Book Review: Broken Monsters

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Broken city, broken dreams

In Detroit, violent death – along with foreclosure and despair – is a regular occurrence. But the part-human, part-animal corpses that have started appearing are more disturbing than anything Detective Gabriella Versado has ever seen[...]

[...]Broken Monsters lays bare the decaying corpse of the American Dream, and asks what we’d be prepared to do for fifteen minutes of fame, especially in an online world.

Lauren Beukes is pretty much on my auto-buy list (I mean, if I had the means to have an auto-buy list). I own most of her books, including her out-of-print Maverick, and Broken Monsters will soon be added.

Granted, I first read Beukes’ Zoo City (my review) because she is a great South African author and because her South African fiction is just out of this world. But just as she crosses the boundaries of genres and mashes together concepts that other authors can’t successfully do, she is crossing the boundaries of description.

The Shining Girls and now Broken Monsters have proven her mettle as a writer. They say “write what you know” – Beukes is from neither Chicago nor Detroit, but in both cases she did her research so well that the places became tangible. Her twitter followers are also pretty familiar with her escapades to the settings of her books – I seem to remember her once tweeting about shadowing a Detroit undertaker for a day. (This BookD podcast with Beukes is totally worth the listen – do it!)

As for the story: I’ll admit that I was unsure at first that I would read it. As I repeatedly say, I’m a major scaredy-cat. Anyway, I read it. After the description of the first victim – right at the beginning of the book – I was a little spooked. I decided then that I would only read the book in the daylight. (That helped.) But then, the book is not really thaaaaaat scary. It is touted as a thriller, but the killer is revealed pretty early on in the plot (and it is done purposefully).

So what you should know about Broken Monsters is that you cannot take it at face value. Beukes is a genius, and everything she writes about has a purpose – and the purpose is not confined to “being thrilling”. As fantastic as her writing is – honest, tangible, raw – it is also a commentary. Commentary on technology, on art and artists, on the evil that can grow from our dreams. Commentary on the power an audience gives to a creation – a hope, a desire.

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The disturbing imagery is not confined to bodies (but I will leave you to discover that yourself). Despite that – or perhaps because of it – I think this would be a fantastic book to discuss in an undergrad class. I feel the need to read this again, with guidance from and discussion with other readers. It is incredible reading it for “just reading”, but I get the feeling there is even more waiting beneath the surface.

Of course, I should warn that it might upset sensitive readers – but you’ll know from the full blurb whether you can handle it. What I appreciate is that Beukes approaches the gruesomeness with a lot of respect. You don’t get the sense of some kind of macabre pleasure that one sometimes sees in horror/thriller type books. As somebody who has lost loved ones to violence, that distinction means a lot.

Like many of Beukes’ books, Broken Monsters is told in multiple POVs. Not first-person POVs though, and this “deviation” gives it a distinct atmosphere. The characterisation is great, so there is no confusion, but I must admit that I didn’t feel as attracted to these characters as in previous books. Of course, it is a myth that a good character must be a likable one!

As for the covers… I feel kind of meh about the USA and UK covers. The SA cover (up top) is the best of the lot for me – detailed and artsy and me likey.

Overall, I found this to be a gripping and disturbing read – for more reasons than the obvious.

I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley and Mulholland Books in exchange for an honest review. This has not biased my review.

Ten Harry Potter Characters I Would Want With Me On A Deserted Island

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I’m twisting today’s TTT topic in honour of Harry Potter Month! How’s that for killing two birds with one stone. These are the ten characters from the Harry Potter World that I would want with me on a deserted island. We assume that they don’t have broomsticks with them and that they can’t apparate from the island or transfigure into a sea creature to swim away… because that would just be too easy.

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Harry Potter And The “Occult”: How Reading Was Almost Ruined For Me

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Last week I wrote about how much the Harry Potter books meant to me as a young reader – and to some degree, still does – but this week I’d like to write about how this lovely part of my childhood was placed in jeopardy.

As is wont to happen, there are groups of society who easily condemn anything that is popular as evil. I attended a conservative primary school, which was very vocal about its ideas of right and wrong. They declared things to be “evil” with striking regularity.

Heh… couldn’t resist.

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Book Review: The Reluctant Intern

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Addison Wolfe never wanted to be a physician. He wanted to be an astronaut, and went to medical school as a roundabout way of achieving it. But his plans backfire when NASA turns him down and he has to complete his internship at University Hospital in Jacksonville. He faces a daunting year of learning the ins and outs of being a doctor, while juggling his colleagues, his love-life and the evil Director of Medical Education.

I was offered an e-copy of The Reluctant Intern by its author, Bill Yancey. I always jump at the opportunity to read books by medical doctors, and I was very intrigued by a book with a main character who really doesn’t want to be a doctor. It’s unorthodox, but doesn’t it immediately sound like a cool story?

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Book Review: The Country of Ice Cream Star

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My name be Ice Cream Fifteen Star. This be the tale of how I bring the cure to all  the Nighted States, save every poory children, brief for life. Is how a city die for selfish love, and rise from this same smallness.  Be how the new America begin, in wars against all hope – a country with no power in a world that hate its life.  So been the faith I sworn, and it ain’t evils in no world nor cruelties in no red hell can change the vally heart of Ice Cream Star.

In the ruins of a future America, fifteen-year-old Ice Cream Star and her people survive by scavenging in the detritus of an abandoned civilization. Theirs is a world of children – by the time they reach the age of twenty, each of them will die of the disease they call posies. Continue reading

Book Review: Unravel

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Edit: I’ve been informed that the psychiatry portrayed in this book actually is a good representation of the way it is practiced in North America… which leaves me a little stumped… But means that some of my criticism below is ungrounded.

Six months ago, I was happy. I was simply Naomi Carradine. One month ago, I was admitted into a psych ward. Yesterday, Lachlan visited me. Kissed me. And told me that I’m starting to lose my mind. Hours later, Max haunted my thoughts, reminding me I’m not crazy and that he needs my help. A few minutes ago, I drifted further from reality, trying to unravel the past. And now . . . everyone thinks I’m insane. But I know he’s real, and I know he needs me. Do you believe me?

I read this book for Mental Health Awareness Month, and I knew that it was going to be a challenge to read it not just as a reader, but also as someone who has a little bit of experience with the practical and theoretical side of psychiatry. Continue reading

Books as a Mirror for Attitudes toward Mental Health

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For Mental Health Awareness Month I wanted to make a list of books about mental health. I was done with a rough draft when I realised I didn’t like it: I hadn’t read that many YA about mental health and some pretty voracious readers are sure to post some fantastic lists.

What I do want to talk about is how YA portrays mental health issues, even when it isn’t necessarily focused on mental health.

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Armchair BEA: Short Stories

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Another day at Armchair BEA! Today we talk about short stories and novellas. For the longest time, short stories were just that random section of required reading in high school, but recently I came to love short stories. A well-compiled anthology can be so refreshing. I especially like reading short story collections during busy rotations or exams, because I can read a story in between study sessions without feeling like I’m losing track of the story line.

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