“The Sky is Falling. Life is Apalling”

the obelisk gate

Reading this book was a bit of a chore. Not because N.K. Jemison’s work isn’t amazing, but because I checked it out as an ebook from my library, not realizing that I couldn’t renew it if other people had it on hold and it would be automatically returned before I could finish it. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did its predecessor, The Fifth Season, but it is still an intense read that gives us a deeper understanding of Essun, the main protagonist along with her allies in the underground city of Castrima. It also adds the point of view of Nassun, Essun’s daughter who it was believed was lost or killed in the Season that started at the beginning of the first book.

The action does slow quite a bit in this second installment of The Broken Earth trilogy. Essun spends the entire book learning to navigate her new surroundings in the city of Castrima, which is unique not only in the fact that it exists underground using ancient technology but because it contains Orogenes and Stills (non-Orogenes) living side by side in relative peace. She also must deal with her former lover Alabaster, who was revealed to be alive at the end of the previous book. Nassun’s story fills us in on where she was at the start of The Fifth Season and catches us up until both mother and daughters stories are on the same timeline. We see her come upon her father, Jija, after he has just beaten her younger brother to death after discovering that he is an Orogene. Much of the emotional impact that was contained in the first book is to be found in Nassun’s chapters. Though we understand her motivations, it is frustrating to watch this young girl try to maintain her father’s extremely conditional love. She also unwittingly allies herself with an old nemesis of her mother’s.

Though it may not have the action of the first book, we learn so much more about the characters who inhabit the world of The Broken Earth trilogy and see the setup for what promises to be a stunning finish in The Stone Sky.

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And the worms ate into his brain

surfacing

I would have liked to read this book over a day or two without interruption so that I could immerse myself in it. Reading it in fits and starts while I was on hold at work (I have the Kindle app downloaded to my desktop) and before bed it at night really didn’t allow me to feel the growing feeling of unease and dissociation that Margaret Atwood’s book conveys. Though I wouldn’t call it my favorite work by Ms. Atwood (Cat’s Eye wins that hands down), it’s a thought provoking short novel.

Surfacing follows a nameless protagonist as she returns to her childhood home on an isolated island in Quebec after the mysterious disappearance of her father. Though very little as far as action happens in the novel, the woman’s experience of suddenly being immersed in a a past that she fled from slowly drives her into delusion and madness. Many of the themes, such as not fitting in with your childhood world or your current one and the societal expectations put on women, I found very relatable. I must confess that running theme of Canadian independence was beyond me.

Surfacing is one woman’s story of leaving home because she did not fit in, only to find the new life that she’s constructed is equally foreign to her. She confesses that she does not love Joe, the man she lives with, and that her career is something she fell into. Though most of us aren’t driven mad by alienation, most of us can relate to it.

“Back at the hotel, Lord we got such a mess.”

heads in beds

 

I love traveling though my sad little bank account rarely allows me to do it. Travel memoirs are much more within my budget until I’m more financially solvent. So when I came across Jacob Tomsky’s memoir about what goes on behind the scenes at luxury hotels, I immediately added it to my TBR pile. While it’s not technically a travel memoir, it’s definitely travel adjacent and it was a nice light read that fueled my luxury travel fantasies.

Tomsky is a veteran of the hotel industry who started off as an eager valet shortly after graduating college. Since that time he has worked in all sections of the hotel, from valet, to front desk to housekeeping. He speaks frankly about the challenges of working in luxury customer services and the conflicts and camaraderie between himself and his fellow employees. He’s served multiple celebrities but don’t ask him to name drop.

His tips for not being “That Guest” and for getting employees to give you extras aren’t exactly groundbreaking for anyone who’s worked in the service industry. They are, in short: treat service personal like actual humans and and tip early and often. However the book is a fun engaging read especially if you enjoy “behind the scenes”memoirs.

 

Seriously, just call the cops.

boy in the suitcase

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. But I found¬† Nina Borg, the main character in this first of Danish Mysteries to be infuriating and hard to relate to. Perhaps there is something I’m missing about Danish society and the way government employees react to foreigners, because many other people seem to think this book is excellent. But when someone like myself, who believes in a healthy mistrust of authority, is screaming “Lady, call the police and go home to your family!” it makes the book hard to enjoy.

Nina Bork works as a Red Cross Nurse and it’s clear from the jump that she takes her job Personally. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since Nina’s patients are refugees who are often resented and disdained by Danish society. But Nina is often absent from her husband and two children. She is convinced by an estranged friend to pick up a suitcase in a storage locker which contains a small boy who is drugged but alive. She realizes quickly that there are extremely dangerous (who don’t seem to be associated with the police) people looking for this boy. I realize that calling the authorities at this point wouldn’t have made for a very exciting story. But the fact that Nina chooses to take this task on by herself, even after people start dying, made the rest of the story very difficult for me to get into.

Honestly, I can’t say that I enjoyed this book much but I’m in the minority. So…maybe pick it up?

Mentally casting the film version as I read

lies-of-locke-lamora

There’s something deeply satisfying about finishing the first in a book series and loving it. A lot of smart people whose opinions I respect love the Gentleman Bastards series. Still, I am a persnickety reader and started it with some trepidation after a much needed bread from all the horror and true crime I’d been reading for the month of October. Lies of Locke Lamora does not disappoint. It’s good enough to be a stand alone novel but still leaves potential for more stories (of which there are) without any infuriating cliffhangers.

Locke Lamora and his small but loyal gang call themselves the Gentleman Bastards. The rest of the thieving community, which is huge in the city of Camorr, believes them to be low level second story men. In fact, they are talented con men who pull of complicated scams on the cities rich and powerful nobles. Life is good for Locke and the Gentleman Bastards until they find themselves unwitting pawns in an underworld power struggle. Things go from bad to worse in short order and Locke is forced to use all of his wit and bravado to make things right.

Aside from a plot that sucks you in from the beginning, I liked ALL the characters. All of them were well written. Unlike some fantasy series, I was never forced to start skimming when certain characters appeared. They were all great. Eventually I will get my hands on the second book in the series but I am currently on a self-imposed book buying hiatus until after the holidays.

You be the Captain, and I’ll be no one.

the-girls

 

The plot of The Girls is propelled forward by a fictionalized version of the Manson Family murders of Sharon Tate and her house guests in 1969. However, if you’re looking for details and insight into the murders and The Family, I can recommend two or three other books that would be much more helpful. The Girls is more of an exploration of first love and the lengths we go to be near that person and our willingness to ignore their flaws as they become more and more apparent.

Our protagonist, Evie Boyd is 14 in the summer of 1969. She is becoming disenchanted with her suburban teenage existence and even more so with her newly divorced parents. It is at this time that she first sees Suzanne and her friends. They are grubby and frayed at the edges, but seem to move through the crowd like displaced royalty. It is Suzanne that draws Evie to this crowd, not Russell who is our literary stand-in for Charles Manson. The story is juxtaposed by Evie as an adult who seems to be living a somewhat unmoored existence. Evie is largely unaware of the more sinister undercurrents flowing at the ranch as she spends more and more time there. It’s only before the bloody and violent conclusion that she even begins to sense that something is very wrong with this group of people.

Emma Cline’s prose is lovely. She is able to capture so many aspects of girlhood and first love in ways that are sometimes uncomfortably accurate. Most women can recall abandoning themselves completely for a first love. But if that first love was one of the most notorious murderers of the 20th century? What would you do to stay in that person’s orbit?

Land of the Free, Some Restrictions Apply

the buddha in the attic

 

I could have easily read this book from cover to cover in a day if I’d had the time. Not only is only a short 149 pages but the writing flows so beautifully that I hated having to put it down and deal with my real life (I mean, more so than when I’m reading normally). The writing is lyrical and the scope is both intimate and simultaneously sweeping. The Buddha in the Attic would make excellent supplementary reading for a college or high school American History course.

Julie Otsuka chronicles the lives of Japanese immigrants to the US in the first half of the twentieth century. She focuses on the women who came to the states in the early 1900s as “picture brides” and follows them through their marriages which often came at a very young age to much older men. They work, have babies (sometimes while working) and establishing themselves in communities only to have it all taken away at the onset of the second World War. (spoiler?)

Though there is some adult content in there, I’d highly recommend this to a teen or young adult (possibly with some parental screening) it’s a beautiful glimpse of a part of American history that was forgotten until very recently.

Yes Please! Thank You!

yes please

 

My 26th review puts me at a half-Cannonball AND means I’ve now doubled the amount of books that I read last year.¬† Go me!

I’ve been trying to branch out and read some biographies of smart, badass women. I read Tina Fey’s book Bossypants earlier this year and loved it in a way very similar to the way I love this one. The reason these two are close friends is obvious. They have similarities that run deep and are very supportive of each other. The main difference is that, while I admire Tina Fey, I’m also a little intimidated by her. Amy Poehler, possibly due to our similarly lower middle class backgrounds, seems like someone I could cut loose with.

Ms. Poehler’s book consists of essays of significant events in her life, from her childhood up until her show Parks and Rec as it draws to a close. As someone who has issues with anxiety, mostly of the social kind, I’m always in awe of women who are unafraid to be their complete and total selves in public or to put a their talents out there for the entire world to see. Yes Please is funny, engaging and difficult to put down. I managed to finish it in just four days while working two jobs and getting (almost) enough sleep at night. There was a bit more name-dropping in here than I thought there would be. However there’s a stunning lack of pretension in it. Amy Poehler is surprised and grateful everyday that she gets to live her life and meet all the people she’s met. I’m grateful she shared her experience and wisdom with me.

Just gonna stand there and hear me cry, But that’s alright, because I love the way you lie

crooked little lies

If books with an unreliable narrator has taught me anything, it’s that everyone is a dirty, lying secret-keeper and that you can’t trust anyone. It’s a trope that’s been overused thanks to the success of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train (speaking of overused tropes, can we stop having titles with “girl” in them for awhile?) and Crooked Little Lies isn’t a particularly groundbreaking addition to the genre. But the characters are compelling and the action moves quickly (getting a book read in under a week is a rarity for me with my schedule) making it a relatively light read for a book that centers on a missing person.

The story centers around the disappearance of Bo Laughlin, a generally harmless mentally ill man who wanders the small town of Hardy’s Walk. Sissel wisely keeps Bo’s exact psychiatric diagnosis vague. Our protagonists are Annie, Bo’s step sister and Lauren, our unreliable narrator and one of the last people to see Bo before he goes missing. Lauren is a more sympathetic character than our more famous narrators. Unlike Amy Dunne, who is an unrepentant sociopath or Rachel Watson, who is a falling down drunk, Lauren suffered a fall from a bell tower while working for the architectural salvage business she shares with her husband and suffered a traumatic brain injury. She subsequently suffered an addiction to Oxycontin as a result of the pain she suffered from her head injury. Though she is now sober, her memory is unreliable at best. It’s difficult not to sympathize with someone who, despite her best intentions, simply can’t remember things she did despite being awake and sober at the time.

I have to say, I pretty much pegged who the worst of the lying secret keepers was pretty early on. But it still made for an interesting read and a nice break from some of the heavier subjects I’d been delving into recently. If you’ve run out of beach reads for the summer, I’d pick this one up.

I am the one hiding under your bed, Teeth ground sharp and eyes glowing red

the night stalker

For those that don’t know, Richard Ramirez, aka The Night Stalker was a serial killer and rapist who terrorized the greater Los Angeles and San Francisco area from April of 1984 until August of 1985. His trial would be the most expensive in California history until the O.J. Simpson trial. I say “terrorized” in the truest sense of the word. He invaded houses in the dead of night; killing, raping and robbing people when they were at their most vulnerable. He left houses ransacked, covered in blood and occasionally Satanic symbols. Sales of firearms, guard dogs and and security systems skyrocketed. Locksmiths could not keep up with the work load. He was the closest thing to the boogie man to be found in real life.

Philip Carlo begins with Ramirez’s shocking crimes in part one. In the second part, he reviews the killer’s troubled family history and upbringing, which make Richard’s bloody crimes seem almost inevitable. He then discusses his capture, trial and life in prison where he would eventually marry one of his many admirers. Carlo seemed to have pretty unprecedented access to Ramirez, and while this gives him some pretty intimate knowledge of the killer, his sense of smugness about this tends to be readily apparent in the final chapters.

If you are a weirdo murder buff like me, this the book to read about Richard Ramirez. You learn a great deal about all the major players in this case: Ramirez and his family, the detectives who hunted him and his many victims and their loved ones. It’s as thorough a true crime book as you will find.