Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory by Stacey Wakefield (review)

In early May, I totally hurt my back.  I was pretty much out of commission for the better part of a week.  This is the sort of thing that has started to happen to me with too much frequency, and also the sort of thing that only a few good books can make bearable.  It was just my luck that I had just started Stacy Wakefield's The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory when my injury befell me, and said book was of the most absorbing variety possible.

It's 1995 when Sid arrives in New York City determined to follow her dream of joining the thriving NYC squatting scene.  She imagines reclaiming a piece of a derelict, abandoned building to have a certain romance to it, and she shows up ready to take her place among the anarchists and punk rockers who have colonized the Lower East Side.  Unfortunately, she's a little late to the movement, the established squats of the Lower East Side are full, and it's already midsummer - not much time to make a home she hasn't found yet habitable before winter comes on.  It seems the only choice for Sid and the guy she wishes was her boyfriend is to move their search for a squat to Brooklyn where they throw in with a group of different sorts of squatters in an old bread factory in Williamsburg.

The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory is a strange and wonderful little book that I really enjoyed.  First, it's unique.  Wakefield really pulled back the curtain on an interesting time in New York City history that has gone under-explored.  Secondly, it almost has the feel of a very compellingly written memoir.  There's no clear theme or plot here, no preachy moralizing, just a zoomed in look at a very formative time of a very sympathetic narrator.  There's no clear beginning or end, no contrived-seeming progression of events.  Wakefield's novel feels very organic, and despite what would seem to be my comments to the contrary, it's a fast and engaging read with an ending that's not exactly final, but is satisfying nonetheless.  Sunshine Crust is gritty and real without being gross or off-putting.  It features a loveable narrator, one who's interested in falling in love but whose life isn't defined in terms of her love interest(s).     

The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory is the sort of book that I wish the New Adult genre had aspired to.  Wakefield perfectly captures that time in a young person's life when everything seems possible, when we still believe that with enough courage and sacrifice the lives we imagine for ourselves can become a reality.  Sid is perfectly idealistic, not looking to change the world necessarily, but believing that she knows what she wants, and that she can make it happen if she gives it her all.  What she gets as she follows her dreams, what we all get, really, is a lot of struggle, a lot of feeling like she doesn't quite measure up to the person she's trying to be, and a lot of loneliness punctuated with a few bright, shining moments where she really does feel like she's arrived where she'd always intended to be.  If you ask me, this is what it's really like being a new adult, finding the limits to the life you dreamed of, struggling to figure out who you are, what you're made of, and where you fit in the landscape of the real world when the safety net is torn away.

This is a great book and a perfect introduction, for me, to indie press Akashic Books (who generously provided me with a copy for review.).  Highly recommended for people who wish the New Adult genre would dig a little deeper and (and this is totally just a feeling I have rather than any rational reasons I can point to) fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

(Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for review consideration.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

If You Like This, Try That Reviewlettes

 Remember when I used to talk about books instead of frantically trying to get rid of them before moving?  I figure I can marry up these two pursuits by reviewing some books that have been spending a bit too long on my desk.  I've got two great books to tell you about today, both of which put me in the mind of a couple of my favorite TV shows.  If you like your books to occasionally complement your TV-watching habit, today's post is for you! ;-)

 If you like Orange is the New Black, try....

Gonzalez and Daughter Trucking Co. by Maria Amparo Escandon - Libertad Gonazalez, ironically, is in Mexican prison.  Even more ironically, it's the first time she's ever had female friends and a home that's not on wheels.  Finding an unlikely family in the cells of the Mexicali Penal Institution for Women with its bizarre class structure and warden with a heart of gold, Libertad still finds it difficult to tell the story of her life and crime to the women that surround her, so she unconsciously decides to read it to them.  Pretending to read the library's books to her fellow inmates at her newly established Library Club, Libertad shares the tale of her life with her father, a man on the run from the Mexican authorities who drives truck to keep them off his trail, even though they became an imaginary threat long ago.  Escandon weaves a charming, unique modern day fairy tale of Libertad's parents' love story, her rootless life on the road with an overprotective dad, and the love she found that made her so desperate to leave life on the road behind that she ends up in prison.  Gonzalez and Daughter is a clever read about a woman who has to go to prison to find freedom.  Bonus points because the prison community comes to life and definitely smacks of the uneasy camaraderie found among the inmates on Orange is the New Black.  Definitely give this one a try!

If you like Criminal Minds, try...

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood - I thought The Killer Next Door was a fascinating combination of literary fiction and mystery with a super-creepy serial killer that only a Criminal Minds fan could love.  Marwood's book brings the denizens of sketchy South London house full of pay by the month flats dramatically to life.  There's an immigrant, a runaway, an elderly woman unwilling to part with her rent control, a woman on the run from a moment in the wrong place at the wrong time, and, oh yeah, there's the normal looking guy that's actually a serial killer hard at work mummifying the remains of his kills within the confines of his flat.  If you're looking for a thrill a minute, twisty sort of book that you won't be able to put down, this might not be it.  It's no difficult task to guess the killer.  However, The Killer Next Door is a convincing story of how a houseful of strangers with secrets becomes a family, united against their scumbag landlord, all with a side of perfectly twisted serial killer.  I loved these characters, was taken in by the fringe of society where they exist, and loved the black humor that added a little levity to a dark story that doesn't end up seeming so dark at all. I love Alex Marwood's unique deeper take on the traditional crime thriller and look forward to whatever she comes up with next.

(Thanks to the publisher for my copy of The Killer Next Door in exchange for review consideration.  Gonzalez and Daughter is from my own stacks.)