BOOK REVIEW | Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

5/5 stars

I prayed forgiveness…for God to pluck me out like a coal from the fire… But Brothers, Sisters: What if that’s the wrong prayer? What if the right prayer is ‘Let me burn, only walk beside me in the flames’?.

Wow, that was intense. I’m not generally interested in books about religion, but Fire Sermon flipped the genre on its head, challenging the confines that keep devout followers trapped in unhappy circumstances.

Maggie, raised Christian, is married, contently. She has two kids, a boy and a girl, who are getting older and heading off into ventures of their own. Her husband, Thomas, is kind and attentive, though admittedly atheist. Maggie reaches out to James, a poet she admires, and the pair soon begin conversing regularly. Before long, Maggie and James are in the throws of a passionate, illicit affair. James provides Maggie with what she didn’t know she was missing; he encourages her to write and share her own poetry, and offers spiritually and intellectually satisfying theological debate. Though devoted to Thomas, Maggie struggles with her desires, and what she will lose if she continues in her affair with James.

You will watch the fire consume everything you care about. You will be left with ash – the proper and only end of any burning.

This book is as much about spirituality and monogamy as it is about the nature of female desire. In less capable hands, I don’t think this story would have been so effecting, but Jamie Quatro is a phenomenal writer. Her prose is haunting and poetic, resulting in a book that asks complex questions without surmising a moral standpoint.

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BOOK REVIEW | There There by Tommy Orange


5/5 stars

We all been through a lot we don’t understand in a world made to either break us or make us so hard we can’t break even when it’s what we need most to do.

If this is Tommy Orange’s debut, I can’t wait to see what he does next. There There is a portrait of the “urban Indian”, and how racism, colonialism, and a painful history have contributed to modern day challenges. I’ve read many books by Aboriginal writers from Canada, but this is my first from the American perspective.

Told through twelve unique voices, There There follows each character as they travel to the Big Oakland Powwow. Each has heir own reason for going to the powwow: to connect to their culture, to reunite with family, to create art out of pain, and to bravely debut newfound talents. The stories of Dene, Jacquie, Blue, Opal, Orvil and more will ultimately clash in a violent denouement that is difficult to read. This is a commentary on gun violence in America as well.

We’ve read this sort of narrative before; multiple storylines cumulating in an epic event. However, Orange brings a passion for his culture to the table, making this a powerful read that resonates. His passages about traditional dance are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever read, so I’ll leave you with this moment in which Orvil, backstage, dressed in his regalia before his first public dance at the powwow, finds himself in his culture:

Orvil looks around the room, and he see all these men dressed up like him…There’s something like the shaking feathers he felt somewhere between his heart and his stomach…To cry is to waste the feeling. He needs to dance with it.

BOOK REVIEW | The Comewdown by Rebekah Frumkin


3/5 stars

A sweeping family epic that covers a lot of ground without turning into a paperweight, Rebekah Frumkin’s The Comedown is perfect for readers who enjoy dysfunctional family narratives.

The basic plot: a drug deal goes wrong, thus entangling the dealer’s and the addict’s families for generations. There’s a mysterious yellow suitcase that everyone wants to get their hands on, issues of race and religion, and a whole lot of characters named Leeland or Lee. There are a lot of characters, time frames, and multiple family lines to follow – bookmarking the character map at the start of the book is a must.

The first half of this book felt like a 5 star read for me, and then it eventually started to feel like a chore. I could have been the problem – I just isn’t care to decipher which Leland I was reading about in any given moment, and therefore started to fall off track with the book. Sometimes I want my books to feel like work, especially when the payoff is there. This wasn’t one of those cases.

Frumkin is clearly a fantastic, clever writer – I initially though this book would be a slam dunk for me. I could very well pick this up for a re-read in a year and absolutely love it from start to finish, but I just wasn’t fully jiving with it this go around. It’s a good book that lost it’s way by becoming unnecessarily complicated.

BOOK REVIEW | I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

5/5 stars

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a total wuss when it comes to true crime. Give me the most grotesque, horrific, depraved fiction and I’ll be just fine, but as soon as a story is true, I’m out. I really struggle with the type of crime detailed in this book – I know it happens, I just have a hard time with the details. Pegged as part memoir, part obsession, and highly literary, I knew I’d be picking I’ll Be Gone in the Dark up. Within the first few pages I was completely gripped, and the story didn’t let up once.

Michelle McNamara had always been compelled to true crime, sort of an armchair detective. She journaled her thoughts and findings on her blog, True Crime Diary,  and it wasn’t long before she became obsessed with unveiling a serial rapist and murderer that she penned as the Golden State Killer. She spent countless hours analyzing every victim’s story, reading through case files, and agonizing over the gruesome details of the crimes. As lead detective Paul Holes mentions in the book,  she was able to place herself comfortably among the professionals, earning their trust and essentially becoming a part of the investigation team.

This book isn’t easy to take – this monster’s crimes were absolutely horrific. He fed off the fear and torture of his victims, even terrorizing some with chilling phone calls years after his attack. In reading this I became uneasy, and extremely weary of anyone I would see walking by my house. It instilled a certain paranoia in me that I am still trying to shake. McNamara’s writing, however, almost made this story read like fiction. This isn’t a great true crime book, it’s just a great book. She writes with a passion and fluidity that reads like silk. Sections of this book were pieced together posthumously from McNamara’s notes, and it’s clear that she moved everyone she worked with on this case.

The GSK’s crimes began before the dawn of DNA profiling, but it’s just that that will take him down years later. He was apprehended in April of this year, 2018. McNamara passed away in April 2016, just 2 short years before his capture. How I would have loved to hear her response to this massive feat; I feel like she’d have something damn good to say.

BOOK REVIEW | The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

5/5 stars

If you knew the date of your death, how would you choose to live your life? Chloe Benjamin explores this complex question through a narrative following the lives and deaths of four siblings in The Immortalists. If you knew you’d die young, would you live recklessly, essentially securing the prophecy? Or would you live a clean life, in hope of swaying fate in your favor?

It’s 1969 and the Gold siblings – Simon, Daniel, Klara, and Varya – sneak out to find a mystical woman they’ve heard about; she can predict the day you’ll die. One by one, the kids enter into the woman’s home to hear their destiny. Armed with this knowledge the kids move on with their lives, and the chapters that follow track each of them on their paths. They never share their death dates with each other but the siblings carry it closely as they traverse life, effecting each in its own significant way. The first story, and undoubtedly the one I connected with the most, was Simon’s. Next was Klara’s story, then Daniel, and finally Varya.

This isn’t a new concept, that death is what ultimately gives value to life, but Benjamin’s unique take on this theme was both heartbreaking and refreshing. It’s the sort of story that’s easy to get lost it, and I found it hard to say goodbye to these characters as they reached their ultimate destiny. This book calls to mind the final scene in Six Feet Under; if you’ve watched the show you’ll know what I mean. I’m not sure why books about death resonate so deeply with me, but this is another valuable contribution to the genre.

BOOK REVIEW | Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

4/5 stars

This book was everything I wanted out of You – a biting satire that is equal parts creepy and funny. Kepnes hits the nail on the head with this one, though I will say that I went into her work expecting to be truly terrified. I guess I just had the wrong perception, as her work is much more comedic than it is scary.

In Hidden Bodies Joe is back but this time he’s in Los Angeles. Joe holds a grudge, and after being played the fool in his last relationship he heads to LA to settle the score the only way he knows how. When in LA, Joe hobnobs with actors and others trying to make it in Hollywood, blending in surprisingly well. He’s good looking and great with people, and soon finds himself in a new and meaningful relationship with a woman named Love. But Joe can’t help looking backwards, obsessing over a critical error he made in one of his last crimes, wondering when it will all catch up with him. Combine that with Love’s destructive twin brother, a cop who won’t back down, an ultimate desire for success, and the stage is set for a perfect storm.

There are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments in this book as Kepnes digs into the absurdity that is celebrity life in LA. There is an element missing that would take this story to the next level; I don’t like Joe – he’s arrogant, pretentious, and overly confident. That said, this is an endlessly entertaining read that I moved through quickly. I think if I liked his character I’d be more into these books. I’ll definitely continue to check out Kepnes’ work – she has a new book out now.