Friday, July 27, 2012

A guy who used a minefield for home protection were telling us Jack and Kevin weren't stable

I thought I liked A Drink Before The War. And I did. I do. Even after I started Darkness, Take My Hand I thought "This is nice and all but I prefer Drink." I'm not sure at exactly what point that changed. But it changed. Now as I said, I still like A Drink Before The War but Darkness wins.

Kenzie and Gennaro have another case. This time a friend of a friend is afraid she's being targeted by the mob. See she's a counselor/psychiatrist at a local school and one day this young woman comes in and is very nervous that her boyfriend, who is in the mob, is after her. The girl gives this woman the last name "Kenzie" and isn't actually enrolled into the school. Then she receives a picture of her son, but it's ominous because it's taken from far away and there's no note with it but the implication is "We're watching you and your loved ones." And just like last time, a case that seems relatively straightforward at first turns out to be an insane and violent and dangerous journey.

Lehane's stories often seem to be about the most horrible people possible. And the idea that these people exist not only as aberrations, but in huge numbers. His novels are mostly populated by awful, violent, hateful people, and you while reading him you can forget the world isn't so dark. And if your world is as awful as the one in a Lehane book, please seek professional help.

Even the good guys can be evil. And it can be hard to rectify this as you find yourself cheering for a psychopath. Not the main characters, Kenzie and Gennaro. I'm not sure I could take the books if they were as awful as the people they're going after. They have a friend Bubba who is a violent psychopath. But, you see, he's our violent psychopath. (Yes, I'm including myself in this group.) For reasons that aren't entirely clear he is fiercely loyal to Patrick and Angie. It's a little like having a guard dog. A guard dog that has surrounded his house in strategically placed land mines and is an arms dealer. But if Patrick or Angie tell him to make sure no one hurts someone they care about, you can be sure Bubba will make sure that person is not hurt. Sure, he'll enjoy himself while he's beating up whoever tried to hurt Patrick and Angie's friends, and that's where you think that maybe you shouldn't be cheering him on. But then you remember what this pummel-ee was trying to do and you're like "Punch him in the neck, Bubba!*"

Lehane's stuff is bleak. The stories are bleak. The worlds are bleak. But they're so good. I want moar. I want more Kenzie/Gennaro (and there's more in the series, so lucky me). I want more Lehane (and there's Shutter Island, so lucky me again).

Side note but since I saw the movie Gone, Baby, Gone before reading any of the Kenzie/Gennaro stories I can't help but picture Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan as Patrick and Angie. Not a bad thing or a good thing, just something I couldn't break myself from doing and made me laugh a little when Patrick says he'd grown a beard. Probably because I also can't help but picture Casey Affleck as the annoying kid from Good Will Hunting and that kid can't grow a beard. Silly rabbit.

*I often say "punch him in the neck" because I watched way too much Kevin Smith when I was younger and Joey Lauren Adams yells that during a hockey game in Chasing Amy. Why am I telling you this? To tell you that since Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck are buddies and Ben Affleck's little brother Casey has a cameo in Chasing Amy AND he played Kenzie in Gone, Baby, Gone as I've already mentioned in this post. I'm just playing 6 degrees, is what I'm getting at. Also two posts about all the darkness that is a Lehane novel is a lot, so I needed to lighten the mood.

Title quote from page 32

Lehane, Dennis. Darkness, Take My Hand. Harper Collins, 1996.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Know what the American way is?...Finding someone to blame

I've wanted to read more Lehane for awhile now. Well, at least since I read Gone, Baby, Gone and both Ben and Ellen said "You want more Kenzi/Gennaro? Read Darkness, Take My Hand". Now you've probably noticed that this book is not Darkness. How very astute of you. But you see, I found a copy of both A Drink Before the War and Darkness, Take My Hand in a single book. And seeing how this one is the first in the Kenzi/Gennaro series, I figured start at the beginning.

Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are friends and business partners, private investigators, operating out of the neighborhood church in Dorchester, a working class neighborhood just outside Boston. The pair are hired by state politicians to locate a cleaning woman who previously worked at the state house and is suspected to have made off with some documents. It seems simple enough but of course if it was simple enough it would be a very short story. Instead the pair find themselves in the middle of a gang war and a government scandal.

Lehane's style is brutal in a beautiful way. It has graphic, violent moments, but they don't make up the whole novel. They are shocking but they aren't there just to shock you. They make a point about how evil some people can be. Or can become. He doesn't seem to write books that make you feel great about your fellow man, even if they have a "happy" ending. And I feel safe telling you about that "happy" ending because you can at least be sure that Kenzie and Gennaro make it out of this book alive. You know, because this is the first in a series and the series would be awkward if the main characters were both killed in the first book. But "the main characters in a series of books don't  die" is pretty much the happiest thing I can say happens.

The book was great. It was compelling, disgusting, upsetting, sometimes funny (in a gallows humor kind of way), and moving. It's a book that made me want to keep going, to know what happens next. If you've read any Lehane before, I probably don't have to try to convince you to check this out. If you haven't but have seen the movies (either Mystic River or Gone, Baby, Gone. I haven't seen Shutter Island so I can't speak to that one) then I also probably don't have to convince you to check this out. You know what you're in for so I can just tell you this is fantastic. And I always like to see where series characters start out. If you've never read Lehane before or seen movies based on his books, just know his stuff is dark, his stuff is violent and his stuff is good.

Title quote from page 113

Lehane, Dennis. A Drink Before The War. Harper Collins, 1994

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I'm baaaaaaaack

Oh, you didn't realize I was gone? Because I'm paranoid about telling the interwebs when I'm not at home. Cos if I did and then we got robbed I would never hear the end of it. Ever.

So now that you know I am back after being gone, even though you prob didn't notice, you may wonder where I was. I will tell you. I was in Seattle on vacation. And it was amazing. I had gone a few years ago and to my surprise fell in love with the city so Boyfriend and I decided to go back this year. We spent most of the time eating because we do vacations right. I had some reviews ready to post while I was gone and I managed to get online and read some blogs although my Google Reader is currently over 400 unread blogs so I'm going to try and get that under control.* So if you see a comment from me way after your blog post went out, that is why...

Anyway, here are pictures of things I did/saw.**

Oh also Boyfriend proposed so I guess calling him Boyfriend isn't entirely accurate now. He and I were brainstorming about new names because I think fiance sounds silly and makes me want to start yelling "maybe the dingo ate your baby". So we've come up with Boyfriend+. And by "we" I mean "he". But we're engaged so I get to take credit for his ideas. That's how this works, right? Also not long after accepting the proposal I told him "I'm going to marry the SHIT out of you" because I'm a romantic at heart.

In bookish news, here are the books that I need to review:
A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane
Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane
The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

*Better than my work email which I'm afraid to look at but when I did glance at it the first day of vacation I had 192 unread emails. And I haven't seen it since so I'm going to assume Outlook has just exploded.
Update: In case you care, my work email was over 800 emails and my Outlook did sort of explode. So this morning was fun

View of Seattle from Kerry Park, where Boyfriend+ proposed
Mariners game where, oh hey, they won
Mr. Rainier which we hiked. Even though there was about 4ft of snow & warm out.
Fremont troll crawling with small children
Peacock at the zoo that posed for me
Paseo sandwich, which we had twice cos it's the best sandwich

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The goal is that you're able to keep the good parts and not descend into insanity

During my spree of the remainder tables I found this book My Life as an Experiment by A.J. Jacobs. If I wasn't already familiar with his earlier book The Know-It-All I probably would have skipped over this. But KIA was hilarious and this was on sale so how could I turn this down? I couldn't. Exactly.

It's not so much a single cohesive narrative like The Know-It-All was. It's more a series of experiments over a period of time. Some of those experiments are going on during his other books and they take place over a few years. And each chapter/experiment is sort of its own stand alone story. Which is fine because the chapters are hilarious. In one instance he tries Radical Honesty, in another he pretends to be a celebrity, then he does everything his wife asks. It's such a random selection of experiments. And it's fun to see someone that's no me try them. Because with his experiments there is something to be learned from each of them, but if you were to actually go to the extent he does, you're going to probably go insane. Or be that guy that tells everyone the truth all the time. And not just the truth but just says whatever pops into his head at any given moment. He gets slapped a lot, is what I'm saying.

My favorite chapter was "My Outsourced Life" where he he outsourced everything to an Indian company that acts as a personal assistant. Actually he had two assistants to cover everything from writing memos and scheduling dinner to bickering with his wife and reading bed time stories to his son. (It's less cynical that that sounds.) Because really, having a personal assistant sounds fantastic, even if they are halfway around the world.

Overall a funny and quick read and one I'm sure I'll pick up again when I want something light. It's a good get-out-of-reading-slump book. It didn't make me want to actually try out any of his experiments myself but it was fun to see him act like a human guinea pig. I'll just learn through his experiments. Plus, it makes me want to read his other book The Year of Living Biblically. Moar Jacobs please.

Title quote from page xiii

Jacobs, A. J. My Life as an Experiment: One Man's Humble Quest to Improve Himself by Living as a Woman, Becoming George Washington, Telling No Lies and Other Radical Tests. Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Do not be frightened of my beard: I am a lover of America

A while ago Brenna over at Literary Musings wrote about this book and since then it's a book I've kept in the back of my head as one I'd like to check out. Nothing I was actively looking for but if I happen to come across it I would check it out. Well I happen to come across it when it was on the remainder table of my local bookstore and since I want to read more non-white people I decided now was the time to pick it up and try it out.

This was different than I thought. Told in the second person, the main character Changez is telling an American his story about living in America pre and post 9/11 and the woman Erica he loved. The frame story is in the second person, so Changez is talking to you, although in this case "you" is a large nervous American man. It's a great device and it doesn't feel hokey. It feels natural, even if it's hard to believe a stranger would actually share so much or even that another stranger would stay and listen for so long. Or maybe I'm just not friendly enough to want to sit for hours and listen to a stranger's story. But of course, there is the feeling that this American in Lahore is more than just a tourist.

Changez tells "you" about his time at Princeton an later when working at a prestigious consulting firm in New York City. He quickly becomes a star employee and things seem to be going well with Erica. But then things start to fall apart. Before they met Erica had lost her best friend/first boyfriend and has never really recovered. And then while working in the Philippines Changez sees a news report about the 9/11 attacks. He starts to question his place and his loyalties as tensions in the middle east grow. He feels guilty about living in America while his family is in Pakistan and under the threat of war.

There is, as the blurb on my cover tells me, "enormous tension." However I can't say it's "more exciting than any thriller I've read in a long time". Tense yes, thrilling eh. At least not in the conventional term of a thriller. It's not a sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller. I wasn't constantly holding my breath wondering what would happen next. But it was a story that kept my attention. I found myself both sympathizing and repulsed by Changez. It was an interesting story and one I'm glad I read, though I can't say that I found a new favorite here.

Title quote from page 1

Hamid, Mohsin. The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Hardcourt Inc, 2007

Friday, July 13, 2012

Review Policy: Should I write one?

I didn't start this blog with the hopes of getting asked to review books. I didn't even realize that was a thing that happens. And once learning that is a thing I still don't blog with the hope of getting asked to review a book. Which I'm guessing some bloggers and many publishers think is just silly. At least based on the stories from this year's Book Blogger Convention. But this blog is my hobby, it's not my job. And having books that I have to read and review puts this in job territory. So I mostly stick to reading, reviewing and discussing my own books, thankyouverymuch.

That is not to say that I NEVER accept review copies. Just that I normally don't. If someone reached out to me with a book that sounds like something I would have bought myself I certainly welcome a free copy in exchange for a review. But for the most part I respond to the review requests with a "no thanks". Or I don't respond at all if it looks like the person hasn't bothered to look at my blog.

Because I get a lot of requests for books I have zero interest in, I've been thinking of adding a review policy page. But I'm not really sure what to say in it, or if it's really necessary. I mean the people who are asking me to read their YA paranormal romance* book clearly aren't looking at my blog to see if that's something I'd like to read, so why should I believe they'll read a review policy page? And because of the layout of my blog (which I heart) the page will be on the side of the screen and could be easy to overlook. But I sort of like the idea of having the page, even if it doesn't deter any of those requests.

Do you have a review policy? Why'd you decide to go with one? Has it helped?

*Not that there's anything wrong with YA paranormal romance. It's just not my thang. But there are LOTS of other blogs out there these authors can/should be reaching out to. ALSO it's not to say I will never read YA paranormal romance. I just will only read it if it comes HIGHLY recommended by many bloggers that I trust. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Slavery was a long slow process of dulling

I'd been wanting to read Octavia Butler's Kindred pretty much since I finished her Lilith's Brood/Xenogenisis trilogy. Unfortunately, Butler's work is apparently in some sort of Disney vault because I had been having the hardest time finding it, either in the book store or as an ebook. I've also been complaining about how my reading has been too white so the thought of reading another white guy was making me sad so I checked again for Kindred and lo and behold, it was available! And on sale! And I'm so happy.

This was amazing. It's another book I want to just shove in everyone's hands. I was going to say I'd like to drop copies on people from a blimp but that would probably cause a lot of lawsuits, so maybe you could all save me the legal trouble and just get your own.

Dana Franklin, a black woman living in California in 1976 one day finds herself transported to Maryland circa 1815. Not the best time for a black person to find themselves in.* Dana is connected to Rufus Weylin, the son of a slave owner and a distant relative. Whenever Rufus is in trouble he unconsciously summons her to him. She is only able to go back to her own time if she believes she's about to die. While she can be in Maryland for days, weeks or months, she's only gone from California for a few minutes or hours. So here you have the science fiction aspect that you'd expect from Butler. But think of this form of time travel more like King's in 11/22/63. (Or really King's is like Butler's cos her book came out first, but I assume in general the King book is better known.) It's there but the story doesn't dwell on it, and indeed it never ever addresses exactly how it's happening. Because that part isn't important. Dana's time as a slave on a Maryland plantation is.

Butler gives us a slave narrative but by having a modern woman go back and experience slavery first hand we get a modern context to what is going on. We have someone who knows what's going to happen with slavery but learns what the day to day existence is like, not just in terms of the work or living conditions, but in what being treated as a subhuman does to a person. And not only what these people go through, but how easily it's accepted by everyone, slaves and non-slaves. The story is heartbreaking. You see people beaten, families sold apart, woman raped. But Butler keeps the characters complex. It would be easy to just make the Weylins, the slave-owners, ruthless awful people. But they aren't. At least not entirely. There is more to Rufus and even his mother and father than just that single note. And the relationship between the various slaves on the plantation and the Weylins is more complicated than just pure hate. Dana is also surprised by this
Strangely, they seemed to like him [Rufus], hold him in contempt, and fear him all at the same time. This confused me because I felt just about the same mixture of emotions for him myself. I had thought my feelings were complicated because he and I had such a strange relationship. But then, slavery of any kind fostered strange relationships.
This could have been a melodrama. It could have been a story about slavery that was simplified to just black and white issues but instead Butler allows in shades of grey. People are people, and  they are both good and bad within a single person.

I'm sure while reading this I made ridiculous faces because there are so many parts to make you gasp and wonder what will happen next. Because on top of being a wonderful book full of complex characters, it's also a page-turner. Butler, how do you do it? So really, just read this.

*I can't help but think of Louis CK's "white people" bit, about how black people can't get in a time machine and go back much further than the '80s. If you haven't watched this yet, just go ahead and click that link. But do it after you read this post because otherwise you'll get sucked in and end up watching all the Louis CK videos. At least that's what happens to me.

Title quote from page 229/location 2300

Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. Beacon Press, 2004. Originally published 1979. Kindle edition.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

He realized, with no little sense of irony, that until he became Death, he'd never felt so alive

Boyfriend was going on a last minute work trip and was looking for something to read so I started pulling books off the shelf. I suggested A Dirty Job to him but he decided to go with Domestic Violets. However, since A Dirty Job was already off the shelf I decided I may as well read this. Besides it's one of the top Moore books I recommend so I may as well re-read it and make sure it's as good as I remember.

Guess what, it is! I wasn't really too worried about not liking it because Moore tends to stand up when I re-read him. But still, one can never be sure that first impression will hold up under multiple readings.

A Dirty Job is about Charlie Asher, who has just lost his wife while at the same time gaining a daughter. And it seems a new-life calling in addition to his career as proprietor of Asher's Secondhand. He's a death merchant (think like Santa's Little Helpers, but for Death, capital D) Certain items in his show start glowing red, although only he can see. Then a copy of The Great Big Book of Death shows up. And forces of darkness seem to be mocking Charlie from the sewers. And things just continue to get weirder and weirder. I would like to point out here that when I saw Moore talk he said he wanted to combine horror and whimsy, because he was told those two things could never mix. I wouldn't consider this a scary book, but a combination of horror and whimsy sounds just about right.

I haven't come across a Moore book that I dislike, but this is definitely one of the best ones. It takes place in his favorite city, San Francisco and features a couple characters from his vampire series*. And even with all the forces of evil and death merchants, it features Moore's signature humor. Especially about Beta Males (as opposed to Alpha Males). For example
While Alpha Males are often gifted with superior physical attributes--size, strength, speed, good looks--selected by evolution over the eons by the strongest surviving and, essentially, getting all the girls, the Beta Male gene has survived not by meeting and overcoming adversity, but by anticipating and avoiding it. That is, when the Alpha Males were out charging after mastadons, the Beta Males could imagine in advance that attacking what was essentially an angry, woolly bulldozer with a pointy stick might be  losing proposition, so they hung back at camp to console the grieving widows. (31)
It's not just a hilarious book, but a touching one. The main character is Death so naturally he often sees people during their last moments. But please don't think of Charlie as Death (or at least a death merchant) anything like Death being the narrator of The Book Thief. Charlie is first and foremost a worried father, fretting over his daughter losing her mother and then having to deal with a father who has an...odd job.

Writing about books I love always seems harder than books I hate or I liked but don't get gushy about. Hence the big quote up there because how better to convince you that this writing is awesome than by just showing you Moore? So yeah, read Moore. This one is excellent AND stands up to re-reads.

*Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck, and Bite Me

Title quote from page 103

Moore, Christopher. A Dirty Job. Harper, 2006.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Amazon confusion and Book acquisitions

This is really going to be two short posts that I'm squishing together to make one normal size one. Yeah, I'm pretty clever.

First up, Amazon is confusing me. And scaring me a bit. I recently got an email from them about The Elegance of the Hedgehog and if you liked that, then here are some other recommendations. Which is fine, and I have some other Amazon recommendations based on things DVDs I recently bought from them. But here's the thing: I didn't buy The Elegance of the Hedgehog from Amazon. I won it. The email from Amazon came right after I posted my review, but my blog isn't linked to Amazon. My Shelfari account is connected to Amazon, since Amazon acquired them at some point. Except I have been super slacking on writing reviews so I added Hedgehog to my Shelfari list awhile ago and moved it over to "Read" a few weeks ago as well. And yet this Amazon email comes the day after I post my review.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised by this. Everything is watched online, especially by big companies. But still, creepy. So has anyone else had this happen to them?

Next up, Book Acquisitions. Normally I don't get a big haul of books. They sort of trickle in. My TBR pile is mostly in my head but this time it's an actual pile looking at me. Probably judging me too. "You have all of us to read? And you need to get to work on those challenges? You really think you can finish all of that?" My TBR pile is sort of an ass, apparently. Anyway, I figured I'd write to tell you some new books I will (probably) be reading in the future, maybe.

The Mine by John Heldt - I agreed to review this book because it sounds interesting and Deb over at The Book Stop read and enjoyed it. Plus it's not a YA book which I seem to get loads of requests to review. I guess it's my fault for not having a review policy page. Maybe I should make one that says "I probably won't read your book but maybe I will. Unless you're YA or romance or romantic-YA. In which case, it's best for all of us if you just move along."

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - I won this one from Laura over at The Scarlet Letter. I know pretty much everyone has already read and reviewed this and I'm sure I won't be adding anything new to the mix but don't care. There will be one more review to add to the pile.

Measure What Matters: Online Tools for Understanding Customers, Social Media, Engagement, and Key Relationships by Katie Paine - OK so I also won this one, but at a work event. Well sorta work event. I was at a conference/class and I answered all the questions on the quiz right because I'm a super nerd so I got a signed copy of this.

Native Son by Richard Wright - Brenna at Literary Musings mentioned this as one of her favorite books so far this year, so when I saw it on the remainder table at my local indie I had to pick up.

A Drink Before The War and Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane - Another remainder find. But this one is even better cos it's 2 books in one. So instead of one book being $5, it's 2 books for $2.50 each! (That is the most complicated math I am capable of.) How could I leave this behind? Besides I've been meaning to read more Lehane, especially Darkness since both Ben at Dead End Follies and Ellen from Fat Books & Thin Women told me I need to check this out.

My Life as an Experiment by A.J. Jacobs - Another remainder book. And I've already finished this one so I'll be getting to that review eventually. Right after I write ones for A Dirty Job and Kindred. But I liked The Know-It-All so when I saw this one on sale I decided why not, I'll give it a try. Plus Boyfriend said it looked like something he might like as well. So see, good investment!

Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid - Another Brenna recommendation and the last literary remainder find. PLUS I want to read more non-white people so this is just helping me towards that goal. I also recently finished this one so you'll get that review right after the My Life one.

I was apparently a bit premature with this post. See I also won some mystery books from HarperCollins during Armchair BEA and they just showed up today. I don't know these titles although some of the covers look familiar.

With My Body by Nikki Gemmell
The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
When We Argued All Night by Alice Mattison

Also I updated the picture to be of the books instead of generic book pile. The only book not in there is The Mine because it's an ebook. And I suppose I could have added my Kindle to the pile, but would have really have improved anything?

Monday, July 2, 2012

June Reading Wrap-Up

June is now done and summer is super here. In full force. And by that I mean it's burst-into-flames hot outside followed by crazy torrential storms. Ah summer. I haven't yet made it to reading on the beach but I do plan on fitting some of that in eventually. For now I have done fairly well with my reading, although I blame the summer for making me not want to do any homework, i.e. challenge reading. I'm going to need to buckle down or else I'm going to be cramming to get this stuff done. See, it's like being back in school!

Now to the stats!

Number of books read

Number of pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors

Percentage of white authors
83% - not great BUT better than previous months! Thank you, Butler

Percentage of US authors

Percentage of eBooks

Percentage of challenge books
0% whomp

Books written by decade
1970s - 17%
2000s - 67%
2010s - 17%

And since I realize I haven't read any challenge books this month, let's see overall how I'm doing on those things

Classics Challenge

Smooth Criminals Challenge

Not soooo bad but I need to get back on track with this.