August 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part III

5 Sep

August was definitely one of my best reading months ever. I got a ton done, both in terms of numbers and goals! I’d been putting off my series challenge for a while but I finally got back into that (though I think I’ll be modifying it a bit before the end of the year), and I decided to pick up Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge (since I’d already completed 80% of the challenges anyway). I’m pumped for September!

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So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder. Finished August 19th. After reading and loving Broder’s Last Sext earlier this year, I wanted to devour basically everything she’s written. Starting with her book of essays! Something about her just speaks to my very soul. It’s strange, because while we share some of the same issues (depression, anxiety) I don’t think her actual life is even remotely like mine. And some of the topics she covers (open marriage, vomit fetish…) are so far out of my experience or comfort zone. Yet in every essay, no matter how foreign the topic, she writes something I can connect to.

It’s like she has a hotline to all that darkness in your soul. She can reach in and say something so personal you’d swear it was written about you, or for you. And realizing that these terrible thoughts are actually near-universal for depressed people is oddly freeing. Like, if this famous and successful person feels this way, maybe I’m not as abnormal as I thought? Also, she’s a brilliant, funny, beautiful writer. Pretty sure Melissa Broder is my spirit animal.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Ferryman Institute, by Colin Gigl*. Finished August 20th. I was really excited for this book, but I think I led myself to believe it was something it just isn’t. I was expecting a slow, thoughtful, dark fantasy about Ferrymen who help dead souls pass over. And while the last part is true, it’s more an action-comedy fantasy. And that’s not a genre I usually go for at all, so I mostly blame myself for how much I disliked The Ferryman Institute (though there is one problematic element I just can’t get over).

If you want a weird/quirky action movie in a book format, this delivers like crazy. It’s nonstop action: car chases, dramatic escapes, backstabbing, twists and turns. The worldbuilding and character development really takes a backseat to the rapid-fire pace. I wanted a LOT more information about the Ferrymen, more background stuff about the characters, and less car chases. But that’s not really the book’s fault, is it? That was just my expectation.

For the most part, it’s just that it wasn’t the book for me. BUT. There’s one kind of huge flaw. The premise is that one of the Ferrymen decides to save a suicidal girl instead of waiting for her to die. The girl, Alice, is depressed, has OCD (well… she shows no signs of OCD but we’re told she has it), and suffers from anorexia and is underweight. Problem one with this: our Ferryman, Charlie, is attracted to her right away. Which, given that she’s sick and underweight, is squicky for me personally. Two: Alice “gets better” over the course of the book because of Charlie. Let’s get this straight: boys do not save girls from depression. A knight in shining armor does not cure mental illness. I just think it’s really irresponsible to present their ~romance~ as saving Alice. Therapy, medication, and self-reflection help depression. Not ~true love~. So, while I want to be like, “oh I just didn’t like this book because I’m not action-oriented” I feel like this is SUCH a huge problem and a really big personal pet peeve of mine.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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Stranded, by Bracken MacLeod*. Finished August 20th. If a book is compared to The Thing/At The Mountains of Madness I am going to read it. I had great success earlier this year with The Thing Itself, and while this is totally different in basically every way it was also pretty fantastic.

There are a lot of twists and turns in this book, and at its core it’s really a science fiction mystery, so I really don’t want to discuss the plot much. The basics: a ship sent out to refuel an oil rig gets iced in during a huge storm, and the crew starts getting sick. Very, strangely sick: the kind of sick where you see shadows dancing in the corners of your eyes. The first half of this book has an intensely creepy and claustrophobic vibe: it’s a scenario where tensions will obviously be high, and there’s a sense of dread lingering in the background.

While it’s not really a horror, it’s definitely an unsettling and at times downright scary book. The plot is tightly crafted and it’s clear how everything fits together when you get to the end. The characters are messy and human, but they address their flaws in very interesting ways. There was a moment where I thought, “what the hell, protagonist??” that was actually addressed later in the story! Which basically never happens, so I was pretty happy about that. In a way, this reminded me of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter: not in theme or topic at all, but in the way it starts off as a simple but interesting story that builds to an amazing and unexpected conclusion.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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A Desolate Splendor, by John Jantunen*. Finished August 22nd. This is a beautiful book, but I found the description incredibly misleading. Yes, this is a post-apocalyptic novel about survival in the aftermath of disaster. But the end of the world event is basically set dressing: there are many clues that this is the future but there is almost no information about what happened (or why). This isn’t a negative at all, and it adds a lot of atmosphere, but the blurb gives a very precise summary of events that… well… don’t really occur. The two “sets” of bad guys (Reds and Echoes) are not described as being ex-soliders or a weird death cult. The reader is given descriptions of them and their actions, but is really left to draw their own conclusion about motivations and background.

It’s a style of writing I really like: we’re thrown into this survival situation with no information, and have to find our own footing. The narrative is very colloquial in style: many characters aren’t even given names (for example, we have ‘the boy’ and ‘Pa’), and there are no quotation marks during dialogue. And while that, along with the father/son dynamic and setting, may draw comparisons to The Road, they’re wildly different books. A Desolate Splendor has several overlapping character groups, and we switch between them quite frequently. Some have names, some don’t. We get inside the head of some, and are left in the dark about others. The story flits rapidly between plot points and it really takes a while to figure out how any of these stories are connected, but they come together beautifully.

This is the type of book for people who like raw, gritty survival takes. It’s a dark book, with a lot of violence, but none of it is ever gratuitous. We’re shown how desolate and scary the world has become, but perhaps more frighteningly we see how easily humans adapt to this cruelty. There’s not an ounce of telling in this book: character motivations, histories, and even some key plot events are left for the reader to deduce themselves. It’s not a book that holds your hand or offers even an ounce of help, and I loved that. I’d go back and carefully re-read paragraphs to pick up on any hints I missed, and it was so satisfying when I felt like I ‘solved’ something myself. Recommended if you want an apocalyptic tale that feels like grit-lit.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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All The Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood. Finished August 23rd. Sometimes, very rarely, a book will function exactly like an author intends it to. Usually they’re in the ballpark though: a sad book will make you emotional, a scary book will have you checking under the bed. But once in a rare while, a book will be 100% different from what an author intended (like The Dinner). Given the ending here, I think Greenwood’s intent was indeed to show us an “unusual and provocative love story” or whatever else the blurb says. But it doesn’t ask “hard questions” because newsflash: sexually abusing a child is always wrong.

This is not a love story. This is a story of a very damaged young girl who is taken in and groomed by an adult man who enters into a sexual relationship with her when she’s 13 years old. Let’s get one thing straight: a 13-year-old cannot consent to sex with a man ten years older than her. She can think she’s in love, that she wasn’t groomed and it’s totally her choice (or his choice–older woman/male child is just as revolting), but the grownup is responsible here. The grownup is the one who has to say no. Children do not have the emotional capacity to understand romance and sex with an adult.

In terms of showing how twisted the relationship between Kellen and Wavy is, this book actually does a fantastic job. I’m not sure it means to: I think it’s meant to make us uncomfortable but also have us “root for them.” But every scene between them, especially the ones in Kellen’s head, are disgusting. He admits that he fell in love with her when she was 8. He crawls in her bed in the middle of the night before she hits puberty. He goes on and on about her “perfect small tits.” It’s…. just really unsettling. Like in the books that came before it (Lolita, The End of Alice, Tampa, Lamb–all of which handle this topic SO MUCH BETTER) it’s clear that these are the thoughts of a disturbed person. And Wavy’s perspective is equally heartbreaking: she is SO CONVINCED that she loves her abuser. Poor Wavy. I think she really does love him, because she grew up with no love and Kellen has treated her “better” than anyone else. It’s all she thinks she deserves.

I think what people are missing here when they call it a “love story” is that you can abuse someone while thinking you love them. Read interviews with convicted pedophiles–many of them legitimately think the 5-year-old loved them and “wanted it.” This doesn’t mean it’s right, obviously. Kellen really thinks he loves Wavy, and he wants the best for her. Of course he damages her and ruins her life, but he thinks he is doing the right thing. Wavy and Kellen’s relationship is in no way a love story, so I’m super confused by some of the reviews. It is a beautifully written book, but I’m just… I don’t know how to feel about it given the “love story” tone and also the fact that the author’s past mirrors Wavy’s in several ways.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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Black Fairy Tale, by Otsuichi*. Finished August 26th. I read ZOO by Otsuichi earlier this year and absolutely loved it, so I will admit I had pretty high expectations coming into Black Fairy Tale. While I didn’t love it quite as much as ZOO, I think it actually exceeded my expectations!

Unlike ZOO, this is a novel. However, it does in some ways have the feel of a short story collection. There are numerous layers here, and the first one we’re introduced to is a straight-up fairy tale about a raven collecting eyeballs for a blind girl so she can experience what they’ve seen. This story is actually written by a character in the book, and we have their perspective along with the perspective of a girl who lost her eye and after getting a transplant is experiencing memories from the eye’s “original” owner. These three aspects are spliced together in a very interesting way: there are obvious plot connections between the storylines, but there’s also some very clever mirroring between the “story world” and the “real world.” I was really impressed with how everything came together in the end, and the plot definitely went in some unexpected directions.

This book is definitely not for the faint of heart. It is intensely gruesome and there is a LOT of body horror (think Franken Fran in book format). The violence is shocking: not because it’s upsetting or gratuitous (Otsuichi’s writing never feels like torture porn and there’s no sexual elements), but because it’s so bizarre and almost… whimsical? These absolutely horrific things happen but it’s just so very strange and surreal in both tone and content. There’s definitely elements of magical realism at play, giving it a very different feeling than other intense/graphic horror novels I’ve read. In this way it’s very like ZOO, which had that strange “this is so horrible yet reading it is so pleasant” kind of vibe.

If you like Japanese horror I think Otsuichi is a must-read, and he’s quickly become my favorite author in the genre. Interesting plotlines, bizarre and original concepts, and sparse but lovely writing.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Schooldays of Jesus, by J. M. Coetzee.  Finished August 27th. The last book in my Man Booker bonanza! And, sadly, one of my least favorites (though I am certain it will make the shortlist). I had very high expectations for this: Coetzee has won the Man Booker twice, the title is gorgeous, and the plot summary sounded very interesting.

And indeed, the “main character” David is very interesting. One of the best child characters I’ve ever read: he’s a strange, affected little kid but I loved his portrayal. All of my highlighted quotes are from him. Sadly, it’s clear from early on that while the book title is about David and the summary focuses on him, his fake father Simon is the main character. And Simon is…. boring. Very boring.

I found the plot unbearably boring and, to be honest, pretentious. There’s a lot of discussions about the ~morality~ of murder and like… I don’t really care about what happens to someone who rapes and murders a woman he’s obsessed with? I don’t want to read page after page of a judge brooding over justice and morality and what is right. How did this book turn into a courtroom drama?? This is not what I signed up for. I want to know how David calls down number with his dance, goddamit.

I also found the writing very affected. Simon’s name is repeated ad nauseam to the point that it’s tedious to read sections focused on him (which is basically all of them). Nobody talked like real people: it felt like some kind of weird morality tale.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Dragon Keeper, by Robin Hobb. Finished August 30th. I was pleasantly surprised by The Dragon Keeper. It seems like every review boils down to “good, but not as good as Fitz/Liveship.” So I really wasn’t expecting to love it. And while, yes, it’s not quite as magical as some of her other books, it still gave me those cozy Elderling-world feelings. As always, the characters are the star here: I love and hate the cast in equal measures already, and I’m constantly flip-flopping on how I feel about certain people (*cough*Seldrin*cough*).

This definitely feels like the first book in a series. To be honest, not a ton happens in 500 pages: I was kind of expecting the whole “dragon journey up the river” to take up most of the plot but they don’t even leave until the last 50 or so pages! I mean, it’s Hobb so I’m perfectly fine reading 450 pages of character building and plot setup, but it does feel particularly slow. I can see why people don’t like it as much as the others but personally, I loved this and can’t wait to start the next one!

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Language of Dying, by Sarah Pinborough*. Finished August 31st. This slim little book about a woman whose father is dying packs an emotional punch. I hesitate to make this comparison because A Monster Calls is one of my all-time favorite books, but there are some obvious parallels I’d be silly to not point out. Both have a similar visual aesthetic, they’re both about dealing with dying, they’re quietly poetic, and both have a supernatural overtone (though The Language of Dying‘s is much more subtle).

I think this is one of those books where if you read it at the right moment in your life (like, say, when a family member is dying) it will have a huge, unforgettable emotional impact. I’ve had some book experiences like that (I read The Fault in Our Stars a few months after my uncle died of cancer, and A Monster Calls right after my neighbor died–also of cancer, which is what the illness in this book is too. Fuck cancer). And I think this could easily be a “coping with death” book for a lot of people.

The writing is soft and unassuming, but lovely. It flows beautifully and is just so easy to read, even when the subject matter is distressing. And while it’s a short book, Pinborough does a great job of showing us the cast of characters and we get to know them in a very short amount of time. I have a few other books of hers on my Kindle, and I am definitely bumping them up my TBR!

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

197/175 Books

21/35 Series Books

56/50 TBR Books

22/15 Different Countries

[books marked with a * were provided by netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own]

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