THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS

4 out of 5 stars

  • Author: Victoria Namkung
  • Publication date: November 7, 2017
  • By Griffith Moon

Goodreads Summary:

At Windemere School for Girls, one of America’s elite private schools, Dr. Gregory Copeland is the beloved chair of the English Department. A married father with a penchant for romantic poetry—and impressionable teenage girls—he operates in plain sight for years, until one of his former students goes public with allegations of inappropriate conduct. With the help of an investigative journalist, and two additional Windemere alumnae who had relationships with Copeland as students, the unlikely quartet unites to take him down.

Set in modern-day Los Angeles, These Violent Delights is a literary exploration of the unyielding pressures and vulnerabilities that so many women and girls experience, and analyzes the ways in which our institutions and families fail to protect or defend us. A suspenseful and nuanced story told from multiple points of view, the novel examines themes of sexuality, trauma, revenge, and the American myth of liberty and justice for all.

My Thoughts:

At first, I was not sure how to judge this book as a reader. It is well written, packs a Unknownpowerful message and it held my attention, even though it has a distinct non-fiction feel. So, four stars it is!  Plus, that gorgeous cover.

Chosen for its beautiful cover and title, I mistakenly assumed the book was a light mystery or domestic type thriller. It’s not.  Note to self: start reading summaries carefully.  I am really glad I continued reading, it was compelling and informative.

Here comes the dreaded “however”… reading this book feels exactly like watching a one hour episode of Law and Order. Da dum.

With spot-on relevancy to current events (#MeToo), I was expecting a great deal from this book. The story of different women that come forward, years later, to accuse a former high school teacher of horrible things was sadly dry, simply because of the way it was presented. We hear their stories in long rambling paragraphs of newspaper articles, letters, court testimony or social media posts.

We follow this story through all the different stages from initial public accusation, investigations and finally, the trial. Remember my Law and Order reference?
The book makes a strong statement for women and children’s rights and offers solutions to issues schools face when dealing with accusations against teachers. The author is deeply entrenched and knowledgeable with the American culture of rape and makes so many compelling arguments.
“Don’t you find it interesting that these types of crimes against women- whether it’s violence, sexual assault, rape- are the only kinds we force the victim to make a case about their own innocence before even investigating?”

I found it difficult to really connect to the protagonists in this story, much as I admired them for their courage. I was interested and cared about the characters. I just wanted to know them on a different level than as a victim.

The book is categorized in General or Women’s fiction. This is a difficult subject to serve as a thesis in a work of fiction. I think the author did a fantastic job of researching the facts and giving all the statistics involved in sexual abuse. It is insightful, valuable and educational for parents and older teens to read. I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn more about what we can do to prevent more women from having to remain silent.

Sadly, the problem lies in the fact that this is so relevant and the stories are so real that this short book reads more like non-fiction. And I want more story.

About Victoria Namkung (from her website)

For nearly 20 years, Victoria Namkung has been a Los Angeles-based author,  journalist, essayist, and cultural commentator. Her writing has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, NBC NewsVICE, Washington Post, USA TodayInStyle, and Los Angeles magazine, among other publications. As a speaker and panelist, she’s appeared at the AAAS Conference, Mixed Remixed, and the Asian American Journalists Association.Unknown-1

After receiving a master’s from UCLA, she taught courses on gender, immigration, and writing at UCSB, UCLA, and 826LA, respectively. Her research on Asian American males and import car culture in southern California was published as a chapter in the award-winning collection, Asian American Youth (Routledge), and was taught at esteemed universities such as Cornell University and Oberlin College.

The daughter of a Dublin-born Jewish mother and Korean father, Victoria was raised in Irvine, California and maintains dual citizenship in Ireland. Her debut novel, The Things We Tell Ourselves (Standard Time Press), was published in 2015. Victoria’s second novel, These Violent Delights (Griffith Moon), will be published in November 2017.

Many thanks to the wonderful folks at NetGalley for allowing me to read and honestly review this book.

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

4 out of 5 stars

  • Author: Celeste Ng
  • Published Sept. 12, 2017 by Penguin Audio
  • Narrated by Jennifer Lim

The whole time I was listening to this book, I couldn’t shake the feeling of deja vu. It finally dawned on me that Little Fires Everywhere inexplicably reminded me of a childhood favorite book called The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. It’s a really old book, but let me tell you, when I was ten years old, I was obsessed with it!

Both books feature families of four rambunctious kids and Celeste Ng writes in a confident, animated manner that is reminiscent of Elizabeth Enright’s style. The books each have more of an infectious, rather than addictive quality. It is so fun to be in the middle of these families and root for one character and then feel sympathy for another.

Although this is only Ng’s second book, she has an established formula and successfully works it again. Instead of starting out with a death as she did in Everything I Never Told You, this time Ng starts out with the mystery of who set the house afire and works back telling the story of tangled adult relationships and secret lives of teenagers. Also, as in her first book, there are hints of simmering racism in the comfortable suburban utopia that is Shaker Heights, Ohio.

As I sit here dissecting the various themes of Little Fires Everywhere (and there are many!), the one that stands out the most to me is motherhood. What does it mean to be a mother? How much can we control the direction of our children’s lives? What rights, privileges, assumptions do we make about our kids? Finally, do we actually OWN the child that is borne to us? Ng expertly explores all the complicated angles of mother and child relationships.

I had been anxiously waiting for this book since the day I finished Ng’s first one. I embraced that first book and held onto it, pushing it onto friends, even into hands of complete strangers. It struck me as absolutely insightful and I adore that TWIST ending! Everything I Never Told You is a proud and worthy addition to my Twister Hall of Fame.

However, I just don’t get that overwhelming feeling of LOVE for this book. Ng is a carefully organized, brilliant writer and sometimes as a reader, I start to feel used, taken advantage of by the author. Ng is not exactly preachy, but every minor character, every little event in the story is absolutely overly constructed, placed to maximum effect. And that gets a bit tiresome, it’s like Ng is telling me how to feel and I don’t like that. These are all small grievances, but it does keep me from giving it a five star rating.

The audiobook performance by Jennifer Lim is one of the best I have ever heard and I listen to countless books on audio! I highly recommend the audiobook, I think Ng’s writing is well suited to this mode.

Little Fires Everywhere AMAZON

WHITE BODIES

  • 5/5 stars
  • Author:  Jane Robins
  • U.S. publication day:  9.19.2017

Have you ever googled a question and fallen down a rabbit hole for a couple of hours?  Yes, everyone has!

Imagine for a moment that you have a family member that you are worried about. Let’s say you think your sister may be in a dangerous relationship. You stumble onto a site called controllingmen.com. You find an enormous amount of helpful information. You linger on the site and end up chatting online with a couple of other friendly members. Now, what if you are a highly suggestible type personality? Do online strangers start getting you all revved up in a battered woman cause? Wait, is your sis really in trouble?

This is what happens to Callie. Her twin sister, Tilda, has always been worrisome and Callie feels it is her duty to rescue her, especially now that Felix has entered Tilda’s life.

This is the setup to what may be the best domestic suspense novel I have read all year!  I give WHITE BODIES all the stars and possibly even a coveted position in my TWISTER HALL OF FAME! I’m in love.

The entire novel is told from Callie’s POV in a first person narrative. It is a writing style I love when done well.  The style naturally propels the story in a fast, suspenseful manner. I also love the fact there aren’t any flashback chapters. Callie recalls a few memories of younger days, but the narrative is always in the present. The pages fly like fire. We discover clues when Callie does. She is the one investigating a troubling situation and the reader is along for the ride!

All the characters in the book are interesting, eccentric, and masterfully drawn. Jane Robins has created the best mix of odd-ball players I’ve read in a long while. Our protagonist, Callie, is clumsy, awkward and blurts out her thoughts before thinking. She is funny in a Bridget Jones sort of way. Tilda, her twin sister, is self-assured and graceful. An actress, she adores the spotlight and plays every situation as dramatically as possible. We also have Felix, Tilda’s new charming, controlling boyfriend. Tilda and Felix, together, have a toxic connection.

Domestic noir usually involves a husband/wife relationship that’s gone awry. But, WHITE BODIES is a study of the relationship between the twin sisters. What a strange relationship these two have. When certain characters die, you will drive yourself nuts trying to figure out this plot. The end of the book is shocking, plausible and written in such a clever way, it will blow your socks off!

I just can’t say enough how much I loved this book. It is written so well with a plot that is woven into the very structure of the pages. It was a thrill to read!

Amazon link White Bodies: An Addictive Psychological Thriller

FINAL GIRLS

5/5 stars

  • Author: Riley Sager
  • Publication date 7.11.2017
  • Penguin Group Dutton

Go with me for a second. Are you under the impression that FINAL GIRLS is about a horror movie?  Please tell me I’m not the only one that thought that!

That’s a huge misconception….The blurb says something about a “horror-movie scale massacre” and that’s all I remembered reading before thinking, “SKIP”. Not interested in  a horror movie re-make.

Well, I’m proud to announce that FINAL GIRLS is not about a movie. And double proud to announce it is a fun, scary and highly entertaining book!

There has been so much hype surrounding this current book of the month club that I was standoff-ish about rushing to it. I’m weird like that. Plus, like I said, I’m not much of a horror-movie-slasher fan. But then, Penguin Group Dutton publishers sent me an ARC and how could I not read it? I am so happy they did!

Do you know what a Final Girl is? A final girl is the sole survivor of a horrific murder scene. Movies like Halloween and Scream inevitably end with a final girl left standing.  Yet, another movie reference, sorry. Author Riley Sager has written a startling story about three final girls (all survivors of different gruesome scenes) who eventually have their separate lives intersect under troublesome circumstances.

Quincy Carpenter, aside from having a cute name, is a final girl. She lived through a mass murder scene ten years before and has tried her best to get on with a semi-normal life. A tad dependent on Xanax and dealing with a mild kleptomania problem, she has steadfastly stuck to her story that she didn’t remember anything about the night of the killings. She has dealt with her survivor guilt by becoming a successful baking blogger and by refusing to talk about that grisly night.

That’s really all you need to know about the set up of this addictive story. I was hesitant about the degree of slashi-ness, but it’s actually not that bad (nowhere near a Patricia Cornwell book!) and the narrative switches just fast enough between the murders 10 years ago and the new mystery Quincy is currently caught up in. So you never really have time to get tired of the bloody stuff!

Despite the subject matter, I wouldn’t call FINAL GIRLS a dark or disturbing horror novel. Big surprise to me! For one thing, author Riley Sager, is no Gillian Flynn. Sager’s writing is lighter, an almost superficial style, never diving below the surface of words. No need to read between the lines, just read.

There are a couple of plot twists, the pages turn fast, it is a very quick, compelling mystery. I love the character of Quincy. She is an imperfect, somewhat unreliable narrator and an interesting protagonist.

I have no doubt, FINAL GIRLS, has all the elements in place to be THE beach read book of 2017. And deservedly so.

THANK you to Penguin Group Dutton for the ARC. I appreciate the opportunity to give my honest opinion.
Final Girls: A Novel  Amazon

5 Perfect Podcasts to Binge this Weekend

  • Up and Vanished
  • S-Town 
  • Sincerely, X
  • My Favorite Murder
  • Sworn
  • Bonus Podcast:  What Should I Read Next?

Sometimes my eyes need a break from reading! But, chores and driving are absolutely too boring without a juicy book or podcast in my ears. These are my favorites!

UP AND VANISHED just finished its first season and oh my gosh! If you are even mildly interested in true crime/mystery and you aren’t familiar with this one, you’re in for a treat! Payne Lindsay, an everyday guy from Georgia, decides to launch an investigation into the disappearance of beauty queen and high school teacher, Tara Grinstead. Tara has been missing over 11 years and the case is freezing cold by the time Payne begins to look into the story in his Grandma’s hometown. TALK ABOUT PLOT TWISTS! Payne is a very RELIABLE narrator and the events unfold almost real time.  Not a spoiler (HUGE NATIONAL NEWS ATTENTION was given) to say Payne and his novice crew end up solving the case with the killer(s) arrested and awaiting trial at this moment. Start at the very beginning with Episode 1 to literally watch (listen to) the growing pains Payne experiences going from small time film maker to national crime solving hero. Fascinating.

S-TOWN The second season of the original SERIAL podcast, this season is completely different. Please tell me you already listened to Serial, the grandaddy of all podcasts? If not, that’s your first assignment. S- Town, I believe, started out to be on a similarly arced season with a murder to solve in S-town, Alabama. But (major plot twist) this story ends up being something completely different! I can’t give away anymore than that, it is a journey that you will not believe, won’t stop thinking about, and can’t stop talking about. I listened to it months ago and I still am blown away by the philosophical implications it raises about our country. Bookish hint: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.

SINCERELY, X is a new podcast done by TED and Audible. It has quickly become my favorite in only four short (30-ish) minute episodes. The series features talks from speakers whose identities are hidden. Holy smokes, these stories will cut straight through to your heart and brain–so compelling! In Episode 2, entitled Pepper Spray, a woman describes what happened when she snapped one day in a retail store.  If you have ever dealt with anxiety issues, you will feel every ounce of her experience. Each stand-alone episode is presented by a victim or a perpetrator or an entrepreneur or an activist or an empath, or….

MY FAVORITE MURDER the app blurb reads: “Lifelong fans of true crime stories Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark tell each other their favorite tales of murder and hear hometown crime stories from friends and fans.” SO. DRY.  Actually, these two women are both hilarious working Hollywood types (google them). They’re not for everyone, they’re racy, candid and love to curse. They don’t make the murders funny, (no victim shaming ever) but they don’t hesitate to go the extra mile and comment on every aspect of the case they are featuring. I love Karen and Georgia!

SWORN is a spin-off from the UP AND VANISHED series. Listen to Up and Vanished first. Then when you are trying to shake off the withdrawals, turn on SWORN. By this time you’ll love Philip Holloway like he’s your own personal defense attorney and you’ll feel right at home on SWORN. As of right now, there are only three short episodes about The Lake Oconee Murders from Florida. It is going to be another captivating podcast.

WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT? If you read or blog or blog about reading, you probably know of Anne Bogel. She’s the charming person behind the very popular Modern Mrs. Darcy blog. Each week, Anne interviews a reader and finds out their tastes in books. Then, she makes recommendations about what to read next. I have learned about so many different wonderful books from this show, it’s a no-miss podcast for me. Plus, Anne Bogel has a beautiful voice to die-for!

What podcasts do you love? What am I missing out on? Let me know!