It’s been forever since I’ve done some reviews – mostly because I haven’t been reading as much lately. It’s hard to find motivation when you’re this depressed about the Big Things (like HeWhoShouldNotBePresident) going on. But I’m at least doing better enough right now to try, so here we go:
Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn (2001, MacAdam/Cage Publishing, 205 pages, paperback). I found this at my used book store and cackled madly as I set it aside for Christmas this past year. It’s one of my reading twinner’s favorite books; in fact, when pressed (by reading surveys) for her favorite epistolary novel, this is it. [Mine is Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – don’t even have to think about it.] So I was excited to finally have time to read it, which I did in one sitting, in my doctor’s waiting room one afternoon. It was…well…disappointing. I didn’t latch on, like I assumed I would. The basic premise: a letter falls from the status of the town’s founder, who happens to be the person who invented the pangram “The quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog,” which clearly means that letter is banished from use. In the criminal sense. There’s an unlikely, insipid romance thrown in, and more letters are banned as they, too, fall. I thought the writing was thin and the characters without value or redemption. It’s the worst when you want so desperately to like something and kind find a single piece to grab on to. 1 1/2 of 5 stars.
Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe (2011, Henry Holt & Co., 320 pages, hardcover). Another fun used book store find; I think I only grabbed it because it was a buck or two and so if it wasn’t my thing (celebrity bios usually aren’t), then I could just bring it back and not really have missed anything. But it was good. I got sucked in as soon as I started reading. The blurb promises that it’s never salacious, just revelatory, but it lied! Or, at least, I thought so. The writing is fun to read, easily-get-at-able, and it goes down quickly, so it’s easy to forgive Lowe’s occasional grandstanding and fake modesty. You had to know what you were picking up when you grabbed a Rob Lowe tell-all. I mean, come on. So if that’s your thing, this is definitely for you. If you’ve enjoyed Rob in anything he’s been in, or you just want a good picture of Hollywood in the 80s, this is a good read. Even if you run into a copy and need some quick, easy entertainment, it’s worth a shot. It’s never boring, but not life-changing either. 3 of 5 stars.
The Black Wave, by Michelle Tea (2016, City Lights Publishers, 176 pages, ebook). I borrowed this from the library because it was part of the Tournament of Books longlist (and then final brackets!), but had high expectations after I read it was about a druggie writer who holes up and cleans up in San Francisco when it’s revealed the world will end in a year. Apocalyptic fiction for the win! Except not. This novel was kind of a hot mess. Because the protag is also kind of (but not really) the author in a honey-leave-that-to-Dave-Eggers kind of way. I couldn’t quite tell which way was up at times, and while I know it was druggy and trippy and kind of on purpose, that really isn’t my cuppa tea. It can work at times, under some circumstances, but it’s like Tea didn’t have an structure or form there for all the deviations and freestylin’ that was going on. So: nope. This isn’t BYOStructureAndMeaning. 2 of 5 stars.
High Dive, by Jonathan Lee (2016, Knopf, 336 pages, ebook). Another library loan taken up for the Tournament of Books. This was one of the better books in the finals; a tale of an assassination attempt on Margaret Thatcher via a bomb planted in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where she was to stay. I loved the characterization; everyone was drawn so well. Dan’s backstory with the IRA was compelling, Freya’s bemoaning of her life less so, but her dad’s life at the hotel made up for it. I love how Lee took what could have been a political thriller and used it to deconstruct who and why – a character study – of people on the brink of these “high dives”, these huge, momentous points of action in our life. Are they dives? Were they pushed? Could they get back down the ladder or was it swarming with kids waiting for their own turns? It did drag in places, but not for long. 3 of 5 stars.
Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter (2016, Faber & Faber, 114 pages, ebook). Another library loan for the Tournament of Books. This was a delightfully twisted and grim(m) fairy tale type of story, one that focuses on children (check), whose mother has died at a young age (check), and is then raised by Crow, a trickster figure. It was…a dark story. Crow gave me the heebie jeebies. I’ll take Mary Poppins, thanks! But it was gorgeously written, exposing all the different steps forward and back the sons, the dad, and even Crow, take in questioning whether you can “simply” move-on after a loved one has died. WICKED TRIGGER WARNINGS if grief is a thing. Uh…obviously. It’ll either be your cuppa tea, or it won’t. It will either help immensely after you’ve lost, or it won’t. But I have to say that it was a well-told tale. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.
So there you have it. Right now I’m reading a pretty good crime thriller, and also flying through Daughters of Smoke and Bone, which I’m kind of mad no one told me about before. It’s kind of like American Gods meets Dark Tower meets Magic: The Gathering. But way better than that because that sounds so odd and particular! We’ll see if I can think of a better analogy before I have to review it.