Lyrical Longing

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Music is often a way that we’re more easily able to express our feelings, and it frequently provides definition for a period of our lives, be it embarrassing or not. In Peter Coviello’s Long Players: A Love Story in Eighteen Songs, Peter recalls the journey he takes in life in terms of love and relationships and the music he associates with them. As Peter navigates the milestones of life through his marriage, divorce, forays into casual sexual encounters, and his relationships with his two stepdaughters, music seems to be a way in which he’s able to more easily communicate with others and express the emotions he’s experiencing.

There were many portions of the text that were beautifully written and because music can be very personal there was an honesty to the events depicted; however, much of the narrative made me want to scream with how pretentious it was and the manner in which it was presented came off as more “woe is me” than the potential for growth the situations presented. While there was an attempt at connecting the experiences he’s offered with musical equivalents or comparisons it felt loosely related to the musical aspect promised in the subtitle and rather waxed on more in a whining fashion about his self pity and his slowly coming to terms with big changes in his life.

Overall, I’d give it a 2 out of 5 stars.

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Savage Stories

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Stories make life interesting, but if the events in your life are governed by a specific narrative, you may find yourself fighting back, as in The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert.

Alice has moved a lot in her seventeen years of life, appearing to flee from bad luck that seems to follow her and her mother. When they receive a note saying that Alice’s reclusive, dark fairy tale authoring grandmother has died on her estate called the Hazel Wood, Alice’s mother thinks that they’re finally free from the bad luck plaguing them. Little does she know that it will kick-start even greater bad luck with creatures from the fabled Hinterlands, where the stories are set, kidnapping Alice’s mother in an attempt to lure her to the Hazel Wood, which her mother warned her to stay away from. Venturing into the Hazel Wood for the first time to rescue her mother, with the assistance of her classmate and Hinterland fan Ellery Finch, Alice encounters the world where her grandmother’s tales reside and gains insight into where her story began.

With a story whose premise is based on fairy tales, especially dark fairy tales, I was instantly intrigued by this novel; however, the execution of the narrative wasn’t as developed or complex as I’d have hoped, leaving untapped potential for a more satisfying novel. The primary characters in the novel weren’t developed enough for me to care about them too much, but I did find the Hinterland characters interesting; a collection of their stories would have been much more appealing, which the small taste offered within the book demonstrated. Though a quick read, it was slow to get to the inciting action for the primary events and instead offered more of a far less interesting summary of how Alice has been impacted by uncanny, odd events throughout her life, which though it set the scene didn’t captivate my attention as much.

Overall, I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Picture of Preconception

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Finding what you’re passionate about can take time, but advocating for yourself when it conflicts with what others want for you can take courage, as seen in Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed.

Maya Aziz has a dream, and the necessary talent, to attend NYU to study film-making, which is her passion, but it’s in stark contrast with her studying medicine or law close to home near Chicago that her protective, Indian parents envision for her, creating an environment of stress for Maya. Adding to this stress is the coincidental timing of some emotional drama with the boy she’s had a crush on for forever and meeting a someone more suitable for her parent’s vision of her future, turning Maya’s life into a movie-worthy rom-com. When a terrorist attack takes place a few hundred miles from Maya’s hometown, the unfortunate fact of sharing a last name with the speculated Muslim attacker dredges up some local hatred toward Maya’s family with violence perpetrated on her parents’ dental practice and threats to their lives. In the wake of this shocking event, Maya comes to realize the importance of following her passion.

As a traditional YA tale of finding oneself and challenging parental expectations, the narrative is well-written with engaging characters but trite with its romance plot that wasn’t overly entertaining; with the added narrative thread of prejudice faced by Muslims in a post-9/11 America, the story gains a dimension of reality that counteracts some of its more cutesy elements. But this link felt tenuous as Maya being Muslim isn’t thoroughly demonstrated through actions in the novel but instead readers are told that she’s Muslim – if we weren’t told, it wouldn’t have been obvious. Addressing an unfortunately timely (and recurring) topic the of prejudices within our culture and how they can manifest, this story demonstrates the importance of challenging preconceived notions and trying to be better people to create a better world.

Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Evocative Exploration

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Some mysteries persist beyond a traditional lifetime. For a detective in Rick Sulik’s Death Unmasked, solving a current string of crimes might just resolve more than anticipated.

An elusive killer is stalking women in the Houston area, subjecting local residents and law enforcement to a particular and sadistic string of murders. Pitted against the intuitive skills of Sean Jamison, a homicide detective nearing retirement, the killer’s days at large are dwindling as Sean’s recollection of his past life increases, triggered by the chance sighting of a specific coat at a flea market. As Sean’s memories of his past life surface he becomes driven to find Laura, the woman he loves from his past life, as a way to secure an enjoyable and deserved life in retirement. As Sean’s certainty in his past solidifies, his recollections and detective skills aid him in finding Laura and solving the serial killer case, as the killer’s actions appear to be intricately interconnected with Sean’s past.

With a premise that intrigues with its familiar murder mystery/ police procedural and rather unique introduction of reincarnation into the arsenal of expertise to solve the crime, this story captures your attention and presents you with plenty of flowery language. Some consistency things tripped me up and pulled me out of the story, including the name of Laura’s reincarnation – introduced as Amy to then just be called Laura – and the age of Sean’s colleague’s daughter, which seems to keep shifting between three and six. The rapidity with which characters (and Sean) accept Sean’s claims of reincarnation and his past life is quite unbelievable and punctures the suspension of disbelief of the reader has established; similarly, the dialogue between characters, though entertaining, didn’t feel genuine or realistic for what would be likely to take place in the moment.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

*I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Composite Killer

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Being able to put a face with unconscionable violent acts makes it feel more immediately real than a vague concept of the person committing those acts. Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad demonstrates the concept of recognizing and identifying the cruelty present within a war-ravaged region.

In the streets of Baghdad in the aftermath of US occupation, the lives of a mother, junk dealer, and journalist become intertwined by the actions and fate of a Frankenstein-like man that the junk dealer claims to have stitched together from disjointed body parts so they can be recognized as people and given a proper burial. When the composite corpse disappears followed by a series of murders that take place throughout the city, the authorities are driven to seek the entity. The mother is kind to him and talks with him, believing it’s her departed son returned to her, while the journalist seeks out the details of his creation and actions to be able to write a story to tantalize the readers of his magazine. As the entity exacts the revenges his body parts demand, he needs to replace them with new ones, criminal or innocent, creating a cycle of killing that seems to have no end.

The story presented an interesting concept of a piecemeal person exacting revenge for heinous acts perpetrated against the persons creating the composite being, with plenty of opportunity to do so in Baghdad’s politically unstable streets. This narrative portrays the horrors experienced by ordinary people in Iraq but manages to enlighten without the incredibly heavy reality entirely depressing its readers; however, I did feel that it was difficult for me to connect with the story, leaving me at a slight emotional remove from the events and characters, but this could be, in part, due to translation and my unfamiliarity with some cultural references. With an intriguing cast of characters, whose lives intersect in connection with the sought after entity, the narrative provides the stories of their lives and engenders compassion for the suffering they’ve endured.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Profiled Prowler

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People are mysterious creatures that are capable of unthinkable things. In Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, study into the reasons for people to commit atrocious crimes is investigated for a deeper understanding of the underlying psychology.

After a boy’s body is found unspeakably mutilated in New York City in 1896, journalist John Moore, alienist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, and ambitious police secretary Sara Howard covertly investigate the details of this murder in an effort to catch the culprit before they strike again. Using keen insight, detective skills, and the facts from previous, similar crimes, the trio, along with two detectives with forensic training lent to aid their efforts by Theodore Roosevelt, develop a psychological profile of the killer and work to set a trap to catch him before his body count grows.

Though an entertaining crime investigation with psychological underpinnings common in many crime dramas seen on television today, this story took a long time to unfold, meandering down unnecessary tangents and padding the narrative with unneeded detail and language. Incorporating historical figures and events into the tale made it easier to place the story within its historical context in an effort for readers to become more invested in the events and characters; however, the characters don’t diverge much from rote repetitions of those apparent in Sherlock Holmes or offer much dynamism as the investigation progresses, though there is a decent effort made at portraying a diverse cast of characters.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.