Saturday, June 3, 2017

Books 22-25: I might only read 52 books this year

We're halfway through the year, and I'm right at 25 books at the beginning of this month. This suggests that I might only read 52 books this year, which has long been my goal but is going to fall somewhat short of my totals for past years. I guess we'll see how it goes, but in the meantime, here are the books I've finished since the last time I posted an update (and promised to post more often):

22) Everybody was talking about the Netflix show "13 Reasons Why" for a while, but I don't have Netflix, so I picked up the book the show is based on. If you don't know already, it's the story of a set of 13 cassette tapes recorded by high school student Hannah Baker just before he death by suicide. Each tape is about a specific person, and explains why and how Hannah feels that person contributed to her suicide. As the book opens, Clay receives the tapes, and is horrified to discover that the girl he had a crush on is someone he didn't know at all, the same way he didn't really know the other twelve people, either. The tapes come with a warning that if they are not passed on, a second set will be released to the world, and Clay listens, as did the people before him and, presumably, the people after him will.

As a book, this was an interesting concept, because Hannah, in framing her entire story only as the placing of blame, is a classic unreliable narrator. Is what we're hearing the whole truth, or only the truth as seen through the lens of how the events fueled Hannah's depression and isolation? I'll be the first to agree that high school is a terrible place filled with terrible people, and that teenagers as individuals may be ok sometimes but as a group are heartless, soulless monsters, but my feeling after reading this wasn't sympathy for Hannah. Listening to these tapes is emotionally devastating for Clay, and Hannah did that to him on purpose. She flings accusations that cannot be answered, because she flings them from beyond the grave, blaming others for damaging her while inflicting a good bit of psychological damage herself. Hannah, in death, becomes the same sort of person she blamed in life.

I don't know if people watching the show have the same takeaway. I assume Hannah is a sympathetic character there, and she should be. Terrible things happen to her. At the same time, though, the book skirts toward suggesting she's also a bit of a selfish villain through Clay's reactions and thoughts, but never quite gets all the way to that idea, and I doubt the show does either. Then again, I'm judging without watching it, so I could be totally wrong.

23) I wanted to read Paul Tremblay's Disappearance at Devil's Rock because I really enjoyed his previous book, A Head Full of Ghosts. I enjoyed this one, too, but not quite as much as that one.

This tells the story of the disappearance of Tommy Sanderson, who snuck out into the woods with friends at a sleepover and then vanished into the night. The remaining boys' story doesn't quite make sense, and on the same night that Tommy disappears his mother, Elizabeth, sees a fleeting specter of him in her house, crying out for her before vanishing. As the search for Tommy intensifies, pages from his diary start turning up in Elizabeth's living room, hinting at strange activities in the woods, and meetings with mysterious strangers at Devil's Rock, deep in the forest. Kate, Elizabeth's daughter, and several neighbors report seeing shadowed faces peering in their windows at night, or running into the woods at the edges of their yards, and it becomes clear that much more happened in the woods the night Tommy disappeared than his friends have let on, and that it may have been too late to save him even before he vanished.

This was interesting, but something about the pacing seemed off to me. Overall, it was still a good read.

24) Jennifer McMahon's Island of Lost Girls opens with Rhonda, parked at a gas station and watching a scene so bizarre that she doesn't recognize it as a crime until it's over: a person in a rabbit costume invites a toddler from the car next to Rhonda's into his own, and drives away, initiating a statewide manhunt and casting suspicion on Rhonda herself for not acting. Trying to clear her name, Rhonda undertakes an investigation of her own, but as she gets closer to figuring out what happened to little Ernie she also finds herself getting closer to discovering what happened to Lizzie, her friend from childhood who also vanished long ago. Is there a link between the two? If so, what? And how are Rhonda's memories of another person in a rabbit suit long ago tied to the whole thing?

This was a fast read. It was interesting, but tied up very quickly.

25) During the "Real Housewives of Atlanta" four part reunion, Andy, Kandi, and Porsha revealed the shocking truth that viewers had wondered about and argued over all season: Phaedra, the attorney who has always presented herself as an upstanding churchgoer who had no idea her convicted felon husband was involved in any crimes at all and would never hurt anyone because it wasn't the proper, Godly thing to do, was the one who started the rumor that Kandi and her husband drug and rape women in a sex dungeon. In the course of shrieking, crying, and attacking Phaedra for this, Kandi happened to mention that anyone who had ever read Angela Stanton's book about Phaedra would have known she was dirty, and like any good viewer I immediately searched Amazon for the book: Lies of a Real Housewife. Apparently I wasn't the only one, because the book climbed several thousand places on Amazon's sales chart in under a week.

Was this the best book in the world? Oh, absolutely not. The grammar is terrible. On the other hand, it was highly entertaining. It tells the (allegedly) true story of Stanton's troubled background, relocation to Atlanta, and how she fell into a ring of criminals run by Phaedra. Moving through check fraud, bank fraud, auto theft, identity theft, and title fraud, Stanton ends up in prison and Phaedra ends up married to Apollo to keep him from testifying against her. When Stanton gets out and becomes an author, writing about the women she met behind bars, she is shocked to find Phaedra still acting against her while selling an image of herself on television that's nothing like the woman Angela knows, and she wrote this book to get back at her.

After finishing, I'm not sure how much of it is true, but I also note that Phaedra hasn't sued Angela, so maybe there's something to this after all.

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