Thursday, February 28, 2019

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (by Stuart Turton)

This is a very fun and original mystery. The premise is that an investigator gets plopped into a single day on a grand estate, and the day ends with a murder.  The catch is, he has to solve it by reliving the day eight times from eight different points of view, and he has no memory of who he really is.

It's quite intricate and well-done, but I almost quit when I got to the third point of view, when he's in the body of a fat man and is completely disgusted by it. The whole thing is an extreme example of how supposedly loathsome fat bodies are. (For one example, the man takes a bath, then walks across the house, and then has to take another bath because he now apparently smells so bad. It's beyond offensive.)

The mystery kept me interested and I wanted to find out how it turned out, so I finished it, but it's one of the most extreme and disappointing examples of fatphobia I've ever read in a novel.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Strong Poison (by Dorothy L. Sayers)

Recommended in the Goodreads group for the Read Harder Challenge category of cozy mystery, and I was excited because I love cozy mysteries! Also, this beat out Agatha Christie on the rec list, and I love Christie!

Unfortunately I did not love this. I enjoy being misdirected and surprised at the end of a mystery, and this solution was super obvious. I was a third of the way into the book and wrote it down: who did it, how, and why. I thought this must be a red herring because I never figure these out, and maybe there would be a good twist! Nope, it's all as obvious as it seems.

The characters are fun and the writing is witty, but the mystery itself wasn't fun. I've never read any Sayers before so am curious if this is how her books always are. If the plot were better, I would happily read more about these characters.

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Leviathan Wakes (by James S. A. Corey)

This was the last of my vacation reads, a big sci-fi space opera and the first book in a series called The Expanse.

Entertaining enough and very Scalzi-esque in terms of its humor, snappy dialogue, and slightly interchangeable protagonists. In this case both main characters were men and this was very man-focused, particularly so since one of the men had a creepy obsession with a woman throughout that (spoiler) ends up saving the universe. It has strong female characters but in a super male gazey way.  (One ends up sleeping with her boss, one ends up having a rape back story, etc.)

It's apparently a collaboration between two men, although the acknowledgements are written by seemingly one person? Probably I could dig into this more but eh, I don't feel compelled. I also don't feel compelled to keep reading. Entertaining enough, but the gender politics are off-putting. And that is definitely not Scalzi-esque.

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Vacation Reads: Truckee Edition

Spent the long weekend in the snow, giving me lots of time to read books! I'm about halfway through a giant one, but in the meantime, I finished some others:

Looker (by Laura Sims)

Absolutely loved it. This was marketed as a Gone Girl-style thriller but it’s not that. Instead, it’s a character study about a woman sinking into obsession with her actress neighbor. The protagonist is an unreliable narrator (my favorite, always) who reminded me of none other than Charles Kinbote, King of Zembla. The author isn't afraid to go dark and I loved the ending. Top book of the year so far!

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (by Chen Chen)

Such a great poetry collection, read for the Read Harder Challenge, by a gay Chinese man who writes about his identity, among other things. Here's a snippet I highlighted:

I’m envious of the clouds who can from time to time fall completely apart
& everyone just says, It's raining,
& someone might even bring cats & dogs into it,

no one says, Stop being so dramatic or You should see
a professional. 

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (by J.K. Rowling) 

I'm not into watching Johnny Depp do his weird Grindelwald thing, so I read the screenplay instead. Obviously a fast read, ended on a cliffhanger. The "fantastic beasts" part feels like such an afterthought to the overarching plot. Mostly I wish these were novels instead of movies and screenplays! 

Maid (by Stephanie Land) 

A compelling memoir about a single mother in poverty, albeit problematic in terms of white privilege. (She barely acknowledges it.)  Overall I feel like I would like a memoir of poverty from a woman of color, but given the world of blogs, it would be much harder for this hypothetical other woman to start a blog, and land a book deal. At any rate, Land's observations about the cycle of poverty and abuse make this worth a read regardless.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Pulp (by Robin Talley)

This young adult novel is about a lesbian teenager who discovers the amazing world of 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. It's told in parallel with a story about a girl from the 1950s who discovers it too, amidst the Lavender Scare of the McCarthy era, and the consequences of that discovery.

I loved this book more in concept than in execution. There was something didactic about it, something a bit told rather than shown.  It's impossible not to get sucked into the stories, though, especially Janet's in the 1950s, especially when you get a hint as to her eventual fate. It made me want to read a non-fiction book about this time period.

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Saturday, February 09, 2019

Washington Black (by Esi Edugyan)

Based solely on reputation, before I even started it, this was my pick to win the Tournament of Books this year. It's a twist on the typical slavery narrative -- Washington Black is born in Barbados, and although he serves a cruel master and the horrors of plantation life are addressed, he ultimately goes on to experience life as a free man -- all while trying to define what that actually means and come to terms with his past.

As improbable as I found the last third of the novel, I did enjoy the adventure, and Washington himself. I really enjoyed the revelations about his past in the final pages, and how that shaded the rest of the narrative.

However, I wasn't blown away by it -- I might still rank The Great Believers over this, and it wouldn't wrest my zombie vote away from My Sister the Serial Killer -- but I might not have read it except for the Tournament, and that would have been a shame.  This author is Canadian, and she's crafted a very original narrative and a wonderfully rounded character within a traditional coming-of-age novel.

I look forward to reading the discussions about this one for sure!

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Monday, February 04, 2019

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (by Nagata Kabi)

My first time reading manga, which I guess is the point of the Read Harder Challenge! Overall I really enjoyed this; it's super honest and charming, very raw and real as the author talks about her experiences with self-harm, feelings of worthlessness, and sexual confusion.

The only thing I didn't like was the artwork convention where the lead character's face looks like it's melting off or she's sweating or crying. Sometimes it's clear which it is but sometimes not. The idea is "she's in distress" and I get that, but it was distracting to me because I always interpreted it as "it's hot and her face is melting like a candle." That is a real nitpick though.

I found the manga style pretty easy to get used to once I got the hang of it, and I can see why this one has won so many awards. I will pass this copy along to a loved friend and definitely try to find the sequel!  

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Saturday, February 02, 2019

Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit (by John Edward Douglas, with Mark Olshaker)

I haven't seen the Jonathan Groff series based on this book (which, why haven't I) but this is a nonfiction book by John Douglas, whose work on criminal psychology is well-familiar to true crime fans: he came up with the distinction between organized and disorganized offenders, and the idea of the "signature" of the criminal.

This is a bit of a true crime classic, although it's slightly outdated and Douglas comes off as a bit arrogant about the accuracy of his profiles.  (I wish he'd included a an anecdote or two about a time that his analysis was way off. I'm sure those existed.) His pro-death penalty tangents are a bit didactic for my taste too. But overall, a gripping and spine-chilling read for true crime fans.

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