Book Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

"When she woke…she was red." Come on, how can you not love that opening line? This novel takes place in a not-to-distant America, where peoples crimes are worn brightly on their skins. We follow the main character, Hannah, a heavy-handed mix between Hester Prynne (The Scarlet Letter) and Offred (The Handmaid’s Tale). Hannah wakes up in a prison, with her skin red - stop sign red - we find out shortly that she is being punished for having an abortion. Red is the color of murder. 

Hannah’s prison time is 30 days in solitary, followed by 16 years of public humiliation. Her sedate, uneventful life will never be the same. She is shunned by family members, her neighbors, her employer… 

Hannah was born in the America that we know now, but shortly after her birth the US (besides California and New York - of course) was taken hold by highly religious politicians, which the citizens voted for. There does seem to be religious freedom, some residents do still live their lives; however, the laws have changed to ultra-conservatism and though they may not believe in God, they are subject to these bible based punishments. 

We follow Hannah as she leaves prison and enters a community, or safe haven for “chromes” as they are called. She was given a place in this half-way house due to a kind word from her Pastor/Baby Daddy, Aiden Dale (see heavy-handed, right?). Hannah refused to label Aiden as the father of the child, and aborted the child without telling him to protect his reputation in society. You see, Aiden, is happily married and a powerful religious figure in the country. 

What follows in the story is exactly what I wanted to know about Offred’s journey at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, a 20-year late conclusion (of course, this is not to disrespect Margaret Atwood’s work in any way, that woman is a goddamn legend). 

This was an amazing read. Just get past the cringe-worthy references to The Scarlet Letter and you’ll be good to go. 

Shop Indie Bookstores

Book Review Quickie: The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

Jodi led the perfect life, or so she told herself. She met the perfect man, and stayed with him for 20 years. They were both completely smitten with each other, except that Todd had a wandering eye. 

Jodi, ever dutiful, ever content, allowed Todd to wander. She wasn’t threatened by these nameless women. Until one is a bit too pushy and Todd is a bit too unhappy, then poof, Jodi’s little life is broken. 

She was so deep into denial of her situation, that every step pushed her to the point that she snapped. 

This was touted as the next Gone Girl, I don’t think that the right reason to read this book. The characters are completely unlikeable and unrelatable. However, the story keeps you interested. I wasn’t surprised by the ending, the author foreshadows heavily at the beginning of the book, but it didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the read. 

Shop Indie Bookstores

Book Review: Second Life by S.J. Watson

Julia just received terrible news; her sister – whom she raised after the death of her mother – was murdered. Julia was incredibly close to Kate (sister), so close in fact that when Kate got pregnant at age sixteen and couldn’t care for the child, Julia and her husband, Hugh, adopted Conner.

Recently, Kate had been contacting Julia asking for Conner back, desperate to get her back, but as Conner was 14 years old and only had a short time left in school, Julia pushed that he should stay with her.

Kate’s death shook Julia to her core. Julia left London to visit Paris and collect Kate’s belongings, it was here that Julia became aware of Kate’s very active social life on the internet. The police had no leads on Kate’s murder, so Julia decides to take matters into her own hands. At first Julia just logs in as Kate, to see if she can get any leads, but then Julia starts her own personal’s profile and find herself attracted and enamored with a younger man.

Julia’s life begins to twirl out of axis, while she loses her original intention and falls into an infatuation that all partners fear.

Up to the very last page of this book, I was completely enthralled. The story is interesting, fast-paced. Difficult to put down. But then it felt like Watson just didn’t feel like finishing her book. As much as I was enthralled with the book, I was incredibly disappointed by the ending.

Shop Indie Bookstores

Book Review Quickie: The First Bad Man by Miranda July

It is impossible to do a review on this book. I've tried you guys. There is no way to explain these piece of work that will make any sense to someone who hasn't read it. 

You know how in episodic TV, they start out one place and end up somewhere you've never expected, and you find yourself wondering, how the hell did that happen? That is this book. You start with a very strange woman named Cheryl, add a very strange woman named Clee, show a weird relationship between the two, and then it ends up in a place you wouldn't expect. 

The flow of the book is sometimes confusing, we're in Cheryl's head for the majority of the time and there are parts where its hard to detect if something is actually happening or not. Regardless of the oddness of the book, its worth the read. It doesn't have the cutting humor that I expected of Miranda July, its instead a dry slow humor, where you find yourself constantly shaking your head. 

Favorite quote:

"We would lie this way forever, always saying goodbye, never parting."

Shop Indie Bookstores

Book Review: The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Melanie knows little about herself. She doesn't know who her parents are, she doesn't know if Melanie was always her name ... they picked it for her. She does know that she lives in a cell. Every morning, she is strapped into a wheelchair by gunpoint and taken to a classroom. Most days are boring, except for the day that Miss Justineau teaches. Miss Justineau reads the children stories and engages them. The other teachers and staff treat them horribly, especially Sergeant Parks. 

Melanie's only concept of time is by her daily activities. She hates shower day. The staff line up the children in a row, feed them (once a week) and spray them with a chemical, they they are quickly ushered back to their cells. The children never go outside, they have no concept of the world. However, Melanie knows that we children go past the doors and up the staircase, they never come back. 

Carey has built an excellent dystopian world. We find out, along with Melanie, what has happened to society and why she's locked up. The book reminds me of Never Let Me Go, but much better. Never Let Me Go created no goodwill between the reader and the subject, The Girl with All the Gifts makes you question what you believe, and what you want for this society. 

Shop Indie Bookstores

Book Review: The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins by Irvine Welsh

The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins revolves around the relationship between two women - Lucy Brennan and Lena Sorenson. Lucy is a personal trainer who found herself in a position one night that brought out some bravery. She was stopped in the middle of the road at night with two men running at her, then past her, trying to get away from a third man chasing them with a gun. Lucy takes down the armed man and holds him until the police arrive. 

Lena was present that night, as a bystander, and filmed Lucy’s heroic act. Lena provides the video to the news networks and Lucy becomes an instant local celebrity. 

The next day, while Lucy is reeling from media attention, Lena tracks her down in the guise of becoming Lucy’s client. Lucy, has a terrible resentment towards Lena. The reason seems only that Lena is overweight. As much as Lena is seduced by Lucy’s personality and strength, Lucy is repulsed by Lena’s weakness and physical appearance. 

What follows is a dramatic turn of events due to their obsession with each other. 

The book is a solid three stars. Interesting, fast-paced read. I absolutely cannot stand Lucy. At first I thought the author was unable to voice a female character, but then when we get more inside Lena’s mind, that hypothesis is squashed. I didn’t feel that the ending was true to the story, but otherwise an interesting book. 

Shop Indie Bookstores

Book Review: Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel: A Graphic Novel by Anya Ulinich

As the novel opens, we meet Lena (a 37-year-old, divorced, mother of two) as she receives an offer to go on a book tour in Russia. Lena was born in Russia, but migrated to the US as a child. She is newly divorced from her 2nd husband and, until this point, has had no real independence. 

During her trip to Russia, Lena’s high school boyfriend comes to the hotel unannounced. She hasn’t seen him in 20 years but they have kept communication intact. After spending the night together, finally consummating their decades long relationship, Lena announces to her friends that she’s in love. When her friend/mentor pushes back on Lena (specifically her lack of sexual/romantic experience), Lena decides to take some time to experiment sexually in the dark abyss of Ok Cupid.

The book is beautifully drawn and though could easily be a full length novel was excellently presented via a graphic novel. The author provides astute observations of dating in your 30’s, specifically the meat market of online dating. To say this is a book about dating would be selling it short, this is a book about a woman who until this point had always belonged to a man, and for the first time she has her independence.

Favorite Quote:

 “My sexual awakening was entirely the fault of the U.S. State Department.”

Shop Indie Bookstores

Book Review: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer, loathed by the internet, immensely loved by her fan-base, has written a non-fiction book based on her famous TedTalk. 

I first became aware of Amanda via her band, The Dresden Dolls, I then promptly forgot that she existed until she became engaged to THE NEIL GAIMAN. I then had to figure this chick out to see if she was worthy of my Neil (you see the crazy here right??). I started listening to her music and it touched me in a way that only books had prior. When I started looking into Amanda, I was seriously depressed. Depression seeps into my life and I don’t always realize that its happened until I’m half a year into being a complete nut job. Amanda writes songs that are sometimes crazy, sometimes non-sensical, but most of the time, her music is about accepting yourself for who you are, crazy and all. Amanda Palmer taught me to love myself, and for that I’m incredibly thankful. Anywho…

The Art of Asking is hard to classify, its part rockumentary, part self-help, and part business (business being the smallest part). Like her music, this is mostly a biography of how Amanda learned to accept herself. Her method is not for everyone. 

The Art of Asking, describes how she has crowdsourced to get to where she is today. In some ways, its unsettling, I’m not one to ask for help (ever). I would rather starve with my pride than accept help. Amanda, on the other hand, has no problem asking for help. She accepts gifts and money and love and acceptance from all the people in her life. What I found most interesting in her story was her hesitance to allow her husband to help her. For some reason, and I don’t think this is solely Amanda’s issue, it was harder to accept help from a successful man. Feminists will pounce on Amanda for this, I’ve already seen some of the reviews, its painful. There is no shame in accepting help. Especially from someone who loves you. And what Amanda gives back makes it worth it. Its not a one-way-street. Amanda is renowned for her relationship with her fans. And she speaks of this in her books. The good and the bad. The issue that this implied intimacy causes amongst her fans. I first met Amanda in Florida. And it was incredibly awkward. I knew everything about her, I knew why she was in Florida and who she was visiting. I know things about her sex life with her husband and her open marriage. I know all of this because she shares these aspects of her life with her fans. So the awkwardness of meeting her was that I knew her but she didn’t know me. So this person who meant so much to me, I was a complete stranger to her. The internet makes things weird….

If you have the opportunity to see the book tour that is currently in action, GO. Its worth it. I saw Amanda during the performance at Sixth and I in DC. It was a small venue, which is perfect for Amanda. The performance was a musical performance, peppered with book readings. After the performance, she spent HOURS signing books for her fans. 

Amanda Fucking Palmer, thank you. 


Favorite quotes:

Believe me. Believe Me. I'm real. 

The problem was that I craved intimacy to the same burning degree that I detested commitment. 

Shop Indie Bookstores

Book Review: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

If you’re in the mood for a Hollywood tell-all, look elsewhere. Amy Poehler writes this book with the foresight of knowing that people will read this book. She keeps a great deal of her personal life to herself. This is an interesting contrast to Lena Dunham’s method of sharing EVERYTHING. Poehler shares interesting, encouraging bits of her life for you to chew on. 

Poehler splits her book into three parts: "Say Whatever You Want", "Do Whatever You Like", and "Be Whoever You Are"; which in itself should be a mantra for everyone… unless you’re a serial killer…then do other stuff. 

The book flows well and the construction of the book is GORGEOUS. Dey St. outdid themselves, every part of Poehler’s book is pleasing to the eyes; from the cover, to the spine, to the heavy magazine type pages of the book. 

There’s nothing surprising here. Do you like Amy Poehler? Go read her book…please. 

Shop Indie Bookstores

Book Review: You by Caroline Kepnes

You was an enthralling read. Joe is a bookstore employee who flirts with a female customer and decides to follow her home. This is old hat to Joe; he knows exactly how to find out every detail of You.

We are in Joe’s head for the duration of the novel which gives an unique perspective to a stalking story. The author makes him eerily relatable, as opposed to the obvious choice of batshit insane. Joe calmly explains his outrageous actions in such a stable calm voice that it’s unnerving.

The author makes an interesting choice by making Beck (the stalkee) the worst person. She’s incredibly annoying. She’s both walked on by her friends and awful to the men that she pretends to love.

You is hard to put into a category but is well worth the read. 

Shop Indie Bookstores