Mini book reviews: the one with all the paranoia.

Morning, all! It’s a stormy, rainy Thursday here, which means it’s the perfect weather to curl up with a book. If you can’t do that, the next best thing is to talk about books, so let’s see what books I’ve finished reading this week…

Book123A Fierce and Subtle Poison, by Samantha Mabry (Algonquin, 2016, 288 pgs, ebook). I found a deal and splurged on the ebook last week for Bout of Books because I still needed a horror story by a person of color for my Read Harder challenge. It might also be technically considered Young Adult, but I found it crossed over very nicely, mostly because of the way it played with local myths and legends in PR, turning the tale into an environmental scifi ghost story. One that’s quite readable, too. The ending wasn’t quite as satisfying as the set-up – the book definitely started out at 4 stars. Still worth curling up with it for an afternoon. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book122Putting Make-up on the Fat Boy, by Bil Wright (Simon & Schuster, 2011, 219 pgs, ebook). I started reading this hilarious YA selection at the tail end of Bout of Books and thought it was extremely promising. Unfortunately, as soon as I wished out loud that it didn’t devolve into a puddle of classist and racist stereotypes, that’s exactly what happened. There was enough of the story strength left to get me through, but I wish we could have had a story about a high school gay man of color who plays with gender roles while storming a job at Macy’s make-up counter without reinforcing all the negative crap that’s already out there. I’ve read those stories and those characters. I was hoping Carlos Duarte would be as refreshingly different as first promised. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book121Project X, by Jim Shepard (Knopf, 2004, 176 pgs, paperback). I sought out a copy of this and found a good deal on a used book in great shape (my favorite kind of book rescue), and also talked about it at length during Bout of Books. But there’s still the ending to discuss. What happens to Edwin and Flask’s plot to shoot up their school? Can they avoid bullies and trouble enough days in a row to pull it off? Will they go through with it? As I mentioned last week, Shepard accomplished the impossible and made me actually empathize with these poor beat-upon kids who chose the path of monsters. Who does that?! The ending fit perfectly, though it caught me a bit by surprise. I kept waiting for Shepard to stumble somewhere. He doesn’t. The psychological assessment of these kids and their supporting characters was as pitch perfect through the ending as it was during the setting of the story. Remarkably so. One last word of caution: even knowing the content of the story didn’t keep me from becoming mired in a funk while I was reading. 5 of 5 stars.

Book120Don’t Look Behind You!, by Peter Allison (Nicholas Braeley, 2009, 240 pgs, ebook). Okay, yes – not my typical read. But I needed a light-hearted palate-cleanser after so many heavy books. This collection of stories from the bush by safari guide Peter Allison was just the thing. It wasn’t as quality as his other collection, Whatever You Do, Don’t Run! – in fact, I’d bet most of these tales were culled from the first collection’s drafts – but it still kept me entertained. There are more stories about camp life (mechanical issues, political issues, staffing issues), but still enough stories about being stalked by lions and chased by elephants to keep you flipping pages. 3 of 5 stars.

Book119You, by Caroline Kepnes (Atria Books, 2014, 422 pgs, paperback). A bunch of my readerly friends from home tore through this a few months ago, and I remembered them raving about it. I read the first few pages and marked it down as To Buy Later. Right before our last 24-hour Readathon, I bought it in case I ran out of material. As in, I paid full price for the trade paperback. I (almost) never do that. You guys – you need to do whatever it takes to get your hands on a copy. Everyone calls this book and that book and 80 other books “the next Gone Girl“. I’ve grown tired of hearing it. But this book, this book actually has come closest to achieving the honor. It’s a mindtrip! I couldn’t devour the book quickly enough! The story kept getting turned on its head and it’s just…twisted! Twisted in a good, smart, deliciously written kind of way. There is one small plot twist near the end that felt a bit off, and the ending itself was so far off the mark from what I thought would happen, but it still fit the story. I finished the book completely emptied and satisfied. Even if I had shelled out full price for a hardcover, I still would have felt satisfied. It’s easily one of the three best books I’ve read this year. The only thing working against it is that now I’m paranoid that everyone is stalking me, knows my private emails, is plotting to kill me, and, you know, everyday things that won’t drive me bat-house bananas before long. 5 of 5 stars.

So there you have it! I’m looking forward to plenty of new books to tell you about next week, too. I’m half way through the excellently written and researched Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt, and I have new releases from Robin Wasserman and Joe Hill to dive into. Should be a good reading week!

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