Friday, July 6, 2018

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is a gem. The Lottery was my first introduction to her and that fully creeped me out so I decided to try We Have Always Lived in the Castle. And we're creeped out again!

I listened to the audiobook from Audible and it was really well done and about 5+ hours long. Mary Kathering (or Merricat) is 18 and lives with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian in the Blackwood house. There used to be 7 members of the Blackwood family but only 3 remain. The other 4 were poisoned when someone put arsenic in the sugar bowl.

The townspeople hate the Blackwoods and only Merricat goes out for groceries in town and to get the items they need. Constance hasn't left the house since she was acquitted of the murders. In the beginning of the book, I was so angry with the villagers who taunted Merricat to her face as she went about her business. Then, I began to wonder about Merricat. She's 18 but talks like a child. She practices a form of magic to protect their estate and themselves. She seems to be her sister's protector she?

Merricat is the first to detect that a change was coming, and the change would spell trouble for the little family. His name is Charles, and he is their cousin. Charles comes to stay with them for a bit and Constance seems taken with him. We find out rather quickly that he's a pretty terrible person and truly does bring trouble.

This was a strange little book, and Jackson's last, that is very worth reading. Standing out, apart from the norm, brings the bullies down upon people. I think you'll find the sisters have figured out how to handle the world and still be happy. You'll also find out what really happened to the Blackwood family.

(It looks like this is being made into a movie with Sebastian Stan (IMDB link))

Monday, July 2, 2018

Twisted Prey by John Sandford

Seriously, we're already at 28 Lucas Davenport books? Seems like only yesterday.....

After 28 damn books, I've come to a realization. Davenport is sly. I mean, I knew this. You can watch him work people to his advantage (really, to the case and victim's advantage - he's not a total asshole) and you know he's sly. He thinks things through and he works people in a way that most people wouldn't. I didn't really think about how sly he is without us knowing, until the end of this book. Sneaky, sneaky Davenport.

That might be one of the things I really love about Sandford's writing. He lays a lot out for you to absorb and process but holds certain things back. When the reveal happens, you flip back to the passage and realize, "Damn. He did do that.' Or maybe I'm just slow and I don't catch things anymore. Po-TAY-to. Po-TAH-to.

A rich psychopath is in the Senate and aiming for the White House (*cough cough*). We've met Taryn Grant before, and she just escaped Davenport's grip back in MN. Now, another Senator is nearly assassinated, and his companion (not his wife), is killed. He's pissed and pointing at Grant as the one pulling the trigger. Porter Smalls gets Davenport, now a U.S. Marshal, into DC to start investigating.

Things get hairy. Military gets involved. Arms deals, murders, etc. Everything that DC can throw at Davenport is being thrown. He doesn't so much solve the case as follow the trail of bodies piling up, but in the end, he finished what he came to DC to finish. God love this man.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

I've only ever read one other Zadie Smith book, On Beauty, and I loved it. I'm a bit fuzzy on the details because I read it while my dad was in the end stages of Parkinson's but I know I would recommend On Beauty to anyone starting out with Zadie.

Swing Time took me a bit more by surprise. I got the book from and LOVED the narrator. LOVED HER. Pippa Bennett-Warner was so damn stellar at the accents and nationalities in this book that I could hug her. She got me completely lost in the story. (I see she narrates White Teeth - sold! Downloading White Teeth now)

Once again, I think Smith did a fantastic job weaving together a story that shifts through time, bringing together Tracey and the unnamed narrator, and tearing them apart. We never find out the narrator's name, which leaves her as a bystander in all events, including in her own life. She's only ever an attachment to someone else, who is named, but never stands out on her own. And she seems acutely aware of this fact.

I did have a bit of trouble in the beginning because I just wasn't sure where we were going. We ended up traveling to London, NYC and West Africa, all the while watching No-Name lose herself and destroy friendships and relationships. She deliberately does terrible things, without thinking of consequences, takes the wrong path on so many occasions and still doesn't quite seem to understand how she got to where she is. She's terribly young and her immaturity shines through most of her interactions.

I hope, by the ending, she is free to be herself and figure out who she is. Her attachments are whittled down to nothing, which means, she needs to stand on her own.

Good book and I highly recommend the audio version (about 13+ hours).

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women by Mary Rechner

I normally really like short stories, when I'm ready for short stories. Usually after an epic novel that weighs more than my car. At that time, carrying around a slim volume of short stories, and reading in chunks, is a delight (and my arms get a rest!).

I dove into into volume and immediately was unsure if I wanted to continue. The writing was good, the perspective was great, the voice changed with each story and it was interesting. So, what's your problem, Amanda?? I couldn't relate. Every story was wife/mother/husband/kids. As a never-married, no-children woman, I had no one to side with or to understand. I was left thinking, "Do women really get that resentful in their marriage? With their children?"

THEN I got it. Some of it. Being a woman is a complicated way to live. I somewhat feel for men trying to understand us when, frankly, we can confuse and perplex ourselves. I am the woman in the dentist chair running a billion worries through her mind, all in the span of one visit. My worries may not include husbands or kids, but they are worries. Going alone into this world is just as difficult sometimes.

I get resentful of people in my life, for reasons I've actually never understood. The feeling goes away pretty quick but it happens. Relationships are complicated, friendships are hard, testing the waters to try something completely new to you is just terrifying at times.

I do think a woman who is/was a wife/mother would get a bit more from this than I did but I appreciated the writing and am curious to check out more of Rechner's work.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

This was a pretty good IRL book club book. It brought a lot of people to the club and caused A LOT of good discussion.

Junger outlines essentially why we need our tribes. You can't go through this world alone, no matter what you think, and the way America is set up now, we no longer have community. I'll be the first to admit that after 18 years of living in my neighborhood, I only have talked to 3 neighbors. That's insanity when you think about it.

We delve into the past, where white people ran away to the Indian tribes (but never vice versa) and we move into soldiers returning from war who say that war time is their best time. They have brotherhood, mission, and their tribe. Peace time, home time, doesn't give them that. They get a "Thank you for your service" and people move on. Let's not even talk about how few people even realize there's still a war going on and soldiers are still fighting and dying in Afghanistan.

One of the most interesting facts regarded school shootings. There are no incidences of mass shootings in schools in urban ghetto areas. Only in white, affluent, "safe" areas. This is proof that tribes mean something. The suburban sprawl has caused kids to be more alone than ever and they lash out. Poverty, however terrible it is (and it is), creates the tribe feeling for urban kids.

Tribe is defined basically as would you lay down your life for your community? I don't mean your neighbors...I mean, your tribe. Your people. After reading this book, I thought hard about who is in my tribe, who I would die for (hopefully it won't come to that). Who is my tribe?

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Head On by John Scalzi

Guess what, folks? I started on book #2 for this series. Do I have a knack for this or what?? Thankfully, it's pretty much a standalone so I don't think I missed anything but now I really need to hunt down book #1 (Lock In).

This introduces us (me) to Haden, a disease caused by a virus that permanently shuts down a person's body but leaves their mind intact. This sounds absolutely horrifying but Haden's made it work. They have neural networks implanted in their brains that allow them to visit a digital world, where they create their own personal homes. They also walk around in threeps, robotic suits they can use just like regular bodies, while their physical body remains elsewhere.

We meet Chris Shane, a Haden who is also an FBI Agent and his partner, Agent Leslie Vann, a non-Haden. They get immediately thrown into a case of a Haden who dies while playing Hilketa. Threeps are on the playing field while the Haden controls their movements. One threep is the Goat in each play and the goal is to rip the head of the goat and get it across the line. Sounds....violent.  It's unheard of for a Haden to die during a game since it's really the threep out there being pummeled, but die Duane Chapman does.  Even more fishy? His vital data is pulled the instant he dies and scrubbed from the data feed.

I'm somewhat new to sci-fi and Scalzi is just pulling me in, kicking and not-screaming. While the premise sounds a little out there, this still had the makings of a big-body-count-buildings-destroyed-with-a-cat-named-Donut action book. I was personally rooting for Donut.

You, too, can read these books out of order like I did. It won't dampen your enjoyment of the story at all!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

This book blew my mind, melted my brain, made me crazy. All in the best possible way.

I've never encountered a book that was this twisted in on itself. I actually felt like I needed a whiteboard to work out what was happening and by whom.

We start off in the woods, in the mind of someone who only knows the name Anna. This is Dr. Sebastian Bell, a guest at Blackheath, a guest of the Hardcastles. He has no idea who he is but he sees Anna getting murdered in the woods. Racing away, for we learn that he's really a coward, he comes across Blackheath manor and, inside, the other guests know him and take him in.

Our protagonist is not really Dr. Bell. Our protagonist is the person inside Dr. Bell, who is the person inside the butler, inside Davies, inside Derby. He is jumping bodies every time he falls asleep or is knocked out. But why? To stop Evelyn Hardcastle from being murdered. He lives 8 lives in 8 days and must solve the murder before it happens each day. If he doesn't, he starts back over with day one in Dr. Bell. This sounds easy enough, yes? Except he's being pursued by a killer footman and has other rivals in the house who need to solve the murder before him. The person who solves the murder goes free.

But it's really not what you think and it's STILL not that simple. Mind. Blown.

I refuse to hand out spoilers for this book because it was such a crazy "Are you KIDDING me?" ride to the end. The author does a fantastic job at revealing what is happening to us and the protagonist. He's learning who he is and where he is right along with us and, truly, I think we all get equally confused at points.