Nico Walker’s ‘Cherry’ Will Take You on a Journey of Scumbaggery (Book Review)

cherry book cover

Book: Cherry

Author: Nico Walker

Publisher: Knopf

Published: Aug. 14, 2018

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Cherry-novel-Nico-Walker/dp/0525520139

Stars: 3/5

Nico Walker has an edge that polished and professional writers may not have attained, allowing you to understand the world through the eyes of an addict who cares for nothing but his next high.

You will find no heroes in this story about service members deployed to Iraq, drug addicts and bank robbers.

In fact, the protagonist in Nico Walker’s debut novel, Cherry, is so detestable, you might find yourself hoping he fails. Because he deserves whatever comes to him, and here’s the thing: he’d agree with you.

Cherry published in 2018 and received much buzz because it was written by a man who is currently serving time in prison for robbing banks. He also happened to be an Army medic in the Iraq War and a heroin addict.

And perhaps that might have been one of my greatest qualms with the book; I didn’t feel like I was reading a novel. The story felt like a memoir, with its raw, choppy narration told in first-person from an anonymous narrator—who is obviously the anti-hero of the story.

The Story

Boy meets girl. Boy gets high with girl. Boy and girl break up. Boy and girl get back together. Girl goes to college. Boy joins Army. Boy marries girl. Boy goes to war. Girl cheats on boy. Boy returns from war. Boy and girl divorce. Boy and girl get back together. Boy and girl get high.

Welcome to the first modern-day story about the modern-day opioid epidemic.

So Here’s the Deal

Not everyone is going to love this book. There’s a lot of cussing (I mean, A LOT). There’s a lot of sex. There are even some scenes that depict animal cruelty, to show the complete soulessness of certain characters.

I don’t mind the cussing and the sex. That’s life. The animal cruelty did bother me, but I understand why Mr. Walker included those scenes.

My Take

My issue with the book is the complete scumbaggery of the nameless protagonist and narrator. He has no redeeming qualities to help us root for him despite his flaws, except that maybe he loves dogs.

And then there’s the writing. At first, I thought Mr. Walker was using a highly stylized approach so his character would appear disconnected from reality (like a drug addict). But after reading the acknowledgements section, I realized this was the best Mr. Walker could write.

The crude coarseness of Mr. Walker’s writing did have its advantages though. His story has an edge that polished and professional writers may not have attained, allowing you to understand the world through the eyes of an addict who cares for nothing but his next high. I appreciated this perspective.

I didn’t hate the book necessarily, but I suppose I wanted more from Mr. Walker—some higher epiphany or realization by the end. But the story just felt … hollow. Shallow. And a little bit sad.

But maybe that’s the point of Cherry. If so, Mr. Walker definitely accomplished his goal.

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How ‘American War’ by Omar El Akkad Will Change Your Worldviews (Book Review)

american war book cover
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*This book was a Shari’s Pick for January 2018!

‘American War’ drags us through the heartbreaking toll that war causes everyday people and it makes us see.

Book: American War

Author: Omar El Akkad

Publisher: Knopf

Published: April 4, 2017

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/American-War-Omar-El-Akkad-ebook/dp/B01LXK1HBB

Stars: 4/5

“This isn’t a story about war. It’s about ruin.” – American War

After I finished reading war journalist’s Omar El Akkad’s debut novel, American War, one quote came to mind from Ernest Hemingway: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Mr. El Akkad bled all the way through this haunting, moving, and conscience-punching book that begs the question: What if the United States turned its most ruthless foreign policies against its own people in a second American Civil War over fossil fuels?

But while Mr. El Akkad draws obvious parallels to modern-day controversies—such as drones, torture, refugee camps, and the weaponizing of desperation for terrorism—his story is not a political one. Instead, American War drags us through the heartbreaking toll that war causes everyday people and it makes us see.

The Story

Part dystopia, part family saga, American War follows the story of one family ravaged by the new Civil War, the Chestnuts. Specifically, curious and adventurous Sarat Chestnut, who is only 6 years old when the book begins.

Taking place several decades in the future, Sarat’s world in the South is different than the one we know today. The coastal cities have been overtaken by the ocean, Florida is now the Florida Sea, and the Free Southern State is fighting for its right to continue using fossil fuels, which have been outlawed by the North. The rivers are dead, and food is nearly impossible to grow.

When the war drives the Chestnuts from their simple home by the river, we follow Sarat’s story through refugee camps, radicalization, massacres, and immeasurable loss. This is the story of how one innocent girl becomes the victim of so much greed, eventually turning her into a weapon that will devastate the country.

Pros Versus Cons

American War enticed me from the start, with its haunting opening from a mysterious narrator. However, the book began to slow toward the middle and dragged for several chapters. I believe this is because Mr. Akkad wrote with too much description and narration, but not enough dialogue to shape the characters and scenarios.

However, as I began to approach the final two parts of the book, the story’s pace escalated quickly. I finally found myself connecting with Sarat and her plight with the emotion and empathy I was hoping for earlier in the book.

I’m glad I kept reading, because in the final two parts, Mr. Akkad illustrated his immense capacity for writing effective, hard-hitting, and powerful dialogue. He seemed more connected to his writing; I’m not sure why, but the words and emotion felt rawer. Perhaps less edited to perfection?

Either way, the ending was powerful and left me dumbfounded. I finally understood why Mr. El Akkad had to write the way he did in the middle of the book. As a reader, I would not have understood the end with such potency otherwise.

The Final Note

As a journalist who’s covered the war in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, the Egyptian Revolution during the Arab Spring, and the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Mr. Akkad obviously poured his heart into this story. He has written a strong, weighty, and influential book that will force you to re-think your worldviews. It forced me to re-think mine.

The morning after finishing American War, I was scanning through my Instagram feed and came to a post from National Geographic about a Syrian father with his 2-month-old baby in a refugee camp north of Greece. I’ve always felt empathy for the plight of refugees, but this time, something else struck me—a deeper understanding, as if I knew.

If American War opened my eyes in this way, perhaps it’s an antidote for the lack of compassion across the world today, and therefore a necessary read for everyone.

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Will ‘An Anonymous Girl’ Stalk You into 2019 Thrills? (Book Review)

An Anonymous Girl book cover

A story of obsession and control, An Anonymous Girl will chill you to your bone and leave you pondering its intricate and dark characters.

Book: An Anonymous Girl

Author: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Publishing: Jan. 8, 2019

Pre-Order Link: https://static.macmillan.com/static/smp/anonymous-girl

Stars: 4/5

If you’re into screwed up marriages, twisted sociopaths and brilliant stalkers, then you’d better grab a copy of An Anonymous Girl when it publishes on Jan. 8, 2019. Because this psychological thriller from bestselling authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen will give any lovers of Gone Girl, The Widow, or Girl on the Train their fix.

The Storyline

An Anonymous Girl begins by following Jessica (friends call her “Jess”)—your typical poor, young makeup artist living in New York City. Like many struggling artists in The Big Apple, Jess has secrets from her past she doesn’t want to face, which makes finding a relationship a tad difficult.

When the opportunity for some easy cash practically falls onto her lap during a makeup session one day, Jess signs up for a mysterious study on morality from the esteemed Dr. Shields. But as Jess becomes Subject 52, she begins to learn this study isn’t what it seems and now she’s in so deep, she’s not sure she can make it out alive.

What I Loved

The story’s pace is so fast—with its short chapters and cliffhangers—I found it hard to put down (even when I was exhausted from a long day at work). An Anonymous Girl switches point-of-view between Jess and Dr. Shields, which adds a layer of psychological depth to their newly forming, toxic relationship.

I don’t go for cheap thrills, instead preferring story arcs that allow me to understand a character’s motivations. I want to know the why and An Anonymous Girl delivers, developing a complex, fascinating and terrifying villain in Dr. Shields. In the end, you might find yourself empathizing with this cold, calculating doctor.

What Needed Work

I wanted more punch from the end. The story’s intensity developed so well, but the end wasn’t as strong as the buildup. It wasn’t ­bad, per say; in fact, the final note still completed the story nicely and gave me a sense of satisfaction. It just wasn’t enough.

The Final Note

A story of obsession and control, An Anonymous Girl will chill you to your bone and leave you pondering its intricate and dark characters. This is a strong book, a quick read—and I promise, it will be worth your time.

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Hilary Dartt Gives Life a Second Chance with ‘The Composition of Order’ (Book Review)

 

The Composition of Order by Hilary Dartt

A wonderful, delightful story that had me crying at the end, with characters so real, I felt like they were my neighbors.

Book: The Composition of Order (The Seedling Homestead Series Book 1)

Author: Hilary Dartt

Publisher: Darttboard Creative Writing, LLC

Published: Sept. 19, 2018

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Composition-Order-Seedling-Homestead-Book-ebook/dp/B07HBCKZ4P

Stars: 5/5

[DISCLAIMER: For the sake of full disclosure, Hilary Dartt was the structural editor for my novel, The Apollo Illusion. However, I bought my own copy of The Composition of Order and was not offered any compensation or benefit for reviewing it.]

Sometimes, becoming a mother makes you a horrible wife. Sometimes, planning life too much can have devastating consequences. And sometimes, those we love most are not who we thought.

Welcome to The Composition of Order by Hilary Dartt, a wonderful, delightful story that had me crying at the end (and I don’t always cry at the end of books).

The Story

The story focuses on Sarah Ward, who as a young (and adopted) child, always preferred order to chaos. Now as an adult, she’s stunned when Donny—her high school sweetheart and husband of 20 years—announces he wants a divorce.

As the couple prepares to see their only child off to college, they take one final, family road trip back home to the farm where Sarah grew up (and they met). There, Sarah finds a mysterious journal at a flea market. Oddly drawn to it, the personal story within prompts Sarah to try and win Donny back. But what Sarah discovers about herself and her family will change her future, and her outlook, forever.

My Take

For most of the story, I believed The Composition of Order to be a solid four stars. However, the story earned a fifth star in my book because of its powerful ending, which impacted me for days after I finished reading. Books often make me tear up, or feel sad, or smile at their closings. But Ms. Dartt managed to make me weep!

With characters so real, they could be neighbors or sisters, The Composition of Order will leave you feeling fuzzy inside, satisfied, and possibly examining your own life. Best of all, it will make you believe in the powerful love of a mother and have hope that second chances do happen—even if they look different than your typical storybook endings.

A must-read for every wife, mother, or woman who understands the complexities of family life, but loves with all her heart anyway.

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Is ‘Wildchilds’ by Eugenia Melian the Wild Ride it Should Be? (Book Review)

Wildchilds Book Cover

Book: Wildchilds

Author: Eugenia Melian

Publisher: Fashion Sphinx Books

Published: Sept. 20, 2018

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Wildchilds-Eugenia-Melian-ebook/dp/B07GXZS2H7

Stars: 2/5

This was my first choice for my first NetGalley Advanced Reviewer Copy (ARC), so trust me when I say, I really wanted to give this debut novel more than two stars. The story was good, and I can tell it was deeply personal for Author Eugenia Meliàn. Unfortunately, Wildchilds was not executed well, like reading a proofread first draft rather than a final product.

The Summary

Here’s the deal with Wildchilds: it’s a story about the dark side of the fashion industry, a #MeToo coming out for a sector that has yet to acknowledge its dirty secrets.

Wildchilds concentrates on Iris, a former Paris model now living in a sort of exile with her teenage daughter, Lou. When Iris’s former lover—who is also the father of Lou—dies, she’s forced to return to Paris to secure his photography estate for her daughter. In doing so, Iris must confront the hidden demons from her past and the trauma she endured as a model many years ago.

Great concept, right? Ms. Meliàn is a former model herself and a veteran agent in the fashion industry, so she gives the reader a real inside look into the profession. However, once I began to read, the story took a turn for the worse.

The Fall

The transitions between points-of-view (POV) and timelines were choppy. At certain parts, Ms. Meliàn transitioned from a third-person POV on one character, to a first-person POV from a completely different character within the same paragraph. Other times, she did not include paragraph breaks, chapter breaks, or character labels when switching POV, creating a sense of daunting confusion for the reader.

Often, her dialogue was shallow or repetitive, slowing the story’s pace. Frequently, she’d spend several paragraphs describing the physical attributes of something—a person or a setting—but skirted over the types of important, profound emotions, backstory, or narration readers crave. Her writing usually told, but rarely showed.

The result was a feeling of disconnect, of a story that dragged, of one-dimensional characters. This book had so much more potential.

The Hope

I do believe Ms. Meliàn has it in her to turn this novel around and create a magnificent piece of work. Her ability to write well with deep suspense and intensity shone through from time to time, especially during a pivotal confrontation between the main protagonist and her dark antagonist. I would encourage Ms. Meliàn to seek out a strong structural editor who can help to hone her craft and work this book into one that would touch many lives.

As it stands now, however, I cannot find it in myself to give Wildchilds more than two stars. I do hope that changes one day.

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Is ‘There There’ by Tommy Orange Worth the Hype? (Book Review)

There There by Tommy Orange

“This is a book that should not go unread. It holds the weight of generations that never had the chance to scream, and now, Mr. Orange is screaming for them.”

There There is, quite simply, a book that every American should read, if for nothing else, to remind us that our country’s success came at a great price – the genocide of a people who today wander their lives as “insignificant remainders.”

Angry, despondent, yet resilient and defiant, There There is a debut novel about the modern-day Native American, written by modern-day (Oakland-born) Native American Tommy Orange. His story read with the same vast and sweeping motion as Christopher Nolan’s film, Dunkirk—told from multiple perspectives (12, to be exact) that began to intertwine as the story wound closer and closer to the final climax.

What Spoke to Me

Mr. Orange’s writing is rich and lyrical, yet tinged with an edge I’m sure he acquired from his upbringing in Oakland, Calif.

Certain moments of There There will punch your conscience, when (for example) Mr. Orange writes about, “If you were fortunate enough to be born into a family whose ancestors directly benefited from genocide and/or slavery, maybe you think the more you don’t know, the more innocent you can stay … Look no further than your last name.”

Others brought out the beauty of his culture and will make you fall in love, such as, “Being Indian has never been about returning to the land. The land is everywhere, or nowhere.”

What Could Have Been Better

While I genuinely enjoyed much of his book, certain parts slowed for me, perhaps because he was writing from various perspectives. I sometimes felt as though I were reading a series of short stories that wound together, thus preventing me from falling into his characters the way I’d hoped.

I can’t say I loved the ending. There There does finish with a sad hopefulness, yet the main question I’d wanted answered was left unfinished. A little too ambiguous for my taste.

So, is There There Worth the Hype?

Yes. Overall, this is a book that should not go unread. It holds the weight of generations that never had the chance to scream, and now, Mr. Orange is screaming for them. I felt their cries reading his book, held their hearts in my soft palms, and wished so desperately that I could fix the wrongs for them.

But then, Mr. Orange wouldn’t want that. No, I believe he’s telling us that his people don’t need fixing, or pity, or help. They might have been broken, but they are strong. They are still here. And dammit, they’re proud.

Stars: 4/5

Book: There There

Author: Tommy Orange

Publisher: Knopf

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/There-novel-Tommy-Orange/dp/0525520376

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New! ‘Shari’s Pick’ Will Highlight Top Recommended Books

Sharis Pick image
Hmmm, which amazing book will I pick to recommend next?

 

“Shari’s Pick will be the cream of the crop, the stuff that sticks in my brain like flypaper, the books that if you have time for nothing else, you’ll want to read THIS.”

 

I’ve decided to launch a new, bookish thang here on my blog and for my Readers Club email list. I’m calling it, “Shari’s Pick.”

This week, I signed up for NetGalley to start receiving Advanced Reviewer Copies (ARCs) from publishers before they hit the bookshelves. And … (deep breath) … I bought a Kindle (yes, to this day, I’d refused to buy an e-reader). Not to mention, I began reviewing already-published books in several places:

Out of everything I review (both published and ARCs), I’ll pick a top recommendation once every few months. I’d love to do this monthly, but with my schedule, I only have time to read one book per month, on average.

Shari’s Pick will be the cream of the crop, the stuff that sticks in my brain like flypaper, the books that if you have time for nothing else, you’ll want to read this.

Why would you listen to little, old me?

Let’s just say I’m picky. OK, maybe that’s an understatement. Critical. Meticulous. Fastidious.

But I’m fair, too. I don’t believe in cruelty, but honesty, on the other hand, you will find.

I also write for a living. I’m a former newspaper reporter. I’ve written for national magazines. I’m a current corporate communications professional. I’ve edited three novels, corporate jargon, e-newsletters, and oh yeah – I’m also a published indie author.

So … my tastes are discriminatory—not by genre or author—but by quality. If you’re looking for quality, you’ll find it from Shari’s Pick.

Be the first to know Shari’s Pick!

Whenever I announce a new Shari’s Pick, my Readers Club subscribers will hear it first! Therefore, if you don’t want to miss the first Shari’s Pick (which I have yet to announce), sign up for my Readers Club now! 😉

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Why ‘The Most Beautiful’ by Mayte Garcia Will Make You Love and Hate Prince

The Most Beautiful cover

The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince, is a story about music, artistry, pain, infatuation, control, religion, and deep, soulful love. Put frankly, it is a story that will stick in your mind after you’ve placed the book down.

Whether you were a fan of Prince or not, I recommend reading The Most Beautiful, because much more is buried in this rock star romance than a world filled with purple foo foo.

I once read a great piece of writing advice that said a memoir should be your story, but it shouldn’t be about you. Rather, the memoir is about everyone else reading your book. Mayte Garcia accomplished this with grace and love.

She wrote with endearment and forgiveness. She wrote truthfully, sometimes with the perspective of a wiser woman, sometimes with raw emotion. What I loved most about her book is how I felt myself getting pulled into the eccentric, strange, and lovely world of Prince with her.

For those who don’t know, Ms. Garcia is the first ex-wife of Prince. She was also the only woman with whom he had a child, and that child died one week after birth. Their marriage ended soon after.

Before meeting Prince, Ms. Garcia was becoming a world-renowned belly dancer by the age of 16, when she met Prince backstage. He was 13 years her senior, but in typical Prince style, he saw her artistic potential before she could, and he began contacting her offstage.

Ms. Garcia went on to become a creative collaborator of Prince’s, then a backup dancer and employee, and finally his wife. The Most Beautiful is Ms. Garcia’s story, told her way. She wrote it soon after his death.

Sadly, her memoir made me think of Prince in a different light.

No doubt he was a creative genius, but did he also suffer from unknown mental illness? Perhaps a form of narcissistic disorder? Ms. Garcia does not hide the emotional roller coaster she lived with him, everything from the extraordinary highs of dopamine-filled passion, to the anger and rage she felt at the lows.

Through it all, one thing is apparent: Ms. Garcia never stopped loving Prince. She loved him wholly, completely, without prejudice. Her love is permeating, because even after you learn of Prince’s most sinister side, you will still appreciate and accept him. Maybe you will even still love him.

My favorite part of the book was the end. No spoilers here, but I’ll say this: it was the light amongst much darkness. Want to know why I adored it so much? Well, I guess you’ll have to read the book.

STARS: 4/5

BOOK: The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince

AUTHOR: Mayte Garcia

AMAZON LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Most-Beautiful-My-Life-Prince/dp/0316468975

PUBLISHER: Hachette Books

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Should You Read Carrie Fisher’s ‘The Princess Diarist’? (Book Review)

 

The Princess Diarist_book cover

Simple answer:

If you love Star Wars—maybe.

If you don’t—probably not.

I bought The Princess Diarist within the month after Ms. Fisher passed away. I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I was a kid, when my dad introduced my sister and me to the original trilogy, and I almost fell off my parents’ king-sized waterbed when Darth Vader revealed, “Luke, I am your father.”

HOW COULD THAT BE?

As a forever fan of the original trilogy, and especially of Princess Leia, then saddened over the death of Ms. Fisher, I was expecting much more from The Princess Diarist.

Perhaps the sudden death of such a Hollywood icon made the book into more than it was via exaggerated hype. Or perhaps everyone was foaming at the mouth for juicy tidbits on the ever-so-naughty love affair between Ms. Fisher and Harrison Ford that was exposed in the book.

But, I don’t know, much of the book just felt … hollow. The whipped cream on top of a flavorful scoop of ice-cream. I wanted more analysis (maybe self-analysis?), more emotion. I wanted to feel something reading her story.

Not to say I didn’t enjoy aspects of it.

For example, in the beginning, Ms. Fisher talked about how she never wanted to get into show business because of the way her grandmother treated her mom. I loved this peek into her upbringing and the possible narcissism that surrounded and affected her later in life (I would have loved more of this).

I also enjoyed reading snippets of Ms. Fisher’s diary entries from when she was 19 years old and filming the first Star Wars. Today, we know Ms. Fisher was bipolar, and I could detect the increasing manias, followed by the devastating depressive states, in her words. I found that fascinating.

I did enjoy learning about her affair with Harrison Ford. The affair was not what you’d expect, and it made me a little sad, in fact.

As a Star Wars fan, the tidbits on the making of the film were fun to read, and her insights into fans’ interactions with her (and how that affected her) were eye-opening. I cracked a smile sometimes.

Otherwise, I was ready to finish the book about halfway through.

I kept hoping for more, a climactic epiphany or ah ha! moment from Ms. Fisher, but I felt like that peak never arrived. Instead, I felt like much of the book was jibbery jabbery filler.

Even so, I can’t say I hated the book. I enjoyed it, but it probably won’t stick around in my memory for long.

STARS: 3/5

BOOK: The Princess Diarist

AUTHOR: Carrie Fisher

PUBLISHER: Blue Rider Press

AMAZON LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Princess-Diarist-Carrie-Fisher/dp/0399173595/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1531785644&sr=8-1

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BOOK REVIEW! ‘Call Me Zelda’ by Erika Robuck

Every so often, you’ll actually find me reviewing a hot, new book on this blog for your reading delight. Like today.

Call Me Zelda,” by Erika Robuck, published on May 7 this year. And I actually won an advanced copy through a Goodreads giveaway. I was so stoked, I might as well have just met Jesus.

OK, kidding, kidding.

But in all reality, I was excited to read Call Me Zelda, because it’s about Zelda Fitzgerald. And I have a serious fascination with the Fitzgeralds (who else is dying to see “Gatsby?”).

Just a heads up, though: Call Me Zelda is historical fiction … and this was my first experience reading the genre.

Here’s what I thought of Call Me Zelda. 

STARS: 3 out of 5

Call Me ZeldaErika is a great writer. I genuinely enjoyed her very human portrayal of the famous writer and his muse. Her prose was fluent, sometimes poetic, and encompassing of the time period for which she wrote: the 1930s.

However, I felt like the plot line and character interactions fell flat. And thus, the story tended to drag.

Here’s the scoop: rather than concentrating on the famous party days of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Call Me Zelda focuses on their later years, when Zelda was committed to a Baltimore psychiatric hospital in 1932. The narrator is a fictional character, a psychiatric nurse named Anna Howard, who tended to Zelda while also fighting her own demons from the past.

The result is that we get a much more human, emotional look into the complicated and sometimes chaotic nature of the Fitzgeralds’ relationship. We see their tenderness, and we understand how they destroyed each other. This was the part I enjoyed most about Call Me Zelda.

Unfortunately, I was not a huge fan of the nurse, Anna. And since she was the narrator, this took away from the story for me.

I think Erika could have done much more with Anna to add spice and conflict to the plot. I appreciated Anna’s good, caring nature, but I felt like she was a bit too perfect. And thus—even for a Goody two-shoes like me—she wasn’t real enough. The drama of the story wasn’t intense enough.  And it sometimes bored me.

Would I recommend Call Me Zelda? It depends.

If you love literature and have a fascination with past figures such as Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds … then yes! I think you will either enjoy or genuinely appreciate Call Me Zelda. Even if I sometimes found the story slow, I still appreciated the new life that Erika breathed into these two literary icons. And I wanted to know what happened at the end.

But if you prefer more contemporary work, action, or drama, then I’d recommend passing on this one. Instead, save it for a friend like Gil, the nostalgic screenwriter played by Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s movie, “Midnight in Paris.”

Find Call Me Zelda on Amazon.