Review: Roxane Gay’s Hunger

I’ve started contributing to my cousin’s blog. Here’s my first post on her site!

Hi everyone! I’m a new contributor to Chronicles of a Music Journalist, as requested by my cousin. My name’s Meagan and I’ll start my debut here with a review of Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (my) Body. Gay is an author known for her sharp and insightful thoughts on feminism and pop culture, as […]

via Hunger: A Memoir of (my) Body by Roxane Gay — The Misadventures of a Media Journalist

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Review: Card of Fate by Duke of Quails

I was asked by a Goodreads author to review their book of poetry honestly, so here are my thoughts on Card of Fate by Duke of Quails.

This collection of poetry deals with the subject of gambling addiction, mostly from the perspective of the addict. Each poem reiterates the vicious cycle of one more hit, one more time, just one more try, portraying how easy it is to fall into a self-destructive pattern.

That being said, I did want more poems from other perspectives, like the piece called “What Me and Dad Did On Spring Break.” This poem is told from the perspective of a son who is watching his dad make bad decisions, but due to his innocence, he doesn’t recognize what his father was doing as wrong. I think the collection could have had a stronger impact with more poems of this variety, showing how addiction affects those around the addict as well as the addicts themselves. However, it can be argued that the point of such repetition in the poems conveys the nature of addiction, in that it’s a person making the same choices over and over again, never recognizing the consequences of his or her actions.

Duke includes a heavy use of punctuation throughout the poems, and that sometimes works well as it creates a manic feeling emanating from the lines, like someone breathing fast and talking to themselves desperately, such as in the opening poem “Gambling Temptation.” In some cases though, like in “Innocent Ticket,” the use of so many commas, periods and semi-colons is overwhelming and becomes a distraction.

The concept of innocence is threaded throughout the collection, with the use of the word often attributed by the speaker of each poem giving themselves excuses or reasons for the gambling addiction. I think it’s interesting especially as with the previously-mentioned poem about the father and son, how a little boy can be innocent to what his father is doing but that same man can also see himself as an innocent victim fallen prey to the predator that is addiction. Many of the speakers see themselves this way, arguing with the reader that if only the slot machines didn’t entice them, if only the cards had been dealt differently, if only, if only, if only. The consistent diction choice with this idea establishes a strong voice throughout the poems.

Duke’s poems don’t rely heavily on imagery and flowery language as one would expect with poetry, but that’s not necessarily a negative thing. While there are occasional lines like, “My little mouse I used to call him,/Now a scared rat before my eyes he’s grown to be,” (“How Did We End Up Hiding?”) to portray the corruption of innocence, the poems mostly use plain, simple language more in the form of conversation. This choice makes it clear that a constant inner monologue is going on in the addicts’ heads as they struggle to break free from the dangerous cycle.

I’m going to wrap up with this final observation. The collection utilizes rhyme schemes through every piece, some of which are successful, and some of which fall flat. In “Mommy Can I Have a Dollar?” the rhyming feels forced and detracts from the poem as a whole. However, in “A Gamble’s Story,” Duke employs slant rhyme beautifully with the lines, “It’s a graduation,/A sure step up from an inauguration./Scratch-Offs no longer valid;/Lottery ticket can’t kick the habit,/But the place itself, the casino’s buzz./The smell of the table is a sick drug.” The mix of short, punchy lines and rhyme scheme here creates a feeling of anxiety and urgency that comes with addiction.

Overall, a fair collection of poems that may resonate strongly with those who have undergone addiction struggle themselves or for readers looking to broaden their minds.

Meagan Reads YA Horror: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

As part of my ongoing (and almost done!) reading challenge, I chose this young adult horror novel about a protagonist named Theseus Cassio (who prefers to go by Cas) for the category “a book you heard about because of this challenge.” Following in his father’s footsteps, Cas has become a ghost hunter himself with a plan for revenge to kill the thing that killed his father. Upon arriving in Thunder Bay, Ontario, everything about this hunt is different from the ghosts he’s hunted in the past. Unexpectedly gaining a circle of friends, and a guilty conscience for classmates lost during his hunt, Cas takes on the most powerful specter he’s ever encountered.

The story was reminiscent of early Supernatural seasons, so of course it held my attention. The plot moved at a fast pace that never left me bored and had the right amount of rise and fall. What I appreciated most was that the story didn’t go longer than it had to and finished in a good place. The twists were surprising and left me wanting to continue each time a new one came into play.

Now, while the story was entertaining enough, the characters for the most part were annoying. Their personalities and descriptions relied heavily on stereotypes that sounded like an adult who has no idea what teenagers are actually like. Blake tried to give a couple of characters layers beyond their surface personalities, but the writing didn’t go deep enough to make them stand out as realistic people.

The best parts of this book were the supernatural elements and horror story, which made the audio book worth listening to. However, the narrator really seemed to have a hard time grasping what a teenage girl sounds like, and only seemed to have one mode for the boys: smarmy asshole. Perhaps the narration is part of the problem I had with characterization in this book, but I think that had more to do with Blake’s writing and the narrator didn’t help. Overall, not a terrible book, but not one I feel the need to continue the series.

Meagan Reads Classic Mystery: The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

It’s been a while since I gave my insights to a book I’ve read. I’d like to get back into the habit with this classic mystery I just finished reading called The Lodger by Mari Belloc Lowndes, originally published in 1913. The story takes place in London, where a series of Jack the Ripper style murders are occurring, and simultaneously, the Buntings, down on their luck, get an eccentric gentleman looking for lodgings to rent their space. Their new lodger, Mr. Sleuth, rents out both rooms they have available for twice as much as they’re worth to ensure he has the lodgings all to himself and doesn’t have to share the house with anyone but the proprietors. He also carries a strange leather case and only ever leaves the house past midnight, which are two characteristics of The Avenger, the serial killer murdering women in London. What a crazy random happenstance.

It’s clear from the get-go that the Buntings’ new lodger Mr. Sleuth is in fact The Avenger. So what exactly is the mystery in this mystery novel? I suppose you could say it’s the inner workings of the human brain and what people who have been going hungry for a long time will do to keep their only source of income from fleeing or getting arrested. Mrs. Bunting figures out pretty early on that Mr. Sleuth is in fact The Avenger. Now, she never gets solid proof, never catches him in the act, never sees blood on his hands, but like the audience reading the story, she’s not blind and understands what all signs point to. She then spends the entirety of the book giving into fits of hysteria, holding onto her secret, even keeping it from her husband (who’s as thick as they come, because he doesn’t notice Mr. Sleuth is the murderer until literally the last 10 percent of the book).

The book really is mostly about Mrs. Bunting’s guilty conscience as she suspects Mr. Sleuth’s crimes, goes about trying to learn the truth without revealing how much she suspects, and torn between the money he brings to her household and what’s right, all the while keeping up a friendship with a police officer who’s working the case of The Avenger.

Overall, I enjoyed the story up until the end, because although the reader knows the whole time Mr. Sleuth is the murderer, the suspense builds and builds and builds, waiting for the snap at the end. Will the Buntings finally turn him in? Will he kill them? No, neither of these things happen. In fact — spoilers ahead! — at the point in the book where he realizes he’s been found out, he assumes Mrs. Bunting has betrayed him and he runs away from Madame Tussaud’s, where they are spending the day with Mr. Bunting’s daughter Daisy for her birthday, but not before threatening her with a most terrifying and gruesome death. Days pass and they never hear from him again and The Avenger is never caught. That’s it. That’s the ending. It was like an orchestra building up to an absolute cacophony of crescendo and then the sound gets sucked out of the room and the musicians walk off stage.

Truth be told, I didn’t even really feel an affinity for Mrs. Bunting. I never felt sorry for her or related. There wasn’t actually anything there to root for. She was always cross with her husband, portrayed as the nagging wife trope, and she was such a bitch to Daisy. It always felt like she resented Daisy, like somehow it was the girl’s fault that her husband had had a previous marriage and a child from that marriage. I just never felt for her as the protagonist, and Mr. Bunting was just short of being a downright idiot. The characters were rather flat, so I certainly didn’t stay for them.

If you’re looking for an easy read to take on the train or to the beach, I’d say this is a solid choice. It doesn’t require much thought and it’s entertaining enough to keep your attention for long periods of time. Just don’t expect to feel satisfied by the ending.

A Totally Biased Review of Netflix’s Anne with an E

I say biased because I grew up reading the books and absolutely loved them. I may have mentioned that before in previous posts, but in case you missed it, I LOVE Anne of Green Gables. I read the first book over 15 times, and I know this, because by the time I got to read number 15, I gave up keeping track of how many times I’d read it. So I think at this point in my life it’s safe to say I’ve read the book at least 50 times, and still plan on reading it again soon, especially after watching the new show.

I managed to watch all seven episodes in three days, which doesn’t sound impressive, but with a full-time job and grad school work, seven episodes in three days is an accomplishment for me. I just liked the show that much and felt myself taken back to childhood, hearing the old familiar dialogue and looking forward to the iconic scenes. The show did not disappoint. Even though there were a few deviations from the book, it still remained true to most of the story and the spirit of the characters.

Amybeth McNulty is an exquisite Anne, I think. Her voice and eyes are so expressive when delivering her lines, which is exactly what Anne Shirley is all about. Also, in the scenes that bring to light the true horrors Anne has seen in her life (something I appreciated that’s different from the book), her performance is heart wrenching and I couldn’t help but tear up so many times for poor, dear Anne.

Geraldine James is exactly what I always pictured Marilla to be when I read the books, and she does such a magnificent job of changing from being the completely stern authority figure to newly-made mother with a soft spot for her girl. She handles her role with grace and wit, making Marilla a lovely character to be fond of. I also love the portrayal of her relationship with Rachel Lynde, and how the two women have their differences, but truly it is like they are sisters with how well they know each other and feel comfortable with their banter, especially in a society that tries to stifle women’s personalities.

The last thing I’m going to say about the show (last because otherwise I’ll just keep going on) is I adore how unashamedly feminist it is. I write this as I wear my Mockingbird “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda” t-shirt. That’s the thing about media that takes on a feminist message. It often feels like if it overtly states it, it’s trying too hard or pushing an agenda, but watching Anne With an E, for the first time I questioned myself, “Why shouldn’t it be overt and pushed? Why should touting feminist ideals be subtle or hidden or gently suggested?” I just really appreciate how a childhood favorite grew up to resonate still with me as an adult.

Meagan Reads YA Sci-Fi: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Read this book for the 26 book reading challenge I started a couple of years ago and am still chugging through for the category “a book set in summer.” The whole novel takes place in Portland, Maine in the summer before a life-changing event takes place in the main character’s life.

Quick summary that includes spoilers, so read at your own risk. The premise is that this takes place in a future in which the disease of amor deliria nervosa has been eradicated through a procedure that U.S. citizens undergo when they come of age. So, a special kind of surgery targets the part of the brain that processes and let’s you express emotions related to love.

Lena is a typical teenage girl who enjoys running with her best friend Hannah and can’t wait to undergo the procedure and escape her past: being the daughter of the woman who committed suicide due to falling ill with the delirium. Lena follows the rules and wants to fit into her society until, wait for it, she meets a boy named Alex.

Overall, the idea of this society is interesting and captivating, but I think I’m definitely well past my young adult years, because the nauseating young love oh my god I can’t live without you after having just met you and I hardly know you trope makes me roll my eyes so hard. The whole story and character’s development hinges on this stereotype, but my biggest problem with it is how heteronormative it is.

The point of the procedure is to eradicate falling in love, but everything rides on the idea that only boys and girls fall in love with each other. The society even has rules that doesn’t allow boys and girls to have too much interaction prior to their procedures, to reduce the possibility of falling ill. At this point, I’m over books and stories that perpetuate the idea that only heterosexuals fall in love and no other kind of people even exist. It’s 2017. Get with the times please.

However, maybe it was my mind trying to read too much into it, but I felt a sort of queer element from Hannah. They were best friends, and the way she acts toward Lena and wanting her to break free from society’s restraints always felt like Hannah trying to push her friend to the realization of how she really felt about Lena. In the end, when Lena rebels for Alex, and Lena asks her best friend to run away with them, Hannah let’s her go and says she’s not actually brave enough. That whole relationship felt to me like Hannah was always in love with Lena, but Lena never realized it, and Hannah didn’t want to ruin things for her.

I appreciated the strong use of religion to establish this totalitarian government’s rhetoric behind the eradication of love. That is something that actually translates into real-life as is often seen in the U.S.’s politics with a blurred line between Church and State. Each chapter opens with a passage from the Book of Shhh, which is sort of like their constitution and bible. If the chapter doesn’t open with a passage from that book, it opens with lines from some kind of banned literature such as Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, or other poetry and novels that elevate the concept of love.

Another relevant element in this story is how police brutality is seen through Lena’s eyes. With her conditioning, she at first believes the law enforcement is there to protect the country’s citizens from themselves. When she falls to the deliria though and goes through each act of rebellion and becomes a victim of the patrollers, she finds they actually enjoy using extreme force and violence to bring criminals to justice. Lena’s description of her encounter with the police shows her thinking that the cure doesn’t eradicate all emotions, because hate and violence are still prevalent. This leads to the revelation that maybe love isn’t the problem. Love isn’t what makes people go mad and do terrible, chaotic and destructive things. That’s just people.

I’ll end this summary and review with a technical and structural choice the writer made and I think did well. The whole book is written in present tense, which is actually harder than it sounds. There’s a reason most books are written in past tense (in English at least). It’s just one of those things that feels and comes more naturally to our language. Oliver’s choice to write third person limited in present tense makes for an engaging story that brings the audience into the moment and feel like we know what Lena knows. It’s a structure that helps you feel the urgency of every situation, and it’s probably what kept me reading the whole book and look past the love story that I found cliche.

All in all, the book entertains and keeps you intrigued, but I didn’t feel a particular investment in any of the characters, and I don’t feel compelled to pick up the next installment.

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

I’m going into my third year of the 26 book reading challenge (I’m a slow reader–sue me). For book 17, “a book by an author you love,” I went with Cinda Williams Chima’s The Demon King since I loved her Heir series.

A quick rundown of the story. It follows the lives of two characters: Raisa, the princess of the realm with a spunky attitude, and Han, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks just trying to get by. While Raisa is blissfully unaware of the injustices of the kingdom and dealing with her mother wanting to marry her off as soon as she comes of age, Han is trying to avoid his old gang life but still make an honest living by selling and trading to provide for his family.

In my Goodreads review, I said fans of Tamora Pierce’s Trickster duology or Bekah Cooper series would like this book, and that’s because it’s got classic fantasy elements with magic and wizards and political intrigue. The world building feels grounded in reality though, especially with the clan of Marissa Pines, a village outside of Fellsmarch, the royal city. There’s a clear dichotomy throughout the novel with the princess heir being of the rich elite living in the castle in the city, and Han being a foster child of the humble clans folk living off the land. Overall, it’s the equivalent of European colonialists versus the natives of the country.

I loved the descriptions Chima creates with how the clans people live, in tight knit communities that are in commune with natural remedies and trading goods for goods. It reminded me a lot of the smaller villages and towns I visited during my vacation to Ecuador 6 years ago. I could hear the crackling of the fires as the characters held meetings and shared stories under the open sky, surrounded by woods.

Throughout the whole book, I kept trying to unravel the mysteries that kept popping up with each new revelation. The reader learns things through the eyes of Raisa and Han, so when a new detail is brought to light that surprises or confuses them, you can’t help but feel blindsided too. There’s a parallel to the two characters in how they learn about the world they’ve been a part of this whole time was built on lies. For Han, he comes to feel like he can’t trust the people he grew up with or cares for, while Raisa starts to realize she’s far too ignorant of the strife going on around her in her own queendom. You can’t help but feel the pangs of coming of age, at that moment where you start to see things as an adult would, and not yet being ready for that responsibility.

In this world that Chima has created, there is a legend of an ancestral queen, Hanalea, who is abducted by the Demon King, a wizard, and forced to sacrifice her life for the greater good of the people. It is this legend that founds the people’s beliefs, and why the clan holds control of magic for wizards, allowing them the use of it through talismans for brief periods of time. The wizards serve the line of Hanalea, and thus royalty and magic can never marry.

Of course, as is apt to happen, some people don’t want to play by these rules anymore. This is where all the lies come undone little by little, and Raisa and Han must now make their decisions and judgments based on new truths, breaking from everything they’ve ever known. Wizards are dangerously close to regaining their old power, the clan is not as righteous as the legends would have it, Raisa and her royal line are in danger of extinction, and Han would rather have nothing to do with any of it but somehow is in the middle of all of it.

I’d have to say my biggest criticism of the book is its pacing. Especially in the beginning, it’s quite stop and go and you wish the narration would just pick a speed and stick with it for a while. The way the story reads at times is clumsy and expository, clearly setting the whole thing up for the next book. There’s lots of background information that’s conveyed through character dialogue, but it’s scenes in which the characters are specifically sitting down to have a meeting or talk, making it feel like the writer just couldn’t figure out how else to portray these details.

In conjunction with the pacing, and the fact that the reader knows this is book one of a series, Han’s and Raisa’s stories take way too long to intersect. Obviously, as each chapter jumps back and forth between them, we know they’re going to meet and have some kind of connection to one another eventually, but it wasn’t until about halfway through the book that the connection happens. And even then, there’s only 1 or 2 chapters in which they’re tied together before being severed into their individual lines again. This made the novel feel a bit fractured, so at times it was frustrating trying to read through. But overall, an excellent tale with many twists and fun characters.