. The atmosphere is both engrossing and oppression in 1920s London and all the characters are continually dwelling upon their loss. (Even more tragic is that you know there was little respite between wars.) The characters span the spectrum-a mother who lost her son, woman who lost her betrothed, a woman who lost noone but cannot reach those who remain. The present tense voice wove their current daily lives with the loss they constantly confront with well researched settings. When the plot left the women, it suffered a bit-failed to evoke whatever it was meant to-so the novel definitely shone when it was about the women (not the men). The plot was occasionally a bit lagging sometimes-a bit slow-but written so well it evoked the atmosphere of sadness in my own living room.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Salonica-Mark Mazower

Salonica-Mark Mazower

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 475
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2004
non fiction-history

Salonica, located in northern Greece, was long a fascinating crossroads metropolis of different religions and ethnicities, where Egyptian merchants, Spanish Jews, Orthodox Greeks, Sufi dervishes, and Albanian brigands all rubbed shoulders. Tensions sometimes flared, but tolerance largely prevailed until the twentieth century when the Greek army marched in, Muslims were forced out, and the Nazis deported and killed the Jews. As the acclaimed historian Mark Mazower follows the city’s inhabitants through plague, invasion, famine, and the disastrous twentieth century, he resurrects a fascinating and vanished world.

Ok, so I live here. Thessaloniki. My adviser gave me this book as a gift so that I could learn more about the city I now live in from a trusted source. So obviously I had a vested interest in the book. Thessaloniki can seem paradoxically simultaneously warm, welcoming, fascinating, unforgiving, and impenetrable especially to a non-Greek speaker such as myself. Obviously reading a scholarly history of the city is the way to go. At a hefty almost 500 pages, one is immediately struck by how much history. But what kept me going, to read it cover to cover, was not just the city and its history but also Mazower's way of approaching history. There are plenty of dry facts but he fashions it into narrative-each chapter a story. He manages to stick to his timeline but doesn't slavishly adhere to it. And he's not completely writing in themes. This is masterful nonfiction writing that keeps you reading without recourse to humor-though there is some-or embellishment (well, over the top sort-all history is embellishment) in a way that it is easy to retain the facts and want to know more. I plan on reading more of his work.


Thessaloniki has through the centuries been a Bronze Age settlement, Hellenistic small town, Byzantine city, Ottoman's Western capital, a major outpost for Sephardic Judiasm, a seat of the Greek independence, and a major German interest during the World Wars. It has been changed-its current population bearing little resemblance to the populations that built the city. Mazower does not shy from the allegorical use of the city-the clash of cultures, the cost and benefits of nationalism, and the confusions and discontinuities of history and as such may be seen as somewhat unreliable. However, he is using centuries of first hand accounts to construct his narrative so I'd argue he is no more unreliable as we ourselves are in the constant creation of our personal histories.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Runaway Saint- Lisa Samson

Runaway Saint- Lisa Samson

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 288
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel (Christian)

Sara’s an artist with a supportive husband and a house that folks on her block admire outright. But she’s restless and bored with life.Then her legendary Aunt Bel shows up, wearing a smile after years without a word. Twenty years ago, fresh out of college, Bel left for a summer missions trip and never returned. Now she’s on Sara’s doorstep, looking for a place to crash. Sara can’t say no to family, even if she hasn’t seen Bel since she was a nine-year-old girl. But saying yes to Bel turns Sara’s whole precariously-balanced life upside down.

Clearly I didn't read things too clearly before I requested this one because I am so not into christian fiction. Usually when I accidentally pick up some, I immediately set it back down. I was an atheist at age six and life has not convinced me otherwise and besides pious people tend to annoy me with repeated exposure. I was still intrigued by the premise though so I decided that just like I am capable of reading around various other things that annoy me, I'd attempt to do so for this one. I did like the struggle of the child free main character, Sara, to reconcile her belief and that of those around her with her personal decision to not conform. Sara was a very multi-faceted character-something I definitely appreciated. The morality I associate with much of Christian fiction was relatively understated (though it was obvious-no metaphors-and tucked into every line). The mystery-the personal story- of the missionary aunt was written in a way that I can't explain why but it kept me 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Illegal- José Ángel N.

Illegal- José Ángel N.

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 136
gender: M
nationality: Mexico, undocumented
year: 2014
non fiction

A day after N. first crossed the U.S. border from Mexico, he was caught and then released onto the streets of Tijuana. Undeterred, N. crawled back through a tunnel to San Diego, where he entered the United States forever. Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant is his timely and compelling memoir of building a new life in America


I'm not sure how to classify this-memoir? Essay? There are elements of all the non fiction genres mixed into this thin volume which packs quite a punch. I thought it was absolutely wonderful. N. speaks elegantly about all the struggles of an undocumented immigrant in the USA. There is a sparseness to his writing that renders the tension of being neither there nor here, the isolation of the in between. It is especially poignant as he speaks about his struggles with language. I guess I love immigrant narratives-the shadowy underland- in general but N.'s perspective as an 'illegal' is one that I feel like there needs to be much more of in the literary world. I admire the courage that it took to make it this far and make his voice heard. There's such a lack of national dialogue that allows for the individuals involved to have any say-they were classified as a problem long ago and thus are subject to political posturing more than people caught between a rock and a hard place.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ibeji-Sandie Amey Vaughan

Ibeji- Sandie Amey Vaughan

the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 220
gender: F
nationality: UK, of color
year: 2014
novel

"In her cottage, in the present day English Cotswolds countryside, Kate Bonner is haunted by terrifying dreams of a time long ago. In present day Brazil, Abebi Boronha shuffles the Tarot deck and five ominous cards fall from her hands."


For the most part I actually quite enjoyed the novel. It has an interesting premise with good use of mythology and folk stories embedded into our modern, Western world. The writing wasn't good but also not bad. There was just something clumsy about the rendering of the supernatural which meant my belief was not sustained. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Hacked-Geri Hosier

Hacked- Geri Hosier

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 258
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel

a dead hack, a private eye on the run, a sinister billionaire. It's front page news. Liv Paxton, whipcrack smart chief of London’s biggest murder squad, is hunting the men who slaughtered the reporter at the very heart of the celebrity hacking scandal. As the killers claim another victim, Liv discovers the reporter had been tortured by professional interrogators before he died. What secret story was so dangerous that it cost him his life? Liv quickly finds herself of up against powerful and implacable enemies - on both sides of the law. Enlisting the help of her best friend, newspaper boss Louise Brighouse, Liv enters the world of a mysterious Tartar oligarch and crosses swords with a psychotic underworld kingpin who vows vengeance on her. Her own life is on the line as she peels back layers of deceit and treachery to unveil the most terrifying criminal conspiracy London has ever seen. Hacked is the first in the series of Liv Paxton crime novels

The crime bits were good. So were the thriller and action bits. The love story however really, really, really let it down. It was just so illogical and implausible. I mean Liv, the main character, is really a badass-she navigates her workplace politics astutely and intelligently. But after two weeks of dating this man she turns into a neurotic stereotype all bent out of shape because he hadn't said, “I love you yet”. I lost so much respect for her and all my sympathy about her failed marriage was lost because if the expectations are so unrealistic in the love story, it was hard to buy her perceptions of her job. I just couldn't give an up arrow for this despite how good the crime and thriller parts were.


Anyway, moving on, Hosier was a journalist during the British phone tapping scandal and it shows. The action is written in a gripping, informative way and all the details are nicely tied together. Procedure seemed just about right. Liv, at work, is an excellent character-strong and smart.