I Will Find You

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Review #30: Non-Fiction

I Will Find You by Joanna Connors

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At times equally terrifying and engrossing, I Will Find You grabs ahold of you from page one and demands to be read until the end. Joanna Connors writes with such honesty and bravery about such an uncomfortable topic for readers, and an extremely traumatic one for her, that you can’t help but keep turning the page. We don’t want to to know, and yet, we have to know.

This must be how Connors felt when she decided to research her rapist 30 years after the attack. She documents her experience and tells her survival story with courage and grace, even allowing the reader into the moments she decided she needed to tell her children what had happened to her, something she thought she would never do. Connors brings us along on her journey to find peace, and does it beautifully and intelligently.

Being a journalist, it is no surprise that this book is extremely well written, well researched, and unbiased — amazingly so. It is spectacular the way in while Connors is able to research and write about a man who brutally raped her, as if he were any other person she were covering for a story. She speaks to his family and friends, people who were involved in her lawsuit and other cases against him, and stays mostly neutral.

Though she does explain who she is and why she’s interviewing them to some of the man’s family, mainly Connors just tries to find out who he was, and maybe why he did what he did to her, and to others. In doing so, she touches on so many important and topical issues. This book sheds light on institutional and socialized racism, sexism, domestic abuse, victim blaming, and the failure of our current justice system to really do anything about any of them. I Will Find You is so much more than one woman’s search to understand her rapist and to find closure from her one experience.

Joanna Connors perfectly recounts her rapist’s life, the actions that lead to his attack on her, shedding even more light on the idea that crime begets more crime, violence, more violence. He lived in poverty, was addicted to drugs at a young age, was subjected to domestic violence and a violent life on the streets. Though none of this makes you sympathetic to the man who committed such gruesome acts of violence against Connors and others, it does make you pay more attention to the underlying causes of such acts; it makes you see how society both creates criminals and punishes them for it.

In heart-pounding, stomach-wrenching, thought-provoking prose, Connors gives us an awakening not to be missed.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

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Armada

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Review #29: Fiction

Blogging for Books #10

Armada by Ernest Cline

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I am a HUGE fan of Ready Player One and could not wait to get my hands on a copy of Armada when it came out. Now, Ready Player One is much more focused on ‘80s pop culture as a whole: the music, the movies, the games, the style, etc — which is why I dug it so much. I was born right at the end of the era and sometimes feel I was born a little too late. ‘80s pop culture runs through my veins. I knew Armada is set in the current day, and that it is much heavier on video game knowledge and interest rather than strictly ‘80s culture, but nonetheless, it did not disappoint.

The story revolves around Zack Lightman and his friends who are high school-aged kids that are obsessed with two online multiplayer games; ARMADA and TERRA FIRMA. Both games focus on the human race defending itself against an alien invasion — ARMADA focuses on air defense and TERRA FIRMA on ground defense. Players remote-pilot unmanned drones in ARMADA and unmanned ATHIDS in TERRA FIRMA. Because I’m not a heavy gamer, there are definitely some aspects of Armada that went over my head a little. Some of the gamer language and slang was unfamiliar to me, and some of the descriptions of the games themselves as well as technology and materials used in the games were harder for me to visualize. However, Cline does a pretty good job of making this world and the concept accessible to everyone, and definitely to those who are already gaming nerds.

At the beginning of the book, Lightman notices a spaceship that looks a lot like the alien crafts in ARMADA flying over his school. Chalking this up to too much playing time, as well as some inherited insanity (his father was convinced of a video game/government training program to defeat real alien invasion using civilians — a lot like the idea behind Ender’s Game which Cline touches on several times throughout the book). Zack’s father was killed on the job when Zack was only an infant.

Eventually things happen that Lightman cannot easily explain away, and he and his friends (some of the best ARMADA and TERRA FIRMA players in the world) have to come together to figure out if Zack’s father’s theory holds any water…and if it does, what that means for them and the survival of the planet. If aliens were attacking, would a world full of gamers be enough to stop them? Would civilians trained to fight with nothing more than video games step up to the challenge? And if a government cover up were true, what actually happened to Zack’s father all those years ago?

There are a ton of ‘80s (and ‘90s) references thrown into this book, from old-school video games, to movies and music, and books. Cline once again uses this pop culture to drive his plot, giving us glimpses into his inspiration for the book, his characters, and also just throwing us a big nostalgia party. He references great hair metal bands; movies and TV shows like The Karate Kid, Star Trek,  E.T., Star Wars, and The X-Files (and on and on); and movies like Men in Black, Contact, and The Last Starfighter. This book brings back some great decades of pop culture and ties it to current-day gaming and the continued idea (and question) of whether or not the truth is out there…

Armada is action packed, fun from beginning to end, and a true first-person like book that turns the reader into Zack Lightman. Cline makes you feel like not only are you along for the ride, but you just might be the one driving the ship.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

J: A Novel

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Review #28: Fiction

Blogging for Books #9

J: A Novel by Howard Jacobson

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Jacobson’s novel, set in a possible future, revolves around the lives of those after WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED. Though we are never actually told WHAT HAPPENED, it seems to be some sort of genocide, based on religious beliefs or genetics — it was pretty vague with no real facts of any kind to grasp on to to anchor yourself as a reader.

No one (or supposedly no one) in this future knows WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, their real history/pasts; they don’t talk about it, there’s no nostalgia for things, people, or times — no keepsakes or heirlooms. Everyone is very sheltered.

Ailinn and Kevern meet (by accident, we think, but learn otherwise), they become lovers and begin a relationship. Kevern’s teacher and Ailinn’s guardian seem to be hiding something from the both of them. Kevern is highly suspicious of everything and everyone; he thinks he’s being watched. Ailinn has been running from an imaginary foe (her fear) forever. They make a very neurotic and dysfunctional pair.

When a woman in town, her lover, and her husband are all murdered, Kevern becomes a suspect because he once kissed the woman. The detective does not actually suspect Kevern, but uses this investigation as an excuse to keep tabs on him, to learn more about him, to search his home. This investigator is a conspiracy theorist about WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, and thinks Kevern and Ailinn are pieces to the puzzle he’s working on.

Jacobson creates interest and intrigue from the beginning, drawing us into the mystery of WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, and what Kevern and Ailinn have to do with it. He weaves in a bit of romance with Kevern and Ailinn’s relationship, but that flame fizzles out, as does the mystery of WHAT HAPPENED as the story progresses. I really like the book to begin with, but around the middle to the end, the story lost speed and appeal. Some passages and flashbacks seem disjointed and ultimately unimportant to the novel as a whole and pull readers away from the main story Jacobson is telling.

Throughout, Jacobson uses beautiful language, however, some areas felt over-the-top and forced…like these large words and intricate sentences were unnecessary to get the point across. Different language and different tones would have helped the story flow more smoothly.

The book is described as 1984 meets Brave New World, which is a pretty spot on description. That connection does not disappoint.

Overall, I’m not really sure anything actually happened. The story (of the past) was semi-told through flashbacks of Kevern’s family, Ailinn’s family, and Ez’s (Ailinn’s guardian) family, among others. The events of the current story seemed to be setting up an ending that would have been more definite, more certain. Some plot points were started and never wrapped up, leaving us with the feeling that they weren’t important to the novel at all — why include them if they won’t be material in the end? A future to this future was hinted at but not put into motion enough to feel content with it as an end to this novel.

J: A Novel starts with a lot of potential, but falls a bit flat in the end.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Little Paris Bookshop

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Review #26: Fiction

Blogging for Books #7

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

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This novel is a love letter, an ode, to the beautiful, magical, healing power of books.

The story follows a man, Monsieur Jean Perdu, who, as a self-proclaimed literary apothecary, uses his wealth of knowledge of books and how they comfort people to help them while suppressing his own pain surrounding the love he lost nearly two decades prior. Monsieur Perdu owns a bookshop boat on the Seine. He refuses to sell books to buyers unless the book is the one he feels they need – he can read their souls and know what they need to read in that moment to find comfort. However, to find comfort himself, he needs to do more than read the right book.

When he reads a letter his former lover left when she disappeared 20 years prior, Perdu finally knows the tragic truth behind her departure, and to truly move on and find peace and new love, he must embark on a journey that takes him across France. On a whim, he packs up and sets sail with his floating bookshop to find closure. With a wonderful cast of characters he meets along the way, Perdu not only reaches the end of his journey, but finds a family, and himself, along the way.

In The Little Paris Bookshop, we are taken on an expedition of love, loss, and literature through the beautiful French countryside. With the various tales of heartbreak, lovesickness, and hope from the supporting characters, Perdu finally finds his comfort, while any reader surely finds theirs in these pages. The Little Paris Bookshop describes the beauty of a book, the solace one finds in literature, while expertly providing that service itself.

Several passages throughout have stuck with me; it is a book that I found exactly when I needed it, which is precisely the kind of literary happenstance that drives Perdu’s life’s work.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, there are little extra surprises at the end of the book – a few recipes for some of the delicious meals that are prepared through Perdu’s trip across France, and also a selection of book recommendations and the people/situations they are best suited for from the Book Doctor himself.

The Little Paris Bookshop is a delightful book, with a beautifully tragic, heartbreaking, hopeful, and heartfelt story. I am sure those who need this story will find it.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Spinster

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Review #25: Non-Fiction

Blogging for Books #6

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

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I was pretty excited to read this book; I’d heard some good things about it, friends had highly recommended it, and having recently ended my own engagement, it seemed like a fitting read as far as timing goes.

I didn’t, however, find what I was expecting. I thought it would be funnier, for starters. Though there are definitely tidbits here and there that forced a smile, a giggle, and in one case, an all-out head-thrown-back laugh, it is a mostly very serious book. This doesn’t make it bad, per se, but it did turn me off a little. There are things in life that humor helps ease, and coming to terms with the realities of human relationships and romance is, in my opinion, one of them.

Bolick give us a ton of information about her “awakeners” (the women who inspire or have influenced her “spinster” lifestyle) in this book. She has absolutely done her research and really brings these women to life through her own commentary about them, as well as their own writing and other secondary sources describing them in detail. Part of me loves all these details and inclusions, and part of me feels it was too much. At one point I felt like staying, “Alright already. If I wanted to know this much about this woman, I would read her biography and her life’s work myself.” I was left knowing a lot about Bolick’s “awakeners” but wanting for how they really influenced Bolick –what I was ultimately hoping for from this book.

It also felt extremely dated. Many of the women Bolick writes about span all the way back to the 1800s and the majority of their lives and decisions play out in the early 1900s. Bolick herself is writing about her life mostly in the 1990s and early 2000s. I had never heard of many of the women and other influencers Bolick mentions, and felt their lives and choices really couldn’t be related to the lives of women today. I definitely didn’t feel like I could really relate to Bolick well – in some ways, of course, but the world has changed so drastically from even the 1990s that these anecdotes fell rather flat.

Bolick’s life, arguable much more recent, felt distant from life for women (especially women writers in New York City today.) Many of the opportunities Bolick and others she writes had about just don’t exist in NY today. The publishing industry just isn’t the same, and Bolick’s opportunities and successes in NY offered her greater options in her personal life than many would be offered today. This is wonderful for her, don’t get me wrong (I’m admittedly jealous of what she was able to accomplish and the relationships she was able to experience), but I was unable to really connect to the writing knowing how these experiences probably couldn’t exist today.

Overall, the book started slowly, picked up in the middle but eventually became distant from the reader. Though there are a few grains of wisdom and valuable insight sprinkled throughout, it is by no means a must read.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Dead Wake

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Review #23: Non-fiction

Blogging for Books #5

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

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It would honestly go against everything I know about good writing and storytelling, not to mention come as a complete and utter shock, if anything by Erik Larson wasn’t phenomenal. Not only is what he writes informative, but it’s entertaining; something that doesn’t happen all that often with non-fiction, unfortunately.

Firstly, Dead Wake is extremely well researched. Even without the dozens of pages of reference material and notes at the end of the book, you can tell just from the meat of the book that Larson labored over it extensively. There are more than a handful of characters in this book, but none of them is neglected. We are never introduced to someone who we don’t hear from again. Larson has created a well-balanced cast from several different sides of this story, with myriad viewpoints. We really get to know these characters, and though we know how many of their stories will end, we are still drawn into their journey every step of the way, waiting to see if we will find out their exact fate. Larson ties up as many loose ends as he can with his research. Each character has a story that is both heartbreaking and beautiful — stories that wouldn’t be known if it weren’t for Larson.

One of the hallmarks of a good historian and researcher is to find the information that hasn’t been discovered or distributed before. Many say that history is written by the victors, and in many cases, this is very true. History will always have bias. Here, Larson tells the story of the Lusitania from the views of Americans, the British, passengers on the ship, naval officers, German u-boat crew, and many others. He uses first and secondary accounts of what was going on with the Allies as well as the Germans through this wartime, and humanizes both sides. Though through the evidence he gathers, it is very obvious that there are heroes and villains in this story, he reminds us that both groups are people, something that oftentimes gets lost among the pages of our history books.

There is an element of mystery and adventure to Larson’s book. He is a master of writing a story that we know the ending to and still fostering thrills and suspense. Larson admits to having believed a different version of the story of Lusitania before beginning his research; a false story that I had also assumed, and suppose many others might as well. The sinking of the Lusitania, to my understanding before reading Dead Wake, directly and immediately lead to the United States’s involvement in World War I. However, Larson, in great detail, paints a very different picture. From the lead up to the Lusitania’s voyage; to its attack and eventual sinking; and the aftermath for friends, family, and country; Larson painstakingly presents the decisions that had to be made by everyone involved along the way. In fact, several years passed and other events lead to the US eventually entering the war efforts. And Larson presents all of these facts in a way that is both informative and interesting.

I was expecting nothing less than a good read out of Dead Wake, but what I got was much better than expected. Larson weaves exceptional details about a time in history that seems to be little-known with human interest stories and an action packed nautical thriller seamlessly. Dead Wake has it all, and does something that, in my mind is nearly impossible; readers will be thoroughly entertained, while simultaneously informed.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Father of Lies

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Review #22: Fiction

Father of Lies by Brian Evenson

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This novel is dark. It is disturbing. It is uncomfortable. And all of it is completely necessary.

Though written nearly two decades ago, it still speaks truthfully and unreservedly about religion, about cult-like followings, about perversions of the mind. It is difficult to read in many passages, but truly sheds light on using religion and blind faith as excuses to harm others (in this case through pedophilic sexual assault, murder, and incest), and as excuses to trust and protect the unworthy against your better judgment.

Evenson does not hold back. Though less graphic than it probably could have been, there is enough here to make your skin crawl—and it should. This is the point of the novel.

Readers follow first person accounts of Provost Fochs as he rapes young members of his congregation, even murdering one of them, and uses his faith and the name of God to justify his actions. His superiors in the religious community believe him when he denies any involvement in these heinous acts, rationalizing his position in the church as proof enough that he couldn’t be responsible for such evil deeds. However, this simply points out the blind eyes turned in religious communities; Fochs’s superiors didn’t want him to be guilty, so he wasn’t. Eventually, some truths become known to these superiors, and since they’d stood by Foch for so long, they couldn’t now turn their backs on him for fear of damaging the name of the church.

Through the novel, Fochs sees a therapist because he begins acting out and speaking in his sleep, worrying his wife with the things he’s saying—things relating to the horrible acts committed against the young members of the community. Readers are given glimpses into these therapy sessions where Fochs relays his actions as if they were merely dreams, spurred by the news coverage of the events. He claims his dreams are a manifestation of the guilt he feels at letting harm come to the youth of his community, that he is unfit to be Provost since he could not protect his congregation.

Eventually his therapist, Dr. Feshtig, feels Fochs’s “dreams” to be more than that, that Fochs is in fact guilty of the events, and reaches out to Fochs’s family and the authorities to try to bring him to justice.

Through the book, Fochs speaks to what first seems an alter-ego, a man he refers to as “Bloody Head”, a person who encourages Fochs to commit his crimes, and to cover them up, all the time insisting that it is God’s will for Fochs to act this way. It is unclear what this “Bloody Head” character is—alter-ego, demon perhaps—and until the end of the book, is not seen or spoken to by anyone other than Fochs. Until the time when Fochs’s wife interacts with this character, it seemed as if “Bloody Head” represented mental illness, personality disorder of some kind in Fochs. But that cannot be the case if he becomes a flesh-blood-character outside of Fochs in the end.

CAUTION, SOME SPOILERS AHEAD

This character becomes increasing confusing when he, through the vary violation to Fochs that Fochs had inflicted on others, miraculously (in Fochs’s mind) gets the investigation of Fochs as the murderer of a young girl stopped. Though Fochs is forced to give a blood sample after a tip is called in, and his blood is a match for some found at the murder scene, somehow, Fochs doesn’t hear from the police again. Evenson doesn’t even explain what happens with the case at all—if it was dropped, if the girl’s brother (who was the prime suspect before Fochs) was charged—it just goes away.

In the end, even though Fochs’s superiors in the church know what he’d done, but because they fought against his accusers previously, they were forced to stay silent to save face. Fochs is transferred to a religious college to remove him from the specific community, and in theory, from a younger congregation. As Fochs himself says in the end, this move is simply a new beginning.

Though there are parts of the story that were confusing, felt unfinished or unexplained, this novel is wonderfully written. It’s very raw, and very real. It calls attention to so many real-life situations—and not just as they relate to religious communities. There are instances of sexism, of victim blaming, that resonate outside of this specific narrative.

Father of Lies is a work of fiction, but the contents of the novel are all too real, and should surely make any reader stop and think about religion in society, of religious leaders who are seen as holy and thus above the law, how we, as humans, see evil where we want to see it and ignore it where we don’t. I would not call this a pleasant read, but it is fascinating in its own way. Do not come into this novel unprepared, but definitely do read it.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

*Cover art from Amazon.com