Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Month in Books: January

I'm fairly confident that I'm not going to finish my current book in the next four hours, because I'm going to play video games, lay out tomorrow's clothes, and go to sleep. With that in mind, I figured it was ok to go ahead and talk about all of the books I read this month, and if I randomly do plow through that last hundred pages I guess I get a head start on February.

Here are the first books I've read for the new year:

1) In Patrick Ness' The Rest of Us Just Live Here the indie kids, the ones with the cool names ("There are three of four named Finn, and there are two Satchels, a boy Satchel and a girl Satchel") who don't join the cheer squad or go to dances or any of the regular high school stuff are always out in the woods, fighting vampires and monsters and stopping the end of the world, occasionally blowing up the high school to exorcise the sorrow from Japanese soul ghosts or opening fissures to the realm of the immortals, being the Chosen One and following their cosmic destinies. This isn't a novel about the Indie Kids. It's about the kids who sit next to them in class, who have problems of their own and who really want to survive and graduate without being collateral damage and before the next time something blows up the high school.

This was an ok read, but I wouldn't read it again. The idea was entertaining, but in execution this just didn't come together and wasn't really that interesting.

2) Tabatha Coffey's memoir, It's Not Really About the Hair, talks about her life and her journey to finally becoming the host of "Tabatha's Salon Takeover". It kind of makes me a little sad that they didn't talk about her or show more of her own life on the show, because as entertaining as it was to watch her stories about growing up in her parents' drag clubs or travelling the world to demonstrate hair cutting and hair products are kind of more interesting than watching her yell at someone about their dirty floors.

I may be miscounting, but I think this is the fourth book by a Bravo network personality that I've read. I feel like I should be way more ashamed of that than I am.

3) I can't remember how Catharine Arnold's Necropolis ended up on my radar, but my best guess is that I saw it referenced in another book about archeology somewhere in the last two or three years, stuck it on my wish list, and then gradually forgot why I did so. An account of how London has dealt with its dead from the days of the Roman conquest all the way up through Princess Diana's funeral, there was some interesting stuff here, but this was also fairly dry, like a textbook, and difficult reading on the treadmill. I finally powered through on a seven mile day, but it was pretty slow going before then. Part of that might be that this is written more as an educational book, almost a textbook, than it seems to be written for the general public. People who really like London might enjoy it, though.

4) Gregory Maguire's After Alice, the book I was forcing myself through off the treadmill at the same time I was forcing myself through a book on the treadmill, wasn't nearly as magical as promised. A reinvention of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", it concerns the adventures of Ada, a neighbor girl who falls into Wonderland a few minutes after Alice, and all of the people around her and Alice. Above ground, Alice's sister, Lydia, and Ada's governess try to get along long enough to search for the missing girls while Alice and Lydia's father entertains a prestigious visitor: the elderly Charles Darwin. Meanwhile, Ada finds herself following Alice through Wonderland, trying to catch up with her, after Alice in the sense of chasing her and after Alice temporally, always a few minutes behind. Eventually there's a third lost child, but Ada manages to find herself. I normally like Gregory Maguire, but this was boring.

Reading two boring books at the same time was kind of excruciating.

5) I didn't make it to the theatre to see "Carol", so I put Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt on my wish list, and my parents bought it for me for Christmas. It chronicles the beginning of a troubled love affair between Therese, a stage set designer working a temporary job at a department store, and Carol, a suburban housewife whose marriage is collapsing. It was a little depressing, as being gay sometimes is, but managed not to end in tragedy, which is a nice change from most gay literature of that period.

Now that I've read the book, I'm intrigued by the way some of the commercials for the movie present this. I saw a few that called it a thriller, and noticed that none of them mention that there are lesbians in this. I'm wondering if this is a deliberate move to widen the potential audience (a lot of people would automatically decide not to see something about lesbians, and might think this is some other sort of period piece instead) or if the story is only loosely based on the book.

6) I know that, as an adult, I'm not supposed to read teenage lit, but Danielle Paige's Dorothy Must Die looked interesting, and it was! Mixing the Oz books with the currently popular "dystopian teenage nightmare world", Paige gives us Amy Gumm, a pink haired misfit from a trailer park in Kansas. When her trailer is picked up and blown away by a tornado, Amy finds herself in Oz, but a very dark, very different Oz. Dorothy, all grown up, is queen, and is mining all of the magic out of Oz to have for herself. The land is dark and the people live in fear under Dorothy's lieutenants: they might be eaten by the Lion while he consumes their fear, they may have their brains removed by the Scarecrow to enhance his own, or they may have their limbs replaced with tin and steel to become soldiers for the Tin Woodsman. Amy is recruited by three witches to join the resistance and to train for a mission that could save all of Oz: Amy must infiltrate the palace and kill Dorothy, but to do it, she'll have to get past the Scarecrow, the Lion, the Tin Woodsman, Glinda, and possibly her own idea of who she is. I enjoyed this so much that I picked up the sequel before the blizzard, just in case, and then we didn't even have a blizzard.

7) The sequel to "Dorothy Must Die", The Wicked Will Rise, picks up right where the last book left off. Amy Gumm and her allies have been scattered through Oz, lost and possibly killed. Amy, with Ozma in tow, sets out to find them and complete her mission: to kill Dorothy and restore magic to Oz. Faced with shifting alliances and betrayal, who can Amy trust? And is learning magic turning her into the thing she fears, and making her just as bad as Dorothy? The ending left me unclear on whether or not there will be a sequel, but this was a good read, if a little fast.

I guess the year is off to a pretty good start, but I should probably lay off the young adult books for a little while.

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