books and reading

What I Read This Week

Back in the swing of things. Here’s what I read this week:

36595101Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff: Wolff spent much of the first year of Trump’s presidency inside the White House, privy to the “private” conversations the administration had as it fumbled throughout the first months and literally hemorrhaged people and classified information.

At times hilarious, infuriating, and terrifying, this sloppy book was a thrill ride of a read. It’s in desperate need of editing, but it’s also so timely and so fascinating it hardly matters. If even half of it is true (and it is), it’s worth reading. What a time to be alive.

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All the Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler:  Cole is in high school and obsessed with sex. Hooking up with girl after girl, he thinks about sex constantly, when he’s not watching or sharing clips with his best friend. But then he meets a girl that might actually be his match, and he starts to learn about consequences.

A one-sitting read, this experimental novel by the author also known as Lemony Snicket provides a very adult look at the teenage boy mind. I loved it: it was weird and sexy and disturbing and subversive. Definitely not for everyone: there’s a ton of explicit sex to be found in this slim little novel.

35099035Red Clocks by Leni Zumas: Abortion is illegal once again in America, and women who try to cross into Canada to seek abortion services are imprisoned. Four women living in this America try to do just that: live in it.

I wanted to love this one so much more than I did. It’s been called a modern take on The Handmaid’s Tale, but it isn’t, unless the only parallel readers are looking for is that women can’t have abortions. This is a much more stylized look at a theoretical future. It was hard to connect with the characters and some narratives were so much more compelling than the others that the plot as a whole suffered.

What did you read this week?

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books and reading

What I Read this Week

These are the books I finished this week (and one I forgot to add to last week’s list):

32191677American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse: Investigating a series of arsons in Accomack County throughout the winter of 2012, Hesse’s excellent nonfiction book about arson and failing economies reads like fiction but presents facts. By the time the perpetrators were caught, there were more than 60 arson charges pending. But why arson, and why in the town where the perpetrators lived?

Smart, well-researched, and absolutely captivating, this is a lovely blend of social science and true crime writing. I really liked this one.
17543256Beauty and the Blacksmith by Tessa Dare: This novella takes place in the fictional town of Spindle Cove and features a light and incredibly improbable romance between a noblewoman and the town’s blacksmith. Though they know their love is socially unacceptable, they can’t help themselves.

This was my first Tessa Dare, read during a slow Saturday shift at the library. It was very silly, very light, and very fun.

31706530Grit by Gillian French: Darcy spends her summer days raking berries with her sister Mags and her cousin Nell, and most of her nights swimming in the quarry and drinking beer with boys. She has a reputation, but she also knows how to have a good time. Darcy likes to have fun, because it keeps the demons of her past at bay. But then someone nominates her for the Bay Festival Princess, and she realizes that she might not be able to keep her past as hidden as she’d like.

This is a phenomenal read, with a fully realized setting, vivid characters, and gripping narration on the part of Darcy. I loved it, and I kept thinking about the characters even in between reading sessions. One of my favorite reads of the year.

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The Best Man by Kristan Higgins: Ever since she was left at the alter, Faith Holland has been wary of finding the perfect man. She returns home to her family’s vineyard to confront her ghosts and move on with her life once and for all. But Levi Cooper, the police chief and best friend of her former fiancee, can’t seem to leave her alone. And even though the two of them seem to hate each other, they can’t deny the attraction.

I don’t know, guys. I wanted to like this one–I know Higgins is known for her quirky romances that always feature a dog, but this one was so formulaic it bored me from the start. Faith is so desperate to get married it’s off-putting, and while I liked Levi, his problems felt pretty formulaic, too.  By far the biggest issue is the book’s blatant transphobia, which really soured the entire read.

What did you read this week?

books and reading

What I Read this Week

These are the books I managed to finish this week:

140075All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris: Sookie’s got a new beau in mysterious weretiger Quinn, and she’s got an upcoming vampire summit, where she’s going to have to bear witness to a trial of the queen of Louisiana. The vamps from her state are in bad shape after the hurricane, and this impending trial doesn’t help matters. There’s also the fact that there are some vamps who want to hurt the Louisiana delegation even further, and Sookie’s caught in the middle–again.

Chugging away at a reread of the series. I think I read through book 10 before, so I still have a ways to go, but these are less and less familiar as I read them. They’re also less and less interesting, which is a big bummer.

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cover all sorts of territory, including Gay’s sexual assault as a young teen and the subsequent healing she’s undergone.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay: Gay’s highly-anticipated memoir of her struggles with eating doesn’t disappoint. Told in short, sparse chapters, Gay focuses on her girlhood and adolescence as well as on society’s obsession with policing women’s bodies.

I’ll have a lot more to say about this one when I review it, but it was very well done and also a hard read. Which is expected, given the topic.

32195204The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter: Megan Ashley’s life is privileged, and she owes much of her wealth to her mother’s best-selling horror novel, written decades before. But she’s sick of pretending that their family is perfect, and so when a publisher offers her the chance to write a tell-all memoir, she jumps at the chance. This means traveling to Bonny Island, Georgia, to investigate her mother’s past–and the murders that inspired the novel.

I tore through this one, and I enjoyed every minute of the twisty, convoluted plot. I stayed up way too late to finish the book, and I want to talk about it so badly! It was a hell of a read.

From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris: Sookie’s boyfriend Quinn is missing, there’s 2233407someone in the were pack who wants to kill her, and there’s a hostile takeover of the vamps of Louisiana in the works. It’s clear to say that things are a mess in Sookie’s corner of the south, and she’s stuck smack in the middle.

I’m determined to finish the series once and for all, but I’d be lying if I said these books hold my attention the way they did at the start of the series. It feels like each plot gets thinner and yet more convoluted at the same time, and it’s just not as charming as it used to be.

32935123Secrets in Summer by Nancy Thayer: This has been my audiobook of choice for my commute the past two weeks, and I finally finished it this week. Darcy has lived on the island of Nantucket for most of her life. A children’s librarian with a solid group of friends, she tries not to meddle too much in the lives of the summer residents who rent houses on the island. But one summer, she finds that she can’t stick to her rule, and before long she finds herself embroiled in the drama, as well as creating some of her own.

Nancy Thayer is apparently the queen of the beach read, and I can certainly can see why. The book is frothy, fun, and full of beachy goodness. But Thayer also writes her characters in an oddly old-fashioned, almost sexist way, and there were things that happened in the book that didn’t feel realistic (and weirdly dated). She’s kind of like a less-edgy Elin Hilderbrand (and that is a high bar to clear).

 

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke

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While in college, Kristen Radtke lost her favorite uncle to a rare genetic heart disease that runs in her family. A trip to the nearly totally abandoned Gary, Indiana not long after his funeral sparked an interest and then obsession with abandoned properties all over the world. Traveling all over the world in search of abandoned properties while also looking for meaning, Radtke struggles to make sense of her own illness while also looking for why she feels so alienated from the world.

Radtke’s graphic memoir is part narrative about her search for meaning, and part historical construct of empty, abandoned places. Her drawings are sparse and her figures, in particular, are fairly hollow. This stylistic choice is clearly intentional, and it’s also a style that won’t work for every reader. But it’s effective in conveying its meaning.

This is not a book for every reader. Radtke is heavy on the existentialism as well as the ennui, and these things can be alienating, to be sure. But Radtke’s struggles with finding meaning, and with finding connection, both to the people in her life as well as the spaces she inhabits, is an interesting and at times frustrating thing to watch. There are no easy answers here, and it’s not even clear if Radtke feels like she’s accomplished anything by the end.

The book is strongest when Radtke marries the concept of decay both literally and figuratively: there’s a moment where she portrays her disintegrating relationship with her boyfriend with a toxic sort of mold that begins to climb the walls of their tiny apartment, taking over their shared space. It’s moving and powerful and one of the book’s best illustrations.

It won’t work for everyone, but this one worked for me. Radtke’s illustrations are interesting and arresting, and the book hit me at a time when I was feeling the ennui, too. Recommended for fans of travel, of abandoned place porn, and of graphic memoirs.

Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke. Pantheon: 2017. Library copy.

books and reading · Uncategorized

Book Review: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

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In Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson entertains readers with stories about her strange, wonderful, and weird life.  Tackling issues such as depression and anxiety as well as a bizarre number of anecdotes about encounters with wild possums, Lawson’s memoir is full of stories that will make readers laugh uproariously and commit to being as furiously happy as Lawson is herself.

Like most collections of essays, some of the pieces in Lawson’s follow-up to Let’s Pretend this Never Happened are stronger than others, and some are much, much funnier than others, but all of them maintain Lawson’s unique voice and particular brand of humor. In this collection of essays, Lawson devotes much of her attention on living with a variety of mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety, as well as spending some time talking about some of her other ailments, including rheumatoid arthritis.

Lawson’s voice is authentic and unique, but it won’t work for all readers, as some might find her crude or even a bit grating at times.  But there’s a brilliance to many of her offbeat observations about the world, even as they spiral out into the truly weird.  Her personality is juxtaposed by her much more grounded husband’s logic, and the conversations Lawson includes between the two of them are some of the book’s best moments.

The strongest moments are when Lawson digs deep into the symptoms of her depression and anxiety and explains how they impact her day-to-day life. There are moments of deep insight and clarity as she goes into detail about how her symptoms manifest (this is especially true of scenes in her therapist’s office, which some readers might find deeply uncomfortable).

There’s a lot here that’s genuinely funny, and Lawson is a good writer, but there are moments where the content feels a bit thin, and reading all of this at once only serves to underscore that weakness.  Much of this works better in smaller doses (much like on Lawson’s blog), but that shouldn’t deter her diehard fans.  On the whole, this is a funny, frank, and sometimes moving look at mental illness.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Terrible Things by Jenny Lawson. Macmillon: 2015. Library (audio) copy for review.

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison

Holly Madison, former star of The Girls Next Door and ex-girlfriend to Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner shares her experiences of living in the mansion in this tell-all memoir.  Suffering from depression and a lack of self-esteem, Madison navigated the constricting world of the Playboy family as well as the controlling behaviors of an ancient narcissist before making her own way in the world of entertainment.

This perfectly readable memoir of Madison’s time in the Playboy Mansion and her subsequent attempt to strike out on her own is guaranteed to satisfy any reader’s curiosity about what it was like to be one of Hefner’s infamous “girlfriends.”  According to Madison, though, it’s not exactly the glamorous life Hefner would like the public to believe.  Unafraid to get into the nitty-gritty of daily life in the mansion, Madison paints a fairly authentic portrait of the tedium of her life confined in the mansion (strict curfews, stupid in-fighting between the women, Hefner’s obsessive need to stick to his routine) and allows readers extra insight into what it was like to film a reality show there where the world presented to the viewers wasn’t at all what was happening behind the scenes.

Madison has help from a ghostwriter here, but it still feels like her own voice throughout the novel.  There are moments where she repeats herself (something that could have been solved with a bit more editing), but on the whole her tale is very readable and entertaining.  She has a unique voice and some genuine insight into why she made the choices she did (although she goes much easier on herself than some of the other reader-reviewers on Goodreads did).

This is a strong entry into the celebrity memoir genre and is well worth investing in for library shelves.  Readers who followed the E! series The Girls Next Door or who are at all interested in the decline of the Playboy Empire will want to check this one out.  Madison is likable, relatable, and smart.  This was, on the whole, very fun.

Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison.  Dey Street Books: 2015. Library copy.

 

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Comedian Aziz Ansari takes a turn for the slightly less silly in this book looking at the modern world of dating.  With the help of co-author and noted sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Ansari takes a look at online dating, texting, cultural mores, and what it all means when you’re looking for love in a digital world.  Technology isn’t the only thing that has changed when it comes to meeting the person you want to marry, and Ansari takes a look at what it all means with his trademark wit and humor.

Part of what makes Ansari’s book so successful is the seamless blend of humor with actual information.  Ansari is quick and plentiful with the jokes, both obvious and obscure, but he also adopts a tone of earnestness that makes for a compelling read.  Ansari is so clearly interested and invested in the topics he’s researching that it’s hard not to get on board immediately.  It doesn’t take long for him to establish himself as a serious investigator, and the book is richer as a result.

The book is unique in its approach to its subject matter, too.  Laying out the history of dating and marriage as well as the evolution of those rituals, the novel provides valuable information to readers about how and why these things have changed.  Technology only plays one part of this, and Ansari investigates this fully.  The inclusion of other cultures–Ansari visits Tokyo, Buenes Aires, and Paris–adds a lovely complexity and dimension to the exploration of cultural mores.

Also noteworthy is the fact that Ansari doesn’t just present information about the perils of online dating and the paralization of choice that plagues singles in this day and age.  Ansari also presents real, helpful advice on how to succeed at finding one’s soulmate in the book.  This is a surprising and delightful inclusion in a book that is compulsively readable and very, very fun.

Recommended.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. Penguin Press: 2015. Borrowed copy.