Book Reviews: Badasses, sluts, and murderers.

I had a fantastic (if slightly depraved) reading week! I think I killed my slump stone cold dead. Dead dead. Which brings to mind a funny question: I read seven books last week: can that really be considered a slump? I call it one because with the exception of one or two books over the past few weeks, I haven’t really been energized by anything I’ve read. If you’re reading just to up the book count, that’s not getting the job done. At least not for me. This week is different. This week I feel like I can’t read enough. I can’t read fast enough. I can’t read too many books at once. If I could start 20 books at once and follow the string most tempting, that’s what I would do.

In any case, let’s look at what I did read:

Book155Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly (Ballentine, 2016, 496 pages, library e-loan). World War II fiction is my jam, and this one focuses on two badass women who lead very different kinds of rebellions as Hitler’s army invades Poland. I expected much more out of this highly rated epic adventure, and I did love Kelly’s treatment of her heroines. However, I felt like a stronger editorial hand and juicier language would have helped the pacing. Not the strongest start to my week. 2 of 5 stars.

Book156Confessions, by Kanae Minato (Mulholland Books, 2014, 240 pages, e-book). This slimmer novel was a gorgeous translation about a teacher delivering her last lecture to her students. Ms. Moriguchi lost first her fiance, and then in a separate incident, her four-year-old daughter was killed at the school. This last lecture gets pretty interesting to say the least. I loved the structure of the novel, watching everything unfold through our protagonist’s speech. I thought it was very effective and helped me handle the translation with a little more immediacy. I definitely recommend for those who want to change up their vanilla reading lists. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book157If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo (Flatiron Books, 2016, 288 pages, e-book). I picked up this novel about a trans girl by a trans author to satisfy my Read Harder challenge, and I highly recommend. The writing wasn’t always pitch perfect, but the tune was there, and the honest portrayal of a difficult subject made this a hard book to put down. Coming out – hell, surviving – isn’t always a Disney story with happy songs and cheerful friends to help you along. Sometimes it’s a road so bumpy you feel like your teeth are about to fall out, but it’s the road you have to walk or there’s just no point. That sincerity comes across. If you have a trans teen in your life and you’re looking for books to help – them or you – this is well worth a read. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book158A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers, and Other Badass Girls, edited by Jessica Spotswood (Candlewick Press, 2016, 354 pages, hardcover). This was included in one of Gracie’s OwlCrate subscription boxes and I finally got my turn. Short story collections are usually not for me – I want more, always more – but this just hit me in all my feels. For so many powerful stories focusing on women in so many shapes and sizes and ambitions, you guys we need so much more of that. Gracie ate it up, I devoured it – I cannot think of anyone who wouldn’t appreciate this. The stories are all between 10-25 pages, making them easy to sip on if you’re struggling to find time or inclination (ahem:Gracie). Or, you know, gulp down in one sitting (er,um,me). This should be mandatory reading for sixth-grade girls kids to show them that Yes, they CAN. Gracie’s book club says so. 5 of 5 stars.

Book159Flawed, by Cecelia Ahern (Feiwel and Friends Books, 2016, 336 pages, hardcover). This was another new release included in one of Gracie’s OwlCrate boxes. I had hopes because who loves anything more than finding a new series? Yes, booknerd problems. But not one I’m going to have here because NOPE. A slightly different modern world than ours where sins against society – not crimes, but sins – are punished by being branded and marked for all to see. And judge and ostracize accordingly, of course. It’s like Divergent meets Scarlet Letter meets Handmaid’s Tale, only without the outstanding writing and world building. I’m being harsh – I think I would have liked it better were I a teenaged girl dazzled by Edward-and-Bella-esque relationships. But I liked Twilight better than this – at least that was creative and new (at the time), whereas this felt like so much rehashing. Gracie hasn’t read it yet, so I can’t give you my tween’s perspective. 1 of 5 stars.

Book160I Am Not a Slut, by Leora Tanenbaum (Harper, 2015, 416 pages, e-loan). How much do I love my library? It’s an oasis in this politically conservative wasteland – I mean, I would think a library here would ban this book based on the title alone! Tanenbaum updated and revised her previously released critical non-fiction book Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation (which I haven’t read) to address the enormous impact of social media on labels and bullying and fighting stereotypes. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I wish it was more approachable for teenaged girls to explore, but it’s certainly a good jumping off point for several discussions. Like, whether to try to ignore the haters or fight their hate speech, something in the news this week, sadly, as Leslie Jones had the gall to appear in a movie. The nerve! Racism, gender discrimination, bullying, hatred, the Patriarchy – it’s all examined with more poise and intelligence and wit than I capable of reproducing. Everyone’s getting a copy for Christmas. 5 of 5 stars.

Book161The Mystery of the Lone Wolf Killer, by Unni Turrettini (Pegasus Books, 2015, 336 pages, e-book). I thought about not including this book in my reviews. With all of the tragedies in the news, you would think I’d had enough bloodshed and murder and depressing stories in real life. I have. There are so many days when I can’t even open a blank page to type. But reading is something else entirely, it’s one of my greatest mechanisms for processing what happens around me. And I wanted to process that by immersing myself. I read news stories and articles, long pieces and slideshow captions, and books and books and books and books. Pieces of books and great, big tomes. Including this one about Andrew Breivik who tried to kill the prime minister of Norway five years ago before continuing his political attack by killing dozens of teenagers at camp on Utoya Island. The book itself was well-researched, thorough, and it was very clear that Turrettini felt deeply connected to the subject matter and to her home country. However, there was a great deal of editorializing for what is categorized as a “non-fiction” format. They weren’t few and far between, either – the raised eyebrow, the rather pointed and arched inflection, the purposeful interpretation, while we’re all certainly going to reach the same end point, I was utterly distracted and a bit put off by Turrettini’s bias. It kept a good non-fiction book from being possibly a great one. 3 of 5 stars.

Book162The Vegetarian, by Han Kang (Hogarth, 2016, 192 pages, library hardcover). I really had no desire to read this. The cover kept catching my eye, but…meh. I’d read the summary and pass it by. I’m not a vegetarian, though one of my sisters and my youngest daughter are mostly vegetarian. I’m not much for the political arguments one way or another. It’s just not a thing that lights a fire under me. But a good book buddy (helllllooooo, Andi!) raved about it and said we must all read it. And that Andi, she has impeccable book taste. So when I saw it on the shelves during my last library run, I grabbed it. What the hell. I started reading it to check the box – at the very least, I expected it to be on the longlist for the Tournament of Books in December – and then this strange thing happened. I…liked it? Well, perhaps “like” is a strong word. I didn’t like the characters (in fact, I loathed them, but I think that was intentional). I didn’t like the topic. I didn’t like how heavy-handed the plot was. But it made me think. I read with the front half of my overactive brain, and I sat and thought and twisted my thoughts around and re-thought with the back half. The Vegetarian was one of those odd books that for me could have been about anything in the world – the words didn’t matter half as much; the book itself served as a sort of lens for me to think about cultural norms, who sets them, who has to listen, and what happens if you land crossways. Odd, right? So I didn’t love the book, but I loved what happened because I read it. So let’s say it was a 3 of 5 stars book with a 4 of 5 stars experience.

There you have it. A tremendously fun reading week, and I have a few more good books started. I’m re-reading Marilee as a comfort book; I’m starting on What She Knew because The Widow was such a fun read that reminded me of what thrillers can do to a reader; and The Man in the Monster because apparently I have more processing to do.

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