Monday, November 26, 2018

Thanksgiving Reads

Over Thanksgiving break, I finished some books! And here they are:

My Sister the Serial Killer (by Oyinkan Braithwaite)

A Tournament of Books longlist pick and I'm so glad to have been introduced to it! It's a Nigerian novel vaguely reminiscent of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, about two sisters, one of whom is a psychopathic serial killer. (The book opens with one sister helping the other dispose of a body.) I tore through this in a day and absolutely loved it. Great characters and a killer (no pun intended) ending. Highly recommended.

The Proposal (by Jasmine Guillory)

A companion to The Wedding Date, about a couple who meets in a baseball stadium when Nikole's casual boyfriend proposes to her on the Jumbotron and she says no. Pretty standard romance formula but still so enjoyable, and I love the feminist flavor and the romance between people of color.  I'm not usually a romance fan but I'll read Guillory's future novels, for sure!

Laura & Emma (by Kate Greathead)

I really loved most of this -- it's a compulsively readable story about a privileged New Yorker who takes full advantage of her privilege while also condemning it and hiding behind it in many ways. It's told in a vignette style that's quite pleasing. But it ends super abruptly and the ending itself, I didn't like. (Nor did most people, I gather, because the author in an interview mentioned how many people have told her they hate it.) So I can't quite recommend it.

This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story (by Kheryn Callender)

I love the idea of this book, by a non-binary queer author of color, featuring lots of queer characters, and even a love interest who is hard of hearing. However, it was disappointing. I didn't fall in love with Nate as a main character or most of the other characters. I didn't even like them much (except for Oliver James). The conflicts are pretty much characters behaving like brats and giving each other the silent treatment, and it isn't a good look for anyone.  Plus everyone seems to be bisexual and race and sexuality are not even obliquely addressed. I'll give Callender's next novel a try in the hope that they'll improve on this debut effort.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Fire Sermon (by Jamie Quatro)

I finished the Read Harder Challenge just in time for the Tournament of Books longlist to come out! I've only read two of the longlist books (My Year of Rest and Relaxation and The Immortalists) so I have some catching up to do.

In past years, I've tried to predict what's going to make the final tournament and I've always been wrong. (This year based purely on buzz, I think Washington Black is going to not just make it in, but win. Which probably means it won't even make the shortlist.) So this year I went through and added anything that sounded interesting to my library holds list and am just reading them as they come up.

This is a spare and poetic novel about an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual affair, using a fractured structure and a somewhat unreliable narrator. It's frustrating to see Maggie choose to stay with her husband, who doesn't come across well, until the end, where she unveils some possible hidden motives that offer an interesting shade to the book as a whole. Overall I enjoyed it but it didn't blow me away.

So, will this make the shortlist? It could, but I'm not clamoring to revisit it. On the other hand, I'm really hoping My Year of Rest and Relaxation makes it, because it's definitely one of my top reads of the year!

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Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Vacation Reads: Pacific Northwest Edition

I spent a long weekend in the PNW visiting my friends Jen and Annie (and the town of Forks, yay Twilight, you are so good and terrible) and text banking and reading books on planes! Here are the books I finished while on the trip:

Fortune's Children by (Arthur Vanderbilt II)

After visiting The Breakers recently (one of the fancy mansions in Newport, Rhode Island) I wanted to read more about the Vanderbilts and the Gilded Age. (It doesn't hurt that Edith Wharton and Henry James, who lived in and wrote about that milieu, are two of my favorite writers.) This book is well-researched and full of rich, fascinating detail. Loved it.

The Sisters Brothers (by Patrick deWitt)

This was the final book for the 2018 Read Harder Challenge! It was most difficult because I'm not a Western fan. (I bailed out of Lonesome Dove after the first sentence, sorry.) But this is well written, vivid characters, lots of pathos and grimness and adventure. It went down easy. But the adventures of white men pillaging a country and displacing its people is never going to be my favorite genre, and I'm at peace with that.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (by Becky Albertalli) 

The movie producers were right: Love, Simon is a better name for it. Overall I was very charmed. by this. The central romance is so adorable. I want to see the movie, too! Jen pointed out that this is a middle-aged woman writing a queer narrative and this is somewhat icky. I can understand that but was won over by the cuteness in spite of myself.

Fame (by Justine Bateman)

I didn't tag this with "memoir "because as Bateman says, "this is not a fucking memoir, I hate memoirs." Instead, it's a meditation on the nature of fame and the experience of famousness. This made me so excited to see what she's been writing and directing because her voice is truly original: it's natural, authentic, grounded, and fearless. Worth a read, especially if you have ever had tangential connections to the fame machine.

Leah on the Offbeat (by Becky Albertalli) 

Sequel to Simon, focusing on character Leah. She's fat and bisexual so of course I was excited about this, and it does have charm, but so much is left unresolved and she doesn't grow as a character. The treatment of Nick is weird. The romance isn't fully plausible. It felt rushed. I'm hoping if she revisits this group of characters, she'll tie up some of the millions of loose ends here.

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