Geek Love — Review

July 26, 2014

1: a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
2: a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked
3: an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love had been on my list for a while when I read a piece about it on Book Riot. It really intrigued me, so Geek Love moved to the top of my list. The thing is, throughout reading the piece and the book’s subsequent rocketing to the top of my TBR list, and even as I started reading, I was still thinking of the more prolific definition of the word “geek.”

To steal from John Green, it was “slowly, and then all at once” that I realized that the “geeks” in this book were of a different variety (and it only occurred to me to look it up to see if there was an alternate definition while writing this — or initial as the case may be — go figure).

So once that was cleared up and I could really focus on the book I found it… unsettling. There is so much that happens in this book that is deeply disturbing. Part of what makes so much of this book troubling is the characters’ agency in events.

Typically, when there is a bad or disturbing element in a book it is due to something outside of the control of the character. In Geek Love the dysfunction in the family and lives of the characters causes them to consciously make decisions that they know will cause chaos.

This was a difficult book to stomach, but it’s an interesting book and if you’re okay with kind of horrible things in books than you should give it a go. It has definitely made me think about characters and families and family dynamics and the concept of normalcy. And that’s what books are supposed to do: they’re supposed to make you feel something, even if that something is somewhat uncomfortable, and, most of all, they’re supposed to make you think.

The Returned — Review

July 24, 2014

Jason Mott’s The Returned was a huge (and I mean huge) buzz book at BEA13. I was intrigued enough to pick it up, but there were books that were higher up on my list (books that I still haven’t read. I have issues, let’s not venture down that particular rabbit hole). In any case, after a conversation about a television show (which I haven’t seen and now can’t remember the name of — sorry), I remembered this book and decided it was time to give it a shot.

The basic idea of this book is quite compelling — what would happen if those who died returned (not in a creepy zombie way, just in a picking up where they left off kind of way)? Would these returned individuals be the same as they were before? Are they human? Could they tell us about death? The afterlife?

Mott forces his characters and his readers to ask these questions and as things progress the water only gets murkier. And there are additional mysteries and peculiarities that go unexplained.

The Returned is clearly one of those books that is more about the journey than the destination because while the setting at the beginning and end of the book might be markedly different in certain ways, the world as a whole isn’t really. There is very little resolution and most questions remain unanswered.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point is to just ask the question and think about it and move on with your life. If you’re like me and you like getting answers (it enables me to be an insufferable know-it-all. Thankfully, some do suffer it), this book is going to frustrate you.

It’s still good though, and I do recommend it.

How could I possibly resist a book with this title (and a cover image of a sheep looking back, possibly seductively—I don’t know sheep sexual signals)? I couldn’t, obviously. I first heard about this book back at BEA 2013 and immediately thought “yes. I must read that” because narrative social history + taboo subject = awesome (until you’re awkwardly carrying this book on public transit, but more on that later).

I have to say, this book was way drier than I was expecting it to be. Jesse Bering’s snarky voice comes through in between the facts, which is refreshing, but the book is data-heavy and not so much the compendium of “here’s all the crazy crap that turns us on” that it kept promising to be.

Much of the book discussed societal and medical ideas about “perversions” and how they’ve changed through history as well as ideas of “naturalness” and “harmfulness” as they pertain to perversions (or paraphilias, as we learn they’re called). It’s all interesting stuff, just not as flashy and a bit denser reading.

I would certainly recommend it, just know what you’re getting into. It’s not a “dirty” book or an exhaustive list of the kinds of fetishes/perversions/paraphilias one can have (there are a lot), but more of a discussion of the progression of social and medical thought about them.

Also, if you read it in public with the cover visible, you will get an array of looks (it’s not like it’s a how-to guide, but people are weird and judge-y), just a warning.

Go forth and read (you pervs)!

I enjoy reading essay collections because they are so often relatable even when the things that take place are way too outrageous/horrific/just plain interesting to ever happen to me.

Sadly, that wasn’t really the case with Ashley Cardiff’s Night Terrors. It had its funny moments, and maybe even a poignant moment or two, but overall, it kind of just felt like self-indulgent rambling to fill in the gaps between the two or three good pieces that had already been published online. And then there were a few things that Cardiff wrote with which I vehemently disagree and kind of just made me frustrated and angry reading. I won’t go into it here, but let’s just say we might disagree on some word usage, among other things.

All of that sounds way harsher than I meant it to, so let me clarify that I didn’t hate this or anything; it was just OK.

I guess “just OK” is just not that impressive when I’m inundated with awesome books on a daily (and nightly) basis. You could read it and skim for the funny bits, but I’m not sure I’d recommend investing any significant amount of time (or money) in it.

In reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, I think it was another case of the book coming into my life at the wrong time because it was a complete miss for me.

Objectively I can look at it and see why people like it and why it’s important, especially for young adult readers (so for the love of all that is holy stop trying to ban it, people!), but I was left feeling kind of meh.

Junior has spent his whole life on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Every member of his family has spent their whole life on the rez and they have nothing to show for it. Junior wants to make something of himself and escape the black hole of despair that the rez seems to create, so he makes a drastic decision — he leaves (at least part-time) and attends the all-white high school in the farm town outside the rez.

By taking his life and future into his own hands, Junior faces the racism of the teachers and students at his new school and the anger and resentment of the community back on the rez. He quickly goes from a wimpy kid who could never stand up for himself to a kid who stands up for a whole lot more.

Like I said, this book wasn’t my favorite. The narrative just didn’t really click with me. But I think it will resonate with a lot of readers, especially young adults/teens (who are, after all, the intended audience) dealing with feelings of belonging and taking charge of their own lives.

This book also has really important messages about acceptance and diversity and also about struggles that many Native Americans face in society, which is a topic less often covered in school or other books. And so people really need to stop challenging it when it shows up on school reading lists. It provides a staggeringly underrepresented perspective and it’s important! Your ninth grader will not be scarred for life by reading a reference to masturbation. Really. I promise.

OK. Let kids read the book. Even though I didn’t like it. Rant/rambling review over.

To put it bluntly, Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings is about six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts and the self-involved adults that they become. Wolitzer follows these teens — praised and admired for their talents and charmed at age fifteen — as they move through their youth and into middle age and shows how fortunes play out in different ways and relationships survive, but at certain costs.

It is a glimpse into the world of the sickeningly rich and the devastatingly middle-class in New York and how they might intersect. The book also provides a portrait of that most vile of human emotions — envy — particularly of a beloved friend and how it can tear a person (or people) apart.

When it comes down to it, this is another book where the characters aren’t necessarily “likeable” (perhaps, in this case, because each is a little too relatable in one way or another), but that might just be part of the book. The characters’ flaws make them who they are and while they’re occasionally insufferable, they make a good story.

If you have a low tolerance for obnoxious, annoying, or self-involved characters, skip this one, but otherwise give it a read because it really is worth it.

Oh my God you guys this book. I have such mixed feelings about it. And that’s really the main take-away of this book: so. many. feelings.

Our story follows Theo Decker and a priceless painting — the titular Goldfinch. Theo and the Goldfinch survive a horrific incident that kills many, leaving our “hero” effectively an orphan and bringing the painting into his possession.

Theo bounces around from the hoity-toity Upper East Side dwelling of a wealthy friend, to the outskirts of Las Vegas with a devil-on-the-shoulder-esque Russian sidekick, down to the dusty Village antique store.

Maybe it’s pop psychology, but Theo seems somewhat stuck as the damaged 13 year old (possibly with PTSD) longing for the mother he’s lost and the mysterious girl he can’t have. He consistently makes the worst decisions. And yes, bad things happen that are legitimately out of his control, but especially as this saga moves into Theo’s adult years it becomes a bit more difficult to sympathize — mostly because you just want to smack him. Or was that just me?

And the thing is, this book just takes so long to get anywhere. Donna Tartt knows how to bring the feels and this combination makes the reading experience emotionally exhausting (and kind of physically exhausting as well — that book is heavy).

There are times when this book is a slog and times when it’s absolutely riveting.

I kind of can’t tell if this was a positive or negative review and therefore I have no idea if this will be helpful to anyone. The Goldfinch is masterfully written. Tartt’s characters jump off of the page and her scenes are filled with powerful language and suspense. Hopefully I’ve given you some idea of what to expect if you decide to tackle this tome. Overall I’m glad that I read it, but I’m not sure I’ll be rereading it any time soon.

Cut Me Loose — Review

June 18, 2014

Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood is Leah Vincent’s raw memoir of growing up in and cutting ties with the ultra-Orthodox Yeshivish community.

I have very mixed feelings about this book. Vincent cases the community in a fairly negative light and yet she doesn’t paint a particularly clear picture of what it was like to grow up in that environment. She focuses so much on her acts of rebellion and sexual discovery that other parts of the story kind of get lost.

She expresses bewilderment at her family’s withdrawal of support, yet continues to make choices that go against everything they believe and everything that they tried to teach her. I’m certainly not making excuses for her family and the way they treated her, but given the way her behavior deviated from their values, it isn’t surprising.

Honestly, a lot of this book felt like an exhibitionist exercise — Vincent saying “look at all the shocking things I did” — while other parts were her showing just how victimized she was by the community and her family and that’s  why she did many of the things that she did. It was bizarre.

I do think that she has a very interesting story. It was worth telling and it is worth reading, but as with most memoirs, there are some blind spots and some things that should be taken with a grain of salt.

I received a free e-galley of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin through NetGalley.

This book is great for so many reasons, but its greatest appeal may be that it is very much a book for book lovers. There are many love stories contained within the pages of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, but the greatest love story of all is that of readers and books, and that is just, well, fantastic.

A.J. Fikry, the proprietor of the island’s only bookstore, has suffered a succession of losses and with sales at an all-time low he begins to lose hope. Then Maya enters his life and, without immediately realizing it, A.J. begins to remake his life and become a part of the community in a way he never was before.

This book is somewhat bittersweet and as it progresses certain inevitabilities become clear. I won’t say anything else beyond the fact that it took me longer than it probably should have to connect the dots simply because I was in denial.

But really, this book is so beautifully written and the characters are dynamic and spectacular.

Just go read it.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry came out in April. It is fantastic and should be in every bookstore and library system (though libraries might have a waiting list). Basically, it’s readily available, so you have no excuse not to read it right this moment.

Hollow City — Review

June 12, 2014

I found out about Hollow City at BEA last year and finally (finally finally) got to read it. I loved reading this book.

It picks up pretty much right where Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children left off, but I think this leg of the story moved way faster. While MPHFPC had the build up of mystery and intrigue, Hollow City has the action and suspense (and a bit of intrigue).

I also think that Hollow City used the vintage photos in a way that really added to the story (you might recall that I was iffy on their usage in the first book). A couple of the photos were ones that we’d seen before, but the majority were new, equally cool/creepy photos and they were incorporated into the book really well.

Seriously, just go read these books. They’re fun and fantastic.


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