Book Reviews: The Catch-up Post.

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged, but it’s been even longer since I’ve reviewed the books I’ve been reading. And since I’ve busted through my slump (again), I’m still about four books behind pace for my goal of 31 books this month.

Because I have so many books left unreviewed, I’m going to pick and choose some to review, and just list the rest. That way we’ll have a clean slate for next time, and if you want to know more, you can ask about particular titles down in the comments. Ta da!

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay (2017, HarperCollins, 320 pages, ebook). Ms. Gay is one of the authors I will pre-order, no matter how broke, no matter the topic, no matter whether I am physically able to even read at that moment. She speaks nothing but truth, and her truth slays. Such was the case with Hunger, which I knew explored Gay’s lifelong battle with eating disorders, but because I knew I was going to read the memoir, I didn’t delve deeper than that in the pre-released hype. So I was unprepared for the story beneath the story: that much of Gay’s eating disorder stemmed from being gang-raped at a very young age. I knew Gay had been raped; I was not aware of the circumstances. It was a very difficult book to read, because of how Gay kept laying the words down one after another, surgically revealing layer after layer after layer of history and fact and feeling. She made it clear it was not to exorcise anything; she was not a survivor, but a victim, unwilling to mitigate one mili-measurement of blame that so righteously belongs at the feet of her abusers. Still: when a book hits close to home, the words are hard to read. At the time, I rated the book as a 4-star read because Gay jumped around when I wanted her to shine her light more brightly into a corner I was still examining, and because for me, as a reader, being compelled to read factors in to my rating system. This book I had to put down because so. many. ghosts. Still…Roxane Gay slays dragons, you guys. And that deserves fair princesses in all kinds of guises. Including the 5 of 5 stars variety.

The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (2016, Ecco, 368 pages, library book). 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Xiaolu Guo (2007, Nan E. Talese, 283 pages, library eloan). For my READ HARDER romance challenge! 2 of 5 stars.

The Other, by Thomas Tryon (1971, Alfred A. Knopf, 280 pages, eloan). Okay, you guys, I get why this horror story was so influential. You can see how King and everyone else drew inspiration. And not only horror authors, but Hollywood and even those writing the beautiful scores that set the mood for the movies and play in my head while I’m reading. But still…as much as I loved the mood and shiftiness, the suspense that reminded me of books like Henry James’ The Turning of the Screw, I didn’t like the stuffiness that accompanied it, the language that kept pulling me out, which sounded more like Knowles’ A Separate Peace. It sounded dated. Antiquated. And…meh. 2 of 5 stars.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, by Benjamin Alire Saenz (2017, Clarion, 452 pages, library eloan). Good YA book that discusses adoption, LGBTQIA+ issues, and is written by a POC. 3 of 5 stars.

Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon (1991, Dell, 850 pages, paperback). Re-read! But still 5 of 5 stars.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide, by Peter Allison (2007, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 243 pages, ebook). Re-read. 3 of 5 stars.

Don’t Turn Around: A Safari Guide’s Encounters with Ravenous Lions, Stampeding Elephants, and Lovesick Rhinos, by Peter Allison (2009, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 240 pages, ebook). Re-read. 3 of 5 stars.

Loving Day, by Mat Johnson (2015, Spiegel & Grau, 287 pages, ebook). I picked this up as a Deal of the Day and didn’t quite know what to make of it at first. The voice was catchy, like falling into a David Bradley novel, and the subject would bounce back and forth between nerdtastic and straight up whacked. I loved the way ghosts played with the racial identity fumbling and searching. I loved the dark humor. I did not like how the second half of the book felt less structured and more of a plot-of-convenience. It was a book I longed to read with my New Black Aesthetic class back in college. 4 of 5 stars.

All Grown Up, by Jami Attenberg (2017, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 197 pages, library book). I liked Attenberg’s The Middlesteins alright, and even with my criticisms I could see the author had a whipsmart handle on psychology and knew how to wield her knowledge like a weapon. All the same, if I had know All Grown Up was going to be a novella told in second-person quasi-prose, philosophizing on everything I think about when I’m not supposed to be thinking. It’s a study in an almost-40-year-old woman’s narrative. Or, at least, of a kind. 4 of 5 stars.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, by Alyssa Mastromonaco (2017, Twelve, 244 pages, library book). I’d seen this book around and was intrigued at what a higher-up female political operative could tell me about the behind-the-scenes happenings of one of my favorite presidents – and how much would it differ from what I’ve learned from The West Wing? (Answer: Not a lot, and almost entirely, all at the same time.) I wish the book had been structured into tighter chapters with narrower focus, because as it stood, I found the dull parts hard to avoid, but the good bits hilariously entertaining and informative. It was just hard to predict what would fall where. It was a lovely trip down memory lane, making me pine for President Obama’s reign to return and save us all. 3 of 5 stars.

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, by Joshilyn Jackson (2012, Grand Central Publishing, 322, eloan). 2 of 5 stars.

We Are Unprepared, by Meg Little Reilly (2016, Mira, 362 pages, used paperback). 1 of 5 stars. (But good to laugh at, sort of like Zoo, if you like to laugh at unintentionally funny environmental thrillers.

Boy, 9, Missing, by Nic Joseph (2016, Sourcebooks Landmark, 329 pages, library book). 2 of 5 stars.

It’s Fine By Me, by Per Peterson (2012, Greywolf Press, 199 pages, eloan). 2 of 5 stars. [Sidenote: I adore Graywolf Press – they’re one of my favorites and just seeing their imprint can sway me to pick up a book – and I usually love reading books in translation, so I think this might just have been a right book, wrong time situation.]

Alphabet, by Kathy Page (2005, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 264 pages, eloan). 2 of 5 stars.

Lily and the Octopus, by Steven Rowley (2016, Simon & Schuster, 307 pages, eloan). There was a lot of eye-rolling involved. And so you know – I love a good dog story. I loved Marley & Me (uh…right until a certain chapter about a certain clearing at the end of a certain path). I loved Art of Racing in the Rain even more! I thought Lily was going to be an odd sort of mishmash of the two. But oh no. The magical realism felt forced. The popular acclaim promised via stickers all over the (digital) cover raised expectations that were never met. Lily? Not my favorite pet. It’s possible that I’m jaded by my ex-boyfriend’s demon dog who also happened to be a dachshund. More likely it’s that the author jumped from subject to subject and “cute” anecdote to another without properly explaining the last one so’s you could understand what the heck really happened. I think Rowley was trying to do too much, riffing and trilling and soloing before he had laid down a proper foundation. Or maybe that’s just the way it read to me. But – at least I didn’t cry? 1 of 5 stars.

What You Don’t Know, by JoAnn Chaney (2017, Mantle, 384 pages, eloan). 2 of 5 stars.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, by Colin Dickey (2016, Viking, 320 pages, eloan). I love ghost stories…in the daytime. They scare the shit outta me after sunset! Dickey’s selection of cities, businesses, houses, unusual locations, and other places was varied, well researched, and entirely believable – and that’s coming from someone who vacillates between being scared to not believe, and wanting furiously to believe if only to prove there’s something more after this is all over. Dickey’s writing is professional and entertaining – not an easy feat to maintain for so long a book. It’s not quirky enough to earn the title of cult classic, but conversational enough to pull in a varied audience. It’ll make a great gift for the believer and non-believer alike – and the hardcover is pretty enough for coffee table display. 4 of 5 stars.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, by A.S. King (2014, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 307 pages, eloan). 2 of 5 stars.

Still Life with Tornado, by A.S. King (2016, Dutton Books for Young Readers, 295 pages, eloan). King is one of my favorite contemporary Young Adult authors: she’s edgy and whipsmart. She doesn’t talk down to her readers, but isn’t afraid to ask them to think around corners or tackle magical realism or any other device or topic that might be entirely new (or a little intimidating, even if the reader is 38). So I wasn’t surprised that Still Life was asking me to believe two, three, four different versions of our protag were walking the city at the same time, visiting our protag’s home and staying for dinner with the family without being noticed. 10-year-old Sarah joins Sarah at the dinner table and no one notices? Um…okay. It was weird at first, and I wasn’t sure that I liked it, but as the narrative flipped between past and present, and more clues were revealed and – even more so – after I had finished the book and digested it bit by bit, piece by piece, I realized how much more transformative the reading experience was. I wouldn’t say I loved the book; I certainly wouldn’t say it’s a reading experience for just anyone. But it was different. It was remarkable. And for someone who reads as much as I do, being surprised by a book – especially an umpteenth book by the same writer you’ve read before – is worth noting, indeed. 4 of 5 stars.

There are more – so many more! – but let’s leave some for next week, shall we? God, I love when I actually get books read! BOOM!


One Response to “Book Reviews: The Catch-up Post.”

  1. Kim Says:

    Liza was just asking if you’d read Outlander/how far you’d gotten into the series…

    Also: Was We Are Not Prepared that book I got and left for you as a sell-back about the stupid girl and her boyfriend? husband? and the semi-abandoned boy? and the “storm of the century” (that they somehow know about, like, 7 months and too-many-hundred pages in advance…)?? Because: Ugh. That book should get half a star. Not even a whole one.

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