[780]: The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong

I’ve always found that novelists from Scandinavian and Asian countries to be first class story tellers in the Thriller genre. I don’t know what it is but their books, as well as the movies just give me the chills.

The Good Son definitely fit the bill as well. Written by a Korean author, this book tells the story of a man who woke up bloodied but somehow relatively unharmed. Upon further examination, he finds scratches and bite marks on his arm. And as he moves about his house, he finds his mother in her bedroom — in a bloodbath with a deep slash across her neck. He realizes too soon, and with uncanny calmness that he may have had a hand in her death.

The story pieces together in a series of flashbacks while he tries to figure out the next step: turn himself in? Bury his mother? Or dispose of her body then leave the country altogether. But the more time he spends trying to decide his next move, the more bodies fall.

The terrifying thing about the story is the undetached way he spoke of the deaths. Because, yes, soon enough, the readers will realize that our character gets a thrill out of killing people. Especially the process of how he stalks his prey then calmly watch them bleed. As if he’s roasting marshmallows or something.

We also learn that he’s always been deranged even as a child. The first time he saw his dad used an antique razor while shaving, he asked with cold-blooded intensity if he could have his blade when he dies. Which was the reason why his mother hid it from him over the years. But he found it anyway. It was especially chilling to find out that he had a part in the deaths of his father and brother.

The Good Son challenges the basic idea of nurture vs. nature. And while in most cases, someone can be nurtured into someone not homicidal, this is an exception where nature definitely wins over nurture.

Continue Reading

[776]: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

“I was both relieved and irritated when Reva showed up, the way you’d feel if someone interrupted you in the middle of suicide.”


I pretty much waited throughout the entirety of the novel for our nameless character to kill herself, to be honest. Not because I wanted her to meet her own doom on her terms, but it’s because she left me feeling like she was always on the precipice of offing herself. On the surface, she didn’t have anything to feel bad about her life: she’s wealthy, beautiful, and a job at an art gallery fresh off university. But she somehow found herself perpetually in the winter of her discontent. (Though, I’m sure saying that a person has no reason to be depressed about is toxic. Not to mention, that statement is counterproductive, completely insensitive and obtuse.)

This book, however, is exactly about that: our character’s self-induced, heavily medicated coma sleep but on her own terms. She wakes up intermittently only for personal hygiene and sustenance. Otherwise, she’s shut herself from the world. By her reasoning, the world has virtually forgotten her anyway. Her parents didn’t have time for her; her only semi-stable relationship has run its course; and her friend, though a constant presence in her life was a bit of a self-involved user. Her therapist can only be relied on for prescription drugs. So at the end of it all, the unsuspecting reader would feel as if they went through the wringer themselves. And I wouldn’t blame them one bit.

I have not read her first book. But based on the reviews, it seems like Ms. Mosfegh has a penchant for subjecting her characters to some pretty unconventional ways to deal with their mental and emotional anguish. The most shocking thing about them is that she makes it work — she’s very convincing. In here, our nameless protagonist has a pretty severe case of self-hate. That regardless of her seemingly blessed fortune, she still found ways to debase her own self. Unfortunately, she doesn’t find happiness at the end of the book. Or even a glimmer of hope that she’ll be happy with herself. The heartbreaking thing of it all is that this book climaxes during 9/11 and thereafter. So while people around the world found it in themselves to be happy about their lot in life, our character seemed unattached. And considering she lost her best friend in World Trade Centre, I didn’t find anything that closely resembles to a spark of life.

Continue Reading

[773]: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Half the population of America has been silenced. Women has been relegated to speak at a maximum of 100 words per day. Their rights to read, write, sign; to educate themselves, to work, has all but been eradicated. They are home makers, existing to serve the men in their lives, the government and the church.

For Dr. Jean McClellan, who was a neurolinguist by profession before this nightmare happened, the stakes were higher. After all, she saw it coming and did nothing. Now, as her six-year-old daughter continues to digress into muteness, she was angry with herself, her husband, Patrick who has direct access to the current president, and the sitting administration influenced by the extreme religious right. She holds the key, because before she was forced out of her job as a neurolinguist, she has discovered something. If she could only find a way back into her lab and stop the nightmare, she’d be able to give her daughter and the rest of the girls in America back their voices. But she knows very little about the scope and magnitude of the government’s plans.

Hailed as a The Handmaid’s Tale copycat, Vox did its best to re-imagine an America changed; one that is loosely based on Atwood’s nightmarish dystopian world. Where women were virtually powerless and voiceless. According to Google, women on average speak at least 16,000 words per day. But this world only allows women to speak 100. Imagine being restricted to 100 words a day. The silence that would drive anyone insane; the helplessness you feel as you try and fail to teach your child — a girl child to speak and knowing that you have very little words allowed to say. This is that stark, quiet world.

And while I enjoyed this novel, I felt there were a few aspects that were glossed over. I felt like there were too many questions unanswered about the genesis of this world. Like the American people didn’t fight too hard for the women and considering 50.8% of the population comprises of women, I don’t think it was feasible that they just let the government take away the rights of many. Yet at the same time, they’ve been down this road before. They’ve taken away rights of people for the sake of other people’s religious rights. And they are slowly chiselling away at the Roe v. Wade rule to protect women’s rights to their body. Laws are developed and enhanced over time, and perhaps that’s where my incredulity comes from. That this law was severe, cruel, and permanent.

Continue Reading

[758]: Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest novel is an avant-garde in its own right: ambitious, hardly pretentious, and a larger than life endeavor that realistically portrays the hard and fast life of rock and roll. Choosing the autobiographical format of a fictional band in the 70s, she successfully allowed her readers to immerse in the life of her characters. 

By choice, I am one of those readers who can’t stand destructive characters, and Daisy Jones was simply destruction, defined.  On the other side of the coin was Billy Dunne. A reformed drug and alcohol addict who nearly ruined his life and marriage if not for fatherhood. 

Reading this novel wasn’t easy.  Often times, it angered me. Not because the writing was comically bad, because, hell, this is TJR, after all. But it was the story itself that bothered me.  I’m an unforgiving reader when it comes to drug use in books. Call me prude, but I just can’t sit here and watch it unfold before my eyes. I get so bothered by characters that use drugs to escape, and use drugs as a means to explain the person they’ve become, their source of weakness and strength, their hell and oblivion. I just can’t.

My encounter with her novels has never been the stuff of legends. In fact, out of all her books (that I mostly own), I’ve only read two. And it’s because I found I have to psych myself up to reading them.  I know her novels are as real as it gets. Difficult relationships and equally difficult characters littered the pages of her books. Why I never bought a clue that Daisy Jones would be just as hard a character to decode escapes me.  

This novel reads like an episode of VH1 Behind the Music; an oral history of their lives, their music, their heartbreaks, successes, and failures. I could readily admit that throughout my life, I’ve never read something like Daisy Jones. It was ingenious and at times, I could easily ignore the stuff that bothered me. But since drugs are as regular as breathing for Daisy, it was a challenge. 

So Billy Dunne and Daisy Jones cross paths largely in part because of a mutual friend that saw the potential of what their combined talents could bring.  The dynamic was tenuous at best. Both are hardheaded and dedicated to their craft. Neither wanted to give in without drawing blood first, but underneath – a mutual respect. One of the story arcs that I also could not forgive is cheating. But in this instance, how I wish one of the characters in this book actually gave in and damned the consequences. 

In the end, I wish I could’ve loved Daisy as much as Daisy loved her drugs. Unfortunately, and as much this novel was amazingly written, I couldn’t forgive it for not giving me what I want. And it really sucks. 

Continue Reading

[752]: The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

The Golden House
by Salman Rushdie


The day after the November 2016 election, the entire world was left grappling with the unlikely victory of the Orange One. To this day, it’s an event too painful to reminisce to some (including me).

Whenever we feel a certain disappointment or heartbreak, we are known to have an automatic response, a knee jerk reaction. We’re either overcome – so much so that we can’t function, or we get up. Fight like we’ve never fought before.

For Salman Rushdie, this book was his response.  Some of his critics expressed their disappointment as his 13thnovel came off as a string of ramblings and rants about the state of America as we speak. To him, however, this was a novel set in a world gone insane. So everything was grandiose, over exaggerated, but wholly apropos.

The synopsis defies the entirety of the novel. In fact, I can’t begin to start giving you a little rundown if only to hook you in so you may traverse the novel the way I reluctantly did at first.  For me, Rushdie is a road not travelled.  I have no idea what was in store for me, so I approached this book with great trepidation. It didn’t take long until I’m in its grip, however.  All I could think about while the story was unfolding was how Shakespearean or Greek-ly tragic it was.  When you have all the riches in the world, but the world spits you out lifeless and bloodied in response.

The Golden House was a novelty to me. The writing, the structure, the characters, and the way the present America was juxtaposed to the story of this fabulously wealthy family is something I’ve never experienced before. The barebones is really all about the Golden’s. On the run from his past, Nero Golden decided to reinvent his family’s identity.  Nobody is allowed to know from which country they came, or the past that acts as a darkness that was always looming in the periphery of the story.

Flushed with millions, the sons were free to do as they pleased to some extent. Regardless of the freedom that was available to them, the patriarch still has the last word.  For years, life was as it seemed – that is, until a much younger Russian beauty captured Nero’s attention and changed the dynamics of the family.

My foray into Rushdie’s writing was generally refreshing, though rocky at times. Still, I found myself completely immersed in his writing, his flawed characters, and the events unfolding before me. I think it’s time to start building my personal Rushdie library.

Continue Reading

[749]: The Widow’s Watcher by Eliza Maxwell

A stunning portrayal of grief and loss, of friendships and family; The Widow’s Watcher is a gem full of hope that life exists even after an irreparable loss.


The Widow’s Watcher
by Eliza Maxwell

Jenna Shaw has no reasons left to live. It is how she found herself in a small town somewhere in Minnesota to end her life.  Fortunately for her, Lars Jorgensen simply would not let her accomplish what she’d set out to do. There’d been too many people that had gone from his life. Jenna Shaw is not going to be one of them even if she was a stranger. So when she set out to end her life in this frozen town, she was not at all prepared for what awaited her.

Escaping the heartache of losing her family in one fell swoop was what she’s after – a quick way to end the burden of guilt of having survived. In this Minnesota town is an unresolved mystery involving the disappearance Jorgensen’s children. It has haunted Lars all through his life and had broken his heart.  Hardened by time and the guilt, Lars saw through and even sympathized with Jenna. After all, the guilt of having survived such tragedies was what he had in common with Jenna.

Thrusts into the heart of my mystery, she finds a new purpose by trying to avoid her own loss.  But what if she finds more loss and grief than a way to heal?

I wanted to be immersed in a story full of mysteries but I never expected to find it here. There are heartbreaking stories left and right. From the tragic death of Jenna’s entire family, to Lars’ missing children, my heart was on a vise grip the whole time.  There is also a question of Lars’ wife whose story is equally, if not more so, heartbreaking.

But this book is beautiful, too. It was in the way everybody found solace in the most unexpected way. It was in the redemption of a nearly forfeited life. I mean Lars did not give up even after losing his children and the mental illness that had plagued his wife all her life. He remained staunch in his belief that his children were alive and that his wife will remember what had happened that night.

All I wanted was someone to find happiness no matter how there was very little to be had.

This is a very character-driven novel. Jenna and Lars grew up – so to speak – as the novel progressed. Friendships were formed, however reluctantly at first.  Jenna and Lars found purpose in each other, and solace when they both didn’t even want it.

Continue Reading

[732]: American War by Omar El Akkad

 A bleak reimagining of American Civil War set to the tune of modern terrorism.


American War
by Omar El Akkad

American War features one of those characters that will make you choose sides; or at the very least, will make you examine, with some introspection, if you would arrive at the same choices Sarat Chestnut had. The author established one goal in his book from the get-go. He aims to highlight the difficult, and often, deadly life of those displaced by war and strife. There are countries in the world that have only ever known this type of everyday struggle all their lives. And that is what was in my mind long after I finished this book. The inconceivable reality of not having a home and living with fear day in and day out. Literally fleeing from sure death.

The novel tells the story of an America divided by Civil War once more. The year is 2075. Climate change has obliterated practically all coastal states. Florida was but a  distant memory, and the Federal seat of the government now resides in Ohio. Due to environmental catastrophe, fossil fuel was outlawed. Bringing forth the beginning of the end of the United States we once knew. Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia secede to become the Free Southern State; and South Carolina, which spearheaded the rebellion, is now walled – quarantined due to a disease that the federal government unleashed in an effort to stomp the revolt. I can barely comprehend outlawing the use of fuel could be the beginning of the demise of America. Afterall, they are faced with even more disparaging problems that push either side in their corners. But I digress. This is not my story to tell. I’m only along for the ride.

The story begins as we meet our narrator. A scholar who has a second-hand knowledge of the war from a series of journals left in his capable hands. We would know that he is an old man, dying of cancer and was using the opportunity to confess his ‘sins’, as it were. Here, we meet the Chestnuts, we find the head of the family on his way to the North to find a better life for them but finds his demise when he was killed in a terrorist blast. With the war advancing, the mother had no choice but to pack up what’s left of her family and flee to a refugee city where they would live most of their lives. As was in the first Civil War, the Blues are from the North and the Reds, from the South. A testament, if you will, to the growing divisiveness of the political climate in the States.

Sarat’s story unfolds while she was at the refugee camp. Bolstered by the consecutive tragedies that happened in her life, and coerced, rather easily by the powers that be, Sarat became a tool for the rebellion. The war was Sarat’s vengeful playground. Here, you’ll see an account of how insurgents are created. Their motivations, triumphs and downfall. As well, torture, in explicit detail. So if you’ve a weak stomach for that line of reading, you might find yourself skipping those parts – which is exactly what I did.

Though I have rated this book four stars, I feel it failed on a few aspects. The novel is set in the future but hardly conveys the passage of time. Besides the changes to the American landscape and political climate, this dystopian world is a definite take-off from your usual reads. I sympathized with Sarat’s plight deeply. I understood her whys and hows. I felt for her even more when she was incarcerated and tortured in the hands of her jailers. But she did not break. She was a fiercely determined creature whos very own person was shaped by a war that’s seemingly endless.

Continue Reading

[724]: No Good Deed by Kara Connolly

No Good Deed
by Kara Connolly


Ellie Hudson is the front-runner on the road to gold for the U.S. Olympic archery team. All she has to do is qualify at the trials in jolly old England. When Ellie makes some kind of crazy wrong turn in the caverns under Nottingham Castle—yes, that Nottingham—she ends up in medieval England.

Ellie doesn’t care how she got to the Middle Ages; she just wants to go home before she gets the plague. But people are suffering in Nottingham, and Ellie has the skills to make it better. What’s an ace archer to do while she’s stuck in Sherwood Forest but make like Robin Hood?

Pulled into a past life as an outlaw, Ellie feels her present fading away next to daring do-gooding and a devilishly handsome knight. Only, Ellie is on the brink of rewriting history, and when she picks up her bow and arrow, her next shot could save her past—or doom civilization’s future.


This was a chockful of fun.

I was immediately drawn to this book because I’m a huge fan of the Robin Hood legend and when I saw that Ms. Connolly’s take would feature a gender twist of sorts, I knew I had to read it.

Present-time Ellie was an archer who was dealing with the recent loss of her brother. She also lived in his shadow for he was an Olympian as well. On her way back to her hotel, she followed a man dressed in a friar’s frock with whom she thought was the same one who distracted her during her during the competition. One topsy-turvy turn, however, brought her all the way back to the 12th century; specifically, at a time when most of Nottingham was suffering in the hands of the Sheriff.

It was not long ago that I read a time travel such as this one where the character was pulled all the way back to Medieval times. Both characters went through the initial shock of finding themselves stuck and unable to come home at will. In Ellie’s case, it wasn’t just a matter of retracing back her steps to see if she can somehow find her way home. This girl finds trouble at every step of the way, and no matter what she does to lay low, the trouble finds her regardless.

I love the characters she meets and the parallelization with the characters of the original legend. And because she’s an American set in her ways, she brings about shock with the way she acts and speaks at every turn. I love seeing the reaction of those around her. She’s full of spunk; courage when there’s none to be found and kindness towards the people with whom she only just met. There might be a romance brewing on the horizon but honestly, that’s just cake. The story is great the way it is. I adore the friendships she developed amongst the people of Nottingham; the thieves and the bandits; the nuns and the outlaws.

I’m not sure if this is going to be a series, but damn. I need more. No Good Deed is a great adventure set in Medieval England. If you’re a fan of the Robin Hood legend, Connolly’s take is sure to keep you entertained from page one to the last.

Continue Reading

[723]: Into The Water by Paula Hawkins

Into the Water
by Paula Hawkins


If you like unraveling twisted knots and threads, Into the Water is a must read for you. However, if you’re one of those impatient readers like me, you would probably have a hard time resisting the urge to DNF.

One of the things I typically don’t enjoy when I’m reading a book is when it has an overpopulation problem. Meaning, it’s laden with so many points of view that it had become difficult to discern whichever way the author wanted to take the story.

Paula Hawkins became an instant household name after her successful debut, The Girl on the Train. Many have waited upon bated breath for her follow up novel. While I can see the painstaking method to her mad talent, I just can’t see past all the POVs to consider myself a fan.

I’ve just about given up on this one. I grew impatient many a times while reading. It was like trudging through a jungle and having to whack my way past the overgrown vines just to clear a pathway. Eventually, I decided I couldn’t waste the time I’ve already invested in the story. And with due patience, I learned to ignore the white noise and focus on what was going on within the story.

The novel opens with a character casually telling the readers how she was about to die. Some hostile men, it seemed, were set on drowning her. When she came up for air, the man in charged told them to dunk her again until she drew her last breath. After, we’re introduced to Jules Abbott. The sister of the drowned woman that we’ll later know was a water creature all her life. That’s why Jules could not believe that she would kill herself by throwing herself off the river. Even mysterious still, was the number of women who have drowned in the same river.

Despite the 11 narratives featured in this book, the author would have you believe that Nel’s is the focal point of the novel. Let’s say that her story would drudge up some ugly truths, painful past, and mysterious deaths. But because the author withheld a lot of information as a way to build up the mystery, impatience leads the way to boredom and loss of interest.

It was a good story, all told. I just didn’t get it.

Continue Reading

[720]: Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Ruby
by Cynthia Bond


This was such a difficult book to read and even harder to decipher. On the surface, it’s the story of a woman scorned for being a daughter of a black woman and a white man. Her beauty became the scourge that she carried most of her life; the source of her strength and frailties. The torment that had brought her insanity in her later life.

From the very young age, she’s known indescribable abuse. Her mother left her to escape the same abuse Ruby would be subjected to growing up. At 10, she was sold to a madam who would sell her every night to men of despicable character. At 13, she would lose her child who would torment her for the rest of her life. In 1950, she would escape to New York only to do the same thing over again.

This book is ripe with the kind of African American history that I never knew existed. In the South where satanism and sexual abuse seemed to go hand-in-hand in the darkest, depraved way possible. It was suffused in magical realism of the religious kind. Where the “power of the Lord” compels men to “train” girls of such young age to “hone their craft”. Is it any wonder Ruby lost her mind? A screeching, half-naked woman who carries with her the souls of dead children; forever haunted by a being who would never let her rest.

 In the midst of the overall depressing history was a slight ray of hope in the person of Ephram Jennings. He ignored ridicule and the scorn of everyone in town, including that of his sister whom he called, “mama”. They, too, came from a home who’ve seen the worst abuses from the hands of their father. In this effect, you can say that it’s love story. A love story in the simplest of form; one that had the ability to save a person from oneself.

Ruby is a heavy read – heavier than I’ve anticipated. I read it at a time when I was feeling a little lost myself so my initial rating was a little low. I remember being furious at the townspeople who have judged Ruby and the men who took advantage of someone who was not in their full mental capacity. Filthy or not, they came to her for sex regardless if she’s covered in weeks’ worth of grime. I was mad at Ruby for pushing Ephram away and I was mad at Ephram for not standing up to Ruby. This book was a real story of survival, of madness and of love. It was more often difficult but with a clearer mind, you’ll find the beauty of Ms. Bond’s words.

Continue Reading
1 2 3 13