Book Review | Mexico : stories by Josh Barkan

mexico stories josh barkan.jpgMexico is a collection of twelve short stories by Josh Barkan. The book’s characters come from various backgrounds and the stories are not connected other than that they all take place in Mexico. Protagonists include US expats and Mexicans, ranging in age from children to older adults. Themes dealt with include religion, interpersonal relations, gang violence, power struggle, cancer and corruption, among others. While some characters are coming of age, others are changing their ways after a life’s work.

This book is well-written and started out strong, but petered out a little as it continued. That said, each story is thought provoking and works well on its own. The themes and perspectives offered were interesting, but something to pull the reader in and keep his attention was lacking. Because of the format, some characters were not as well developed and harder to relate to. Barkan has incorporated violence tastefully into these stories, which range in length and make the book easy to pick up or put down. This book would appeal to those interested in experiencing a slice of life in another culture from various points of view. Released in January 2017, you should be able to check it out from a library near you.

I received an advance uncorrected proof of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Book Review | As Red As Blood by Salla Simukka

As Red As Blood, the first book in Simukka’s ‘Snow White’ trilogy, is described as a Nordic noir thriller and has sold over a million copies internationally. In the vein of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the book features a young female protagonist who finds herself sleuthing in the Finnish world of organized crime. This undercover operation takes place after a few school mates of hers stumble on a bloody bag of money and plan to keep it, leading to her attempted kidnapping.

While this is a young adult book, it could certainly be enjoyed by adults. That said, expect it to be written for slightly younger readers in the sense that a few things seem overly explained or redundant. I’m not sure if this is an issue with the translation or how the original text reads. The story is interesting enough, though it does seem unrealistic at times and certain coincidences are a bit much. The flow of the writing and active plot keep the book flowing, though the protagonist is the only developed character. It’s a quick read with entertainment value and would work well for teens who appreciate edgy but aren’t really excited about reading, reluctant readers. There are already plans in place for the film series. Check it out from a library near you!

I received an advance reader’s copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Book Review | Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

under the harrow.jpegFeaturing a murder and hunt for the killer in a small town, Under the Harrow is a suspense novel reminiscent of Broadchurch. Nora is off to visit her sister Rachel for a weekend away from London. In place of a hug and a hot home-cooked meal she witnesses a bloody scene: Rachel stabbed to death in her own home. Not trusting the police to find the killer, Nora takes up residence in the town and begins her own search for her sister’s killer. Only this isn’t her first time playing detective for her sister…

Berry has penned a winner in her debut novel. Her writing style is concise and appealing for its easy to consume nature, some readers have referred to it as stream of consciousness. Characters are not exaggerated and UK slang is not overdone. Though I did not find any of the characters very appealing or relatable, their situations were understandable. This suspenseful read continues with plot twists that keep the reader speculating about possible endings. Check it out from a library near you. Disclaimer: I admit that I do not normally read mysteries, crime stories or women’s fiction. This said my opinion of the piece may be much different than a reader well-versed or generally looking to read a book in these genres. 

Book Review | The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura

nakamura gun.jpegTranslated from the Japanese, The Gun is a noir story following college student Toro. On a rainy night Toro discovers the scene of a suicide in his neighborhood while heading home. After short consideration, he decides to take off with the gun and not report the incident. The gun becomes his focus, a new companion whose affection he wishes to earn. This attention grows into an obsession as Toro convinces himself that he must use the gun as it was meant to be used.

Nakamura’s writing style in this text is very distinctive. He focuses on the plot above the development of characters, of which there are only a handful. The noir writing is concise and without much feeling, as are the events and characters. The book is a quick read, very easy to follow, with only a few repetitive instances. It would appeal to crime fiction, noir or Japanese literature fans. Ultimately, there seems to be a message the author wishes to convey with The Gun. Check it out from a library near you.

This text was originally published in Japan in 2003, but not translated into English until 2015 by Allison Markin Powell. It was the winner of the Shinchō Prize for debut fiction in Japan. 

Book Review | Monster’s Chef : a novel by Jervey Tervalon

book cover Monster's chef : a novel / Jervey Tervalon.Mr. Gibson has lost his wife and his NYC restaurant to his cocaine addiction and landed himself in the slammer. Nine months later, in a halfway house, he makes a personal connection that lands him a new gig (on parole) in Southern California as personal chef to Monster, a Michael Jackson-like, eccentric celebrity musician. Gibson signs a non-disclosure agreement and lives in a bungalow on the secured grounds. As Monster and Gibson become more acquainted, and other slightly off-base characters appear, Gibson has to choose who to trust and how to proceed – especially when a dead body turns up outside his bungalow.

I grabbed Monster’s Chef off the new fiction shelves at the library. The jacket description sounded alright, the book wasn’t too thick and I figured I’d quit if it didn’t work out. Tervalon’s writing style here is easy to read, though some characters seem unable to explain themselves. The characters are imaginable, but as other critics have mentioned, fairly flat. The idea of a rich music mogul holed up in a private mansion with a moat on his own mountain was interesting, but the suspense that was promised never really arrived. This book was okay, but when I’d finished it, I questioned whether it had been worth the time. Have a read from a library near you.

Film Review | Kærlighed på film (Just Another Love Story)

Just another love story dvd coverThis Danish film directed by Ole Bornedal shares the story of a crime scene photographer who steps into another man’s shoes after causing a traffic accident that cripples a lovely lady mentally and physically. Though short on money, things are going well enough for Jonas and his family. He lives in an apartment with his wife and two school age children. At worst, their life may be a bit boring for him and the sex life a bit lacking. When car troubles cause the family’s car to stall in the road on the way to school, a distressed young woman, Julia, swerves to avoid rearending them and collides with the oncoming vehicle resulting in fatalities and major injuries for her. Jonas feels at fault and rushes to comfort Julia, but in her hysteria she mistakes him for her lover from Thailand, Sebastien. To gain admittance to her hospital room Jonas claims to be her boyfriend and Julia’s family at once believe him to be Sebastien, a roll he falls into without objecting. The relationship between Jonas and Julia (mostly blind and without memories) develops as he continues to visit her and get to know her family better. Trouble is on the horizon as Sebastien returns to Denmark and Jonas has to choose between Julia and his family.

This film was pretty intense. The acting was solid and the performances believable. Though some parts of the film seemed a bit far-fetched, the overall plot contained enough tension to keep the viewer interested and the story going. The title, Just Another Love Story, is aiming at irony since this love story is anything but run of the mill. Check it out from a library near you.

Book Review | The Book of You : a novel by Claire Kendal

book cover The Book of You : a novel by Claire KendalClaire Kendal’s first novel is a winner. The Book of You introduces us to Clarissa, a single woman in her 30’s, who is gainfully employed at a University. After a stressful, failed relationship with a professor colleague, she literally falls into bed with another colleague, Rafe. The evening does not go as she intends and Rafe becomes a constant, unwanted presence in her life, hiding in shadows, delivering unwanted parcels and popping up to whisper creepy things in her ear when she leaves her apartment. Clarissa is relieved to be assigned to a lengthy stint of jury duty and uses the courtroom for solace. She draws connections between the case of an abused woman and her own daily life. As weeks pass, Clarissa is in increasing danger while she attempts to gather enough evidence to present to the police before it’s too late.

From the beginning this was an interesting read. Kendal’s approach is unique, using alternating first and third person narrative. As Clarissa gathers evidence, she keeps a journal documenting the disturbing events set in motion by Rafe. These passages are written as if to Rafe, using the second person you subject (this is where the title comes from). Kendal does an excellent job giving life to her characters and the story. Her writing allows for a solid understanding of how a victim of stalking may feel. The story is not too predictable and certainly gets the reader thinking about what will happen. Check out this new release from a library near you.