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Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow



“he knows that it’s impossible to tell a wolf
from a man if
he keeps his chin up
and his teeth clean.”-Sharp Teeth

What drew me to this book?  Was it the short and snappy title?  The stark cover?  Is it simply impossible for me to want to read anything but horror this summer?

No matter the reason, I found myself picking up a copy of Sharp Teeth and was subsequently sucked into an alternative reality of Los Angeles: a place spread out over the desert where wild dogs fight for power, money, and love.  Written in free verse, it reads like an epic poem; a classic tale of a hero on a journey fighting an enemy and winning the love of a fair lady.

In short, the novel centers around Anthony, a dog catcher who falls in love with an unnamed werewolf who just left her pack.  Their romance buds in the midst of a gritty and apocalyptic LA, where werewolves slip between their human and dog forms as their competition builds up to an inevitable war.  The plot is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, or West Side Story.  There’s impending chaos, but the beauty of the story is how love endures within the storm.

The most striking thing about the book is the metaphor of what the werewolves symbolize.  It’s not just a story about werewolves engaged in gang wars, but how we all have a little dog inside us; a wildness that we can learn to control, but not always.

Most of the time, the werewolves can turn into humans or into a dog whenever they wish.  When they are about to fight or kill, most often they revert to their wild side and become a dog.  However, they prefer to make love in human form.  The process of the characters changing into dogs represents their resignation to their basic, barbaric side.  As dogs, they can fight and kill with no remorse.  As humans, they are held to the same societal norms as everyone else.

Lark, a former alpha werewolf from one of the packs, is the character that stands apart because for him, turning into a dog is an escape from human responsibilities.  As a dog, he prefers to enjoy the freedom and simplicity that comes with being an animal by being with his “owner.”

Supporting the romance, action, and metaphor of this book is how the book is structured.  The free verse strategy makes you slow down and savor the words.  Otherwise, with the intense action the reader would easily slide through the story without taking time to appreciate some beautiful anecdotes.  I’ll end this review with one such example:

“Everyone is always looking in the wrong direction,
we worry about our lovers while losing our jobs
we stress out about cancer while our children run away
we ponder the stars while burning the earth.
Lark used to say the bullet we’re running from
is almost never the one that hits us.”



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Shadow’s Summer List (So Far…)

Normally I’ve avoided discussing my personal life on this blog for several reasons: keep this website semi professional, uphold the privacy of other people, and my mission that this blog be centered around books.  However, I must digress for a little bit to explain my absence.  It’s not that I haven’t been reading, quite the opposite in fact.  Before my recent literary marathon, I moved back to the US a month ago, adjusted back to American culture, and went through two heartbreaks.

I felt (and still do to a degree) sorry for myself and sorry for the people I’ve hurt and have had these crushing feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and failure on my shoulders.

Where there is loneliness and lamentation, literature awaits with open, non-judgemental arms.  It was thus that I admitted defeat in the romance department and threw myself into the world of words.

With thanks to the reader for bearing with me through my tangent, I present to you what I’ve read so far this summer:

  • Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson


While I awaited my mother’s arrival at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, I had about eight hours to kill.  Within that time, I read this book on my I-Pad.  It was that addictive.

Short summary: a woman wakes up older than she was the day before with no memories.  She finds out that she has short term memory loss and amnesia due to a car accident.  As she tries to unravel her past and piece together shards of her memories, she starts to realize that not every one is who they say they are and she cannot trust everyone around her.

This book was creepy on many levels and the suspense built slowly, always leaving you wanting more.  Highly recommended for fans of Hitchcock and Gillian Flynn looking for a quick summer read.

PS: If you saw the movie already, it doesn’t hold a candle to the book.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

  • Help for the Haunted by John Searles


John Searles used to live in the same town as Ed and Lorraine Warren, who inspired the movies “The Conjuring” and “Annabelle.”  In this book, it is clear this couple also inspired the parents of the main character.  Sylvie Mason’s parents are psychics/paranormal experts that help people who are haunted/possessed.  A year after their tragic death, Sylvie tries to piece together the night of their murder as she also discovers her parents had secrets haunting them as well.

This book reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” in that it shows a character looking back on his/her past which at the time seemed magical and at times frightening with a new adult perspective.  It’s a coming of age story of sorts that I think many people can relate to.  As we age, we see our parents and our child hood memories differently.

Equal parts scary, touching, and tragic, this book is another great summer read.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins


Another heart pounding, addictive book is “The Girl on the Train.”  Fans of Gillian Flynn will also like this book for its unreliable characters, plot twists, and suspense.

Recently divorced and alcoholic Rachel rides the train every day at the same time.  At the same stop, she has a quick glance into a couple’s home whom she believes to be the epitome of marital bliss.  One day however she witnesses something that shatters her perspective of the couple.  With that, the tension builds as she tries to figure out what happened to the couple and weave together her alcohol soaked memories.

If I hadn’t been working full time, I would have easily read this book in a day.  There’s a good reason why this book is currently a best seller and that’s because it’s an easy read that hooks you at the beginning and is the perfect book to stay up late on a summer night reading.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

  • Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler


My mom and brother were discussing this book together until it got to a point where I told them to stop their discussion until I could join.  When two people won’t stop talking about a book in my family, I know that I can’t be left out.

A little bit about Nickolas Butler: he is from my home state (Wisconsin) and like all Sconnies, he really really loves Wisconsin.  It’s evident throughout the pages as he paints with words scenic pictures of Wisconsin farmlands, small town life, and describes in detail the smells, the textures.  As a Sconnie, I could easily picture the scenes and recall the scents.  If anything, this book is well worth a read for the great descriptive writing.

A short summary:  four friends grew up in the same small town.  As they grow up, their lives part ways and intertwine.  One friend becomes a famous rock star, one takes over his fathers farm, one gets married and moves to Chicago.  Another becomes the town (recovering) drunk.

As someone who grew up in Wisconsin, I could relate to this book.  The desire to go out into the world and make a difference, but the constant pull towards home and nostalgia for the past.  This book isn’t exactly a coming of age story, but more of an aging story.  As the characters get older, leave their home town and come back, you see how their relationships with each other and their town change.  It’s a book that I think anyone over 18 could easily see a part of themselves in.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

  • Looking for Alaska by John Green


I read “The Fault in Our Stars” and loved it and laughed and bawled my eyes out.  This other book by John Green however was somewhat of a disappointment in comparison.  While Green does a good job of relating to teenagers and how they cope with grief and growing up, I found this story somewhat subpar.  I think teenagers would enjoy this book but as an adult, I was looking for more.

Basic summary: Pudge goes to a boarding school where his life is changed by meeting a fellow classmate, Alaska.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green


Another John Green book.  Since I’m too poor right now to buy “Paper Towns,” I figured I’d read his other books while waiting for my library copy.  My sentiments about this book were similar to “Looking for Alaska,” an enjoyable book, addresses teen issues and romance appropriately, but not his best work.

Short summary: Colin sets off on an impromptu road trip with his Arabic friend after being dumped by the 19th Katherine he dated while trying to create a formula to predict how a relationship will end.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

  • The Fifth Child by Debra Lessing


Just shy over 100 pages, this book manages to pack a punch without wasting a single word.  While reading, I was reminded of “Rosemary’s Baby’: a happy couple whose world is turned upside down by a demon baby.  However this book is unique in that it is about a couple who wants to have many children.  They succeed in procreating right after marriage.  When their fifth child is born however, he is…different.

This book is just plain creepy.  The way the fifth child is described, both in mannerisms and physically, is sure to give you nightmares.  Besides ruining your chance of a good night’s sleep, this book is excellently written.  Lessing manages to achieve great character development, build a chilling plot, and end with a bang all without hitting 200 pages.  When you’re in the mood for a scary night, pick this up instead of switching on Netflix.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

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A Week of Gourmet Delights, and Exciting News

Sometimes, I think I should have started a food blog. I love to cook, and my friends on facebook will agree that I post more pictures of dishes I’ve made than of myself. The only thing holding me back is that I feel like a blog like that would be white noise in the midst of all the other cooking blogs out there.
Anyways…this week has been one of multiple gourmet delights. On monday, my boyfriend and I went to a restaurant in Iowa City called Hearth. They had a deal for a three course meal plus wine pairing for only $35 a person. It was a deal I couldn’t pass up. Right away, I made reservations; afraid that with a promotion like that the place would be packed. We arrived a few minutes later than our reservation time and were shocked to find the place empty. It was quite romantic though: we sat at a table by the window, surrounded by candles at vacant tables. And it was quite nice having the waitress all to ourselves. I guess 8 pm on a Monday is not a popular time to eat out in Iowa City. We were fine with that though. The wines were all delicious and the food…phenomenal. I had mussels and chorizo for my appetizer, pork vindaloo en croute for the entree, and creme brûlée for dessert. My mouth waters now thinking about it. Moral of the story: if you want a lovely yet inexpensive date night, go to Hearth on a Monday night!
Last night, instead of working on my take home exam that is due today, I decided to challenge myself. I’ve come a long way in my cooking abilities since moving to Iowa, but one thing I’ve always been afraid of cooking is steak. Flank steak was on sale at my co-op, as was kale. Naturally, I saw a meal forming in my head. I marinated the steak for five hours, then pan seared it. For sides, I made the kale with bacon, garlic, and white wine. Then, because I was feeling particularly naughty, I made some mashed potatoes a la Pioneer Woman style. As a side note, I love the Pioneer Woman’s blog. Whenever I look for a comfort food recipe, I can find the perfect one on her website
. This meal was served with a glass (or two) of cab sauv to a happy boyfriend and myself.
My last culinary endeavor for the week will start tomorrow night. I decided to take advantage of several cooking classes my Co-op hosts. Tomorrow, it will be a french meal of tarragon chicken and creme caramel. I can’t wait.

This week, I think that I’ve been particularly into cooking and expanding my culinary horizons because I’ve been reading Julia Child’s autobiography: “My Life in France.” If you love cooking or traveling, go and read it right now. I was surprised by Julia’s writing skills and even more surprised how quick of a read her book is. With the way she describes France and all the delicious meals she has, I’ve been eating her book up. Now, of course, I want to go to France and attend culinary school and make all sorts of delicious meals.
Well that’s all for now folks. Oh wait, it says in the title that I have exciting news. Well, that is true. Guess who was accepted for an Americorps position? This woman! Yes, I am invited to work at 4-H Capital in Austin, Texas starting in the fall. Finally, a new adventure! I never saw myself living in Texas before, but it sounds like an exciting way to take a break from school and do some volunteering.
Ok, time to go do my happy dance, then buckle down and finish this test.

Til next time!


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So, here’s where I’m at

Things are finally looking up for me.  I have kept my mouth shut for the past month, but I’m finally ready to reveal what I’ve been going through this semester.  Last semester, I was put on academic probation for getting just barely below a B average.  Who knew one measly B- would make that much of an impact on my GPA?  Anyways, this was devastating news to receive.  I knew that I could buckle down and amp up my grades, but that meant I had to limit my free time even further.  So during January and February, all I did was focus on school.  I went into lab early and when I wasn’t busy with an experiment, I was reviewing notes and reading papers.  I went home, threw together an easy meal, and did homework until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.  Through this period, I stopped exercising, reading, and took care of only my most basic needs.  To me, this intense focus was worth it because I was sure I would get all As this semester, and I had found a lab I wanted to associate with.  Finally, I had a grasp on how to succeed in grad school.

Then came March, and with that, a quarter life crisis.

During my second rotation, I decided that I wanted to associate with the second lab I rotated in.  I thought I fit in well with the other members, and I was passionate about the project I had been working on.  However, I was turned down flat when I asked the principle investigator if I could join the lab.  Needless to say, I was devastated.  Like a child, I went home and cried for hours.  I wasn’t just upset because I didn’t get into the lab I wanted, I had finally let myself realize what I had been suppressing for months: I am completely miserable in grad school.  The endless stress, the hours of working on simple projects that never   seemed to turn out right, the endless tests to study for, and the fact that I had  gone from a well rounded person to a flat and boring adult, I was sick of all of it.  Additionally, I haven’t made more than one friend here and I feel completely isolated.  While sobbing into my pillow over my woes, I suddenly thought: Why the hell am I putting up with this?

You want to know the honest answer? Because I wanted the respect and higher income that comes with earning a PhD.

Yes, that is the worst reason to go to graduate school.  But, looking back, I was the typical college senior who was terrified of the real world and didn’t think I was qualified for any other job.

I’ve found though that the real world isn’t all that scary.  Yes, bills are no fun.  But I know now that I can be an adult.  I also have learned (thankfully at a young age), that I really am in charge of my own happiness.  If I don’t do something now, I know I will end up years later, overweight with hair falling out, and miserable.  That’s not my destiny though.

I want to travel.

I want to write.

I want to love life again!

No worries, though I have plans to get out of this rut, hopefully soon.  I can’t reveal yet what will happen, because even I am not sure of where my life is going.  Everything is uncertain, but I actually have opportunities now.  I can’t wait to see what the near future will bring!

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I’m Back!!

It has been over year since I had the fabulous idea of starting a blog; right when I was in the midst of trying to to acquire a secure future for myself.  Well, I did it: I applied to grad school, got accepted, and am now starting on my second semester.  If I had to sum up my first semester in one word, it would be: stress.

Not to say that I overestimated myself, but I should have been more realistic of what I would encounter when I started this chapter of my life.  Living on my own, working full time (and thus getting paid!), taking classes…sounded like a dream.  Well, I had some life lessons to learn.  One was how to keep a budget.  Well, let’s be real, I’m still working on that, but I’ve gotten better at trying to curb my desire to order out every other night.  The other was balancing adult responsibilities with student obligations.  From day one, I’ve loved living on my own and supporting myself.  Buying my own groceries, paying my own bills, etc has all made me feel like a competent, self sufficient adult.  However, being in grad school means that I’ve basically sold my social life, free time, and any extra brain capacity in exchange for an excellent eduction and training.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy as a grad student.  But the balance of two opposing forces is not easy for a person like me who just left the comforts and ease of college.  Honestly, I was stressed out all the time.  Combined with my (self diagnosed) OCD, I was near a mental breakdown countless times.  Another issue is that I went from being a very well-rounded person, to being one thing: a genetics PhD student.  I felt like my identity as a person was only a genetics PhD student, not a woman of multiple interests who chose to turn her passion of science into a career. 

Somehow, I emerged a stronger person.  After getting used to taking care of an apartment alone, tweaking my time management skills, and re-prioritizing my life, I feel back on track.  It helps that it is a new year, because I always make new years resolutions.  In case you’re interested, they are:

1. Work out as much as possible

2. Be healthier, but enjoy food more.  (I’ll write more on this some other time I’m sure.)

3. Get all A’s this semester.  (goodbye any social life I had left)

4.  Save $200 a month

5. Read at least an hour every day.

With these resolutions, I hope to succeed in grad school, but also remember that to be a happy person, I require other outlets. 

Well, that catches whoever reads this blog up on my life.  I’ll be back whenever I have a need to ramble again. Til then: au revoir!

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I have not abandoned this project.  As predicted over the summer, I find myself weighed down by science courses, three jobs, grad school applications, and an independent research project.  Yes my life has been confined to a laboratory for the pat month.  But no white flag will be raised.  I am currently reading the latest book club choice.  No, I will not reveal its identity until I finished.  I will say though that it is the perfect book to read whilst exercising, as it motivates you to be more athletic.  That is the only clue I will give.  Until the last page, I’m back to being superwoman.

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Allow me to introduce myself

I have a secret: for many years now, I’ve been an unofficial member of my mother’s book club.  What does that mean?  Whenever my mom has finished reading a book for her book club, she gives it to me and I read it myself.  I’ve continuously been impressed by the selections these ladies have made.  Often, the books chosen become bestsellers within a few weeks after they have been read by me, and are sometimes turned into movies.  Or they are hidden gems that few people have had the fortune to discover.  The ladies of my mother’s book club have no idea that I have been silently following their selections each month; indulging in the stories they have carefully chosen to share with others.  The one unfortunate aspect of me being a shadow reader is that I am not able to attend their book club meetings and share my thoughts on the books with the rest of the group.

I am starting this blog for two reasons: to share my opinions on the books I read, chosen by middle aged women from my neighborhood; and to give honest, thought out, book recommendations to anyone interested.  I am often asked: “Do you know any good books that I could read?”  And the answer is always: “Yes, let me make a list.”  As a busy college student, this blog will be a challenge, but it is one I look forward to.  I hope this will be a great place to swap recommendations and get some discussion going.

Good readings!

❤ Hilary

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