Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Body Lies [review]

The Body Lies by Jo Baker
Published by Knopf on June 18, 2019
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.49 (as of 2020-01-10)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

When a young writer accepts a job at a university in the remote English countryside, it’s meant to be a fresh start, away from the bustle of London and the scene of a violent assault she is desperate to forget. But despite the distractions of her new life and the demands of single motherhood, her nerves continue to jangle. To make matters worse, a vicious debate about violence against women inflames the tensions and mounting rivalries in her creative-writing class. When a troubled student starts turning in chapters that blur the lines between fiction and reality, the professor recognizes herself as the main character in his book–and he has written her a horrific fate. Will she be able to stop life imitating art before it’s too late? At once a breathless cat-and-mouse game and a layered interrogation of the fetishization of the female body, The Body Lies gives us an essential story for our time that will have you checking the locks on your doors.


I was first drawn to The Body Lies after reading Rachel’s incredible review of it. I’m glad to have gotten her perspective, because I can see how going into this expecting a thriller would be disappointing. This is not a fast-paced crime novel; this is a quietly terrifying piece of literary fiction. Baker presents an examination of trauma as well as the objectification of women’s bodies that I will not be forgetting anytime soon.

The atmosphere is key here. An undercurrent of tension runs throughout this novel. As a reader I nearly always was on the edge of my seat waiting for things to go south even though, strictly speaking, not much was happening. Baker is masterful at making you truly feel the main character’s anxieties without even telling you what they are. I was incredulous at how certain events impacted me; events that objectively I wouldn’t have felt anything for become absolutely heart-wrenching when placed into context.

This is in part a tongue-in-cheek commentary about how women’s bodies are typically used in thrillers. Baker turns these tropes on their head, criticizing them while also demonstrating how to utilize them effectively. The setting really works here: a creative writing class allows us to see examples firsthand in an organic manner. The excerpts of her students’ writing don’t feel forced, and they add a great deal to the story.

What I found most impactful in this book was its portrayal (and analysis) of trauma. At the outset of the book, the narrator is attacked by a man on the street. The ways this impacts her life are both large and small, and I felt Baker did an incredible job of demonstrating that. Additionally, it quickly becomes clear that those outside a traumatic incident are not necessarily able to understand, or even notice, these impacts. My heart ached reading this; I felt like Baker was able to reach deep down inside me.

I honestly cannot recommend this book highly enough. As I said before, it will do you no good to go into this expecting a true thriller with a twisty plot. But if you’re looking for something dark and quiet that explores the way we treat women, you’re in for quite the treat. I’m certain I’ll be coming back to this again and recommending it left and right. Already my favorite book of the year (although I’ll revisit this in December), The Body Lies is honestly a masterpiece.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

A Crime in the Neighborhood [review]

A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne
Published by Algonquin Books on January 6, 1997
my rating: ★★
Goodreads avg:
3.43 (as of 2020-01-08)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

An auspicious debut novel by a young writer who will remind readers of Anne Lamott and Anne Tyler “A Crime in the Neighborhood” centers on a headline event — the molestation and murder of a twelve-year-old boy in a Washington, D.C., suburb. At the time of the murder, 1973, Marsha was nine years old and as an adult she still remembers that summer as a time when murder and her own family’s upheaval were intertwined. Everyone, it seemed to Marsha at the time, was committing crimes. Her father deserted his family to take up with her mother’s younger sister. Her teenage brother and sister were smoking and shoplifting, and her mother was “flirting” with Mr. Green, the new next-door neighbor. Even the president of the United States seemed to be a crook. But it is Marsha’s own suspicions about who committed this crime that has the town up in arms and reveals what happens when fear runs wild.


I’m sure there are readers who adore this book. I’m sure there are brilliant messages one can glean from the words written here. Unfortunately, that was all wasted on me. This book and I just did not get along. There’s nothing especially heinous about the writing or the plot; I just felt like I was being dragged through it. Part of this is my fault: I was expecting something closer to a thriller while the crime aspect of this novel is very much downplayed. This is absolutely more slice-of-life literary fiction with a dash of mystery to it.

By then she was already referring to my father in the past tense. “Larry used to like that show,” she might say if we were all in the living room trying to watch television. He would look up and lightly shudder.

Another thing I struggled with was just not enjoying the narrator. I found Marsha to be quite bland. As a child, she wanders around, watches people, and eavesdrops on conversations. The little agency she has is used negatively, and brought me to actively dislike her. While this book is about adult Marsha looking back on her childhood, I felt this perspective didn’t add much. The analyses she provide did not help me to better understand what I was reading.

She stumbled a little, reaching out toward the screen. The notebook fell open at her feet, just behind the heel of her left sandal. One of the pages had got bent in the throwing, and for some reason, this bent page shocked me; it seemed as grievous an offense as what I had just done to my mother.

I’m truly not sure how much of my dislike is purely personal preference, so I would not turn anyone away from reading this, as long as they understand that this more an exploration of suburban life and less a true mystery. This was a buddy read and I hope that the rest of the group has a better experience with it, because I think there is promise here that I was just unable to unearth myself.


Here I will later be sharing reviews from the rest of the buddy read group as they are posted! (I finished extremely early).


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

There There [review]

There There by Tommy Orange
Published by Knopf on June 5, 2018
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.99 (as of 2019-11-16)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

We all came to the powwow for different reasons. The messy, dangling threads of our lives got pulled into a braid–tied to the back of everything we’d been doing all along to get us here. There will be death and playing dead, there will be screams and unbearable silences, forever-silences, and a kind of time-travel, at the moment the gunshots start, when we look around and see ourselves as we are, in our regalia, and something in our blood will recoil then boil hot enough to burn through time and place and memory. We’ll go back to where we came from, when we were people running from bullets at the end of that old world. The tragedy of it all will be unspeakable, that we’ve been fighting for decades to be recognized as a present-tense people, modern and relevant, only to die in the grass wearing feathers.


Tommy Orange springs forth with a marvelous debut novel that falls just a bit short of its potential. There’s a lot here that works, but also some that doesn’t. It’s weakness to me was the breadth of characters. Perhaps this is a personal shortcoming of mine: I struggle with books that host a large cast of characters. I feel it’s difficult to balance so many personalities while also keeping them all memorable and fully-formed. While Orange succeeds at the latter, I found the constant switches in perspective complicated and was always a step behind in remembering each character’s earlier chapter.

There were some bits I really loved: the nonfiction interludes were fascinating and eye-opening to me as someone who really knows minimal information about the history of Native Americans. It made me want to go out and grab some full-length nonfiction books in order to supplement my knowledge — which I plan to do now. It also brought me awareness of urban American Indians, which I had known little to nothing about previously. The way the characters’ lives overlapped, whether a little or a lot, was interesting to see as well. Sometimes it was played more subtly than others, and I think with fewer characters to follow it would have had a much larger impact on me.

And don’t make the mistake of calling us resilient. To not have been destroyed, to not have given up, to have survived, is no badge of honor. Would you call an attempted murder victim resilient?

The way Orange directed the tone of the story was also interesting. I started off having truly no idea where things would be going. The tension picks up so slowly that once you realize it’s there, you have to wonder when it started. By the end of the book I was bracing myself for an impact that I knew would come — I just didn’t know when, or how it would resolve. I do have mixed feelings on the ending, which I felt was somewhat abrupt, but I’m not sure I have an alternate to propose.

TL;DR: While this book was highly commendable in many ways, the number of POVs just didn’t work for me.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Sea Beast Takes a Lover [review]

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The Sea Beast Takes a Lover by Michael Andreasen
Expected publication by Dutton Books on February 27, 2018
240 pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
goodreads avg: 
3.95
cw: see review

Spoiler-free Review of an eARC provided by NetGalley.

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GoodreadsIndieBound 

Bewitching and playful, with its feet only slightly tethered to the world we know, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover explores hope, love, and loss across a series of surreal landscapes and wild metamorphoses. Just because Jenny was born without a head doesn’t mean she isn’t still annoying to her older brother, and just because the Man of the Future’s carefully planned extramarital affair ends in alien abduction and network fame doesn’t mean he can’t still pine for his absent wife. Romping through the fantastic with big-hearted ease, these stories cut to the core of what it means to navigate family, faith, and longing, whether in the form of a lovesick kraken slowly dragging a ship of sailors into the sea, a small town euthanizing its grandfathers in a time-honored ritual, or a third-grade field trip learning that time travel is even more wondrous–and more perilous–than they might imagine.

Andreasen’s stories are simultaneously daring and deeply familiar, unfolding in wildly inventive worlds that convey our common yearning for connection and understanding. With a captivating new voice from an incredible author, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover uses the supernatural and extraordinary to expose us at our most human.

From the instant I saw the cover, I knew I just HAD to read this book. It had already been on my TBR when I stumbled across it on Netgalley and slammed the request button reflexively. I love bizarro short stories, I love cephalopods, and I love anything with an octopus on the cover.

Unfortunately, these stories just didn’t mesh well with me. It wasn’t a bad read, it just wasn’t anything over-the-top outstanding. If you’re interested, I’d say give it a shot regardless. Michael Andreasen is a talented writer and I’m intrigued to see what else he comes out with!

Below I’ve rated and provided content warnings for each of the individual stories.

Our Fathers at Sea ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Bodies in Space ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Sea Beast Takes a Lover ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The King’s Teacups at Rest ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
He is the Rainstorm and the Sandstorm, Hallelujah, Hallelujah ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Rockabye, Rocketboy ⭐️⭐️ 
(cw porn, pedophilia, stalking)
The Saints in the Parlor ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Andy, Lord of Ruin ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 
(cw animal abuse/animal death)
Jenny ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 
(cw assault)
Rite of Baptism ⭐️⭐️
Blunderbuss ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Avg: 3.36 rounded down to 3

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(Covers and blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Oliver Loving [review]

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Oliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block
To be published by Flatiron Books on January 16, 2018
400 
pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️.5
Goodreads avg: 
3.85
cw: school shootings, pedophilia, domestic abuse

Spoiler-free Review of an ARC provided by the publisher as part of a giveaway.

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

​From a celebrated literary talent comes a brilliant, propulsive novel about family, the traumas and secrets that test our deepest bonds, and the stories that hold us together. 

One warm, West Texas November night, a shy boy named Oliver Loving joins his classmates at Bliss County Day School’s annual dance, hoping for a glimpse of the object of his unrequited affections, an enigmatic Junior named Rebekkah Sterling. But as the music plays, a troubled young man sneaks in through the school’s back door. The dire choices this man makes that evening —and the unspoken story he carries— will tear the town of Bliss, Texas apart.

Nearly ten years later, Oliver Loving still lies wordless and paralyzed at Crockett State Assisted Care Facility, the fate of his mind unclear. Orbiting the still point of Oliver’s hospital bed is a family transformed: Oliver’s mother, Eve, who keeps desperate vigil; Oliver’s brother, Charlie, who has fled for New York City only to discover he cannot escape the gravity of his shattered family; Oliver’s father, Jed, who tries to erase his memories with bourbon. And then there is Rebekkah Sterling, Oliver’s teenage love, who left Texas long ago and still refuses to speak about her own part in that tragic night. When a new medical test promises a key to unlock Oliver’s trapped mind, the town’s unanswered questions resurface with new urgency, as Oliver’s doctors and his family fight for a way for Oliver to finally communicate — and so also to tell the truth of what really happened that fateful night.

A moving meditation on the transformative power of grief and love, a slyly affectionate look at the idiosyncrasies of family, and an emotionally-charged page-turner, Oliver Loving is an extraordinarily original novel that ventures into the unknowable and returns with the most fundamental truths.​

Let me start off by saying: this is not a bad book. But I have put off writing this review for over a month now because I just didn’t like it at all. There are people out there who will probably love this book. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t one of them.

But you were a boy who had developed a nearly anaphylactic aversion to prolonged eye contact, and you looked away, gaped awkwardly up at the sky: a poor decision.

The Good: Stefan Merrill Block is an incredible writer. The writing in this book is just so lyrical, so beautiful. I had to stop to reread passages several times because they struck me just so. There’s even a queer character! Nice!

The tragedy of love, you had learned from ten years spent looking up at your mother, is that it is only possible to love perfectly a person who is lost to you…

Unfortunately, everything felt far too scattered for me. The book tried to cover a plethora of topics and in doing so, didn’t really pay justice to any of them. I didn’t find myself connecting to any of the characters, they all felt too flawed, in a way. Rebekkah felt like a cardboard cutout of a teenage girl. Oliver didn’t actually care about any of the bad things happening to her as long as he got to be the white knight that saved her. I also had an issue with the way assault victims were portrayed that I can’t really get into without spoiling anything.

So, for me, there was just too much bad to outweigh the good. If it sounds like something that would interest you, I think it’s worth a shot! But if you don’t find yourself enjoying it, I think it’s also worth DNFing.

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(Cover and blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)