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review 2018-03-22 00:21
Frankenstein in Baghdad: A Novel - Ahmed Saadawi
“Because I'm made up of body parts of people from diverse backgrounds - ethnicities, tribes, races and social classes - I represent the impossible mix that never was achieved in the past. I'm the first true Iraqi citizen, he (the Whatsitsname) thinks.”

I'm completely gobsmacked after finishing FRANKENSTEIN IN BAGHDAD. I didn't really know what to expect. I'm not usually a big horror reader, but this sounded so interesting, I decided how could it hurt to try? So I borrowed the fairly short library book, telling myself I could just give it back if I wasn't into it. Not only was I into it, I read it quickly in two sittings and I've been talking about this and one other book to anyone who will listen for days.


The large number of characters are fully realized and formed. It's incredibly complex and has a deep, twisty narrative with various interwoven storylines. It's satire, dark witty humor, and on a surface level both funny and freakish. Then the minute you think for a second about what's going on, this horror novel is deeply disturbing on myriad levels. It's allegorical, it's a straight-up retelling of Shelley's Frankenstein, it's a government spoof, and a few other things.


In US-occupied Baghdad, we start off with classified documents about a "story." It involves all the usual nonsense the US government is fond of doing, and my first thought was "I can see the government classifying everything and arresting people for a story." Seemed highly realistic to me. 


It may be a substandard horror novel. I wasn't scared. It may be a poor translation, or it may simply be that the terror is found in a different reading. I was disturbed and slightly tortured about the underlying message and circumstance being satirized -- the American occupation of Baghdad, the constant drones, the literal blowing-apart of both people and a country. 


There is some true brilliance of social, political, national, religious, human, etc commentary offered.Some people found it "slow." I'd guess they were looking for a horror novel only, not one that integrates the many facets this novel brings. 


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review 2018-03-21 00:04
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America - Jill Leovy

There are two competing, rather than complimentary stories in this book. Part of the blurb:


Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential, but mostly ignored, American murder—a “ghettoside” killing, one young black man slaying another—and a brilliant and driven cadre of detectives whose creed is to pursue justice for forgotten victims at all costs. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of why murder happens in our cities—and how the epidemic of killings might yet be stopped.


The problem is that the "quintessential" American murder she picks is the son of an LAPD detective. Of course they solve that murder. It's absurd that they have to work around their own department to solve this or any crime, but they do it. If it's possible to be more disgusted by the LAPD as an institution, reading this book may have done it for me.


It's clear that Leovy has been charmed by the men with whom she's been "embedded" for a year. At times it reads like glorification of the hardworking, put-upon detectives with complete disregard for the murder victims they are supposed to be serving. The only thing that saves it is the detectives themselves and her increasingly critical eye toward the middle and end of the book.


It's very slow to start as she introduces us to every detective mentioned with a long character study, and only around the middle does "action" happen, but even that action is fairly muted. The personalities are interesting, but I thought of putting it down once or twice. The climax comes with an interview of the suspect in the "featured murder." There are a lot of murders, a lot of statistics, a lot of complaints about the LAPD brass, a lot of passing judgement on the people they police and a lot of surprising love for those very same people.


The sheer frustration of being anyone who isn't related to the police wasn't presented. There are mountains of problems quickly tossed out, some of which could be cleared up fairly quickly if anyone cared to do so (ie, stop melting down guns that are possibly evidence.) Many of the problems are much more intractable though, and like all police departments, the LAPD has a culture that gets in its way more often than not. I wish the urgency had been imparted. I wish the case chosen wasn't the only one solved that month. I wish the problems in getting even the police department to take these homicides seriously had been the entire book. Instead Leovy covers a huge mountain of issues and offers no solutions.

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review 2018-03-20 23:48
Dear Martin -- my best YA read in recent memory
Dear Martin - Nic Stone





This is what I imagine Justyce, the MC, would do if asked to hold a sign about race early on.


There has been a stream of books about race and police brutality in the last few years. One could read nothing but books on the topic and still not keep up with the books available. What a great problem to have: too many books on important topics. Now if only these books were useless because the problem had been solved.


If one can "enjoy" a book like this, then I enjoyed Nic Stone's telling of tragedy story more than I've enjoyed almost any other. There are obvious comparisons both in other recent books but also to real cases in real America. Nic Stone writes for the young reader in a simple way that never is dumbed down or too basic. She has all the nuances and difficulties of her subject matter under command as she writes the story of Justyce and his friend Manny, two black kids at a liberal, elite school and the ways they handle casual, subtle, daily racialization, microaggressions, as well as the more obvious and deadly type.


The POV shifts between third person storytelling to Justyce's interior life to second-person letters/journaling to "Dear Martin" (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) Nic Stone makes excellent use of the "safe place" classroom, where the white students do all the talking on race while the black students sit uncomfortably or angrily by, but certainly don't feel "safe" on the topic of race, despite having a black teacher. There is confusion by the bundle for our protagonist, in the way his friends behave, the racial issues involved in dating, the always-difficult world of being a teenager. He takes refuge in writing honest letters to MLK, and it's here that he feels safe enough to say what he thinks. But can even Dr. King help Justyce when the world caves in?


This is, ultimately, an uplifting story with characters who grow in the face of extreme circumstances and stereotypes that threaten to keep them stuck. Well worth anyone's time.


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review 2018-03-17 02:10
What it means when a man falls from the sky -- stories
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky: Stories - Lesley Nneka Arimah

Some of these stories deserve way more than five stars. Holy cow. The title story is incredible. Full of fantasy, dystopia and awesome.


Like most short story collections, this one was slightly uneven for me. Partially I think that's because she's SO incredible at times, the good stories seem less so compared to the amazeballs ones. They're set in different countries (mostly Nigeria and the US, with strong immigration themes always hanging around the edges.) They are all different genres. There is nothing to say these belong together beyond the sheer strength of writing.


I really loved it so much more than I anticipated. A delightful, spooky, funny, sad, biting, warm surprise.

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review 2018-03-11 01:03
Review: The Rook
The Rook - Daniel O'Malley

So it only took me a year plus to read this thing.  It was a birthday gift from my hubby last year.  It was not something on my wishlist; he went off-script and picked this out himself (with help from staff at B&N).  It's not something I would have picked for myself; however that's not to say that I didn't not thoroughly enjoy it.


My problem with reading this was constant distraction.  For the last year I have picked it up, read a few pages, got distracted and put it down, and the start all over again.  It was a vicious cycle.  The annoying thing was that every few paragraphs/pages I read, I was intrigued, I'd just get distracted by some random thing, kids, animals, texts, calls, etc., and not go back to it for a long while.  Finally, when my birthday came back around and it had been an entire year of me telling hubby I was going to read it, I finally realized that I needed some help to focus.  So I got the audiobook, this way I could listen while I did other things, or read along with it.  I did both.  The audiobook made all the difference; I finished it in about a day, and I have to say it was a good one! 


The story follows Myfanwy Thomas, who wakes up surrounded by bodies and blood and absolutely no memory of who she is and unknown persons trying to kill her.  Lucky for her, her previous self knew this was coming and left instructions via a series of letters.  The new Myfanwy wants to run and start a new life of leisure, but ends up getting caught up in the intrigue mystery of who stole her memories, and why they were trying to kill her.


This is definitely a suspense-thriller, which is not exactly my favorite genre, but it kept me interested throughout.  And the touch of supernatural definitely added excitement to the story.  Myfanwy deals with secret societies that work within (and without) the British government, supernatural powers and happenings, further attempts on her life.  And all the while, she never really knows who she can trust within the organization, and who is/are the ones who betrayed her.


Everything is seen from Myfanwy's point of view, either present day, or her letters to herself.  The story is original, well paced and beautifully written.  Definitely looking forward to the sequel, which I now have to bug hubby to buy for me.  It's his own fault for getting me something that is part of a series. 

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