Empire of Sin is a history of New Orleans during the 30-year period between 1890 and 1920. This era, beginning with the end of Reconstruction and endi...moreEmpire of Sin is a history of New Orleans during the 30-year period between 1890 and 1920. This era, beginning with the end of Reconstruction and ending with the beginning of Prohibition, was pivotal in shaping the culture and landscape that would evolve into the modern day New Orleans. It was a virtually lawless time, when sin was making a lot of people very wealthy. There is also another story here that is mostly between the lines; the tale of how racial segregation and oppression created an inequality and injustice that still hasn’t untied itself even decades after the abolishment of the Jim Crow laws that this era spawned.
The scope of this book is broad, covering the birth of jazz, the reign of organized crime, and a thriving sex trade. The central tale is the rise and fall of Storyville–a district where vices, such as soliciting and gambling, were, if not legal, decriminalized and flourishing–and it’s symbolic “mayor” Tom Anderson. Anderson and the other purveyors of sin grew rich and powerful during the heydays of Storyville, which made them targets of reformers.
The birth and evolution of jazz primarily runs parallel to the narrative of Storyville, though at times the two stories intertwine and are inseparable even when they aren’t touching. It’s clear that without the influence of Storyville and “Black Storyville” jazz may never have reached maturation.
Peppered in are accounts of the activities of the organized crime syndicates that have some impact on the overall narrative, but never really quite fit in to it all. In many ways these stories feel disparate and out of place, but are, nevertheless, intriguing and engaging.
New Orleans itself could have been more of a character. With so much focus on Storyville, the rest of the city gets left out. Other than the over-the-top antics of reformers and justice mobs, we don’t get a feel for how the rest of New Orleans operated during this time.
The level of research that has gone into this book is astonishing. The subject matter is presented in a way that is always engaging and interesting, and Krist speaks with both authority and credibility as he recounts the stories of pimps, prostitutes, and procurers with a refreshing lack of judgement and, at times, even hints of admiration.
Empire of Sin is an exciting story that should appeal to anyone who enjoys history and/or true crime.(less)
David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks is an epic fantasy about a woman trapped in a battle between good and evil that transcends time and space. We first m...moreDavid Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks is an epic fantasy about a woman trapped in a battle between good and evil that transcends time and space. We first meet Holly Sykes as a runaway teen trying to escape the sting of her first breakup. Holly’s runaway plans are complicated by a series of mysterious encounters that setup a tale that spans six decades. The story is told through a series of short character studies from people who are somehow involved with or touched by Sykes.
Much of the novel reads as a drama with a few fantasy elements peppered in, but there is always this sense of something big about to unfold. That persistent tension and some very well-drawn and realized characters are what keeps the story moving forward. It’s not until around 2/3rds of the way through that the book really opens up into full-fledged fantasy, at which point the seemingly disparate pieces fall together.
While the story eventually does come together, some of the earlier pages are a bit slow. The writer character, in particular, is almost pointless and his meta references often drew me right out of the story. That entire section could have been cut with minimal impact to the story.
The end also feels tacked on. It feels like it is there more as a way for the author to moralize than anything else. It does, ultimately, lead to a comfortable resolution, though.
The Bone Clocks isn’t light reading. While it has fantasy elements, at its core, it is a deep character drama that explores the way we are all interconnected. Sykes matures from a bratty teenager to an elderly grandmother in a way that rings true for anyone, no matter the genre. If you remove all of nightmares and illusions, you’re still left with an interesting story about a woman who endues heartache and loss and still finds ways to become a better person.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review through the Amazon Vine program.(less)
David Bernstein’s 294 page novella SURROGATE starts with an interesting idea, but never takes it anywhere. The real story doesn’t get started until ha...moreDavid Bernstein’s 294 page novella SURROGATE starts with an interesting idea, but never takes it anywhere. The real story doesn’t get started until halfway through the book and then it drags along ping-ponging back and forth between predictable and ridiculous. The plot depends on stupid characters making stupid decisions. The women are irrational and manipulative and the men are weak-willed and pathetic. The pace is bogged down by filler and characters constantly rehashing things the reader has already seen. Tricky plotting issues, like how one woman dragged another unconscious woman out of a basement by herself, are just skipped over. None of the characters are fully realized or behave in ways that make sense. The dialogue is silly, repetitive, and lacks maturity. The only insult any of the characters seem to know is “bitch,” which characters lob at each other no less than 13 times – middle-aged, professional, adult characters, mind you.(less)
The book was really hard to get into and I ended up jumping to the end about half way through. It follows some of the structure of the Alice in Wonder...moreThe book was really hard to get into and I ended up jumping to the end about half way through. It follows some of the structure of the Alice in Wonderland fairytale, but lacks the fantasy and surreality. If the story had committed to the idea of a zombie filled Alice in Wonderland, it might have succeeded, but it holds back too much and just reads like any other standard zombie book. (less)
An interesting concept dragged down by horrible writing and even worse editing. The lengthy tome is packed with rambling run-ons, cliched dialogue, re...moreAn interesting concept dragged down by horrible writing and even worse editing. The lengthy tome is packed with rambling run-ons, cliched dialogue, repetitive phrasing and characters who lack any real depth or maturity. The story is narrated by Georgia "George" Mason, who I was stunned to realize is a 20-something young woman, because she reads like a precocious 13-year-old. The lack of zombies doesn't bother me, but the bloated, repetitive prose does. This is a book that definitely didn't live up to the hype. (less)
With college becoming more and more expensive, and college graduates finding it more and more difficult to land decent jobs, many people are looking f...moreWith college becoming more and more expensive, and college graduates finding it more and more difficult to land decent jobs, many people are looking for ways to be successful without investing in college. Unfortunately, this is not the book to tell you how to do that. At its core, this book is about improving your critical thinking skills, which is certainly an important thing to do. However, despite the title, this book is not about doing that without going to college. What this book does is lay out the important qualities that a person with good critical thinking skills has, and then repeatedly tells you to go to college to obtain those skills and qualities. There's nothing wrong with the book, and the book isn't wrong about the importance of thinking or the value of college; it's just not the tool that the title seems to imply.
Disclaimer: I received this book free through the Goodreads First Reads program.(less)
When a young woman is abducted from a seedy sex club and subsequently tortured on the internet in front of millions, Kat Tapo, Holly Boland, and Danie...moreWhen a young woman is abducted from a seedy sex club and subsequently tortured on the internet in front of millions, Kat Tapo, Holly Boland, and Daniele Barbo reunite in a race to find her before the torture ends in tragedy. The Abduction is the second installment of the Carnivia Trilogy. This book deals with themes of sexual abuse, torture, clashes between the US military and local forces abroad, and church corruption. If that sounds familiar, it is because it is. The story continues many of the same themes that began in The Abomination.
Daniele Barbo is surprisingly the most interesting and sympathetic character of the group. He's also the only character who exhibits any real growth. Both Holly and Kat are stagnate in their struggles with the same issues they had in the first book.
While much of the book is well-written, the bad guy's dialogue is shockingly bad. This was also true in The Abomination, but there wasn't enough of it there to distract from the story. In this installment, there is a lot of bad-guy dialogue and it's even worse than before--cliched and ridiculous.
The plot moves along quickly and this is a fast read, but there are a few breakthroughs that develop from coincidences in a subplot that just doesn't ring true. The Abomination was richly plotted and the story grew in an organic matter, but The Abduction seems to take more than a few shortcuts.
The Abduction isn't necessarily bad, but it feels like it is just a lazy version of The Abomination.(less)
Jonathan Holt's THE ABOMINATION is a difficult one to pin down. It's richly plotted, expertly researched, and sharply written. Holt juggles myriad plo...moreJonathan Holt's THE ABOMINATION is a difficult one to pin down. It's richly plotted, expertly researched, and sharply written. Holt juggles myriad plot lines and reams of characters with ease. Mysteries upon mysteries unfold for the reader in a careful, well-manipulated manner that lets the reader speculate right alongside the characters without getting too far ahead or behind them. All of these things are great. What holds it back, however, is this sense of ick at its core. For his part, Holt tries to create strong women fighting a triumphant battle against deep-seated misogyny, but that is all undercut by the misogyny in the writing itself. Holt manages to hit the grand slam of strong female stereotypes: the slut, the bitch, the (presumed) lesbian, and the rape survivor. Furthermore, the two women at the center of the story are both young, attractive women who were just waiting for wizened men of authority to come along and woo them into better version of themselves. Holt decries the inhumanity of rape, but throws in an attempted sexual assault against one of his main characters for sheer entertainment.
This book is well-written and entertaining, but it also feels like it was written for a different era. It's trying to be thoughtful and progressive, but really it is just reinforcing tired stereotypes and using rape as entertainment.(less)
I received a complementary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Knitting for Intermediate Knitters bills itself as a "complete guide," b...moreI received a complementary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Knitting for Intermediate Knitters bills itself as a "complete guide," but this is a bit of an overstatement. It's more like an expanded glossary. It has a few step-by-step instructions and some nice patterns, but mostly it provides definitions and hints for using various knitting tools and techniques.
The conversational tone of the book is inviting and makes it a quick and easy read. A beginning knitter can certainly learn a few things from reading it. When it comes to actual instruction, however, there really isn't much of it. The book relies primarily on references to other sources, such as YouTube videos, for anything more advanced.
The pictures are beautiful, but the book lacks the detailed shots and techniques found in books like Vogue Knitting or The Knitting Answer Book.
This is a decent reference, but definitely not an "ultimate guide." It is probably best for someone who has been away from knitting for a while and just wants a refresher.(less)
Part psychological thriller, part dystopian fantasy, Spark: A Novel is an exciting, fast-paced book set in a future where the government controls ever...morePart psychological thriller, part dystopian fantasy, Spark: A Novel is an exciting, fast-paced book set in a future where the government controls every aspect of life and corporate greed has created an underground economy that operates on its own set of rules. Jacob Underwood is a man with a rare psychological condition that makes him the perfect "enforcer" in this new economy. Underwood is an emotionless and methodical assassin, until something goes wrong on one of his jobs and his world begins to unravel around him.
John Twelve Hawks creates a rich and believable universe for Underwood to play in. Hawks avoids flowery and bloated descriptions in favor of a writing style that is as precise and methodical as his lead character. Each word is perfectly chosen to create maximum impact. Every element of world-building and exposition serves to not only shape the environment, but also to provide subtle insight into Underwood's character. The result is a story that moves quickly and effortlessly from the first page to the last.
Underwood isn't really a good guy or a bad guy, he's neither hero nor antihero, he just exists. We can't exactly root for him, but we can't really root against him, either. The assassins misdeeds are many, yet Hawks manages to make him sympathetic.
At times the violence is a bit graphic, but it never reaches the level of senseless gore. There are a few disturbing images, including some animal cruelty, but it passes quickly and serves a purpose to the plot. Beyond these bits of violence, the book is surprisingly tame. There's no gratuitous sex or language--there's simply no room for it.
Spark: A Novel is an absolute must-read for anyone who enjoys thrillers or mysteries. Despite a bit of graphic violence, it should be appropriate for teenagers and above.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.(less)
I received this book free in exchange for an honest review through the Amazon Vine program.
In Egg and Spoon, Gregory Maguire takes a classic tail of m...moreI received this book free in exchange for an honest review through the Amazon Vine program.
In Egg and Spoon, Gregory Maguire takes a classic tail of mistaken identity and weaves it together with Russian folklore in interesting and unexpected ways. At the center of the story are two young women: a city girl borne of privilege and a country girl suffocating under the weight of poverty and loss. Their paths crisscross and collide as they make their ways through this tale.
Maguire gives us several strong female characters throughout this book. Not only do we get two female leads, but we also get a menagerie of interesting women who guide them along their respective paths. Unfortunately, the two leads, while charming and interesting, are rarely ever proactive. They are both pushed and pulled through the story and show little initiative.
Meanwhile, Baba Yaga, an old witch written as a secondary character, tends to take over the story and guide the plot more than anyone else. She's charming and intriguing, and it seems Maguire has much more affection for her than his leads. Her arc is poignant and ultimately satisfying: it feels like this story really wants to be about her.
While the story has moments of brilliance and some edge-of-your-seat excitement, the plot is a bit muddled and drags through the middle. There are a lot of missed opportunities to develop the two young women, to show them taking control of their lives, and to earn the connections they later have with the ancillary characters. The book cheats a little in this regard, as these characters grow in ways both expected and unexpected, but they never really earn it.
Despite its flaws, Egg and Spoon is worth reading. It provides an intriguing introduction to Russian folklore that could spark a reader's interest in other stories. It may, however, lack enough excitement to keep younger readers interested.(less)