The Incendiaries

The Incendiaries

R. O. Kwon’s book can be found on many of the year-end “best of” lists. When I kept seeing the title pop up again and again, I reserved it at the library and began reading it right away. It’s a love story of two people in passing – one on his way out of the grip of religious extremism, and another on her way in as a way of coping with the fact that while she was driving she got into an accident that killed her passenger, her mother. The book is constructed as a kind of eclipse, we see them as separate entities, we see them overlap, and then we see them coming apart again, with Will trying desperately to hold on to a woman that is heading into a universe from which he has already escaped.

You could read the description on the book jacket and be okay never reading this book. It describes what happens perfectly, and the only mystery that remains is what happens to Phoebe after the bombings organized by the North Korean cult led by John Leal, the third member of our story’s triangle.

This is yet another circumstance in which I find myself bored and baffled by a book that other people are raving about. I read all 214 pages and I felt nothing. Phoebe is a woman who is wrestling with the grief and guilt that has festered since the night of her accident. She is looking for explanations and a definition of who she is if she is in fact a murderer. She is looking for forgiveness from someone, because she will not find it from herself. And she is slowly sinking into a terrifying cult because in her time of desperation, it’s the only structure and love that she can find that makes her feel needed and loved in equal portion to the punishment she feels she deserves. I should feel something in reading this character. This is deep and emotional and heart-wrenching and yet I come away feeling nothing.

This book did not make me cry, but it should have on several occasions. So many of Will and Phoebe’s interactions should have been moments where we feel desperation, clinging, and loss – maybe a sense of emptiness, like biting into a decadent chocolate rabbit only to find that it’s hollow inside. When we feel Phoebe slipping away from Will toward John Leal, I should feel Will’s anxiety, longing, and despair. When he tries to go to the cult meetings with her to pull her out, I should feel him gasping for air, diving into a world that threatened to drown him before but that he’s willing to risk entry into in order to save the woman he loves.

This book should have grabbed my heart, wrung it out, and then thrown it on the ground. Instead I just finished it in two days and asked why I took the time to read something that unmoving. Don’t get me wrong, you should give it a try too. It was flawlessly written and the themes are very well presented. But if you’re looking for the experience of the characters and the feelings brought on by those themes, you may find yourself, like me, disappointed.

The Proposal

The Proposal

The Wedding Date

I have been thoroughly charmed by Jasmine Guillory. The Wedding Date was absolutely delightful (if a bit heavy on the sex!) and so I had to get her next book as soon as I could after it was released.

The book starts with Nikole (Nik) watching a Dodgers game with her hippie douchebag boyfriend. She’s not really into it and is looking forward to getting together with her friends later, when suddenly her name comes up on the Jumbotron (spelled incorrectly mind you) asking her to marry someone. The boyfriend sitting next to her suddenly gets down on one knee, pulls out a hideous ring, and waits for her response. She turns him down (of course, they hadn’t even been dating four months and hadn’t talked about getting married) and he storms out of the stadium.

Everything that follows links to the fact that a few rows back Carlos (the best friend and doctor from The Wedding Date) and his sister decide to run up and pretend they know Nik and save her from the oncoming cameras and attention. Sparks fly, Carlos and Nik find reasons to meet up again, and suddenly we have a relationship.

I like the feminist vibes in this particular book. The hippie douchebag sends her threatening texts so she changes her locks and signs herself and her two friends up for self-defense classes at a local gym. She works to get past the social media firestorm surrounding the event. Unlike Alexa she works from home as a freelance writer so she has more flexibility with her time.

Her relationship with Carlos is one of my favorite situations: strangers turned friends turned lovers “with no strings attached” and then one of them falls in love and creates conflict because the other one thinks it was no strings attached…until they discover they fell in love too and didn’t notice. LOVE THIS.

There’s so much more to this book, but that’s the basic info. Guillory’s writing wraps you up in a warm blanket and changes the channel to a slightly less corny than Hallmark/Lifetime channel and brings you a warm beverage to drink while you watch (or a glass of wine if you prefer). She’s even nice enough to include a decadent snack in each of her books: frosted doughnuts in The Wedding Date and cupcakes in The Proposal.

I can’t say enough about her writing. Please go get you some and enjoy.

Her third book (of what I assume is a trilogy) was just announced. The Wedding Party will be out next summer. You better believe I’ll be waiting for its arrival in my mailbox!

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Thankful Reading

A couple of weeks ago I posted a list of books that I had put on hold at the library as a result of looking at some of the best of 2018 lists.

I’ve already finished Elevation by Stephen King. Waiting at the library for me are The Incendiaries and The Great Believers, as well as Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. She also wrote Uprooted and His Majesty’s Dragon, and Spinning Silver has begun popping up on many of the best fantasy book lists for 2018.

While I’ve been on Thanksgiving break and waiting for these books to come in I’ve been reading the second book in Stephanie Garber’s Caraval series, Legendary. Caraval (#1) was dark, mysterious, and beautiful and so I wanted to see what book 2 had to offer. I’m also a sucker for books who show us women who escape convention to shape their own destinies. Waiting for me in my newly organized office is the SFF epic Dune, but I have to admit that my brain seems to be avoiding it as much as it avoided Stephen King’s The Stand for the same reasons – it’s a book I should  read but it’s fucking HUGE and right now I just want to read 300-400 page books about cool stuff.

Our Thanksgiving was pretty good. Photos of my food efforts can be found on my Twitter timeline if you’re interested. If you haven’t clicked a follow there yet please do. I’m not an influencer or anything, it’s just that sometimes I post things there that don’t get a full post here and if you’re interested in me you might be interested in that too.

I am thankful for you. Thank you for being here.

Elevation

Elevation

Stephen King has a…presence(?) on Twitter. Keeping in mind he’s a white man in his seventies from one of the whitest, most rural states in the nation, he is relatively progressive-minded and engages on the topics of the day there. He’s even been blocked by the Cheeto-in-chief himself.

He missteps a bit from time to time, his most atrocious one recently being his comments about how we need to just come together and love each other despite our differences. Twitter did not respond kindly to that tone deaf line of thinking, given that the one side that we need to come together with seems to be made up of racists, Nazis, and white supremacists. The idea that our division is fed by “disagreements” has been left in the dust of actual, literal fascism, and thinking about giving these people a hug to restore civility gave me hives and I said so. He didn’t see it, but I did.

When I reserved Elevation at the library I anticipated the usual King brick, 600 pages of horror/sci-fi to lose myself in. The librarian brought my holds out to me and I was visibly shocked to find that it was only 145 pages. I read it in an hour before I packed up to leave my Miami hotel on Saturday.

It was honestly one of the worst books by Stephen King I’ve ever read, and I still haven’t been able to make it past book 4 of the Dark Tower series.

The basic premise is that there is a man, Scott, in Castle Rock who is losing weight and not mass. His next door neighbors are a married lesbian couple who have chosen to open a vegetarian Mexican restaurant in town, which isn’t doing very well due to their sexual proclivities. They are runners, and they run past his house with their dogs, who poop on his lawn. He asks them to pick up after them, and the louder of the two basically gives him a sarcastic smile every time and tells him in not so many words to basically fuck off. Scott makes it is mission to make peace with them somehow before he hits zero weight, and he also confides in the retired doctor in town so someone knows what is happening.

Some points.

  1. King accurately described how rural Mainers would react to a pair of married “les-beans” moving into their town, but I felt like he was blaming part of their discomfort on them. One of the ladies is quite aggressive, even to the main character Scott, and so because she’s a bitch we’re led to believe that she brings about some of the anti-gay fervor. I have a problem with that depiction.
  2. King does the typical male author thing and has his main character constantly oogling the same angry lesbian. We are treated to many descriptions of her long legs and lean figure and he “can’t help but admire it.” GAG. GROSS. It really brought me out of the already weird-ass story because you could have cut those descriptions out and still had whatever this happens to be.
  3. Scott has some kind of condition that is keeping his mass constant but gravity is lessening its effect on him. So his weight is dropping but his body is staying the same size. Eventually he’ll reach zero and basically be thrown from the earth. He confides in the retired doctor in town, who helps him navigate his condition and plan for “the end.” What I don’t get is what this is supposed to prove, that we have to somehow avoid being weighted down and rise above all the petty bullshit? Sure, whatever.
  4. He runs in the Turkey Trot at Thanksgiving against the angry lesbian, who was an Olympic level runner until she broke her ankle, and almost beats her until a huge storm hits and she trips and falls in the rain. He picks her up and uses his increasing weightlessness to carry her across the finish line. This heartwarming sight saves the angry lesbian and her chef wife’s restaurant and so she stops being such a bitch to him. It’s probably not just me, but I’m not comfortable with the main character being a savior on top of oogling her. It just feels very…weird.

The hour-long read left me feeling like I had just been preached at and condescended to all at once. I am ashamed to say that I actually cried towards the end, and only because he gives his cat to the local bookstore owner to take care of when he goes “on a trip” but really it’s because the end is close and he knows it. There’s a moment where he stares long and hard at where Bill D. Cat’s food and water dish used to be and I just burst into ragged sobbing imagining what that would feel like. Then I got mad again because I feel like any story that involves pets in sad situations should have warnings at the beginning and my emotions had just been manipulated.

Like, the homophobic people only don’t like the lesbians because they are married? That fact is brought up several times along with the idea that other townspeople wished they would keep their relationship on the “DL.” And while I’m criticizing, these women didn’t explore the coast of Maine and think that maybe a full-on meatless Mexican restaurant might not survive very long? But this guy’s weird condition moving her across the line at a fucking Turkey Trot is what warms the town to their presence and business is suddenly booming? BOOOOOOOOO I say BOOOOOOOO!!!! Fucking ridiculous.

This is not a heartwarming parable about how we can overcome homophobia and Tr*mpism in rural America. This is a white, male savior story that encourages us to elevate the discussion, elevate ourselves above the hate, and come together in the end to help each other when we need it most. And it’s coming from a white, rich, old man from Maine.

An hour was more than I should have spent reading this trite nonsense. Save your own precious time and skip it. Go read something by Leigh Bardugo or Kiersten White, or even a fun romance by Jasmine Guillory instead. What a load of bullshit.

Note: If you have the strength to zoom through this in order to be angry with me, or simply out of morbid curiosity about whether it is actually as weird as I say, please come back and share your thoughts. I would love to hear what you think.

Throne of Jade (Temeraire #2)

Throne of Jade

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1)

Throne of Jade begins months after the battle at the end of His Majesty’s Dragon, with a Chinese envoy (and prince) demanding the return of Temeraire as a Chinese Celestial to the Chinese emperor. Laurence of course refuses, as does Temeraire, and so they travel with an English crew and the envoy back to China to negotiate the continuing partnership of Temeraire and Laurence.

I regret to inform you that this book was so slow and boring that it took me *checks notes* 16 days to read 338 pages. The first 100 were tense and exciting – the beginning of their journey is fraught with peril and after becoming to close to them after the first book, I felt very upset that they might be forced to part (although there being another 5 books in the series helped ease my fears a bit). But then the sea voyage that brings them to China lasts almost the entire book and it’s almost all translations and diplomacy and weather and negotiations…ugh. I finally made it to the part where they take off for Peking and Temeraire even meets his mom, but I’m so bored I don’t even care anymore.

This one is going back to the library on my way home from the Miami Book Festival and I’ll be moving on to a different set of books over Thankgiving break. Honestly I’m really disappointed, I thought this would be a series I could really get into after loving the first book so much. *sadface*

Most Wonderful Time

October, November, and December make up my favorite quarter of the year for a multitude of reasons, one of which is that it is “best of” list season. This weekend I’ve been googling different Best of 2018 book lists and scanning through them for any I might have missed and confirming that I have read some that are being celebrated.

I have had my library holds list under control for the last couple of months but now it’s got some new additions.

Elevation

 

Stephen King got me earlier this year with The Outsider and when I saw that he had a second new release this year I decided to trust in my newfound fandom of his work and request it in at the library.

Synopsis

I’m always ready for a trip back to Castle Rock, let’s gooooo!

 

The Incendiaries

 

The Incendiaries is a book that kept popping up all year in my literary circles, and when I saw it on the lists I said “fine, I’ll try it.”

Synopsis

I am intrigued by the love story wrapped up in grief wrapped up in fundamentalist religion bullshit, I’m just hoping it doesn’t make me cringe too much. It’s difficult to read stories about people making bad emotional decisions and avoid armchair quarterbacking out of context.

 

The House of Impossible Beauties

 

Set in the drag scene of 1980s New York, this is a book that kept peeking at me on Twitter all year and with week long school breaks just around the corner, I decided I could finally give it the time it deserves.

Synopsis

I find drag fascinating and I still have so much to learn about it. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

 

 

The Great Believers
A 2018 National Book Award finalist, The Great Believers wasn’t on my radar until this morning. It has been on every list I’ve looked at in addition to this award nomination so it must be one I need to see.

Synopsis

Here we’re in 1980s Chicago (not sure why there’s a 1980s trend in literature…) and the story is woven in with the AIDS crisis. It is a much more serious book than I usually read, but if it’s as good as they say, I want to experience it.

 

There There

This is another book that has been screaming at me since the beginning of this year. I knew There There was out there but I just never picked it up. It is time.

Synopsis

This novel explores a variety of Native American experiences in urban settings. To be honest I wish there was more fiction that centered around these experiences. I feel like America forgets about its first peoples more than they should. Every time I read someone’s view of this book they are shouting that people should read it, that it really is as good as everyone says, and that it should be required reading for all Americans. Well, I’m on it.

What are some books you are excited about this holiday season? Are there any you’ve been meaning to read but haven’t yet? Do you have any suggestions for me? Let me know in the comments!

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

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Let it be known that Kiersten White can do no wrong in my eyes and has earned that privilege through her absolutely spectacular writing and storytelling. I will recommend her books to anyone looking for something to read because I am sure that they will enjoy her books.

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein tells the story of Victor Frankenstein through the eyes of his family’s adopted ward, Elizabeth Lavenza. They adopt her from a foster home to be a friend and companion to their son Victor. He has strange moods and falls into fevers, and in order to survive Elizabeth learns how to act and perform to satisfy his parents and keep him calm.

Anyone that has ever been in a relationship with a volatile personality knows the slow eclipse that darkens their personality in favor of the happiness and stability of the volatile partner. Years of mincing words and actions to preserve the peace creates a woman who forgets who she is outside of the shadow of the man she is yoked to. For strong, independent women who take no guff this might be hard to imagine, but an inescapable situation can create survival instincts that demean even the best of girls.

Maybe if I don’t ask so many questions.

Maybe if I do more around the house.

Maybe if I don’t get so emotional.

And suddenly all of his actions become blame-able on you because YOU didn’t do enough to avoid them because you should have known better. You understand how he works. You’ll do better next time.

The organization and planning it takes to keep a volatile man from exploding is truly exhausting. The tasks you take on because he gets so frustrated doing them that he lashes out so it’s just easier for you to do them to avoid  the confrontation. You don’t communicate your frustrations because he feels attacked and then starts a fight with you and then you end up apologizing for bothering him with your needs because the results of the fight over you bothering him were worse than the daily issues you were attempting to discuss. All of your energy goes to keeping him under control instead of into making the relationship stronger and then you realize you are trapped and under HIS control and getting out from under that kind of situation is next to impossible, as Elizabeth finds in this novel. Her “support” of his endeavors only causes him to become the real monster in the story.

I cannot think of a more appropriate time for White’s book to have been released into the world than in the midst of the #metoo movement, in the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings, and during this moment where women are demanding that men deal with their own emotions and take responsibility for their own actions. We’re not going to take the blame anymore. We’re not going to bear the brunt of your anger, your lack of control, your issues. YOU need to handle your business. WE are not your mothers or your therapists. WE want to be partners, not managers. What we wear, say, and do doesn’t give you the right to be physical with us. We have the right to stand up for ourselves, and if that makes you angry it’s up to YOU to hold yourself back from hitting us, we don’t make you do it.

This book is a slow burn where we see Elizabeth do what’s necessary to survive. She chases Victor around Europe to save him from himself because she sees him as the only person who can keep her safe and she’s the only person she believes can keep him safe from himself. Eventually she realizes how her overprotective actions allowed Victor to assume he had her permission to create things that she would have never condoned had she known exactly what he was up to. His insanity is only revealed once she realizes her own agency, and she fights to figure out a way that she can escape and be her own person.

All of Kiersten White’s books that I have read so far have the Angry Angel Books stamp of approval and you should go get them right away because to read them is to avoid missing out on a singular genius. White makes stories we are all familiar with into stories we can relate to, love, and return to reread again and again. Go get you some.