Fast and Dirty: Book Review Dump

06/05/2016 by syrbal-labrys

image copyYes, I’ve neglected book reviews forever and ever. Get your coffee/tea/beer and settle in or walk away right now. I intend to put 22 weeks of reading — 22 book reviews down right NOW!  My book pile is still prodigious.  But I AM keeping with it.  Only a few of the reviews will be very in depth.  As always, I read old, old books AND new ones as well as those in between.  I am interested in almost everything.  If an exclamation mark (!) replaces the week number?  It means “Go read this book!” Asterisks stand for stars in my personal rating system. (I may have a negative star line, too.)

***** I wanted to stay in this book forever because it was THAT interesting or riveting.

**** Very good

*** Moderately entertaining

** Duteous, informative, but dull

*Waste of time, hours I can NEVER get back

!. Station Eleven – science fiction – **** by Emily St. John Mandel – A post-apocalyptic meditation that is spectacularly gentle.  The apocalypse is an influenza with a 99% mortality rate.  The author makes a graphic novel her interiorized metaphor for the blight-cleared earth itself.  A fault, one I often find in sci fi apocalyptics?  Nary a mention of the surely-melting-fown-by-now radioactive time bomb power plants when human maintenance ends.

!  Drawing Blood – **** – memoir by Molly Crabapple (pen name) – For an artist who draws, “Molly” writes really well; she can turn a phrase like a knife-twist to your gut.  Her coming of age in NYC and return there to see 9-11 after a Euro-N. African jaunt shaped her.  Being a literal “starving artist” she needed the hire of those in thrall to Wall Street to survive.  As she put it, her Rome was afire while she painted frescos on Nero’s walls.

3. A Wolf Called Romeo **, non-fiction, nature (forgot authors name) An Alaskan story of a playful wolf and his sad demise because people are assholes.

!. Aurora **** science fiction by Kim Stanley Robinson – I have never personally aspired to “life in the stars”, nor even on Mars, thank you very much.  I think it is more than my humanistic pagan dirt loving mode; I think we need to STOP hoping to find a runaway from our own bad actions!  Ok, rant over — this is a realistically depressing appraisal in story form of humanity’s likelihood of going off world to live.  Seriously, stop running, get your environmental existential crisis ON and resolved.

5. The Glass Castle *** memoir by Jeannette Walls – Reads like gripping fiction, this tale of a girl growing up in the cauldron of neglect formed by two talented but narcissistic parents.  Having been the child of two narcissistic parents, the novelty paled for me — maybe not for you.

6. Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior ** psychology/science by Leonard Mlodinow – The writer starts off rather pretentiously and makes me want to slap him with his own bag of chips.  But it is moderately filled with intriguing facts and studies on human behavior.

! Wool **** science fiction by Hugh Howey – Dystopian gold!  Unusually vague post-apocaluptic genre in the sense of uncertainty as to nature of disaster.  Intense plot and character development makes me long to see this as a movie!

8. The Canterbury Tales ** fiction by Geoffry Chaucer – Now and then I discipline myself. So, now having mentally flagellated myself with this “classic” from the 14th century since I thought the bits in high school Lit class might have not been representative?  Time did not mellow my opinion.  I liked only two stories: “The Tale of Melibeus” wherein a crime victim ready to wage war is schooled by his wiser wife and the “Franklin’s Tale” wherein a loving married couples faithfulness to each other and honor is tested after a jest is taken too seriously.  The religiously inclined misogyny and religious prattle got on my every nerve.  And yes, it was a “product of its time” — but why bored students are still forced to read it is utterly beyond me; these “values” should be in the ashcan of history by now!  The wrap up “Parson’s Tale” is a 700 year old root tale of branding birth control and abortion as murder.  Also that the poor are that way due to sin and entitled to nothing better — utterly horrid things to pass on to young minds as ANY sort of classic.

9. The Tiger In the Smoke *** mystery by Margery Allingham – a vintage “noir” mystery in post WWII London.  A canon’s child is widowed and a terrific villain is after ruining her new love and wedding in pursuit of a “treasure.”  A delight of a look back to an age of my grandparent’s youth!

10. The Tattooed Map * fiction by Barbara Hodgson –  A great pity, the book charmed and engaged at first.  A woman traveling with a friend has odd markings appear on her arm.  You are sure some great time/trap/travel theme is afoot.  But then, as if the writer grew bored, she ends the book with a nonsensical non-solution.  SO glad it was  a free borrowing.

11. The Girl In The Ice -*(that is minus one star) Nordic mystery by Lotte & Spren(?) Hammer (Can;t read my own irritated writing) Horrid, trite and predictable.  Heroes are all mediocre milquetoasts and women are ambitious stupid harpy sorts who fall for depressingly average sub-par men.  The villain is a horror-show cartoon because of – whatelse – a woman’s blighting influence.  Bah humbug!

12. The Cenote minus*** genre-CRAP by Chelse Dyreng – I’m pretty sure this is Mormon propaganda of some kind.  I had hoped for something like “Island of the Blue Dolphins“.  What I got was a horrid monster-mermaids-who-eat-mexicans tale.  An unwed mother makes good tale that is singularly selfish.  The couple — chief’s runtier son (nice, competent, sensitive) loves his knocked-up bride from afar and the death of the child sends him to suicide in the cenote water source.  The bride rescues him and they walk off into the sunset without slaying mermaid monsters, nor explaining them well NOR solving the tribe’s water issues that drive them to the deadly water hole.  Useless bullshit with big ratings from Mormon readers.  Talk about drinking fucking dead body infused kool-aid water!

! Up Against the Night **** fiction by Justin Cartwright – Masterful use of words, painting phrases telling the tale of an ex-pat South African living in England, enduring a wrenching divorce and finding love again.  The healing vacation to his Boer ancestor’s South Africa for a wedding devolves into the casual and nigh-deadly violence of a home invasion.  The depressing conclusion is that only money and privilege grant you a get-out-of-hell-alive card.

14. The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs ** nature by Tristan Gooley – I’d never heard of this author, apparently he is a big popular draw?  I’d be happier to have never wasted my time and money.  The best tips will be best gleaned from a Physical Geography class, plant studies Or by reading ONLY pgs 347 thru 376.  That way you save yourself the constant self-aggrandizing stories and half hints apparently meant to tantalize but that merely aggravate.  Like mentioning a tall yellow flowering POISONOUS plant in a pasture and never identifying it.  Is it tansy?  Or arnica?  WTF, asshole?!

! Milk and Honey **** poetry by Rupi Kaur- a poetic examination of sexual abuse, romantic attempts, failure and self-healing.  Very compelling and affecting with lovely simple drawings as well.

! H is for Hawk **** non-fiction by Helen Macdonald – This was a tough go at first although goodness knows I am interesting in falconry.  A young woman gets a goshawk to rear and train as part of her grieving process over her father’s death.  That is the good and easy part.  The pain is her telling the tale of T.H. White’s attempt at TWO goshawks in the midst of his crucible of a life.  That was torturous, one hawk he lost and the other died of his incompetence.  a book of “whys” – not all of them pleasant or in recovery mode at all.  My pity for White did not stop my shouting “Oh for pity’s sake, Man — think of the poor hawlk!”

17. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street **** fiction by Natasha Pulley – What begins seeming like a slightly steam-punked mystery evolves pleasantly and surprisingly into a feminist/racial tale of friendship and love and gay love winning over time and nationalism.  Sweeter than my usual read and more surprising than the average mystery.

18. The Snowman **Nordic mystery (not so fucking much) by Jo Nesbo – By 1/4 way in I knew who the killer would be, why he killed, and how the book would wind up.  Boringly predictable, also boringly unrealistic.  I was considering more fiction by Nesbo.  Never mind.

19. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes *** mystery by Arthur C. Doyle – What a difference to read the tales all at once insteqd of the drug-expunged school time versions!  Holmes, over the course of the stories right up to his battle with Moriarity at Reichenbach Falls, is more polite, more pedantic, and more human than the many film versions of the character.  Oddly, I’m still not much of a fan — don’t like his “specialist over generalist” self any better for trying so hard.

20.  Too Like the Lightening **** science fiction by Ada Palmer – Amazing world creation, the best I’ve seen since “Dune“.  For me, the only deficiency was a couple chapters that made me think she took Spanish Fly and steroids and watched “Barry Lyndon” for a week before writing some very out of story-line 18th century whore house scenes that neither titillated nor really shocked.  This is the first book of two — I’m with-holding final judgement.  But I am fearing disappointment…

! Dust ***** science fiction by Charles Pellegrino – Fascinating, reminds me how much I liked his “Flying to Valhalla” ages ago!  This eco-disaster leaves you open to choice of the cause.  The insects die, then the birds and bats, except vampire bats.  They feed on mad-cows and then infect humans, including a missile-silo commander!  A science hating radio/tv hack (like Rush LImbaugh) dogs the desperate steps of scientists trying to find the reverse switch on the disaster.  Excellent and frightening!

!! The Reluctant Fundamentalist **** fiction by Mohsin Hamid -this eloquent and brutal depiction of life for an educated, capable Muslim man in post 9-11 New York was on the remainder table.  My goodness, he must have said something (1) important and (2) unpleasant?  With a fine blade-like pen Hamid flays the American exceptionalism that keeps us from seeing ourselves as the world sees us.  His literary “cataract surgery” is deft, perceptive and surprisingly compassionate. His first person voice of his character builds a tender and turbulent sense of threat to the ambiguous end — a choice for his readers to make.  The hash-up of a movie of the same name diluted the message by immersing his tale in the socio-political CIA applied balm of Muslim violence/activism/terrorism/murder in an apparent attempt to sugar coat our typical bully’s weakness and justify our violent responses.  Skip the film, read the book.

I’ve done rather more fiction than usual the last two or three years.  Sadly, only some of the science fiction made me glad to step away from non-fiction.  So, there we are 22 books for 22 weeks.  See you at year’s end with more?






The name of this blog, and my Dreamwidth blog, Herlander Refugee, is taken from a 1915 feminist novel "Herland". It makes my heart sing that modern women are experimenting with creation of a new "Herland"! Yes, comments are closed. Anyone who just MUST reach me can do so at syrbal6 at gmail dot com.

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