Book Review: “The Price of Salt” (1952) by Patricia Highsmith

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Cate Blanchett in the 2015 movie adaptation, Carol.

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Before the 2015 movie Carol started raking in the Oscar nominations, the general public mostly knew Patricia Highsmith for her psychological thrillers Strangers On A Train (1950) and The Talented Mr Ripley (1955), two stories about mystery and murder. In fact, The Price of Salt is the only one of Highsmith’s novels that does not feature a violent crime – but it is still incredibly suspenseful. Yes, Highsmith introduces a gun in the third act, but there is more to it than that; this story about two women falling in love in 1950s New York City is set up like a detective. The protagonist, Therese, sets out to solve a very specific puzzle: does Carol love me back? Is there a chance we can be together? Do I dare to put everything on the line for her?

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Book Review: “Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit” (1985) by Jeanette Winterson

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Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is one of the quintessential queer coming-of-age novels (well, more like a barely veiled memoir, but okay). It tells the story of a young Jeanette, growing up in a strict religious household in a small English town. Because of her upbringing, she has trouble fitting in both at school and in the general community. Her mother bears this outsider status as a badge of honour, but young Jeanette sometimes feels frustrated that some people don’t understand her. And then she falls in love with another girl.

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Book Review: “Last Night I Sang To The Monster” (2009) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz AND “A Monster Calls” (2011) by Patrick Ness

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“A Monster Calls” illustration by Jim Kay.

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We tend to think of grief and mourning as maladies of the mind, but the loss can grow and expand until it feels like more like a presence than an absence. In the poem “Death Barged In,” Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno describes her pain as a mysterious figure in a Russian greatcoat who barges in, slams the door, and now makes all her decisions for her:

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck,
From now on,
you write about me.

I read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Last Night I Sang To The Monster by Benjamin Alire Sáenz back to back on a whim, only to find out that they have much more in common than just the word ‘monster’ in the title. Both are by incredibly talented young adult authors, both are about troubled families, and in both books, the loss these protagonists so desperately refuse to acknowledge takes on the physical form of a monster, looming over them.

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Book Review: “Blue Lily, Lily Blue” (2014) by Maggie Stiefvater

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I think I finally understand the true meaning of the phrase “one step forward, two steps back.”

Don’t get me wrong: this is not a bad book – even worse, it is disappointing. Stiefvater showed me in The Dream Thieves that she can create something exciting and thoughtful, but where this previous installment in the Raven Cycle series was focused and coherent, Blue Lily, Lily Blue is all over the place and flies right past a few crucial loose ends without looking back. The two-star rating is harsh, but it comes from a place of love, because I know that this could have been so much more.

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Book Review: “The Dream Thieves” (2013) by Maggie Stiefvater

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It seems that Maggie Stiefvater has heard the prayers from my last Raven Cycle book review (two years after this book was first published whatever shut up), because The Dream Thieves fixes many of the flaws of the first installment and turns to where the focus of the story should be. Sure, Blue’s name is still Blue, and sure, the love triangle has turned into a love pentagon I’m sure fanfiction writers are having an absolute ball with. …And I don’t mind. Not one bit. That’s how entertaining this book is.

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Book Review: “Crush” (2005) by Richard Siken

“On The Road” (2012) still.

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In an older study advice post on how to approach poetry, I wrote that a good poet should be able to make you feel something, whether you fully understand the work or not:

Often poems are not so much vessels of information, but more like an experience. A good poet can reach out and get an emotional response from you even if you have no clue what (s)he is talking about. Sometimes you need to read a poem a few times before you fully understand it, or you can spend the rest of your life reading a work and still not grasp what is actually about. Sometimes the poets doesn’t want you to get it. You’re not stupid or illiterate, it’s just… Poetry. If you feel it, you feel it. If you don’t, you don’t.

Even though Richard Siken is a fairly accessible poet, I had no idea what the poems in Crush were about the first time I read it, little over a year ago. But it didn’t matter, because I felt it. The words tugged on heartstrings I never even knew I had and left me staring out the window, trying to find the right words for the rush of emotions washing over me. I have read Crush two more times since then and I feel like I have a better grasp of it now, but it still leaves me staring out the window, at a complete loss for words.

…But let’s give it a go anyway.

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Book Review: “The Absolutist” (2011) by John Boyne

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“Birdsong” (2012) still.

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As one of the last people left on this planet who has not read The Boy In The Striped Pajamas (2006), I was not familiar with John Boyne as a writer when I first picked up this book. However, I still went into it with certain expectations. A story about a young soldier who falls in love with a fellow private during World War One? I flew through The Absolutist in one sitting with a stack of tissues and a fluffy pillow on standby at all times, because there was no way that this would end well (“spoiler” alert: it didn’t).

On the surface, this book seems to have been tailor-made for me in terms of theme and setting, and at first I did enjoy it. However, the following morning I kept thinking of things I didn’t like about it and as I was writing this review, I discovered even more; it turns out that on the surface is exactly where The Absolutist stays.

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Book Review: “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” (2013) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

"Nighthawks" (1942) by Edward Hopper.

“Nighthawks” (1942) by Edward Hopper.

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Aristotle is a Mexican-American teenager living in El Paso. He has never had a friend. His father has closed off emotionally after coming back from the war in Vietnam. His brother is in prison. His mother won’t talk about it. And then he meets Dante.

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Reading List: Intersex and Transgender Literature

Photograph from the "Anima Animus" series by Claudia Moroni.

Photograph from the “Anima Animus” series by Claudia Moroni.

One issue many writers grapple with is the question of identity. Who are we? How do we know? What shapes us and why? Something that many people take for granted in this discussion is the gender binary: we may not be sure who we are, but one thing we feel we do know is whether we go in the male or in the female box. But what if you’ve been put in the wrong box? What if you don’t belong in any of the boxes? Why do we feel the need for boxes anyway? Do boxes even exist?

So here are some books about boxes (or lack thereof).

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