Monday, November 28, 2016

You are a servant of Destiny, not its agent. Get over yourself

Have I mentioned before how much I love Christopher Moore? Because it is a lot.* So of course I picked up Secondhand Souls, the sequel to A Dirty Job, which is one of my favorite Moore books. More Charlie, more Minty, more Lilly and Sohpie and the hellhounds and the Emperor and all of those other fun characters? SIGN ME UP.

But here's the thing, I felt like the book was lacking a bit of...soul
HA, I'm hilarious. But seriously though, there was a lot of stuff going on here, with a bunch of subplots and set up and it just felt like there was so much it was trying to do that it didn't get a chance to really spend much time in any area so things weren't as developed as I hoped. A Dirty Job focused a lot on the idea of death and loss and was really moving in between the funny and, yeah, sophmoric humor. There was a depth to the story. Here it seemed that he was setting things up so more would be at stake but ultimately I cared less about everyone this time around.

I was going to say there are some spoilers here for the first book, but I'm not giving away anything the back of Secondhand Souls doesn't already tell you, so I guess mild spoiler warning.
In A Dirty Job, beta-male Charlie Asher is dealing with the death of his wife Rachel, who died giving birth to their daughter Sophie. As if that wasn't enough to throw at a guy, it turns out he's a "little death". He's not the Grim Reaper but he's sort of like a mall Santa, collecting souls and helping people pass on. His daughter, it turns out, is Big Death (the Luminatus) and there are a group of creatures looking to take over San Francisco and Charlie saves the day but gives his life in the process (again, spoilers all revealed on the back of this book so).

This time around, Charlie is back, his soul being housed in one of the creatures his girlfriend Audrey, a Buddist nun, managed to create. He's hidden away while they try to find a body to move his soul into. But in the meantime, it seems that souls in San Francisco aren't being collected and something bad is brewing in the city's underbelly.

While that sounds simple enough, there are a lot of subplots jammed in (Audrey's creatures deciding maybe they could have something better, the Morrigan are back, a big black guy dressed all in yellow seems to know something is going on, souls aren't being collected, a bridge painter at the Golden Gate Bridge starts talking to ghosts, Sophie has lost her hellhounds, Charlie trying to get a body, Lilly and Minty break up but is there still something between them) and while these do tie together, none of them really get a chance to breath.

There was actually one subplot that I think if it was more the focus of the book, it would have been more successful. A painter for the Golden Gate Bridge is strapped into his harness when he's visited by a ghost. She tells him her story about her life and how she died and she believes there's a reason he can hear her and wants him to listen to the stories of other souls who seem to be trapped in the bridge. I'm still not 100% sure how the stories of each of the ghosts he talks to tie into this main story, but I would have liked more of that and maybe less of the other subplots going on.

In the end, it's still Christopher Moore and I still enjoyed it. It was just not a favorite. Perhaps I'll go read A Dirty Job again.

Gif rating:
*What are some of his other books that I've reviewed? Oh well I'm glad you asked: Bite Me: A Love Story, Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, Coyote Blue, Fool, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, Practical Demonkeeping, Sacre Bleu, The Serpent of Venice, The Stupidest Angel, You Suck: A Love Story

Title quote from page 2.

Moore, Christopher. Secondhand Souls. William Morrow, 2015.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


For those celebrating, hope you have a happy and non-stressful Thanksgiving full of good food and minimal fighting.
There are good things out there or things you can do to make good things happen, so let's focus on that.

And also the pie. Let's all focus on pie.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I see [the Icarus story] as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive

Do you know the xkcd comic series? Because if not, I recommend it. Even if there are many comics that are extra science/mathy and go over my head. And if your wondering, I started clicking around on that site and got distracted for like 10 minutes, so maybe go to that link after reading this review. Yes, that's it.

ANYWAY, Randall Munroe, creator of xkcd wrote a book! And instead of it being just a collection of webcomics, which still would have been pretty awesome, he takes ridiculous hypothetical questions and uses science to answer them. If you're wondering most of the answers are "We would die horribly" but it's OK because it's pretty fun to see in stick figure webcomics. And don't worry, he doesn't just end there but gives detailed answers for exactly what would happen.
Door busted WIDE open
What are these questions, you ask?

  • What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity? (Nearly everyone would die. Then things would get interesting)
  • What if I took a swim in a typical spent nuclear fuel pool? Would I need to dive to actually experience a fatal amount of radiation? How long could I stay safely at the surface? (Assuming you're a reasonably good swimmer, you could probably survive treading water anywhere from 10 to 40 hours. At that point, you would black out from fatigue and drown. This is also true for a pool without nuclear fuel in the bottom.)
  • What if everyone actually had only one soul mate, a random person somewhere in the world? (What a nightmare that would be.)
  • Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns? (I was sort of surprised to find that the answer was yes!)
And of course, being an artist, there are the comics. I had been waiting to pick up a physical copy of the book but it was on sale for Kindle and sales win. Luckily, even on my old Kindle, the images formatted fine so I got to enjoy stuff like this:

See. Delightful. 

The book is funny AND informative.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 141, location 1873

Munroe, Randall. What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. Kindle

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Where some stand out, I stand back

This was a creepy book and teaches you the lesson of change your locks after moving into a new house.
The main character, Mr. Hemings, is a realtor in a small town who prides himself on knowing everything about the town and the people. How does he do this? Well, in part because he's been there for awhile and as a realtor he's responsible for selling many people their homes, so he gets to know them. But the other part is that he's a super creepy crazy person who keeps copies of everyone's house keys so he can go in and rifle through their stuff whenever he feels like it. (Don't worry, this isn't a spoiler.)

One day a dead body is found in the backyard of one of the houses he's sold and dun dun duuuuun! Murder mystery plus worry that people are going to discover his secret.

I believe I have determined for myself that reading creepy books from the POV of the villain is not my thing. And I don't mean in the style of Wicked where you're seeing a different perspective that even if you disagree with the villain, you understand perhaps why they made those decisions. Those are fun. I mean, when you are in the head of a psycho, of a murder, of a legit creepy person and no. Think American Psycho or Zombie. I now have a third example to add to that, so now it is a trend and no thank you.

That doesn't mean the book isn't good. I mean, it's not great and certainly not a favorite, but it kept me reading. Sure, I never sympathized with the character, despite all the flashbacks to a troubled childhood and spent pretty much the whole book wanting him to get caught, but I wanted to know what happened. I've read reviews that say this is funny (including the back summary which calls it "darkly funny" but I tend not to believe those anyway) and...I mean, no? I certainly never found it funny but I also never got the feeling it was supposed to be. Maybe it was but he failed so spectacularly that it didn't harm the story. Or maybe if the funny stuff had landed I would have had a very different opinion of the book. I guess some of the stuff Mr. Hemings does is so crazy that it runs into the absurd and that's the darkly funny part. Here's an example

Mr. Hemings sees a man from the neighborhood hit a woman's car and drive off without leaving a note. Mr. Hemings already doesn't like the guy and believes he doesn't belong in the neighborhood, so he confronts the guy, who claims he didn't hit the car and refuses to pay for the damages. OK, that is a super asshole thing to do. Here's how Mr. Hemings responds.
  • Fixes the woman's car secretly (so that's sweet).
  • Breaks into the guy's house and loosens the buttons on his shirt so they'll ping off when he puts it on (haha, OK that's funny)
  • Cuts the guy's shoelaces (still in the fine, creep you broke into his house but mostly harmless)
  • Steals the guy's favorite Rolex and pawns it (slightly less harmless but I mean, the guy had multiple so he can afford to be without one)
  • Continuously breaks the radiator in the house so they keep having to get it fixed (OK, multiple breakins now)
  • Keeps breaking fuses so electricians have to keep coming in (haha OK now, maybe we're done?)
  • At this point he quits breaking into the house and starts having stuff delivered, like a 14-year-old-troll. This includes: a washing machine, rowing machine, teak furniture, electric piano, wedding dress, statue, and horse saddle (the guy and his wife have to keep canceling credit cards and arguing with company's about these crazy purchases)
  • THEN he starts signing them up for things (again, using the credit cards that he keeps stealing from them): vacations to Mauritius, New Zealand, Norfolk, multiple tickets to musicals, tickets to sports festivals (which again, the guy and his wife have to keep canceling credit cards and arguing to get their money back)
  • OH DID YOU THINK HE'S DONE COS HE'S NOT. When the couple are gone for a long weekend he breaks into the house, lures a bunch of cats in and then locks them in so when they get back their house is ruined and full of cats
  • Mr. Hemings pays a landscaper to rip up their expensive paving stone driveway and lots of hedges
  • Lastly he steals the man's car, fills it up with gas but drives off without paying and returns the car to the house so the police show up.
Because Mr. Hemings is internet vigilantism. By the way, none of the above has to do with the body or any of that story line. This is just to explain the type of guy you're dealing with. BUT despite the above and the weird creepiness, the guy at times is painted as this super sexy guy that some women just can't wait to jump and that stuff does NOT work for me. You can't make your guy out to be creepy and off-putting and then suddenly women are like "Yes, that is the one for me!". Even the author at one point concedes this makes no sense by having the character say "Perhaps there are still those who find it hard to reconcile my unconventional lifestyle to my success with women" and yeah. Of course. He claims it's cos he's not constantly trying to sleep withe women that he gets to constantly sleep with women.

So this has gone on long enough. The book was fine. Not great, obviously. But fine. And change the locks on your house.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 92

Hogan, Phil. A Pleasure and a Calling. Picador, 2014.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Read Up

There's a new group, #ReadUp. The description: Online social justice readings to better educate ourselves about the world, what we can do, and how we can help.
If this sounds like your thing, join up.

First book is Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit, which is currently available for free as an ebook

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Wander every day

I won a copy of this book from Alice aka Reading Rambo awhile ago and read it over the summer. I love the idea of disconnecting but since I am not great at that, a book telling me how to do it seemed like the type of thing I could use. And the book's purpose, through a variety of methods, is to teach you to let go, focus on now and not worry so much about what has happened or what will happen.

But, here's the thing. I think this book would have been better if it had been more straightforward. Instead of being a self-help type book about the benefits of slowing down and just wandering, being in the moment and all that stuff that I should probably get better about, instead it's presented as a book the author found, about a society (that never meets) of wanderers, inspired by Walt Whitman. So instead of it being "Here are things to do to wander and the great stuff you can get out of it" it's more "I am uncovering this secret society that focuses on wandering and everything in here is written by me but I'm just compiling stuff and I'm going to leave footnotes with my thoughts but the other stuff isn't my thoughts" and I got tired of this conceit real quick. It felt, as a few reviews said, gimmicky and I had trouble giving into it and just going with the flow.

Which is too bad cos there are some good things in here. She has recommendations on books to check out, there's some advice on how to wander, so there's good stuff there. There are also poems and a fairly long section with crafts that I skimmed right through, but could see that being for someone else.

Overall I like the idea and if it wasn't for the whole "secret society" bit I think I would have been more on board. But since I couldn't take that seriously I had trouble with the whole thing. But I will try to be more mindful and make attempts and just wandering without any particular plan in mind. Just go with the flow, enjoy where I am. Also I should say that the cover of the book itself is very pretty, so I do appreciate that. And it came with stickers.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 3

Smith, Keri. The Wander Society. Penguin Books, 2016.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Everyone needs to be part of something

Oh man. Butler. Her stuff is intense. Excellent but oof.
Parable of the Talents is the sequel to Parable of the Sower. It's the not too distant future and everything is terrible. There's still an energy shortage. And food shortage. Basically all of the shortages and much of the government infrastructure has been privatized so some people live in walled-in communities, separated from the rest of the country. Those who don't have the money to live in one of these safe havens (most people) are trying to get by in a world marred by violence
I have also read that the Pox was caused by accidentally coinciding climatic, economic, and sociological crises. It would be more honest to say that the Pox was caused by our own refusal to deal with obvious problems in those areas. We caused the problems: then we sat and watched as they grew into crises.
Olamina has gathered her people and they've set up the settlement of Acorn. Things are going well in the community and Olamina and Bankole are even expecting a daughter. The story is actually told both through her now grown daughter's POV as well as chapters from Olamina's diary. But the country elects a new leader who is promising to "make America great again" and this is an actual quote from the book because Butler is a time traveler.
Jarret insists on being a throwback to some earlier, "simpler" time. Now does not suit him. Religious tolerance does not suit him. The current state of the country does not suit him. he wants to take us all back to some magical time when everyone believed in the same God, worshipped him the same way...and stomping anyone who was different. There was never such a time in this country. 
Naturally, this presidential candidate, Jarret, is garbage and terrible and his followers are frightening. Jarret uses the nation's fear over what has become to get elected and his followers hunt down settlements that don't follow Jarret's version of religion and set up re-education camps, to teach them the correct way to behave.
My ancestors in this hemisphere were, by law, chattel slaves. In the U.S., they were chattel slaves for two and a half centuries - at least 10 generations. I used to think I knew what that meant. Now I realize that I can't begin to imagine the many terrible things that it must have done to them. How did they survive and keep their humanity? Certainly, they were never intended to keep it.
Because this is Butler and she is amazing, there is a lot here discussing race and religion and freewill and family and feminism. She is not afraid to tackle difficult subjects, as is the case with all of her books. This is apocalyptic but doesn't include the supernatural as many of her others books do which gives it that much more a feeling of "this could happen now". Especially with quotes like "make America great again" and are you kidding me?

A warning, there is a lot of rape in the book. It's not gratuitous and it's not explicit but it is something that happens to multiple characters, multiple times. There are never scenes detailing it, but it is used as a war tactic in this horrible world.

I did not plan for my review for this book to go up now but the timing just worked out. That said, I'm glad I read this over the summer because as we get closer and closer to this election coming to an end, I don't know if I could have handled this book at that point. It would make me far too stressed out. It's making me stressed out trying to review it now and remembering everything that happened in the book. Read it, maybe with a happier book on the side.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 379, location 5603

Butler, Octavia E. The Parable of the Talents. Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy, 2012. Originally published 1998.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

How do you discover the identify of a spy...who has been dead for nearly a century?

Who could have predicted I'd be reading books about colonial/revolutionary American history by choice? This is what you've done, Hamilton. Though I guess really, since I finally gave Hamilton a chance because of Vowell's Lafayette, it's really her fault. ANYWAY, this is how I found my way to George Washington's Secret Six about a spy ring operating during the war, care of a friend.*

Upfront, I was looking up information about the authors to fill out my super cool spreadsheet and learned that Brian Kilmeade** is a "Fox News personality" and keeping the eye rolls to a minimum was HARD. This definitely colored things and while I think I'd still ultimately have the same feelings about the book, I wish I had learned that after the fact. Damn my need to record these details.

The book is about the Culper spy ring which, as the subtitle tells us "saved the American Revolution." Kilmeade and Yaeger look at the people who made up this ring and the dangerous work they did and offer up portraits of the men whose names we now know (and the one woman who is still only known as Agent 355) to show how they helped secure victory for George Washington and the US.

The Good

  • Spy stuff is fun, and there are some suspenseful(ish) moments when you think a spy is about to get caught.
  • It's an easy read that doesn't get dry which is always a worry for history and nonfiction books in general.
  • There are parts that are directly quoted from primary sources.

The Bad

  • It feels like a dumbed down history book and Chernow's Hamilton was just as readable but more enjoyable.
  • They repeated a few times how important the spy ring was, but they never actually showed the important information that directly led to victories. Maybe it's because we don't have that information, but in that case, you're going to need to restructure this book.
  • There are weird moments where we suddenly get conversations between the characters that I guess was supposed to "bring to life" the people in history, but instead awkwardly felt like the authors actually wanted to write historical fiction and then decided they wanted credit for all the research and were going to write a "serious book". On the one hand, this really only happens through the first half of the book, but even that just means it feels even more awkward.***
  • One of the praise quotes is from Donald Trump. So.

Ultimately, I don't know that I learned much about the spy ring other than it existed and it makes me want to read a book someone else wrote about it. OR, I'd even take a historical fiction novel about the ring. Or specifically Agent 355. I could totally get behind something like that. It's not terrible (not all of it, though those weird fake convos between spies were...not good) but certainly not great.

Gif rating:

*In return, among a couple other things, I also lent her Lafayette because this nerdiness must be spread around. I am also writing this review now rather than tackling some of the other books I've had on my list so I can return the book.
**I should stress here that my friend did not know about this when she read it or when she lent it to me SO it's likely this makes less of a deal than I think but I couldn't get it out of my head while reading it.
***There is an author note that says the dialogue is fictional (OBVIOUSLY) but then says it's based on actual conversations do not know that. Hence the fiction part. Maybe it happened. Maybe it happened exactly as written. But like, prob not and feels super awkward when they happen. I could maybe have gotten behind a version that alternated between narrative story and history chapters. That is not what we get here.

Title quote from page xvii

Kilmeade, Brian and Don Yaeger. George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved The American Revolution. Sentinel, 2013.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

October Reading Wrap Up

October has ended and yet the day I'm writing this, it is 70 degrees outside and we're all going to die #climatechange. But let's focus on the happier things.

Halloween is great though I read pretty much nothing for the holiday. Which is kind of fine since I'm so far back with posting that I wouldn't get around to reviewing them until like January. But I did get a good amount of reading done, including the #MasterAndMargareadalong and I think we should all get an award for finishing that one. Bonus awards if someone can explain it.

Let's jump into the stats.

Total books read
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay (5 stars)
The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (wink) (4 stars)
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (3 stars)
George Washington's Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger (3 stars)
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (5 stars)

Total pages read


Female authors

White authors

US authors

Book format
ebook: 40%
paperback: 60%

Where'd I get the book
borrow: 40%
indie bookstore: 20%
Kindle: 20%
Netgalley: 20%



Blogger reco


Books by decade
1960s: 20%
2010s: 80%

Books by genre
History: 20%
Lit fic: 40%
Mystery: 20%
Satire: 20%

Resolution books
Pretty much killing it here this month.
Both Difficult Women and Everything I Never Told You are written by POC authors.
The Master and Margarita is by a non-US author (Russia) and a translation.
Cuckoo's Calling is by a non-US author.

That was pretty successful. Let's see if I can keep it up next month!