Finders Keepers

finders-keepersThis being a middle child I decided to just list my observations. The central plot of the book is that a famous author gets murdered and his money and manuscripts are stolen and hidden by the murderer who is arrested for something unrelated. In present day the trunk and its contents are unearthed by a young boy whose family is struggling through the recent recession and as a result of the Mr. Mercedes attack. The murderer and the boy are slowly brought together and the results are pretty fantastic. Here are some points for thought.

  1. This story bounces back and forth between past and present for a while and introduces a new villain with connections to our characters in the present. Seeing past move to meet the present was very satisfying, and I’ll just leave it at that.
  2. There’s some casual prison rape that is thankfully not described in as great a detail as the murders that take place. Thank you Mr. King for small blessings.
  3. I am dubious about the connection drawn here to the characters from the first book. It was a wonderful story but it had to stretch awfully far to connect to our Jerome, Holly, and Bill from Mr. Mercedes. I mean, hooray they are here and I love them (!) but this was one of those convenient plot points that rub me the wrong way sometimes. Like this could have been its own completely separate book without the rest of the trilogy. Maybe in the third book the connections necessary from this book will become evident as the snowball gets bigger with allies as it rolls along.
  4. I love how realistic a lot of it was. Morris’ parole procedures and oversight. The sketchy book dealer. How a young kid would handle finding the trunk and supporting his family (more kids than we know do this, but with jobs rather than finding an antique trunk). Also how King deals with the mind of a psychopath or murderer is probably more real than any of us care to know. In this book I was like HOLY SHIT WHAT THAT JUST HAPPENED!!! but then I thought, well of course it did, this guy is a crazy-ass mother fucker why should writing make him into anything else?
  5. These books really take us back to when the economy shit the bed, and having been affected by it myself it had been bringing back memories that I almost would have rather just forgotten completely. I think the fact that most of King’s CONSTANT READERS will have lived through this time is an added “horror” to the words on the page. We can see ourselves there, making the decisions that this family made, experiencing similar circumstances. It’s not real enough to invoke the popular “TOO SOON” but it’s damn close.
  6. Throughout the book we notice that Bill Hodges is visiting the Mercedes Killer in the hospital and strange things are happening, and his last visit reveals to us the reader some new abilities that Brady has picked up in his vegetative state. We’ll see how he uses them in End of Watch.

I think this story was more well crafted and less jerky than Mr. Mercedes and you could get away with reading it as a standalone without either of the other two books. And you should, because it’s really, really amazing and thrilling. I don’t know how the next book could be better, but I guess I’ll find out.

PS: I want to know how much money he gets for the number of times he writes “Mercedes” and “Moleskine notebooks”

 

Mr. Mercedes

mrmercedesI grew up in Maine. Stephen King was the commencement speaker at my undergraduate graduation from The University of Maine. He is one of the first things you think of when you think “what famous people or things have come out of Maine”? Lobster, L.L. Bean, and Stephen King. Oh and Paul Lepage but I said famous, not infamous.

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I have read many of King’s books. I finally made it through The Stand two or three summers ago. I’ve started The Dark Tower series what feels like a million times now (when I was little it was just a trilogy, now it’s a finished eight book series and I get to look forward to Idris Elba in the main role on tv *squee!*) and someday I’ll be able to read through the entire thing. His books are either devoured by me immediately or I go back and forth, but whenever I have trouble getting through one, it’s just not the right time or I’m not in the right place. I’ll read them all eventually.

So when Samantha Irby, the sassy bitch who eats and reads, suggested End of Watch of course I grabbed it on my library holds list, but having been on a King hiatus, it was good that she quickly informed me that it was 3 of 3 in a trilogy, and that I would need the other two first. And so we begin in a very good place to start: the very beginning.

Mr Mercedes is definitely a psychopath, there is no doubt about that. He’s the kind of character that makes you think twice about the ice cream man or your local Geek Squad guy that you invite into your home to help with electronics. The first “family” scene made me cringe and hurry into the next section. Our antagonist is definitely a convincing crazy murderer, and the crime at the center of our story is a large crowd of people having been mown down by a mystery man in a Mercedes. We meet Bill Hodges, a retired cop who never caught the Mercedes Killer, but is drawn back in when he is contacted by the killer himself. With the help of his tech savvy neighbor/gardener and the sister of one of the Killer’s victims we go on a cat and mouse chase , watching the two get ever closer to their showdown.

If you have a weak stomach beware, there are some…queasy scenes. Also this gets very psychological at times, and one particular part made me actually think “you know, that’s probably the best way that could have happened” and it is still HORRIFYING. I loved watching Hodges rediscover his love of a mystery and the thrill of the hunt; his sidekicks are a welcome addition to that hunt. What I think I loved most of all is something that I have loved about every King novel I have ever read: the feeling of accelerating towards the end of the book. When I reached the final section, I could not put the book down. I couldn’t read it fast enough. I think I yelled at my husband for talking to me because I’M IN THE MIDDLE OF SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT HERE didn’t he understand that I was trying to stop a murderer? There is something about a Stephen King novels that says “if you stop reading all the terrible things you are hoping won’t happen will and it will be on YOU.” Well I’m not going to be held responsible for that, MUST READ FASTER!

The ending was nicely tied up so I’m wondering about the connections that will be made in the second book, but I am also looking forward to them. I am excited to spend more time with Holly, Jerome, and Bill to see where they go next together.

Doctor Strange

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Oh man do I love me some Bandybars Candycorn. From Star Trek to Sherlock I will go watch just about everything he is in. He’s multifaceted, he’s brilliant, and watching him act is watching a work of art come to life right in front of you. I wish we could have seen him live while we were in London, but his Hamlet had already left the theaters.

I also enjoy the Marvel movies. Wait…let me qualify: I like the initial Marvel movies, the first ones of each series. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Avengers – all the non sequels are excellent. I was nervous about this movie though, because Doctor Strange is a little off the beaten path for most fans, but he’s necessary to the Infinity Gauntlet storyline leading up to the Infinity War movies so, here we go.

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Once you get past Butterball Clickerflick being a rich egomaniac who drives distracted and basically ruins his career, we see him get to become a real boy with empathy under the tutelage of Tilda Swinton, who is actually pretty hilarious for being a terrifying white lady. He learns to use magic through two finger brass knuckles and uses his amazing intelligence to read all the things and almost mess up some stuff by sniffing too far into things that have created the nemesis they are fighting.

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Shout out to Hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com

It’s basically a movie about a magical Iron Man: the intelligence and cockiness without the high tech inventor skills, but also finding a way to hold onto his attitude while using it for good instead of assholery. Even the cape offers some levity, I think I laughed harder at the cape than anything else in the movie.

The ending is good, and there are two credits scenes, one at the beginning and one at the end. It was an enjoyable movie, but I left at the end feeling the weariness that comes from seeing the same formula, the same story, the same shit over and over.  How many Spidermen are we going to have to sit through before they get it right? Do we really need more Thor movies? What happens when this is all over? What will be the next money grab, the next multiverse of movies and sequels? J.K. Rowling is already trying to get that cash with this new Fantastic Beasts thing (5 more of them? FIVE?) and I’m just not about that life.

Despite all that it was a fun movie, and I was glad I went to see it. This Thanksgiving season when you need to get out of the house, let Benedict Cumberbatch entertain you for a couple of hours. We have tough times ahead, take your joy where you can find it.

The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes LastThings you should know about this book before entering.

  1. It is very sexual. You wouldn’t think it would be from the way it begins, but suddenly everything revolves around sex and it was a little off-putting.
  2. Atwood doesn’t take you where you expect to go, that’s for sure. It feels very Stepford-esque, and I mean we all know that signing up for this project is a bad idea when we hear about it because OF COURSE it is. But it ends up that it’s not about that. Not even close.
  3. We only see things from the perspective of our two main characters, Stan and Charmaine. If they don’t see it, think it, or experience it, we don’t know about it. So the little we do know comes in through the periphery. I found this disappointing. I wanted to know more, not just hints and possibilities. A lot is left to your imagination and maybe it’s just our current climate but I don’t the mental space to imagine the horrors of this scenario when there are so many I am currently living in real life.
  4. The ending is…ugh, I don’t know. Like, I suspected it? But if that’s the lesson? I just, I don’t know. It was so sexual and obscene most of the time that I was like, “okay, whatever” at the end.

When you feel ready, read A Handmaid’s Tale instead. This book was just meh. Another instance of “I’m glad I read it but I wouldn’t have missed it if I hadn’t.”

Ready Player One

ready-player-oneThis past week I picked up 17 books from the library when all my holds came in at once, but when I combined my need to concentrate on a book for more than ten minutes with the overwhelming fog and depression resulting from the election, I found my way through Homegoing but I haven’t quite made it through the next one. So today we have a short but sweet review of a book that unexpectedly caught my imagination last year.

My husband and I subscribe to Loot Crate and one of the boxes we got came with this book. The other half doesn’t read fiction all that much unless it is in comic book form, so this came to me. Ernest Cline crafts the story of a futuristic world, but not the Jetsons’ kind of futuristic. More like a “we used up all the resources and scorched the Earth and now we have to live in giant trailer skyscrapers that save space” kind of futuristic. Most interactions occur within the OASIS, a virtual reality universe. All children have access to the OASIS in order to attend public school and are provided with the headset to allow them to do so. There is a special, very stable currency used in this reality. When the creator of this universe dies and leaves his fortune to the winner of a challenge in his will, the search begins for an Easter Egg within the game, within the virtual reality. Our VERY poor main character goes on a quest for fame, fortune, and survival throughout the OASIS with many new friends to help him.

This is a true underdog story that might hit a little close to home, but its celebration of intelligence and pluck over pure greed and ambition is the feel good story that you may want to sit down with as soon as possible. There is even an exciting twist! And video games! And good vs. evil! And dystopian futures!

Just go read it. You won’t be sorry, I promise.

Homegoing

homegoing
Fire and water and history.

Everyone around me was singing the praises of this book. I have been waiting since mid-August for it to be my turn on the library holds list, and when I went to pick up holds that had already come in, the angel person that was checking them all out for me said “one more just came in! Hot off the presses!” and she went to the back room to retrieve it.

At the beginning of the book there is a family tree. You will want to take a picture of this with your cell phone or print one out to keep as you read. We follow the descendants of two Ghanaian sisters, alternating between the two branches as we are led through not only the personal history of the family, but also world history. One sister is sold into slavery in America, and her branch stretches through black history in America. The other is married to a white, British governor on the Gold Coast and her branch remains in Ghana and we are led through the tribal and political history of Ghana until the very end, when we see a couple move to America but their daughter feels a call to return to Ghana.

There is also a fair sense of mysticism here, which I feel cannot be ignored when considering connections to Africa. The “matriarch” of our story escapes a village by setting a fire, leaving Effia there to be cared for by the father and his other wives. Effia’s descendants dream of fire, one in particular to disastrous consequences. The village the mom becomes a part of afterwards gets raided and her second daughter Esi is stolen and stored in the basement of the governor’s mansion on the Gold Coast (her sister just above married to the governor) and is sent, pregnant as a result of a rape of the soldiers guarding her cell, on a slave ship to America – her descendants afraid of water.

You should read this book for so many reasons. First, the history of a black family struggling in America is personalized and it took even me to places I hadn’t known existed. Second, the story of these two women and their families will keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. There were several moments when I needed to look at the family tree I had printed out to remind me that everything was going to be okay, that another descendant would be in the next chapter, and not to worry. But maybe the most important reason to read this book is that it will give you a glimpse of African culture, family values, politics, and history as it exists in Ghana. Too many Americans refer to Africa as though it is all one country and continent, like Australia, but it is a shame that we do not appreciate and understand how each of the regions and countries in Africa have grown, changed, found independence (or not), and developed. It’s a small peek, but it is a highly interesting one. I felt the same way about Adiche’s Americanah, only that time I glimpsed Nigeria. There is so much literature out there that can transport you to the countries of Africa through the voices of her children, and you should seek those voices out.

Go listen to Yaa Gyasi’s voice in Homecoming. She will help you travel through time, bring you some comfort and understanding, and remind you that it doesn’t stop where her book ends. There is still work to do, understanding to achieve, and journeys to take.

***
~Personal note~

I purposefully dog-eared a page in this book because the quote hit me so hard that I had to make sure to share it. In the six days since the world was shaken to its core by our election I have seen well-intentioned white people scramble to find the right things to do, the right things to say. I have seen white people attack black people online because their paltry attempts at support were called into question by those most in need of support and assistance. I have seen white people change their profile pictures to safety pins instead of rainbows or black lives matter, all the while missing the point that I wrote about last week and will reiterate right now: Recognize your privilege, whatever it may be, and use it for good, to help others and not to hide until they come for you. And please trust me when I say that if you are not rich, white, and male they will come for you. The quote below made me think of all the white fragility out there that screams that what they think is right, their symbols and signs and opinions, when in the end we will all need each other to survive this. Let us remember that as we head towards the mine…

Occasionally one of the wardens would bring in a white third-class man. The new prisoner would be chained to a black man, and for the first few minutes all that white prisoner would do was complain. He’d say that he was better than the niggers. He’d beg his white brothers, the wardens, to have mercy on him, spare him from the shame of it all. He’d curse and cry and carry on. And then they would have to go down into the mine, and that white convict would soon learn that if he wanted to live, he would have to put his faith in a black man. – Yaa Gyasi, Homecoming

Lily and the Octopus

lily-octopus

**This review is in two parts. Part 1 was written seconds after finishing the book. Part 2 was written 2 days later, when my despair had abated and reason and sense came back to me. This ended up being kind of long, but I needed to write it because this book needs a warning label and this two part review is it. Please enjoy both.**

PART ONE

Sometimes, when my depression wraps around my face like a fashionable scarf in the early darkness of the evening while I am trying to sleep, it plays movies for me. One of the worst ones is a collection of short stories of all the different ways I would have to say goodbye to my cat, Chloe. I’m choking back tears right now just writing this. It’s a loss I’m not ready to bear and I’m not sure how I will bear it when it happens someday – I have time, she’s in excellent health – so when I read the first chapter of this book my depression slid silkily around my neck, squeezed a bit and whispered “are you ssssuuurrrre?”

Some good writing requires bravery to read. Your own anxieties, fears, and sorrow might make you miss out on a fantastic piece of writing. The book holds them up for you and you take deep breaths and hope that, like a rollercoaster or a haunted house, you might come out on the other side breathless and thankful and begging for another go. This book, for better or for worse, is an experience I do not want to have again.

Steven Rowley captures my trepidation at leaving my pets anywhere with anyone else, no matter how trustworthy. Of making a decision in a vet’s office that weighs expense with life. The excitement when they do something they just do normally but you need them to do it and you call them the smartest little bean in the whole wide world. He also reminded me to listen when they are ready, even if I am not.

Rowley tortured me in the last 50 pages or so. I literally howled with sorrow (and yes, I am using literally correctly here and not for dramatic effect), my shirt was soaked with tears. He opened the door to an event that I have never witnessed but will need to someday, and I am not entirely sure that I am thankful for it. The writing is so vivid it was like I was there. I knew this book would be sad when I read the jacket. I was not prepared for it to leave me broken. It was like when I rented Marley and Me thinking it would be a cute dog movie. WHY DOGE MUCH SAD VERY CRYING WOW.

Speaking of the book jacket, it also says:

“Remember the last book you told someone they had to read? Lily and the Octopus is the next one.”

I’m not sure I agree. Reading this book was a choice I made, and you are free to make your own decision. This is a beautiful book about a love as deep as the ocean, as true as the heart of a knight, but it is deep sadness in book form. I will say that this is a book that you should read, but only if you are ready to handle where it will take you. If you have recently lost a pet, if the loss of a pet is raw in any way in your system, you may want to wait on this one. It is real. It does not beat around the bush. Lily and the Octopus is an amazing book that is not fucking around.

PART TWO

I read this book two days ago. The day I read it it was like I had held his dog in my hands and watched it pass away. The writing was vivid and I loved the idea of softening cancer by calling it an octopus and creating a battle in which the man tries to save his dog. But then it dawned on me: this was a terrible book, and I was furious with the author for abusing me with his words.

Let me explain.

First, I am uncomfortable with the idea that a man in his forties would be so out of touch with reality that he would hallucinate an octopus on the head of his dog and talk to it. I mean, I talk to my dogs and hope that they understand, but our main character has an…unhealthy relationship with his dog. The author tries to disguise this with things all pet owners can relate to, but it goes deeper in this book.

Secondly, now that I have calmed down, I’m having trouble thinking back and knowing what was real and what wasn’t. I mean, obviously the boat trip to hunt the octopus was a dream, but did he actually go buy an octopus at a fish market and bring it home to slice up in front of the tumor to scare it off his dog’s head? Is this book about grief and love or mental illness? I mean, I’m willing to get behind it either way but I feel like we need to decide. Granted grief can feel like mental instability, but the actions taken in this book are just so bizarre.

Third, and probably most importantly, is the delivery of the story. When I was trying to think of how to critique this part I kept thinking back to the movie Big Fish.

big-fish Big Fish was a movie about a father in failing health and his son. Their relationship is strained because the son feels like all the stories his father tells about his life are made up and he feels like if his father loved him he would tell him the truth. In true Tim Burton style we are led through a trippy history as the son researches his dad’s claims and in the end we discover that truth is at the center and his dad’s perceptions are what make the truth fantastical. If you are going to write a story about an octopus that you fight for your dog’s life you can’t switch to a graphically detailed description of the final trip to the vet where we can hear the movement of the syringes as they inject the drugs into the dog. This was just terribly done. It was jarring. It was traumatizing. When I finished the book I had feelings that would generally prompt me to call a crisis hotline. I had been assaulted. I was sad at the end of the movie Big Fish, but the story was told so beautifully that my sadness did not feel violent, it felt finalized, natural. I felt sad at the end of this book not only because the dog died, but because we had lost the battle with the octopus. It wasn’t just a natural thing that dogs get sick, it was a failure to exact revenge, a failure to save a loved one.

Lastly, the graphic description of watching our favorite thing in the world slip slowly away from us wasn’t even the worst part of this fucking book. The worst part of this fucking book is this veiled  under plot that involves the main character’s dating and family life. We see him rush to San Francisco to attend his sister’s elopement while Lily undergoes spinal surgery ($6,0000!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! <–there aren’t enough exclamation points for this). We learn about a past relationship that ended and he still pines for a bit(?). We are meant to kind of assume that this is because he is gay, but he actually has some pretty supportive friends and is dating pretty consistently. The inclusion of his interaction with humans is so unnecessary that if I hadn’t been violently sobbing I would have been screaming “WHO CARES ABOUT YOU GOING HOME TO VISIT YOUR MOM.”

It is unfair to compare this book to “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein.

racing-in-the-rainGarth Stein himself shouldn’t have commented on Rowley’s book at all. I read Stein’s book and it made me sad but without ripping my heart out and tearing it into little pieces and then throwing it in the ocean. It pays homage to the sorrow attached to losing a pet but it then gives you comfort and hope. So SKIP THIS BOOK. PLEASE. TAKE MY ADVICE AND DON’T LET CURIOSITY TEMPT YOU. Go read The Art of Racing in the Rain instead, because it’s what this book wanted to be but failed miserably at achieving.