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The Incendiaries: a book review

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✂️✂️✂️✂️✂️/5 “The Incendiaries” – R. O. Kwon

“I ate pain. I swilled tears. If I could take enough in, I’d have no space left to fit my own” – Phoebe

This book was stunning. The writing was almost lyrical in how the author, R. O. Kwon, turned even the shortest phrase into a meaningful sentence.

There was a lot of hype around the release of this book and it turned out to be well deserved. This book was 10 years in the making and after reading this article the author’s meticulous writing style made even more sense.

There were three points of view told in this book, primarily through the eyes of one narrator, Will.  Sometimes it felt as if there was no narrator; just information provided. It was an interesting approach to tell a story and it worked well. The book starts at the end of the story which can be risky if the reader doesn’t like the ending. But Kwon pulls you in with just enough detail and quickly cuts back the past.

Will is a Bible college drop out who lost his faith and transferred to an elite east coast university. He comes from a financially unstable family with a mentally ill mother and a father who left them. To keep up with his wealthy friends he lies about his own family and background while starving and subsisting on stolen apples from the school cafeteria. He secretly works as a waiter at a high-end restaurant and barely makes enough to help his mother and scrape by himself.

Phoebe is a classically trained piano prodigy who lost her mother in a car accident. Her estranged father/evangelical mega-church pastor steps in to care for her the last several months of high school until she leaves for college. She is smart with a  magnetic personality and Will falls for her after meeting at a party.

John Leal is the leader of a group, a.k.a cult. He returns to his former college town after a questionable story of being kidnapped and held in a North Korean prison. It is there that he sees unspeakable acts against other prisoners that haunt him. When he is released he undergoes a spiritual awakening of some sort which involves him no longer wearing shoes. He already sounds like a cult leader doesn’t he?

Phoebe is targeted by John as a potential member of his new group and she gets sucked in despite Will’s misgivings with religion and even deeper issues with John and his real agenda.

John has extreme views around abortion and those clinics become a target of his group. From there Phoebe and Will’s relationship is put in jeopardy as Phoebe is caught between charismatic John and her boyfriend Will. Multiple acts of violence occur and Will’s world as he knows it, falls apart.

The author does a fantastic job of telling the story while leaving bits and pieces up to the reader to think on and resolve. Most often, plots like this leave me frustrated but that was not the case here at all. For example: a protagonist makes the shift to antagonist and in the end are they all antagonists or just deeply flawed and hurting humans? I enjoyed being able to draw my own conclusions and decide for myself.

This book was a fast read but packed with the issues of religion, abortion, sexual assault, suicide, and violent extremism. It’s interesting to think about how much has changed in our world in the 10 years it took to write this book yet it still managed to be completely relevant for today.

I found the writing sharp and the unusual character development makes this book unique. Much was left up to the imagination of the reader and two-dimensional characters became three-dimensional based on personal life experiences. I found myself identifying with both Will and Phoebe. But not John… thank you very much.

Who would I recommend this book to? Anyone who enjoys good writing and a plot told from an interesting perspective. But please be aware of the issues that I listed above as some of it may be upsetting, especially to those who have personally experienced trauma.

This was Kwon’s debut novel and I am looking forward to reading more of her work!

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The Boston Girl Review : why average books can be great

img_9440Does every book read have to be a five-star, award-winning, New York Times bestseller?

When you read a lot and spend a good deal of time conversing with other readers it’s fairly easy to slip into the constant quest for the next great book. Instagram is my primary social media outlet because it’s fairly difficult to be nasty when you are essentially posting pictures with captions and a few thoughts. I digress but when I found “bookstagram” on Instagram I was thrilled.

Fellow readers! On Instagram! Posting pictures of books! With book reviews!

I fully admit to being a bookstagrammer and I find the community there to be warm, kind, respectful, and of course, interesting. I have only found one downside and can’t really imagine another one besides this one. What is it?

Getting on board the latest and greatest book train that never stops. I love new books and enjoy reading what everyone is reading and talking about. I’m always looking out for the next great review while readying myself to grab said book and read it ahead of all the other books in my to-be-read pile.

But what about the average books? The ones that aren’t what everyone is raving about? For me, I have learned that average books have plenty to offer. I found this true after finishing this audiobook, The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant.

I was pleasantly surprised by the book. The plot, the writing, and the storytelling quality of the book made it a nice change of pace. Especially after back to back books about missing and dead women.

I logged into Goodreads to mark this book complete and started reading reviews. I was surprised at how tough some of the reviews were. Of course reviews should be honest and every reader is entitled to their opinion but reading comments about being “tired of the immigrant to America success story” plot made me laugh.

What would be preferred? To read books about immigrants coming to America and failing? We get enough of that narrative in real life. Again I digress but I don’t want every book I read to mirror reality.

Average books have plenty to draw from and I have found that the average quality gives the reader room to think, reflect, and take from the book what they want or even need.

The Boston Girl is a coming of age, immigrant success story told by 85-year-old Addie to her granddaughter. She was born in America in 1900 to Jewish immigrants. She had two older sisters and her life began in a one room apartment.

Addie’s parents were very traditional but 16-year-old Addie wanted more from life than to only marry and have children. She wanted an education and to even have a career. But the early 1900’s were not especially kind to women like Addie or women in general.

The issues of abortion, sexual assault, suicide, death, child labor, illness, racism, and sexism were all a part of this book. Told solely from Addie’s perspective, it is the story of a young woman navigating her way through some of the very same issues women face today.

The plot did not expand upon every single issue and while that bothered some reviewers, I liked being able to think about the issues on my own, how they related to the character, and how not so different they are even today.

Who would I recommend this book to? Anyone who isn’t sick of the “immigrant to America success story”. I joke… kind of. This book was a quick read (listen) and a good reminder of despite how bleak things seem today, the world and it’s view of women has improved. Yes, there is more work to do but I found the tenacity, humor, and intelligence of Addie to be endearing and encouraging.

I listened to the audio version of this book and the narration was wonderful. The narrator sounded like a Boston girl in her 80’s and her words added to the overall effect of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to a feisty grandma tell me about her life and the time she smoked pot on her 80th birthday with her granddaughter.

Who wouldn’t want to get to know a character like that?

What is one of your favorite average books?

(Audiobook)

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True Crime Addict Part One : A double book review and commentary on sensationalized violence against women

This post has been rolling around in my mind for weeks. I have a lot of thoughts to share and plan to break this into three parts.

  • Part One – background and review of True Crime Addict.
  • Part Two – review of Dead Girls.
  • Part Three – contrast the two books and discuss the positives and negatives of the genre.

Background: Several years ago I became a fan of true crime podcasts. It’s a terribly sad subject matter and I dropped most of them for my mental health in favor of politics podcasts. That worked out well.

My Favorite Murder was the very first one I listened to and still listen to on occasion. Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are the podcasters and somehow strike a balance with a very difficult subject matter. They aren’t perfect in their presentation every time but they are far more respectful of the victims than most.

Then I stumbled on another one, Sword & Scale, that many seemed to enjoy. I made it through exactly 1.5 episodes and realized that something wasn’t sitting right with me. It was so sensational and the podcaster, Mike Boudet, took special pride in graphic details, terrifying 911 calls, and taking a very dramatic and over-produced tone when presenting his research and timeline of events. I moved on after listening to half of an episode with graphic descriptions of harming children. No thanks.

Other than the obvious, I couldn’t put my finger exactly on why I enjoyed one podcast but not the other. Beyond the graphic sensationalism, there was something more.

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So after practically having a nervous breakdown over politics, I revisited the true crime genre with this book by James Renner. The title of the book was intriguing and I hoped it would answer some of my reasons for pause about this genre.

It did not disappoint from the very beginning. Let’s start with the title:

True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray

Look at the tagline: “How I Lost Myself…”. Put that with the title:

True Crime Addict, I, Myself

All descriptors for the author. The disappearance of Maura Murray is almost an afterthought. There was my first issue with the handling of this genre.

Was the disappearance of Maura Murray investigated in this book? Yes. And with a large bias against the family because they didn’t want to talk to Renner. With much sarcasm… I can’t imagine why.

I listened to the audiobook read by the author and hearing it straight from his own mouth was interesting to say the least. Within the first few chapters he revealed that a test he took with his therapist scored him with a personality and characteristics similar to Ted Bundy.

He didn’t speak of this with fear or reserve but almost a bravado. It was unsettling to say the least to include such personal psychological references in a true crime book about a missing woman.

He also spoke of falling in love with a missing girl after seeing her “missing” poster when he was a young boy and was formerly obsessed with her case. Missing girls and women consume this author and his life over and over and he spends a fair amount of time writing about such.

Enter a quick preview of the second book, Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin.

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Investigating these murders essentially ruins [detectives] Cohle’s and Hart’s  lives. When we see them in 2012, Cohle is gaunt and bedraggled, now a bartender who starts drinking at noon on his day off. Hart is off the force, too, and divorced, drinking again and working as a private eye. How sad these murders had to happen to them. 

-Dead Girls, Alice Bolin

 

Interwoven into Renner’s book were the author’s own life experiences, mental health, family issues, trauma, and descent into alcohol abuse. Sound familiar?

There were also plenty of self-congratulatory passages on his research methods and “transparency”. He created a network of internet sleuths who spent their time chasing theories, some being straight up conspiracy, and freely shared this information on his blog.

On the surface it seemed to be an interesting methodology. But in the end there were elements of harassment of the victim’s family. For example, Renner gave out the father’s address in the book. There was also harassment of Renner’s family that stemmed from his blog and research.

The harassment of the Murray family was barely discussed and mostly under the guise of investigative journalism. But the harassment of the author’s family had at least a chapter devoted to it and much was made of the rage he felt and the reminder of his Ted Bundy-esque characteristics.

Again, it was more about what the investigation of the crime did to him; how the disappearance of Maura Murray had and was happening to him.

This is a common theme in true crime be it from the investigative journalists, the authors, or even law enforcement. Dead Girls explores this phenomenon and that is where I’ll pick up with Part Two.

My rating of True Crime Addict: ✂️✂️✂️/5 but not for writing or content. Rather, this book brought to the forefront my issues with the genre and helped me organize my thoughts around the sensationalism of females being harmed.

Who would I recommend this book to? Not many; even the true crime fans. It’s a disjointed investigation that leads nowhere. And to complicate matters, it’s an odd thing to witness as Renner inserts himself and his own issues into the disappearance of a young woman.

Multiple young women.

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About this morning…

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To say that the last two weeks have been tough would be an understatement. And really, it’s been more like the last four years. I’ve shared snippets here and there on Instagram but because so much has been intertwined with other peoples’ stories to tell, I have largely remained quiet.

But in remaining quiet I lost my voice. Sure, I had a voice to advocate for everyone around me but for me it was radio silence. I’m not blaming anyone for this because I know I did the right things for the right reasons.  I wouldn’t change anything because our experiences make us into the people we are meant to become.

This summer we stopped watching the news. It was a conscious decision that Steve and I made together and it was a good decision. I get everything I need to know from my daily conference calls and emails at work. The rest of it, the commentary especially, wasn’t good for my mental health.

I have paid attention to the Kavanaugh hearings and as a mother of a daughter who had her own story to tell earlier this year, yesterday was gut-wrenching. Between that and everything else, I woke up on fire this morning.

I am far from perfect and I yelled. I yelled at my daughter and my husband over things that are worthy of getting upset about. But I felt so much more inside and knew it was about far more than people not taking care of their morning responsibilities.  I had hit my limit. With everything.

I don’t cry and this morning my daughter saw me cry for the first time ever as I apologized to her for yelling. But I wasn’t crying just because I yelled. I was crying because I woke up different. And tired.

I’m tired of how people treat each other. I’m tired of how men treat women. I’m tired of how women treat men. And the worst, I’m tired of how women treat each other. I’m tired of trying guess what is next and what someone’s motives are. And I’m tired of things that don’t bring me peace. When you don’t have peace, you get caught up in the chaos and the next thing you know you’ve lost your voice. I know this cycle well.

I was telling my husband last night that lately, no matter how bad my day was, writing in the evenings helped my mood. So I’ll be writing more. Writing brings me peace and gives me a voice.

And quite possibly, more peace and feeling like I am heard will keep me from losing my mind at 7:00 am when our dogs do dumb shit. Everyone wins.

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Lucky Boy book review

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“She’d learned the lesson that all women learn sooner or later. If there was something to be done, she’d have to do it herself.”

“There is a beast in all of us. On the worst things can bring it ripping through the human veneer.”

Lucky Boy ✂️✂️✂️✂️/5

This story tugged all the heartstrings and even tore a few in the process. I finished it at lunch today, ugly cried, and then had to go back to work. 😳

Soli is 18 when she crosses the border illegally from Mexico. The journey alone was harrowing and she arrived at her cousin’s in California broken and pregnant.

She’s determined to keep the baby and has a boy who she named Ignacio. His nickname was “Nacho” and was such an endearing reminder of how young Soli was. She finds a good job with a family, is a great mom, and everything is going well until she and her cousin are picked up by the police.

The parallel story is Kavya and Rishi, a Berkeley couple who are desperate to have a baby. After many failed attempts they decide to foster: enter Ignacio into their lives. They nicknamed him “Iggy” and I liked how the author did this to show the contrast between the two worlds this toddler was living in.

This was such a timely book and without spoiling the ending, the reader is forced to look at such a difficult situation where no one is right and no one is wrong.

The audiobook was fantastic and I was amazed at the narrator pulling off both an Indian and Hispanic accent. The writing was excellent; so descriptive and vivid. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read about both perspectives of the immigration debate without it being too heavy-handed or political.

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What did I personally love about this book? The relationship between Kavya and Rishi. Their separate grief and their shared grief. The way they learned to communicate and support each other. Absolutely, I found the message of the book to be so important: awareness for the plight of the undocumented immigrant and their American citizen children. But also, what is a book if you can’t apply parts of it to your own life?

“Why did people love children that were born to other people? For the same reason they lived in Berkeley, knowing the Big One was coming: because it was a beautiful place to be, and because there was no way to fathom the length or quality of life left to anyone.”

This last quote has been my life the past several years. Loving children, teenagers in particular, born to other people. It’s often a thankless job and one even resented because you are “the mom” in the house but never THE mom. And don’t get me wrong, I never ever want to replace their mom but it is a purgatory I would not wish on anyone. Especially kids. So my heart went out to the characters in this book lost in a purgatory of a situation where there were no good answers and no clear signs of heading in the right direction. Sometimes all you can do is love hard and hope for the best despite the unknowns.