Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Month in Books: September

Technically I should probably wait until tomorrow, the first day of October, to write up the month in books but I'm going out to dinner with friends tonight so I'm fairly confident that I won't be finishing another book by midnight. September turned out to be a pretty good month as far as reading goes, in that I've been walking on the treadmill most of the month instead of outside, and that means I've been finishing more books on the kindle. The treadmill may be the only time I use that thing, but it's getting a lot of use.

In order of completion, here are all the books I read in September, and what I thought about them:

1) I should have known when they marketed it with a tagline of "Hostage Girl returns snarkier than ever" that I would find Lexie Dunne's Supervillains Anonymous, the sequel to "Superheroes Anonymous", underwhelming. If all your book has going for it is a snarky narrator, and you're not really that amused or entertained by her (somewhat weak, actually) snark, then what else is there to recommend this? The plot picks up right where the last book left off, with the narrator framed for murder and thrown into supervillain prison, but even though this resolves all of the loose threads from the last book it reveals a glaring problem, too: Dunne didn't spend enough time worldbuilding in the first book. That means that all of the shocking reveals of who characters are and what their motivations are isn't all that shocking, because you had no idea those people existed or were important in the first place. I guess when you're writing about an entirely fictional universe there's a really fine line in how you put in the kind of exposition needed for worldbuilding, but if one of your plot's shocking twists is discovering that someone isn't dead, your readers should probably know that person was alive at some point and was important. So many things were revealed in this book that way that it almost felt like there was another prequel that I'd missed.

2) I have no idea how long Real Life at the White House has been sitting on my "unread books" pile, but the fact that it's out of print and that it chronicles all of the presidents but stops at Clinton suggests that it's maybe been a while. An account of daily life at the White House with a chapter for each presidential administration (starting with Washington, who started construction but never actually lived there), it was an interesting source of trivia but 400+ pages later I found myself unable to summon up enthusiasm for another discussion of rugs and wallpaper. This was comprehensive, but exhausting and ultimately tedious.

Random interesting facts:

-As a prisoner of war, Andrew Jackson once survived on acorns.

-George Washington oversaw the beginning of White House construction, but was the only president never to live in it.

-People who tell you that there are no political dynasties and inherited power structures in the United States are ill informed. The history of the presidents is riddled with cousins, fathers and sons, grandfathers and grandsons, and in-laws.

3) Beth Revis' Across the Universe introduces us to Amy, a young girl who gives up her life on Earth to be frozen with her parents and sent on a voyage of hundreds of years to another world. Someone activates Amy's compartment 50 years too early, though, and now she finds herself in the strange society of the ship, which carries not just the sleepers but also a live cargo of people, animals, and plants for the new world. At first Amy believes she was awakened by mistake, but as someone begins thawing other sleepers and letting them drown Amy realizes that someone tried to kill her, and that person is now trying to kill all of the sleepers. Now, with few allies in a society she doesn't understand, she has to figure out how to save the rest of the sleepers and herself.

I'm not sure who recommended this to me, but I figured out the main points of the plot about halfway through, so then it was just a matter of pushing myself to finish so I could see if I was right. There are sequels, but I'm not sure I'm interested enough to read them.

4) Claudia Gray's A Thousand Pieces of You was entertaining and a decent read at the same time. It follows the story of Marguerite, the daughter of twin scientists who have invented technology to allow people to move their minds through parallel dimensions. When her father is killed by one of his assistants, Marguerite and the other assistant, Theo, chase Paul through a succession of alternate universes to take revenge. Each time she uses the Firebird, Marguerite jumps into a new version of herself in a world that's both familiar and unfamiliar, chasing a Paul who may or may not be the one responsible for her father's death after all. Is Paul her enemy? Can she trust Theo? Or is her father's death part of a greater plan that spans multiple universes and endangers all of the Marguerites, everywhere?

I really enjoyed this. It can be a little "teen girl love story" at times, but there's some decent science fiction and a lot of really strong characters. I plan to pick up the sequel, or someone can someday pick it up for me since I stuck it on my wishlist so that I'd remember to buy it later.

5) In Daniel O'Malley's The Rook, Myfanwy Thomas awakens in the rain in a London park, surrounded by dead bodies wearing latex gloves, with no idea of who she is or how she got there. Following the clues in a letter in her jacket, she discovers that she left herself letters in every jacket that she owns, because she knew that she was going to lose her memory. In fact, her memory was taken from her when one of her coworkers in the Chequy, a secret government organization protecting the British Isles from supernatural threats, tried to assassinate her. Now, she's trying to do Myfanwy's job as a Rook of the Chequy with only letters and notes from her past self to guide her, while also trying to figure out who tried to kill her and why. This was a pretty enjoyable read, and was also surprisingly funny at times.

6) Jim Grimsley's Dream Boy isn't for the faint of heart. A quick story about unexpected teenaged love between Nathan, a new freshman, and Roy, his senior next door neighbor, it hides a simmering undercurrent of violence from within Nathan's abusive home and from the other boys at their school. Parts of this book were emotionally heartbreaking and parts were shockingly brutal, but it manages to end on a feeling of hope that may not actually be there. My feelings about the book are complicated, but I'm glad I read it. At the same time, though, I continue to be depressed about the perpetual theme in gay literature that being gay always ends up being tragic somehow. I may need to go back and read Boy Meets Boy until I feel better.

7) Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a fairy tale for adults, a story of wonder and magic but also of terror and consequences. Following a death, the narrator meets his neighbors, the occupants of a strange farm in the English countryside, and quickly discovers that they aren't quite what they seem and neither is the rest of the world. This was a fast read, but I enjoyed it.

8) Rich Benjamin's Searching for Whitopia takes us on a strange journey across the country to all of the tiny little outer suburban communities that are almost entirely white. These are almost all planned communities, affluent, conservative, and in almost every case swear that they are not racist. Benjamin visits the communities, lives in them, house hunts, joins their poker games and church groups, interviews their leaders, and studies who these people are and why they move there. The whole thing was fascinating, if a little dry in places. What struck me most about it was the number of people who claimed not to be racists, but just wanted to live with people just like them.

So, those are the eight books I read this month, which were mostly interesting but not very impactful.

Onward to October!

1 comment:

Justin Bower said...

I'm glad you enjoyed Ocean...I really liked that book. Just read his Graveyard Book, and kind of wished I'd just reread Ocean