In The Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1)

I have been enjoying mystery/thrillers lately and In The Woods by Tana French kept popping up on the lists of best police procedural mysteries so I placed that hold at the library.

The buddy cops Rob and Cassie are super adorable and I loved them immediately. Watching their banter and interactions made me laugh out loud more than once, and it was refreshing to see a true male/female friendship in a book that had no romantic undertones at all. It was more like a sister/brother dynamic if I had to compare it to anything at all, but really they were best friends and good partners.

Aaaand that’s where what I liked about this book ends. It wasn’t enough to keep me reading to the end, which disappointed me because I was hoping to get into this series. Everything took forever to do, almost half the book was just walking around a small Irish town talking to people and it was boooorrrrrriiiiiiing. When I got close to halfway and I realized I didn’t care about the story or what was happening, liking the two main characters wasn’t going to be enough to make me keep reading about the boring things they were doing. This was a did not finish and I was glad to put it down.

I think that Louisa Luna has ruined me for all other police procedurals, so I’ll take the next Alice Vega novel now, thanks. 🙂 But Into the Woods should be skipped. Go read Two Girls Down or The Janes instead if you haven’t yet.

Where the Crawdads Sing

Every once in awhile I read a book that is so beautiful, so well written, and so personal that I want to recommend it to everyone I meet. It’s the kind of book that is difficult to explain why you should read it, and all that comes out is a garble of “just read it, TRUST ME!” Well, my friends, Where the Crawdads Sing is one of those books.

The solitude of the main character Kya is what makes this book absolutely heart-wrenching. People help her along the way (and discriminate against her ruthlessly) but from child to old woman she is essentially alone and how she navigates that life is the lifeblood of this story. Watching her try to survive in the marsh as her family leaves her one by one, first her mother, then her siblings, and finally her father; seeing the few people who know what her situation is but don’t turn her in to the social services and instead help her survive – I didn’t know I was holding my breath through the entire first half of the book because even I didn’t want her to lose her marsh, her wildlands, her seagulls.

I was inspired by how she made a life out of nothing and how she found joy without other people. My heart broke for her when she trusted and saw that trust betrayed. I was furious when her naivete was taken advantage of. Despite all the bad, Kya finds joy in her simple life and it is a good lesson to receive from such a good book.

I haven’t come across many books about “white trash” in my reading, and so many aspects of Kya’s experience hit home for me, more than I want to admit. This book made me cry several times, not only because the story was powerful but because I remembered feeling what Kya was feeling in relationship to the larger world and the dangers it holds.

This book is powerful in an era where we are increasingly talking about how we need to understand each other better and do away with discrimination and oppression. And from an educator’s standpoint, Kya is an extreme example of the need to meet children where they are so they can learn in the way that is best for them, and I wish that we could teach all poor and secluded children the way Kya was taught. There are a multitude of themes to be discussed while reading and this would make an amazing book club pick in 2020.

If you are a woman, you need to read this book. If you are a man who loves a damaged woman, you need to read this book. If you haven’t already, please, go read this book. TRUST ME.

Chosen Ones

I have only read the first book of the Divergent series (and seen the movie) so I had no prior allegiance (LOL) to Veronica Roth. Since I did enjoy her storytelling in Divergent, I decided to pick up her first foray into the world of adult fiction and give it a shot.

I liked the concept of seeing how chosen ones live after they’ve defeated the big bad dude. The aftermath, the PTSD, the coping mechanisms, all were on full display in the group of chosen ones that we follow. Drinking, pretending, brave facing, adrenaline junkie-ing – it’s all here ten years later.

Where I feel like this book fell apart was in the execution of magic. How it was found and used, there is an entire history here that we miss because we weren’t there for the initial event. We get it in drips and drabs through chapters that are top secret documents we are privy to that document how things went down ten years ago, but I felt like it was a lot of exposition that couldn’t really be included in the action of the story because, well, the story was ten years later.

It would have been neat if there had been a duology or trilogy of YA novels that covered how they won as teenagers first, and then this book that is more adult that’s more of a “where are they now” kind of expose’. But that’s a lot of writing and not the point.

I don’t want to spoil anything for you, so I’ll keep my last criticism brief: The love stories. Something I bring up a lot here at Angry Angel Books is that not everything has to be a love story. People can just be friends. They don’t have to have sex and googly eye at each other. And where the second half of this book fell apart for me was the rebound relationship that our MC Sloane has after breaking off her ten year relationship (and engagement) with her fellow chosen one Matt. Roth wants me to believe this is an immediate love connection and it’s real thin. Everything about this new guy and the chosen ones’ new circumstances felt so out of left field and unbelievable that I almost didn’t finish the book. Again, I think a lack of history that had to somehow get woven in through exposition via documents and history books and articles make this a skeleton that had no meat on the bones. Even the villain(s) was(were) kind of boring and unimpressive.

The ending was not well handled, and again keep in mind that I almost just put this one down and didn’t finish. I think as a whole it was a good idea, a cool concept, but it somehow needed more than 400 pages of a hardcover to accomplish that. I almost wish this had been a duology: the first book a more fleshed out version of the first half of this book that ends in the cliffhanger of [spoiler], then the second book is the second half, again, better fleshed out and more room for expansion, character development, and a satisfying ending because we are now invested in this world and its people.

I’d have to say skip this one. It was okay but if you have other choices for summer reads go try those.

The Janes (Alice Vega #2)

Two Girls Down (Alice Vega #1)

Alex Vega and Max Caplan are back for this Southwest human trafficking adventure! Two Jane Does are discovered in southern California, and the police department there hires Alex Caplan to investigate because they want to keep it off the radar to assist the DEA in their ongoing drug trafficking investigation. She of course calls in her partner Max Caplan, who is so lovesick agrees immediately even though his most recent job just offered him salary and benefits to come on as a full time investigator at their law firm.

This book starts a LOT faster than Two Girls Down and I was very thankful for that. Luna is a talented storyteller and for these kinds of thrillers I just needed her to get straight to the action. Corrupt cops and drug kingpins and human trafficking of children for sex dungeons – there is a lot going on here. And if you think you know where it’s going, you don’t. It’s what makes this book so fucking amazing.

I have to admit that at the start the way Caplan fawns over Vega, even creepily looking in on her through the blinds of her hotel room, kind of hit me the wrong way. It didn’t seem endearing, it felt like it was kind of dancing on the line between lovesick and obsessed and it made me uncomfortable. He’s got some boundaries though, and never acts on anything, so that’s something. I just feel like the way he was written early on kind of soured my view of how cool he was from the first book.

Eventually that resolves so it isn’t a major focus and we’re off to the races. This book has so many layers and every time I peeled one back I was shocked (and a little terrified) to find the next one. I devoured this book, I didn’t want to stop reading. It’s the first book I’ve taken in to read before bed in a long time because I had to squeeze just one more chapter in before I fell asleep.

You don’t have to read Two Girls Down before this one, but if you want to feel invested in the character development between Vega and Cap and Nell and the Bastard, you’ll want to read it first. You won’t mind though, they are both spectacular. Go get you some.

Wow, No Thank You

Wow No Thank You

New York Times review

Entertainment Weekly

Kirkus Reviews

There isn’t a lot to say about Samantha Irby’s new set of essays that hasn’t already been said by a lot of people smarter and more highly paid than me. I think that when I read her work, I see a life that is possible. Inherent permission to live a life that is unapologetic, that is focused on the true self and pursuing what makes that actual self happy (or at least less miserable). People focus so much on the things that we should to or are supposed to do, but they never realize that most of the time they don’t need someone’s permission to choose to do something else.

I also appreciate that Irby weaves in the obstacles and problems with the search for such a life in with humor and sarcasm. We’re all laughing and crying because, for the most part, women have experienced a lot of these struggles before. I would give literally anything to have my doctor agree to microwave my uterus so I don’t have to dread having another IUD inserted in 2021. I am not using it and all it gives me is despair, if you will not remove it please kill it and save us all the trouble.

I worry though that these high paid people, people smarter and higher up than me feel like they are vacationing in someone else’s life, which is basically what anyone does when they read a memoir sure. What I mean is that unless you’ve experienced poverty, a landlord that basically fucks with you, HUNGER, anything that Irby jauntily floats us all through with humor and self-deprecation, you’re not hearing the fear, the desperation, and the relief in a lot of these essays. A few of the above linked reviews talk about how these essays feel different. When I read that, I balked at it because it was almost like they were saying she wasn’t struggling enough to be as edgy as she was in the past. This most recent collection feels different because life feels a lot different when you don’t have to constantly worry about getting kicked out of your apartment and are getting proper healthcare and enough to eat. Life feels different when you have people around that love and support you and that you can love and support in return.

Irby’s books are a journey to this stability, and each collection of essays feels different because each one brings us closer to what every poor kid wishes for themselves and others: seeing that Irby is going to be okay. Does she still have health problems and other issues that we love to hear her complain about? Sure, but I feel a lot better reading them knowing that at the core of them, she’s relatively safe and happy. I can’t wait to hear more and will be preordering book 4. Wow, yes thank you. 🙂

Risky Business

Risky Business

Woman is hurt by man, pregnant by him, leaves to start a new life with child someplace else, devotes her entire world to her child’s happiness and has locked her heart away, never to trust to love again. Builds a business from the ground up and 10 years later she hires a dude that was into the wrong stuff and he gets killed. His twin brother comes to town to collect his body and find answers to what happened, gets involved with woman while investigating and we’re off to the races.

This book was originally published in the ’80s and it shows. I love Nora Roberts, and this story is pretty solid except for how quickly Jonas forces himself on Liz. He’s pushing her into doors and corners and walls and kissing her within like 24 hours of meeting her, which to my year 2020 dark timeline mind felt…bad. She’s attacked by the murderer because they think she knows where all the missing money is, and Jonas immediately demands to follow her everywhere to protect her. It’s 100% a product of its time so I tried to read around that, which was difficult for a romance novel. The cringey stuff was at the beginning when they weren’t *finger quotes*in love*finger quotes* but once she’s into him it felt a little better but not a lot.

The murder mystery was really cool. I’ve always loved Roberts’ stories around the sexy times. I chose this one to read because Roberts is familiar and a regular go to for me and I needed a comfort read, plus it was already on my Kindle. In the future, though, I think I’m going to need to seek out recent Roberts to avoid the cringe in the overly forceful contact. I mean, if I’m going to read a romance I might as well enjoy the intimate scenes too, and this one just didn’t hit those notes for me. Overall I think I would recommend that you skip this one and find something she’s published maybe after 2010.

The Kingdom of Back

The Kingdom of Back

I truly enjoyed Marie Lu’s reimagining of the fairy tales in her Lunar Chronicles series, so when I saw that she was writing a Mozart story from the perspective of his sister I was intrigued. History never treats women artists as well as their male counterparts, and historians wonder if Nannerl was the more talented Mozart.

I take no pleasure in saying that this book is a failure of world building and character development. I wanted to care about what was going on, but it was all so…I’m not sure the best word to describe it…maybe monotone? Nannerl imagines the Kingdom of Back, which is a backwards version of her real world. There is a princeling who is trying to win his throne back and he offers her a chance to compose in a special notebook if she’ll help him regain his kingdom.

The Kingdom was supposed to be magical and mysterious but it was so obviously her imagination that it was hard to believe that it was a parallel universe, which I think was the intention? And where were the stakes? There’s no impending marriage for her to escape, no other duties, even her father encourages her playing (not composing though) so that she and her younger brother can earn money and patronage for the family. She wants to compose, her own desire is the only driving force and maybe this will lose me my feminist pin but that wasn’t enough to keep me reading. I must compose or die! isn’t a compelling story mover.

Really Nannerl’s drive is “I want to never be forgotten” but even that is…well we’re all going to be forgotten and that’s something that you learn as you grow and accepting it is part of the maturing process. Having already accepted this, it was next to impossible to feel for a teenager from another era altogether who imagines another realm that helps her while she is trying to become famous. The entire story just felt shallow and selfish, which I’m usually okay with but here it was just boring.

I put it down about halfway through. I’d rather go pick up Lu’s other, better works. If you like fantasy, go find something else. I’d skip this one unless you can get it at your local library, then why not. See if it’s for you. But don’t put your money out on it.

Here and Now and Then

Here and Now and Then

A pandemic is the perfect time for my stay -at-home self to catch up on all the 2019 books I didn’t have time or energy to read. Luckily I was able to get three such books out of the library before I locked the husband and I down in the house with weeks of food and (thankfully) toilet paper. Coming off the enjoyable read Recursion by Blake Crouch, I decided to start with the time travel story in the stack.

Mike Chen starts off his book with a bang. We immediately understand that Kin Stewart is a time traveler cop who deals with time traveling criminals – he’s wrestling with one and gets shot. His equipment is damaged, which means they cannot retrieve him and bring him back to the future. So he’s stuck until someone finds him, and then the problems really start.

He’s not supposed to form attachments, but he meets a woman and gets married and gets a dog and has a daughter – all against the rules of a time travel agent. He’s stuck in the past for 18 years before he’s found by a retrieval agent, who makes the arrangements for the jump home. In the future though, its only been a week, and when he returns he tries to manage his family in the past while also reacclimating to his fiancee and friends and job in the future. Spoiler alert: this mix doesn’t go well.

The book goes 100 mph until it screeches to a halt when Kin’s efforts to help his daughter have a better future creates a HUGE alarm in the time travel company. She has created a video game based on one of his journals that basically lays all the company’s secrets bare. He has to return to the past one last time to save her from being erased, helped by his future fiancee Penny and his retrieval agent Markus. This part of the book takes FOREVER and we all know how it’s going to end and it’s the most anticlimactic ending to a book I think I’ve ever read.

Honestly at one point I wanted his daughter to get wiped out of history. Chapter after chapter he’s just obsessed with knowing about her life and how it’s going and how he can help and is she okay??? Oh my god, it was very boring and a little irritating too. Just let it go, man. Start over with Penny. Live your life into the future and let the past be the past.

The book as a whole is really well written and the story is sound, but it’s not very deep. There aren’t any lessons to take away, you kind of know what’s going to happen the whole time. But if you want a quick read about time travel, you could do a lot worse than Here and Now and Then. Give it a try.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

The Lager Queen of Minnesota is a story of two sisters and their split over underage drinking.

Helen drinks beer for the first time in her teens and discovers an almost obsessive love of all things beer: lagers, IPAs, stouts, you name it. At first she tries to get her hands on beer to drink, but then she decides that she wants to create beer. She hooks up with (and eventually marries) a local beverage heir (Blotz Brewery) and talks her elderly dad into selling his farm to help fund her venture. The trick is that she does not split this money with her sister, Edith, which causes a rift of silence that lasts until they are in their seventies.

Most of the story follows Edith’s descent into poverty with her husband, who dies and leaves her alone. They do not own their home, they rent, and so when she eventually loses her jobs in the recession, she has to move to a cheaper apartment in a more touch and go neighborhood. Events transpire that also cause her to be the guardian of her granddaughter, who somehow finds herself employed at a local brewery instead of going to college (see also: crippling poverty).

I have to be honest and say that I did not like this one as much as Kitchens of the Great Midwest. While Kitchens was able to weave one woman’s influence through many different stories, Lager Queen is laser focused on beer, Beer, BEER! almost to the point where certain story turns are unbelievable. The final resolution of the story lacked the weight of Kitchens, even though everyone coming together should have felt very emotional. The story almost begs me to wish for Helen’s ruination, and yet it also wants me to crave her reuniting with Edith? Bringing Helen back into Edith’s life at all demands a level of redemption that this book just does not allow time for. I want Helen to fall from grace, to experience want and poverty, to reap what she has sown with her greed and manipulation before she has to come crawling back to Edith because Edith has built something successful with her granddaughter and Helen could still have what she loved but because she had to finally share with Edith. There is a lesson in this book that is lost in the seemingly rushed ending.

I will say that Stradal’s portrayal of how the economy and education works for people who are struggling was very spot on. Poverty hiding in plain sight, kids working jobs to help their parents pay bills, trying to avoid shaming at school by putting up a front, and the list could go on and on. I was uncomfortable reading the second half of this book if only because it immersed me in so much of what my life has been like so far. One of the reasons I kept reading was to see how it all turned out – and low and behold like so much of being poor, getting out often takes luck and charity and sometimes even that is very shaky.

Stradal’s writing is still amazing, and Edith’s story is compelling enough to enjoy it on its own without knowing anything about Helen, so I finished the book and was happy for the group of brewing grandmas having fun making beers they thought would be cool. Pick this one up and see if you feel the same way. I wouldn’t miss one of Stradal’s books and you shouldn’t either.

Recursion

Recursion

Dark Matter

I have loved writing this blog over the past 4 years because it has helped me to understand the kind of books that I really love, and those that I would be better to pass by and leave on the shelf. Books that tell futuristic stories that are SUPER plausible are some of my favorites. Recently I read Stephen King’s The Institute which was gripping because 99% of it was plausible and it made the prospects of the psychological fantasy elements that much more terrifying.

Recursion felt to me, at first, a strange Matrix-like story. A chair is invented that can chart your memories, store them, and then reload them into your brain later so you can experience them like it was the first time. It was meant to help people with dementia or other degenerative brain conditions. The chair’s inventor, Helena, is working on this chair to help her mother specifically and is about to run out of funding when she is approached by an Elon Musk-like character Marcus Slade who offers her unlimited dollars to join him on his super-villian-esque oil rig that has been refitted as a research facility and finish her work on the chair. This begins a chain of events that seem very tangled at first but as you read become terrifyingly clear.

This story is not a memory story but a time travel story, and the idea is so bold and so well executed that I was awe-struck by Crouch’s ingenuity. Where did he get this idea? This is wild and amazing and captivating. The second half the book, a full 150 pages, I read all in one night because I could not put it down. Then I spent the next week thinking about which memories I would choose to travel back to in order to change my life. And not to leave anything undone, Crouch also weaves in fairly severe consequences for traveling in this way, making me think twice about whether it would be worth it.

If you like sci-fi that keeps your feet on the ground and messes with actual systems and forces that run our lives day to day, you cannot miss Crouch’s works. They are close enough to real that they make you wonder about what is possible, and then freak you out because it might actually happen. Go get you some.