Reading Roundup: September/October

Read

A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I actually finished rereading the day after I posted my midway review in the last roundup. I found that I didn’t want to put it down.

All Grown Up by Jamie Attenberg. A fast phone read–I read about 40% while minding a boring post at a work event. I had so many feelings, not all of them positive. I respect and wrote about Attenberg’s earlier novel, The Middlesteins, which dips into a number of different characters’ perspectives. All Grown Up features just one–Andrea, thirtysomething and single and working a boring if stable job and trying and continuously failing to figure out how to be happy. I got so tired of Andrea, but her problems are my problems (barring the occasional dip into drug addiction and the extent of her tolerance for worthless men). There’s no lesson in the emotional ending, but part of the point of this book is that there isn’t a lesson. In this world, people don’t change for the better, they just get sadder and older. Perhaps that’s what I didn’t like about it–it offends the optimism I cling to for dear life.

What is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi. It’s sort of cheating to include this book because it was several days into November when I finished it, but I enjoyed it so much that I can’t wait to talk about it. I felt let down by Oyeyemi’s last book, Boy, Snow, Bird, even before the rather dismaying plot twist. I think this author is at her best in structures like Mr. Fox, in which she can cartwheel between beautiful, mysterious fairytale-like short stories that are surprising but familiar. What is Not Yours returns to that format and opens up a series of captivating little worlds, some mundane and contemporary and others seemingly from times long past in lands where supernatural forces easily slip into daily life. But the stories mostly connect, so that characters you meet in one chapter might reappear decades later in another story, and you learn that the otherworldly student from the creepy puppet school grows up, falls in love, exists in the same plane as the contemporary teenager heartbroken over a celebrity crush. Each story is about longing, in some ways–wanting something that you cannot or should not have–and I found it reassuring that in the universe of these stories, one can recover from loss and yearning and magic and simply go on.

Reading

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I did it, I’m taking the class. Some of my favorite co-workers are in it. Now that I’m not reading it hungover on a stunning beach in Mexico, I’m able to appreciate the humor in it. It’s a challenge to read on my commute; Melville packs about three sentences into every one, with clauses and asides that make nautical jokes or fill in the picture of seafaring life two centuries ago, and if the bus jolts I lose my place and have trouble finding my way back. But I’m enjoying the ride immensely. Everyone is just so extra.
On the minus side, Moby-Dick is not a small book and reading it has considerably shortened my Read list.

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. This is the only book I picked up at the book swap I hosted in August. I was more focused on given books away, but the book’s owner had written on a sticky note that the book about some medieval miniaturists trying to solve a murder, and I love me a good art history mystery. I was enjoying the story, too, but set it aside for by Moby-Dick and other distractions. Now the book’s previous owner has passed away and I wish I’d kept that sticky note. I am a little too sad to keep reading for the time being.

To Be Read

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Kindle, Amazon released pretty much all of Octavia Butler’s work for $1.99 apiece, and I downloaded everything I haven’t yet read. I am so excited.

I also picked up a copy of Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, which is the One Book One Philadelphia selection this year, and I am really looking forward to the experience of reading it at the same time that so many friends and neighbors are reading it. I loved that last year with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

Book Blind Items

I started writing reviews for IndieReader.com. I can’t post my reviews anywhere else, but in way this is very liberating, because I can write here what I cannot say in my review, and just not mention which book it is.

The first book I received really troubled me, and I talked about it angrily to several friends before I tempered my response into a review format. During that time, I saw Colson Whitehead speak at the Wolf Humanities Center, and he said several things that helped me temper and modify my response. He quoted Toni Morrison in saying that the catastrophe of slavery makes it an inexhaustible subject. He also said that the very fine work of authors before him freed him from an obligation to social realism. In combination, these perspectives allows him to write a version of the Underground Railroad that involved a literal train: there was still more meaning to mine from that catastrophe, but no obligation to cleave only to the truth of what happened. Indeed, what factual recitation could really express the truth?

The first book I reviewed was set during the Civil Rights Era; written by a white author, the dedication said that she told this story so that her grandchildren would know the shadow history of the south (presuming, I guess, that they won’t read any of the high quality Civil Rights narratives by writers of color). The book, in addition to being poorly written, raped and maimed its black characters and peppered them with n-words, purportedly to show how bad things were Back Then. (One is reminded of the Game of Thrones defense: rape is historically accurate! that is definitely the only reason we are depicting it onscreen, and definitely not because we are trying to be edgy! also this has nothing to do with any sexual assault discourse today!) But why did we need a white author to write this story in this way? What do I, a white reader, gain by reading it? What on earth would a nonwhite reader get out of it?

The second book I received is just fic trash about some Yakuza assassins, but I’m not finished reading it and have not yet reviewed it.

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“Summer” of Gaming, interim report

Well, summer’s over. I didn’t spend any money on games and I didn’t start yet another new character on Mass Effect or Dragon Age (not counting my ME playthrough with my neighbor, in which our slightly Renegade BroShep of ME2 is evolving into an extremely purple DadShep in ME3). Goal achieved! But I certainly had no lack of novelty or entertainment to while away the hours between work and dusk when it was too hot to do anything else, so while I’ve finished a few of the games I listed in my opening post, there are so many more that I’ve downloaded for free on Xbox Live–even some new ones this summer. The experiment of playing them all will continue apace until I acquire a next-gen console!

Completed

Dance Central 3. As in, I completed the main quest (such as it is) and saved the world from a time-traveling megalomaniac who wanted to regulate dancing. However, one can really play indefinitely–there are at least a dozen songs I haven’t unlocked yet, and there are already a lot of great songs.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Pros: Beloved classic music. Beloved planets and people. The force mechanics are pretty cool–it’s much more fun to force-fling stormtroopers from precipices than it is to hack at them with lightsabers. Cons: plays like a cart ride at an amusement park: you just go along the tracks, and then you go along the same tracks again and do the exact same quest but with a different configuration of bad guys. The voice acting is painful. The romance is forced. The plot is tenuous. I thought, several times, about quitting, but I knew you could load your save into the sequel, and fortunately…

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 is way more dynamic and fun. Less repetition, more unexpected gameplay in beautiful environments. The romance still makes a flimsy plot driver–maybe I wouldn’t have to deal with it if played Sith instead of Jedi?–but in general I played through this game a lot faster and enjoyed it a lot more.  All the same, despite my usual completionist tendencies, I’m not tempted to replay for dark side options. As soon as I completed the second game, I deleted both games to make more room for surprise free downloads, like Bayonetta.

Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. When I last played several years ago, I was stalled out by the Bruma gates–couldn’t keep Martin alive. But I also hadn’t recruited all the city guards, mainly because closing Oblivion gates is such a chore. Reopening my old save, I downed a bunch of invisibility potions and closed the last few gates outside cities, obtained a follower and a couple of conjuration spells, and finally made it through the Bruma gate. After that, the rest of the game was a breeze. To my surprise, I discovered that at some point I’d acquired two expansions for this game–Knights of the Nine and Shivering Isles. My completionist heart yearns to finish these sometime, but I still count this game as won. And I need a break before I head to Sheogorath’s world–as the god of madness, his aesthetic seesaws wildly between delightfully whimsical and first-year writing workshop “crazy.”

In progress

Bayonetta is a ride, isn’t it? I downloaded it shortly before some friends dropped in for an afternoon of gaming, and I’m so glad I had company and wine when I started this noisy, chaotic, campy game. Bayonetta’s character design is pretty ridiculous, and the camera-swinging combat style is a little hard for me to follow, and I actually yelled NO when her friend Rodin appeared as a bartender at The Gates of Hell–yet I’m interested enough to continue. I just can’t do it at night when I’m trying to wind down or I’ll have guns and bells jangling in my head when I try to sleep.

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga. I don’t know, y’all. I might hate this game. I feel a little like a monster–minifigs are so cute! everything’s so colorful!–but 1-player Story Mode is weirdly difficult and it seems wrong to achieve “True Jedi” status by blowing up everything and collecting as much currency as possible. I’ve been stuck in several chapters and had to look up hints, and the answer is always “blow up more things” or “jump better.” On the plus side, this game offers the perfect way to revisit the three prequels, which I have not seen since theater release. Playing those chapters essentially provided a recap with no uncanny valley and no awkward dialogue.

Borderlands 1

Beyond Good and Evil HD

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Dishonored

Under consideration

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean

Tomb Raider

 

Reading Roundup: July/August

Some books are particularly good to read in the summertime. Typically I do most of my reading on subways and bus commutes, but summer offers new venues, like beaches or road trips. Because I was out of the house so much more for work and play, only a few books were good enough bring home to my couch–that meant I was reading en route but the book was too good to put down when I got home, despite other temptations like television and sleep.

Books worth reading on the couch

Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile. As predicted earlier this summer, I continued to really love this book–seriously, just stunning writing. It made me really feel how little I know I know about agriculture and the rural South despite living in Southern cities for the first 24 years of my life. I’ve never been interested, but the author makes rural life fascinating, beautiful, and terrifying.
But the ending though. So abrupt. And poor Ralph Angel never really evolved in this story. Maybe that’s the point–some sad combination of his circumstances and his choices continually kept him from growing into the person he desperately wanted to be, and if it’s wearying to the reader to watch him fail at everything he tries, that is likely the intent. Maybe I should just deal with my feelings about that. But it’s the only aspect of this gorgeous novel that is hard to love.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. A prequel to Practical Magic, which was published more than twenty years ago. Look, unpopular opinion or not (probably not), I think the film adaptation of Practical Magic is better than the book. But I still enjoyed the book, a romantic and quasi-Romantic fantasy about beautiful and powerful women, transformative and life-threatening love, and magical interpretations of natural phenomena. The Rules of Magic is much the same, plus a little nostalgia for midcentury New York. It was a cheesy, charming read that I started reading on the train to New Jersey, continued on the beach, and then kept reading when I got home all warm and drowsy from the sun.
“What are you reading?” asked my gentleman friend, dropping by for a nightcap.
“A sexy witch book,” I told him. That’s pretty much it.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I started this earlier in the summer–it’s not a difficult book, just a long one. The hardest part is getting through the early chapters, in which dozens and dozens of characters appear for the first time with three names apiece, and then the Battle of Austerlitz which itself appears confusing and chaotic as it is experienced by the characters, in addition to being the first time we meet some of them. After that, it’s an absorbing read–a miss-your-subway-stop read–as characters scheme and seduce in the drawing room and on the battlefield. Closing the book made me miss the characters I’d spent 900 pages with, so I’ve been watching the recent BBC adaptation (which is astonishingly tight, in part because it makes some subtext into text) and look forward to sitting down with the cast recording of Natasha, Pierre, and the Comet of 1812 and following along with the lyrics, as I did for Hamilton.

Books to read in bars

Yes Please! by Amy Poehler. Happenstance brought about several consecutive afternoons of killing some time in a bar, having a drink alone while waiting to meet up with friends. On these occasions I was happy to have this playful, occasionally silly book on my phone rather than the enormous tome of War and Peace on the counter. This may be faint praise; there are some rough spots where the author is not quite as clever about racism and intersectional feminism as you’d like to see your heroes be. But I did love the chapter about the creation and production of Parks and Recreation.

Books to read on the road

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter. Do I mean Krysten Ritter of Jessica Jones and Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23, two television series I love? Yes, I do! Is she a good writer? Well, this book is intended to be a gritty and suspenseful thriller, not a literary masterpiece. It was not as gritty as the cover promised, but it was interesting enough to merit a spontaneous read-aloud on two hour-long legs of a road trip. I highly recommend this as a form of entertainment! I skimmed along and just read the juicy bits, and I am sure I missed a few relevant plot points, but we had more than enough material to milk all the hard-boiled one-liners, bar scenes, and surprise twists for all they were worth–and complain aloud to each other about the loose ends. A+ reading experience, would repeat with a different thriller.

The Floating World, by C. Morgan Babst. Not completely intentionally, I ended up reading most of this either next to the water or in transit, where the grassy marshes and pastel seashore houses of New Jersey reminded me of the long lakeside stretch of I-10. The Floating World takes place in New Orleans in the three months after I moved away from that city: 2005, Hurricane Katrina, then Hurricane Rita.
As a caveat, I tend to shy away from media about New Orleans. I have my own cherished memories from living there fresh out of college, when everything in the world was new, and it’s hard to make space for other visions. Parts of Babst’s vision is strangely like mine, and it rankles. Some of the young characters dance on Frenchmen Street and go for burgers at Port of Call, like I did with my roommates. They think about the light and the river and the weight of history. The narrator goes in for first-year M.F.A. turns of phrase–one kiss is described as “his tongue fluttered on her palate” and I almost threw the book away. I think the author’s next novel is going to be stunning. I can’t tell if this one displeased me because of the writing or my jealousy over a city that hasn’t existed the way I knew for twelve years. But I still read it hungrily, and sadly as news coverage of Hurricane Harvey began to come in.

Books on my nightstand (in progress)

A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. My gentleman friend had a copy of this one our recent beach trip, while I had The Floating World. We each finished reading our respective apocalypses side-by-side in the comfort of our room on a day of nonstop rain. Then he lent me A Handmaid’s Tale for the ride home. I had read it twice but it’s been about a decade, and I’d forgotten how vivid and dense with detail it is. I watched the first six episodes of the Hulu series, and there are so many tiny details that I thought were imagined by the showrunners–it is a beautifully designed show–but which actually appear first in the text. It’s weird to say that I’m enjoying it, but I am. As Atwood says in the new introduction, it’s an anti-prediction: telling this story is supposed to keep it from happening.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I’m obsessed with the Twitter bot–out of context, lines from the book sound like prophecies from a gay sea oracle–but I didn’t get very far when I first started reading the book several years ago on a trip to Mexico. I’m hoping to audit a course on the novel that is offered by my workplace–if not, I can’t promise to power through when I have a stack of ARCs and previously owned books to choose from.

Summer of Gaming, part 1

This will not come as a surprise to anyone who follows my monthly reading roundups: I consume novels in what could be described as a voracious manner. I do re-read a favorite book from time to time, but mostly I pick up and devour new-to-me books–on the ARC table, in a used bookstore, on sale for my Kindle–as though I were paid to do so. I suppose I consume television and movies in this way, too, although at a less greedy pace.

But for other media, specifically music and video games, I am very slow to acquire and acclimate to new releases. Once a song gets into my head, I’ll listen to it repeatedly for years. Once I’ve played a video game I love, I’ll go back and play it again and again, particularly if is the sort of video game that encourages different plot and character permutations. One of my cherished relaxing activities this spring has been replaying the Mass Effect trilogy with my neighbor, who has only seen it in Tumblr gifsets. (We are playing a vanguard Shepherd who is neither paragon nor renegade but simply sick of your shit, and he is in a slow-burn romance with Kaiden, and it is a great story.)

But I subscribe to a service that releases some of its games for free every month, so I have an enormous backlog of games I’ve not finished and some I haven’t even started. This is the summer I play them. Well, as many of them as is feasible. And then I will come back and review them as I do for my books.

Completed:

Borderlands 2. Loved this. It’s visually arresting, the music and voice acting is great, the gameplay is challenging for me but somewhat forgiving of my lack of finesse. (My strategy: run up and throw an elemental grenade, run far away and snipe from cover.) The story escalates beautifully, and I appreciated the throwbacks to the first Borderlands (which I started but did not finish). This game is also fairly violent, graphic, and noisy, so I really should not have played any of it before bed–gave me tense, busy dreams–but once I got into a groove of not getting myself killed, I didn’t want to stop looting and discovering new locations. I enjoyed being in this crazy world so much that immediately after defeating the final boss I played:

Tales from the Borderlands, episode 1. Everyone I know loves Tell Tale Games, but while I do get nostalgia for the old point-and-click adventure, I’m not wild about the fighting system. Yet before I knew it, Rhys and Fiona and I were wrapping up the first part of our story. I definitely want to see what happens next, but only the first episode was free, and the rest may have to wait until I’ve fulfilled my no-new-games-until-goals-are met bargain.

In progress:

Dance Central 3. I actually picked this one up at a used bookstore and it will no doubt be the best $8 I spend all summer. I love this stupid game. It could just be a platform that encourages you to dance in your own living room to all the songs that make you shout “THAT’S MY JAM” in a club. But they don’t stop there! There’s an evil anti-dance villain, an underground organization dedicated to saving dance, and time travel. It’s hilariously dumb.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. I thought I was going to love this, but it’s a little off-putting to be the bad guy in a story you love. Still, I’ll likely go back so that I have the background before I play the sequel.

Borderlands. This game was released for free before the other two, but I found it much slower and less engaging. I felt like I was playing for years and I was still wandering around the badlands, bored of shooting skags. Should I go back and finish? Or move onto other enterprises? I’m not sure.

Beyond Good and Evil HD. A throwback from old Xbox that was upgraded for the 360. It’s a great game–nice looking, fun and imaginative gameplay (you take photos instead of shooting everything you see)–but I’ve never finished it in either format, and I’d like to.

Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. I adore this ridiculous game, but I hate the Oblivion gates. My most recent playthrough stops just before defending Martin Septim from an open gate; my Kajiit mage is powerful enough to speed-run through the plane worlds, but doesn’t have the right skillset to keep Martin alive. I keep thinking I’ll go back and build whatever tools I need to save him, but I’m already head of three guilds, so I’d basically be level grinding at this point.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. A gorgeous, non-violent puzzle game that requires me to be a little smarter than I am when I get home at the end of a long day.

Dishonored. A great game, but I dropped it just before the masked ball because that’s when I bought Inquisition and played it an embarrassing number of times. By the time I went back to it, I’d forgotten the controls. I’ve heard wonderful things about Dishonored 2 and would like to spend a little more time in that world before I eventually level up to the next gen console; I’m thinking I may need to start over from the beginning to get back in the groove. I’d like to kill fewer people this time anyway.

Under consideration:

LEGO Star Wars: TCS

Star Wars: The Force Unleased II.

This is just one storage device and a couple of discs worth. I have a whole other memory stick with long-abandoned games including Assassin’s Creed II, The Witcher II, Mirror’s Edge, and more. I don’t feel bad about this, exactly–as I said, they were free downloads that came with a service that I bought for other reasons. But I do feel a little echo of what I feel about reading new books: there are so many great stories out there, and I know I’m never going to get to them all, but shouldn’t I at least sample as many as I can?

Anyway, comments welcome. Loved any of these games? Found them a waste of time?

Reading Roundup: May/June

Recommended

The Windfall by Diksha Basu. A slow-burn family drama set in New Delhi. I really enjoyed it. A good reminder to read more contemporary fiction set in global cities outside of the U.S. and London–as one character reflects, all Americans see of India are scenes of extreme wealth or extreme poverty, and we don’t know how to conceptualize the middle-class Indian experience. In this book, class is a plot driver and character divider, but (as one would hope) the class differences highlight some other critical dividers such as gender, tradition, westernization.

Broken Harbor by Tana French. I’m not sorry. I can’t get enough of these Dublin Murder Squad books. There’s always at least one in a used bookstore. I like this one because the first-person narrator is an utterly unlikeable minor character in a previous book; while he tells his story, you don’t necessarily come to like him exactly, but you see what makes him tick.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Ah, yes, in the tender season of spring, a girl’s mind turns to murrrderrr. I downloaded this book because there’s a new movie version coming out that, like its cinematic predecessor, is all camp and exquisite costuming and star turns. I am definitely going to go see it. As for the book, it took a little time to grow on me, but once the murder has been committed it’s all ruthless procedural–interviewing one train passenger at a time–and I loved it. I was even, naively, completely surprised by the ending.

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente. Here are some things you should know about me, as a reader. I don’t love short stories. (There are some notable exceptions, like Lesley Nneka Arimah’s new collection.) I usually do not like it when a single author introduces different characters with first-person narratives in different writing styles; again, there are exceptions, but unless an author is particularly skillful at code-switching, this affectation is jarring at best and offensive at worst. Finally, while I love me some superhero movies, I’m not a big comic book reader.
Thus, this is not really a book for me. Yet I still enjoyed it, and I’m glad it exists.
Basically, The Refrigerator Monologues tells the stories of several female characters–wives, mothers, girlfriends–who got caught in the crossfire of some other superhero-villain battle. Now they all hang out in the afterlife together, drinking tea and bitching. Some are superheroes themselves whose own powers got sidelined by those of their male companions; others are ordinary women whose lives and ambitions got snuffed by the deadlier drama of their superhero boyfriends. The superheroes are fictional, but some were recognizable to me as adaptations of known characters, like Harley Quinn and the Joker. Probably I would have enjoyed recognizing others if I was more familiar with the genre.

Ulysses by James Joyce. I mean…. I sort of read it. I may have skimmed the last few chapters. Who cares, there’s time to read it again next year. And I did enjoy writing about it, and reciting part of it at Bloomsday.

Not Recommended:

Quiet Until the Thaw by Alexandra Fuller. This book is a piece of work. It’s moving and elegantly written; at first I was reminded of The Things They Carried, but reimagined in Louise Erdrich’s Badlands landscape. Its main characters grow up and around an Indian reservation, and I think more of those stories need to be told and shared in literary fiction. But about a quarter of the way through I began to get a weird feeling, flipped to the back cover, and read that the author was a white British woman who had lived in Zimbabwe and Wyoming.
Okay, well, I guess it’s debatable whether that means she’s the wrong person to tell this tale. But it raised a red flag for sure, which was joined by a few others: the Kiplingesque way the narrator address the reader (“All My Relations,” translated from a Lakotan phrase); the fact that a main character is named Le-a, pronounced “Ledasha,” straight out of urban legend (and debunked by Snopes).
So I read this book, but I wish I hadn’t. I would have rather read a similar book by a different author, preferably one not blinkered by white privilege, or else an entirely different book by the same author.

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier. This, like Quiet Until the Thaw, seems to be a case of Right Book, Wrong Author or vice versa. (I’m thinking of the Girl, that’s not your dress! posts at Tom & Lorenzo.) It’s a retelling of Othello set in fifth grade in 1970s suburban DC. And it’s pretty much the kind of story about race that white students tell when they are trying to get outside their comfort zones in fiction 101. American racism is complicated and insidious; the nation’s capital, with its history and its location right smack in the middle of what’s considered north and south, has its own particular complexities. White writers tend to make racism simple and obvious. And though this book is meant for a YA audience, I’ve read YA books with extremely smart and meaningful representations of racism–and I don’t think this book is it. To say nothing with how poorly this drama of war and murder is suited to the schoolyard.

New People by Danzy Senna. I loved Senna’s Caucasia and still think about it often years after I first read it. Caucasia is a coming of age novel as well as a novel of passing set in the twentieth century, sharp and critical but accessible–perfect classroom reading. New People is none of those things and I’m still not really sure what to make of it. At first it seems as though it will unfold until a critique of the early days of Brooklyn gentrification and fashionable race fetishism, but it really focuses on one woman’s complete downward spiral–but not in a Nella Larsen way? More in a Lydia Millet way. A month later I’m still worrying about it.

Currently on the nightstand:

Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile. Y’all. This book. SO GOOD. I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of a story about contemporary cane farming in Louisiana but it is a story deftly and suspensefully told. I’ve nearly missed my subway stop several times while engrossed in a tractor auction or fishing expedition, and on the description level, the writing is just beautiful.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I mean. I loved Anna Karenina so much that I read two different translations, and everyone’s talking about Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, so I thought why not? So far I’m enjoying the book for all the same reasons I loved Anna–social and political drama played out in drawing rooms via manners and eyebrows; lush descriptions of everything from food and dresses to feelings and family connections; a gratifying amount of attention paid to the thoughts and wishes of female characters, who are all quite distinct. But it will take me awhile to finish this one.

Reading Roundup: March/April

In the Woods by Tana French. I was slow to get on the Tana French train, but I read Faithful Place last year and knew I’d be back for more eventually. In the Woods is the first of a series: a riveting, page-turning dive into the murder investigation for two unusual cases. I hate, hate that a key plot device never really gets resolution, but I enjoyed the ride too much to be mad about it.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Gearing up for a fall exhibition. I read this book several times in college, and was surprised about (a) how inattentive my college-aged readings had been and (b) that I didn’t enjoy my re-read more. I loved reading Dracula for the first time, but it’s far more campy and less existential; perhaps that’s why. But there was so much I missed on my first times through that it was well worth revisiting.

Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives. Have you ever disliked someone almost to the point of enjoyment? Maybe someone you know from work or school, someone who you ought to have a great deal in common with, except that they irritate you in thousands of small ways that you can’t stop thinking about or talking about? This book is that, for me.
On paper, we’re made for each other: it takes place in a large art museum not unlike one where I’ve worked, among overeducated and overmoneyed people not unlike some who I’ve met, driven by a sort of mystery that can only be solved by looking at books and art. Perfect, right? But this is not a good book. The narration is an irritating blend of purple prose and toneless slang. The characters are weirdly specific yet underdrawn, all quirks and little depth. The mystery fizzles out with an inconclusiveness that is not tantalizing. So, I kind of hate this book. But maybe I also love it? At any rate I couldn’t stop reading it. Make of that what you will. 

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. This novella was free on a Tor for a weekend, so I downloaded it and read it during the two hour duration of my latest tattoo. It turned out to be the perfect thing under those cicumstances. It’s a story about a school for wayward children who have visited other worlds, sort of like the Pevensies and Narnia, except everyone in this book hates them. It’s a fun gimmick–how many other worlds are there, how do children adjust when they return–but then on top of that there is a murder mystery, just gruesome enough to justify my white-knuckled grip of the phone during some of the more uncomfortable angles of my tattoo.
I mean, is it a good book? Do I love it? I can’t really say so; it’s not every author that can make the short novel form really work for a fantasy world. (The only Tor author I’ve read that does it really masterfully is Nnedi Okorafor.) All the same, I wholeheartedly recommend it to friends who enjoy the school-of-magic trope and want a short pleasant confection of a read.

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay. On the other hand, this is undoubtedly a Book I Love. I can’t help it! It’s like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell except in 19th century New York, and if the author had chosen to focus on the magic of women rather than men. There are delicious descriptions of herbs and teas and spells; a gratifying amount of attention to Victorian couture; a pleasing variety of textures in the inclusion of letters, book excerpts, and news columns; and a sort of encyclopedia of 19th century New York fads: Egyptomania, talking to ghosts, suffrage, and more. I was amused at the shout-out to several key figures of the era, including Madame Restell (whose portrait is included in a crime news broadsheet currently on display in the museum where I work) and Anthony Comstock (whose namesake law provided grounds to ban Ulysses among other major books).