Bragan's 2020 Reading, Pt. 3

KeskusteluClub Read 2020

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Bragan's 2020 Reading, Pt. 3

1bragan
heinäkuu 2, 2020, 10:19pm

Well, we've made it through the first half of 2020. Go us, I guess. Although, honestly, I shudder to think what the rest of the year might have in store for us.

My response to uncertain times? Keep reading, of course! And, um, also do entirely too much compulsive book-buying, but let us not talk about that just now. *cough*

Anyway, welcome to my new thread for the third quarter of the year, continued from here and here. As usual, I'm just going to jump right into it:

55. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin



This is N.K. Jemisin's debut novel, and the first book in her Inheritance trilogy, although I am pleased to note that it stands on its own fairly well and has an actual satisfying ending. It focuses on a young woman who is summoned by her estranged grandfather, the ruler of the known world, and told that she is a candidate to succeed him. But this does not mean what you'd think it does, something she quickly discovers as she makes an alliance with some captive and enslaved gods.

I didn't find this quite as compelling and impressive as I did Jemisin's Dreamblood duology (which is the only other thing of hers that I've read so far, although I certainly intend to get to her multiple-Hugo-winning Broken Earth series at some point), but it was good, nevertheless. The way that it takes some familiar mythological elements -- gods of light and darkness, chaos and order -- and does something that feels interesting and fairly original with them is very cool. I already have the next two volumes, and I'm looking forward to spending a little more time in this world and exploring that mythology even more.

Rating: 4/5

2bragan
heinäkuu 3, 2020, 12:31pm

56. Bookshelf by Alex Johnson



A collection of images of unusual and artistically designed bookshelves, many featuring curvy shapes, odd angles, and other interesting effects. I must say, the book-lover in me can't help looking askance at a lot of these, as many or most of them seem more than a little impractical, and clearly designed by people who care way more about the visual impact of the shelves than they do about books and the storing thereof. Still, the pictures are a lot of fun to look through, and even if there aren't many of them I'd probably be happy to have in my house, there are certainly designs here that are clever, creative, and charming.

Rating: 4/5

3bragan
heinäkuu 3, 2020, 12:58pm

57. You're Only Old Once!: A Book for Obsolete Children by Dr. Seuss



Like everyone, surely, with a whimsical or imaginative bone in their body, I adored Dr. Seuss as a kid. And now, at a couple weeks shy of forty-nine, I figured I was about old enough to read his book for folks on the other end of the age spectrum, about the experience of being poked and prodded (and billed) by doctors as they investigate what kind of shape your aging body is in. And I was right. I was. The bit about the guy who carefully and scientifically tests you to find out what foods you like best and then forbids you to them made me laugh a loud, rueful, all-too-familiar laugh.

Anyway, this was cute and fun and Seussian, and it kind of made me feel like a kid again for a moment, albeit a kid with bifocals and and annoying low-salt diet.

Rating: 4/5

4bragan
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 4, 2020, 9:57pm

58. First Love, Last Rites by Ian McEwan



A collection of eight short stories, most of them pervaded with a sense, overt or subtle, of dark and twisted sexuality. Which isn't something I generally have a problem with. I mean, I remember kind of liking McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers, which was about nothing but dark and twisted sexuality. But some of the stories in this one? Hoo, boy. They left the inside of my brain feeling... dirty. And not in a good way.

Specifically, there are three stories, "Homemade," "Butterflies" and "Disguises," which -- and there's no way to sugarcoat this, so I'm just going to say it -- feature the sexual abuse, and, in one case, the subsequent murder, of children. The first two of those are told from the POV of the abusers, who are horrifically matter-of-fact about what they've done, and utterly, utterly incapable of anything resembling human empathy. Make no mistake, they're intended to be disturbing. But I kind of find myself wondering... Are these stories that capture the banality of evil effectively and well, disturbing readers in thought-provoking ways by drawing us in in a manner that makes us feel almost complicit in their horrors? Or is this just an author trotting out the ugliest taboo available for sheer shock value? Maybe it's both? In any case, I find myself genuinely sort of wishing I hadn't read them, and that's extremely rare for me.

The other stories are mostly less memorable, which, honestly, I'm not going to complain about. The exception is "Solid Geometry" which actually has a lot in common with the ones that bothered me so much, including a POV character who does awful things while feeling little more than vague annoyance. But that one doesn't involve children, at least. And there's an almost pleasantly strange fantasy element to it that makes it entertaining as much as it is uncomfortable. Which, now that I think about it, is also pretty messed-up, in its own way.

Rating: What the hell do I rate something like this, something that's extremely well-written and mostly does what it intends to do, but leaves me genuinely regretting having read it? I guess I'll call it 3/5, for lack of any better option.

5janemarieprice
heinäkuu 6, 2020, 9:03pm

>56 I love things like this that display great fun book storage but agree I'm frequently cringing at the amount of room space used vs books actually stored. You might appreciate this gem that came to my inbox this morning - https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/behold-the-renaissance-bookwheel.

6bragan
heinäkuu 7, 2020, 12:58am

>5 janemarieprice: Ah, thank you! The book actually mentioned the Renaissance bookwheel, but the description of it didn't give me a very good sense of what it actually was, so it was very cool to actually see it in the flesh, so to speak. It's rather nifty-looking!

7lisapeet
heinäkuu 7, 2020, 7:39am

>5 janemarieprice: I envision my cats repurposing that for their own fun.

8janemarieprice
heinäkuu 7, 2020, 9:17am

>7 lisapeet: Yes, I also assume I'd have about 30 books on each ledge. :)

9bragan
heinäkuu 7, 2020, 11:46am

>7 lisapeet: It's a cat ferris wheel!

10bragan
heinäkuu 8, 2020, 12:02am

59. Beyond the Kingdoms by Chris Colfer



Book four in the Land of Stories series, in which a twin brother and sister from our world find they have a family connection to a land of fairy tale characters. This one, as the title suggests, takes us beyond the fairy tale kingdoms we've already seen and sends the twins and their friends on an adventure through a series of other familiar stories.

The plot setup and backstory stuff we get here is pretty ridiculous and contrived, even by kids' book standards, and like the previous volumes, this one is slow to really get going. But once it does, it's a lot of fun. Watching our now-familiar characters interacting with a whole new series of fictional acquaintances is a hoot, and had me laughing out loud several times.

Unlike the earlier books in the series, this one doesn't even remotely pretend to have a self-contained plot, and instead ends on about five different cliffhangers. Guess I'll have to get to the next one soon!

Rating: 4/5

11bragan
heinäkuu 9, 2020, 11:56pm

60. A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt--And Why They Shouldn't by William B. Irvine



The author of this book on insults is a philosophy professor who became interested in the subject of insults and how people react to them thanks to contemplating the Stoic philosophers' opinions on the matter. And... Well, he may be able to speak with authority about Stoic philosophers, to whom he devotes one chapter near the end, but the rest of his thoughts on the matter read like the not-very-insightful ramblings of Just Some Guy, but presented with the tone of a college lecture. Which is not a good combination.

Worse, the guy in question comes across as having a very limited and self-centered perspective on things. The examples he offers of insults and responses to them often seem positively weird to me, and his descriptions of how "we" have a natural urge to insult people and to take glee in backbiting and so on seem to say a lot more about him personally than they do about anyone else. He talks a lot about insults as group-bonding banter, because that's apparently how he and his buddies like to interact, and a lot about insults as a sort of social hierarchy game, but seems never to spare a moment's thought for how insults can be used to genuinely abuse, manipulate, oppress, or threaten, probably because he's never been the target of that himself and so doesn't need to care about it. Which is worrying, because it seems to me that a lot of his thoughts about how we ought to respond to insults, while they might be fine for dealing with harmless hecklers, could well be dangerous or damaging for people who are on the receiving end of such things.

Irvine also has some cringe-inducingly shallow thoughts about "political correctness" -- and, yes, he does unironically use that term -- and his discussion of hate speech is positively dripping with a viscous, oozing layer of condescending white guy cluelessness. People today are too thin-skinned! Just don't let stuff get to you, and you won't have a problem! Ugh. Although I will say that it's actually kind of refreshing, after a couple of decades of the Boomers and the Millennials hurling insults at each other and completely ignoring our existence, to actually see someone trotting out the once-familiar canard about how my generation is narcissistic and rude because we were all given participation trophies when we were kids. Still makes me want to roll my eyes, though.

Honestly, the only really good thing about this book was that it quotes a lot of genuinely witty historical zingers, and at least those were fun to read.

You know, ordinarily, I'd feel a bit bad about writing this thoroughly negative of a review. But this guy clearly likes being able to pat himself on the back for how great he is at taking an insult, so, hey, I'm just giving him one more possible opportunity, right?

Rating: 2/5

12janemarieprice
heinäkuu 10, 2020, 3:36pm

>11 bragan: Well, sounds like I enjoyed reading your review much more than you did reading this one. Here's hoping to better reading soon!

13bragan
heinäkuu 10, 2020, 5:53pm

>12 janemarieprice: At least someone got some enjoyment out of the whole thing. Ha!

14lisapeet
heinäkuu 10, 2020, 6:49pm

The cover’s pretty good too.

15LolaWalser
heinäkuu 10, 2020, 7:30pm

>11 bragan:, >14 lisapeet:

The use of "slap" as a metaphor for "insult"... and what a "nice" touch in putting on the cover a woman with a reddened cheek too. No way does that allude to or could remind anyone of the physical abuse dished out to women.

Must've figured the cover ought to do some insulting on its own as not many designated victims would go past it.

16bragan
heinäkuu 10, 2020, 8:13pm

>15 LolaWalser: Not something that had even occurred to me, but, yeah, it's a good point. All part and parcel of the same cluelessness, I guess.

17bragan
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 10, 2020, 8:14pm

*duplicate post deleted, because Talk seems to be responding oddly right now*

18LolaWalser
heinäkuu 10, 2020, 8:36pm

>16 bragan:

The perils of having a literal mind--I read "A Slap in the Face", above a picture of a face with a red cheek--I compute the woman has been slapped. I furthermore derive that someone would like to slap women (books have been written for less...)

Interesting, this fondness various obnoxious men are suddenly expressing for Stoicism. May be the attraction of end-of-life philosophy--or may be the millions that incel guru Peterson is raking in by banging that drum. Just a thought that we may be seeing a trend.

19bragan
heinäkuu 10, 2020, 8:58pm

>18 LolaWalser: I will say, I felt an odd sense of dislike for the cover, but couldn't have said why. Maybe I registered it subconsciously, because when just looking at the picture and not thinking about the title, I wondered if she was meant to be blushing, or what. Which, when I stop to think about it, seems stupidly oblivious of me, really.

I don't know a whole lot about Stoicism, but from what little I have read about it, I don't get the impression that it's inherently terrible as a personal philosophy. But boy would I much rather not see lots of people taking it to the places this author does. Yeesh.

20LolaWalser
heinäkuu 10, 2020, 11:43pm

>19 bragan:

I haven't given it much thought in this context (Stoicism was actually very helpful to me as, as you say, a personal philosophy at one time) but it's easy to see that Stoic discipline in all its forms (physical and psychological), the attempts to control emotion (to the point of forbidding emotion even to exist), and the techniques of devaluation of relationships and other beings (in order to suffer less or not at all when they are gone) would resonate with patriarchal misogynists invested in fostering traditional, or as it is known nowadays, toxic masculinity.

Of course I'd say this is more a perversion than an interpretation of the ancient thought. When Seneca is trying to console a friend about a loss of a child by "deconstructing" the child (what are you crying over, a heap of dust, dirt etc.) he is doing so in a world in which the loss of children is more common than not. In that world, Stoicism itself is rather a confirmation of the existence and depth of human emotion, of its constant upswelling regardless of how much practice one gets in "the art of losing".

But for our white dudebros, it's a tool to learn to care as little as possible because they can't stand any loss, any damage to their well-being, pride and self-love. Instead of getting the message to cherish what is evanescent while that is possible, they aim for dehumanisation.

Oops, there I go a-blather, sorry. In any case, nice prod to dig out old Marcus Aurelius again and see what I think thirty years later. :)

21bragan
heinäkuu 11, 2020, 12:30am

>20 LolaWalser: What I kept thinking while reading the book was that, yeah, it's real handy to decide that what other people need to do is to stop caring so much about all the ways you and the society that privileges you are shitty to them, shut up, and take it. So I can see how it might appeal to such folks on multiple ugly levels.

I have Marcus Aurelius still sitting on the TBR shelves, and one of these days I really need to get around to seeing what I think of him, too. I have high hopes I'll like him better than this guy, at least.

22lisapeet
heinäkuu 11, 2020, 8:20am

>15 LolaWalser: Ah, you're right—I hadn't thought of it that way either, as the physical result of a slap, but as a very Victorian rendering of embarrassment, the aftermath of an insult. What I like about it is its graphic spareness and simplicity with those bits of color... but I hadn't thought of it as a gendered thing and yes, that's more disconcerting as I think about it.

The Stoics are not my cuppa tea either.

23bragan
heinäkuu 11, 2020, 2:10pm

>22 lisapeet: It would be a perfectly good picture in a different context, surely.

24bragan
heinäkuu 18, 2020, 5:48am

61. The Fireman by Joe Hill



Funny story: I was perusing my TBR shelves, looking for something to distract me from the current state of the world, when I came across this one. "Hmm," I said to myself, "I don't really remember what this is supposed to be about, but Joe Hill writes horror fantasy stuff, right? Sounds like the kind of absorbing escapism I could use right now." So I open it up, and start reading... about a nurse desperately trying to treat patients in an overwhelmed hospital during a global pandemic. Well, so much for escapism. Although it's nice to think that, however bad COVID-19 might be, at least it doesn't cause people to spontaneously combust like the weird fungal infection in the novel. Even if the way the fictional infection sets most of the US on actual fire works almost too well as a metaphor.

Anyway. We do fairly quickly leave resemblances to the real world behind as we follow a group of people in a secret refugee camp for the infected as they hide out from gangs of vigilantes out to kill them and learn how to live with and understand the weird-ass fire fungus they're carrying. Unfortunately, we also quickly get bogged down in a story that drags horribly -- seriously this did not remotely need to be 750 pages -- with a cast of characters none of whom ever really came alive for me at all and whose emotional moments, more often than not, felt unearned and kind of cheesy. Which is too bad, as the basic idea is interesting. Interesting in a way that requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, mind you, but that's something I was entirely willing to do. If only the effort had paid off.

It occurs to me that Joe Hill may be one of those writers I keep thinking I like more than I actually do. His short story collection 20th Century Ghosts was really good, as was his comics series Locke & Key. I also remember enjoying his first novel, Heart-Shaped Box. But, thinking back on it, every novel of his I've read since then has left me feeling some degree of disappointment. So maybe my reaction to this one should have surprised me less.

Rating: 2.5/5. I keep wanting to rate it higher, telling myself that it was mostly readable, it was an interesting idea, it wasn't that bad. But, honestly, when my primary feeling on finally turning the last page of a novel is relief that it's finally over and I can go on with my life now, I don't think a higher rating is justified.

25lisapeet
heinäkuu 18, 2020, 9:22am

>24 bragan: Hmm, he's one of those authors I always think I'm going to like, but I haven't read anything of his yet. I do have a copy of Full Throttle on my shelf, so I guess I'll probably start there when I do.

26bragan
heinäkuu 18, 2020, 4:46pm

>25 lisapeet: That one I haven't read.

27stretch
heinäkuu 18, 2020, 6:05pm

>24 bragan: I felt the exact same way when I read. Loved the concept and spent most of my time trying to convince myself to like it but in the end it just wasn't a good read. Joe Hill is one of those authors I think I like most of the time but every other novel or story is just a miss.

>25 lisapeet: Full Throttle is better.

28bragan
heinäkuu 18, 2020, 11:32pm

>27 stretch: Yeah, "trying to convince myself to like it" describes a lot of my own experience of reading it, but ultimately it didn't really work. I think maybe the fact that I know Joe Hill is at least sometimes capable of really good stuff just makes it worse, honestly.

29bragan
heinäkuu 21, 2020, 11:57am

62. No Saving Throw by Kristin McFarland



Autumn runs a gaming shop, and when one of her customers is killed in a weird fashion in the middle of a LARP (that's a live-action roleplaying game) her store has sponsored, she takes it upon herself to investigate.

As a dyed-in-the-wool geek gal, myself, I enjoyed Autumn's nerdy pop-culture references and appreciated the fact that one of her motivations in taking the investigation into her own hands was a worry that the murder would play damagingly into the stereotype of gamers as violent weirdos. I mean, I did have someone tell me once, in all seriousness, that I shouldn't play Dungeons and Dragons because it's "Satanic." So I can sympathize entirely.

I do have to say, though, that while the confrontation with the murderer in the end is reasonably exciting, I didn't find the mystery as a whole all that compelling. It's all readable enough, but I do wish I'd cared just a little more about the question of whodunnit than I actually did.

Rating: 3.5/5

30bragan
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 27, 2020, 9:57am

63. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay



In this collection of short essays, Roxane Gay talks about race and gender, books and writing, pop culture and rape culture, and about some of her own experiences, from the amusing to the horrific. And she does so, often, in a way that I've seldom seen before, almost as if she's having a conversation with herself in the act of writing, trying to think her way around fantastically complex subjects without minimizing their complexity, even embracing and acknowledging her own contradictory thoughts and feelings, rather than reducing everything to absolutes and tidy thesis statements that brook no argument. This resonates with me deeply, even makes me feel a little less alone in my own messy thoughts about messy things, and it's immensely refreshing and valuable, given that nuance often appears to have been the first victim in the culture wars. And yet, even while embracing that messiness and nuance, she is still capable of pointing at things that are awful and saying, in a clear and composed voice: This is bullshit, and I am not okay with it. It's strong stuff, honest and vulnerable and angry, and very much worth reading.

Although it is, I think, necessary to note that this collection was published in 2014. It's astonishing how much that shows, and not just in the essays towards the end where she talks about then-current news stories, or even in the couple of more-or-less neutral, offhand references to Bill Cosby. There has been so much more to talk about in the last six years, and I find myself thinking I'd like to seek out more of Roxane Gay's writing, to see what she has to say about it all.

Rating: 4.5/5

31bragan
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 27, 2020, 10:00am

64. Artificial Condition by Martha Wells.



Book two in the Murderbot series, in which the rogue cyborg makes a new friend, gets a job, and searches for some answers about the past.

Gosh, I love Murderbot. I love their social awkwardness and their TV addiction and their idiosyncratic but deep-seated sense of responsibility. They're weirdly adorable, and, like at least one other character in this book, I'd love to give them a hug, if it weren't for the fact that they wouldn't enjoy it. I think I could happily just hang out with Murderbot watching futuristic TV shows for indefinite periods of time. Which is a good thing, because, short as this volume is, that more or less describes a long chunk of the beginning of it. The plot, once it does get going, is extremely slight, too, but I found it engaging enough, and there's a genuinely touching moment or two.

Rating: 4/5

32lisapeet
heinäkuu 27, 2020, 7:06am

>31 bragan: I was totally uninterested in the Murderbot series until people here started talking about it, and now I feel like I have to try at least the first one.

33bragan
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 28, 2020, 9:57am

>32 lisapeet: They're not at all what you'd expect from something called "the Murderbot diaries." :) And the first one (like most of them) is very short, so even if you don't like it as much as I and others have, it's not much of a time investment.

34avaland
heinäkuu 28, 2020, 6:20am

>24 bragan: Interesting notes on Joe Hill. Have not read him. Well, interesting notes on all the books here :-)

35bragan
heinäkuu 28, 2020, 9:57am

>34 avaland: Thank you! Always glad to be interesting. :)

36bragan
heinäkuu 31, 2020, 12:09am

65. The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin



Book two in N. K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy is set ten years after the end of book one. It features a few of the same characters as well as some new ones (including our main character this time out), and gives us a look at what one particularly significant character is going through after that volume's climactic events.

I wasn't sure, for most of it, whether I liked this one quite as much as the first one, but in the end I do feel pretty happy with it, if only just because I like what Jemisin does with this world's gods, and even though we got most of the big mythological world-building in the first book, there's still interesting stuff to explore in this one.

If I have one quibble, it's that for someone who is blind (well, mostly), the POV character sure seems to find it remarkably easy to perceive and describe exactly how everyone is looking at her, which bothered me a little.

Rating: 4/5

37bragan
Muokkaaja: elokuu 2, 2020, 9:13am

66. All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat



In Thailand, in June of 2018, twelve members of a boys' soccer team, along with their coach, went on what was supposed to be a fun afternoon's adventure exploring a local cave system, only to find themselves trapped when the caves flooded due to the unexpectedly early arrival of Thailand's rainy season. They were stuck down there for eighteen days, the first ten of them with no food and no contact with the outside world, an ordeal I honestly cannot even begin to imagine.

I was vaguely aware of these events when they happened, occasionally hearing news about them, but I had absolutely no idea of just how massive, dedicated, and heroic the rescue operations that saved these kids were. By the end, they involved a staggering number of people: from the Thai and US militaries, to expert cave divers flown in from the UK, to local people who did everything from helping divert more water from entering the caves to delivering meals for the rescue workers. Nor did I have any sense of how incredibly difficult and dangerous the entire operation was, or how near-miraculous it was that all thirteen survived. (Although the event was still not free of tragedy, as one of the Thai Navy SEALs lost his life over the course of those eighteen days.)

I am very glad to know it all now, though. It's an exciting story of daring rescue, and a worthwhile cautionary tale -- be careful in caves, people, and always tell someone where you're going! -- but most of all it seems to me to be a showcase of humanity at its very best, coming together to help those in need, no matter what it might take.

And Soontornvat tells that story well. Her writing is simple and clear in a way that's meant to be accessible to younger readers, but it's compelling enough for those of any age. She never sensationalizes the story, or talks about the kids in a way that feels like it's exploiting their traumatic experiences. She doesn't even do that thing I thought anyone writing this sort of book was practically obligated to do these days and stick the climactic or most exciting part of the story in the front, as if readers can't be trusted to be sufficiently patient with a narrative that actually starts at the beginning. I cannot say how refreshing I find that! And I for one, certainly didn't need any sensationalizing or contrived narrative structure to feel incredibly invested in the events as they unfolded. The simple facts are interesting and exciting enough! And, speaking of simple facts, I also very much appreciated the sidebars Soontornvat includes giving relevant and useful background information about subjects like cave geology and Thai culture.

Rating: 4.5/5

(Note: This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book.)

38lisapeet
elokuu 2, 2020, 8:35am

>37 bragan: I followed that story as it unfolded a couple of summers ago—both thrilling and horrifying, thinking of the lives involved.

39bragan
elokuu 2, 2020, 9:12am

>38 lisapeet: It was definitely both of those things.

40bragan
Muokkaaja: elokuu 4, 2020, 5:19pm

67. Normal People by Sally Rooney



The story of two young people, Connell and Marianne, best friends and sometime lovers, as they come together and apart through their high school and college years and try, together and apart, to deal with all the ways in which they are damaged and lonely and bad at dealing with other people. It's extremely well-written, in a way that's profoundly, painfully realistic, and I found myself caring deeply these kids' lives, even while I spent most of the novel wanting to knock their heads together until they saw sense about themselves and each other and the people around them.

The only thing I'm not 100% sure works for me is the ending, but I have to admit that a more patly satisfying ending for this story would not actually have felt truthful and right, even if part of me really wanted it.

Rating: 4.5/5

41bragan
Muokkaaja: elokuu 8, 2020, 11:35am

68. Vampires of the Scarlet Order by David Lee Summers



This was not a good book.

I mean, honestly, I didn't expect it to be a good book. But it's really not a good book. The writing is pretty amateurish; the plot is rambling, ridiculous, muddy, and thin; the characters are unconvincing and uninteresting; and it manages to include some sex that is simultaneously both gratuitous and deeply unsexy. I will say this for it, at least: it does come up with some actually kind of original ideas about the origins of vampires and how they work. They're not good ideas, mind you, but at this point it's so difficult to come up with anything new on the subject of vampires that that's almost impressive. Almost.

It did have a couple of points of interest for me, though. One is that one of the characters works at a job very similar to mine, and the other is that it's set in various places in my adopted home state of New Mexico, including some significant events that happen in the town I live in. No doubt people from, say, New York City are used to seeing their own stomping grounds depicted in fiction, but that generally doesn't happen when you live in Middle of Nowhere, New Mexico. So I got a little bit of a kick out of that (and, indeed, it was the only reason I picked this book up in the first place).

That doesn't help make it any better of a book, though.

Rating: 1.5/5

42lisapeet
elokuu 8, 2020, 8:06am

>41 bragan: Was the setting the reason you picked it up? Question asked with no snark at all, honest—I'm always curious why people choose off-the-radar or backlist books, especially something that looks as off-putting as that one. It's kind of the inverse of the Avid Reader cover question, isn't it... what are reasons for reading a book with a cover that puts you off, or that screams "awful book"?

43bragan
Muokkaaja: elokuu 8, 2020, 11:33am

>42 lisapeet: Why would that be a snarky question? I kind of answered it in the review, even, I think. Of course that was the reason I was interested in it! :)

Even so, it's entirely possible I might not have ever actually motivated myself to go out and pick up a copy, but I did add it to my wishlist as something potentially interesting, if only for sheer curiosity value. And then, well, I wrote this computer program to pick random books off my wishlist for me from time to time, and this one came up...

Anyway, that might well make for a good Avid Reader question. Although in most cases where I'm picking up a book I'm not necessarily expecting to be good, I think my reasons are a lot murkier than they were this time. Which might make them interesting to think about.

(Oh, and, by the way, if you think the front cover of that one is bad, you should see the back cover! I could not let that show in public.)

44lisapeet
elokuu 9, 2020, 8:58am

>43 bragan: Well, it can be so easy to misconstrue tone online, and I just don't want to sound like "Why on earth would you waste valuable reading time on that?"

45bragan
elokuu 9, 2020, 11:55am

>44 lisapeet: Heh. Well, there is definitely a way you could have phrased that question that would have sounded that way, but fear not, it wasn't the one you used.

Also, it might not have been an entirely unreasonable question even if you had just said that. ;)

46bragan
elokuu 10, 2020, 12:28pm

69. Molecules: The Elements and the Architecture of Everything by Theodore Gray



This is a follow-up of sorts to Theodore Gray's earlier book, The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. Unlike that one, this volume cannot possibly be comprehensive because while there are a limited number of elements in the periodic table, the ways in which those elements can combine into molecules is practically infinite. So Gray instead takes us through a sampling of interesting and important molecules, loosely organized by what they're used for by human beings.

If you've read The Elements -- and you should! -- this one has a very similar sensibility, with lots and lots of photos of substances the author has painstakingly collected and managed to make visually interesting, despite the tendency of most pure substances to actually just look like boring white powders. There's a nice little basic chemistry lesson at the beginning and all kinds of wonderfully fascinating information to be found throughout the entire book, as Gray tells us, for instance, why teflon is so slippery, how soap works, why oil and water don't mix, and what's in artificial sweeteners, along with tons of other, sometimes much weirder and more obscure things. He does this with a lot of genial humor; in places this book is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. But he also takes a wonderfully hard-headed and clear-eyed look at things like what the difference is between "natural" and "artificial" substances is (answer: very little), at chemicals that get an undeserved bad rap, and at ones that genuinely are bad news.

It's all extremely interesting and delightfully fun, as weird as that might seem for a book about chemistry, even for a science-minded reader like me. More than that, though, I think it really has shifted my perspective on the world around me. It's one thing to be aware, hypothetically, somewhere in the back of your mind, that everything in the world is made of molecules and almost everything that happens in it comes down to the action of these small, varied entities fitting together and breaking apart, but it's a different experience entirely to find yourself stopping to think about what that really means, and to marvel at the ways in which we human beings have found to shape these tiny interactions to do some very big things. And all the more so when you contemplate just how simple so many of these ultra-important molecules are, and how much small differences between them -- even ones so small it can be hard to notice them on a diagram -- matter in our lives.

In other words, this is pretty, it's entertaining, it's educational, and it's actually kind of mind-blowing. A very, very cool book!

Rating: 4.5/5

47dukedom_enough
elokuu 15, 2020, 11:14am

>37 bragan: Does Soontornvat say much about Elon Musk's peripheral involvement? IIRC he came out looking quite bad.

48bragan
elokuu 15, 2020, 2:00pm

>37 bragan: A bit, but not in any great detail, mostly just that the idea the SpaceX guys came up with was high-tech but ultimately unworkable. The tone is pretty neutral, and I'm not actually sure, now that I think about it, whether she even mentions Musk by name.

49dukedom_enough
elokuu 15, 2020, 5:56pm

50bragan
elokuu 17, 2020, 7:05pm

70. The Secret History by Donna Tartt



This novel tells the story of five people, students of ancient Greek at a small college in Vermont, who have murdered their friend and classmate by pushing him off a cliff. We learn about this act immediately, and then the rest of the first half of the book is devoted to what came before it, and the second half to what came afterward.

Based on all the enthusiastic praise I'd heard for this book, I was expecting... I don't know. Something thrilling and twisty, deep and dark. It isn't quite that, though. At least not the twisty and thrilling part. It's really quite leisurely, even. But it is, in its own way, compelling, the sort of novel you just want to sink into for a good long while, and the end is really quite gripping, even if not at all in the way I would have anticipated going in.

This is also a really good example of the fact that stories don't have to have likeable characters to be good, because all of these people are just awful. But they're awful in convincing and interesting ways.

Rating: 4.5/5

51bragan
Muokkaaja: elokuu 17, 2020, 11:46pm

71. You Can Keep That to Yourself: A Comprehensive List of What Not to Say to Black People, for Well-Intentioned People of Pallor by Adam Smyer



This very short little book, purporting to be written by "the black coworker you are referring to when you claim to have black friends," is ostensibly humor, and it did make me laugh out loud a couple of times. But it's humor with real bite, humor fueled by outrage and intended to cut sharply through complacency, and overall I'd say it succeeds at that very well.

Rating: 4/5

(Note: This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book.)

52bragan
elokuu 20, 2020, 8:33pm

72. An Author's Odyssey by Chris Colfer



Book five in the six-book Land of Stories series of kids' novels. In this one, our young protagonists, Alex and Connor, must save the land of fairy tales from devastation at the hands of villains from other classic stories. So they use their power to enter fictional worlds to recruit allies from short stories that Connor himself has written. Which include characters based on people they know in the fairy tale kingdoms, so there's something entertainingly complicated and meta about the whole thing. Like the other books in this series, it's a lot of fun and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. And I'm actually kind of impressed with how much Connor's stories actually feel like things that might have been written by a talented teenage boy, with just the right mix of imagination and silliness.

Rating: 4/5

53bragan
elokuu 25, 2020, 1:03am

73. Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car―And How It Will Reshape Our World by Lawrence D. Burns, with Christopher Shulcan



A look at the development of self-driving cars and the possibilities for disruptive but ultimately beneficial changes that society will likely experience as we switch over from human-driven, gas-guzzling, privately owned vehicles to autonomous electric ones that people hire only when they need them.

It's an interesting topic, and I agree with author Lawrence Burns that it's one that's likely to have a huge effect on all our futures. (One that can't come soon enough, if you ask me, because I really hate driving.) But my interest levels in the book itself were a bit variable. It doesn't start off very promisingly, I'm afraid, with a long section covering the DARPA races of the mid-2000s that I found surprisingly unsatisfying, as it glossed over a lot of the technical details I was interested in without being terribly successful at turning it into an exciting human-interest story instead.

Fortunately, much of the rest of it worked better for me, although it never did get as much into the technical side of things as I was hoping. For me, the software engineering is one of the most interesting aspects of this subject. But, although I did find the chapter devoted to the testing of Google's automated vehicles one the most engaging parts of the book, it really only scratched the surface of the technical challenges involved.

That may not be too surprising, though, as Burns is a businessman, not a technical guy, although his career, unusually, has encompassed both Detroit and Silicon Valley and has perhaps even involved a sort of synthesis of the two. So he includes a lot of detail about the business side of things and the personalities involved and how different companies have taken different approaches. Sometimes a little more than I quite wanted, to be honest, and his position probably isn't entirely unbiased. But he's very, very knowledgeable about all of this, and he has a very clear vision of the future that I think is both realistic and worthwhile.

So, even if this isn't entirely the book I was hoping it would be, I'd say it is definitely worth reading if this is a subject you're interested in.

Rating: a slightly stingy 3.5/5

54thorold
elokuu 25, 2020, 6:53am

>53 bragan: That one looks like a classic case of a subtitle designed by a committee. The publisher obviously refused to let it out of the door without a "change the world" tag of some kind, but they'd already used up their only remaining colon, and clearly weren't sure any more what that "and" is supposed to be doing grammatically, so they threw in an em-dash and hoped for the best.

Driverless cars are fascinating, technically, but they do somehow seem to be solving the wrong problem. What we should be doing is persuading humans to live in places where they don't need cars at all.

I suspect that Covid will have set back progress in that direction considerably, though. One person per vehicle and a quarter acre of land each and we can con ourselves that we need never see another virus...

55bragan
Muokkaaja: elokuu 25, 2020, 1:14pm

>54 thorold: Subtitles have gotten completely and utterly out of hand. Although in this case, it might not be the publisher who wanted the "change the world" tag, because the way this stuff is, in fact, likely to "reshape our world" is a major theme of the author's. He did mention, at one point, that it originally said "the race to build," yadda yadda, and that that was changed because he realized it had entirely the wrong implications, that he didn't want to present it as a competition with winners and losers. So clearly some thought was put into the wording! And yet, they still generated that atrocity with the em-dash, when it didn't actually need any punctuation at all. There are clearly some idiosyncratic grammar conventions evolving in the subtitle-generating community, whoever that is, and I suppose they're linguistically interesting, but they still kind of make me shake my head.

What we should be doing is persuading humans to live in places where they don't need cars at all.

Where am I supposed to live, then? We can't all move to big cities. My own work is here in the middle of the desert because you can't do radio astronomy in heavily populated areas full of radio interference, and there are plenty of other things that need lots of space outside of cities, too. (Wind farms, solar farms, farm farms...)

In fact, one of the things I find frustrating about visions like the one outlined in this book, even if I otherwise approve, is that they treat people who live in rural areas and small towns, like me, as if we don't exist or aren't important, and the only solutions anyone has to think about are the ones that work for people in cities.

56thorold
elokuu 25, 2020, 4:15pm

>55 bragan: Sorry, I didn’t mean to be dismissive of people who live and work in rural areas — it’s not that you aren’t important, it’s that you aren’t the main part of the problem. It’s suburbs and satellite towns that were built without thinking about public transport provision that create most of the demand for non-essential car journeys and have to be fixed, somehow or other.

57bragan
elokuu 25, 2020, 5:10pm

>56 thorold: Ah, well, yes, I see what you mean. That kind of sprawl --- which I grew up in and maintain no nostalgic affection for at all -- is definitely an issue. Although not one that I see any obvious or easy solution to, sadly.

But, of course, in the attempt to sort out the (very real) problems of cities and suburbs, it is still true that the needs of the rest of us usually go neglected. And I get why, but I don't have to like it.

58avaland
Muokkaaja: elokuu 26, 2020, 5:34am

Interesting conversation, said she after virtually eavesdropping.

59bragan
elokuu 25, 2020, 6:38pm

>58 avaland: Hello, eavesdropper! (Hmm. What do you call it when you're "eavesdropping" in text form on the internet? Lurking, I suppose.)

60ELiz_M
Muokkaaja: elokuu 25, 2020, 7:33pm

>57 bragan: Also, some of the solutions for "persuading humans to live in places where they don't need cars at all" could involve restructuring economic incentives so that there could be many many more small business grocery/retail/hardware stores and doctor offices located in many many more small towns rather than only one Walmart or one hospital in 200 square miles so those in rural ares need cars less and/or drive shorter distances. :)

61bragan
Muokkaaja: elokuu 25, 2020, 7:51pm

>60 ELiz_M: For my town, it's hard to imagine what level of restructuring or economic incentive could realistically lead to that. Very few small businesses that give it a shot here manage to stay open at all, and big stores like Smith's groceries have also given up and closed their doors. And while we do have a couple of doctor's offices and a small hospital, the population just isn't high enough to support most medical specialists. Meaning that even if the magic money fairy dumped a giant truckload of cash on the town, my days of having to drive what can often be nearly a three-hour round trip for a 10-minute appointment with an oral surgeon or a kidney specialist are unlikely to be over any time soon.

62avaland
elokuu 26, 2020, 5:35am

>59 bragan: yes, that's it, "lurking"!

63bragan
Muokkaaja: elokuu 30, 2020, 4:06pm

74. The Kingdom of Gods by N. K. Jemisin



This is the final volume in N.K. Jemisin's Inheritance trilogy, and... wow. The first two books were good, but this one is fantastic. This time the story is told from the point of view of one of the gods (although one who's suffering from a slight mortality problem), and the perspective this gives us on the nature and experiences and history of these entities is fascinating. I really am in awe of what Jemisin does with her mythology, the way it feels at once familiar in its archetypes and yet also utterly inventive and original. She makes her god characters compellingly complex and subtle, too, in ways that make one really think about what it even means to be a god of something.

Oh, yes, and the plot is also great, with a climax that is exciting and unexpected, epic and moving and perhaps even a little bit profound.

And, as a bonus, it's also got possibly the most hilarious glossary of terms I've ever seen in a novel, too.

Rating: 5/5

64bragan
elokuu 31, 2020, 1:14am

75. Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle



The second collection of Strange Planet comics, featuring aliens who experience all the activities of normal human lives, but describe them in terms that are literally accurate, but hilariously strange. (Example: they address the problem of a barking dog by observing "We must convince the creature to yell at fewer things.") In this volume, we see them experiencing holidays, pets, food, children, and music. As with the first installment, it's all very charming and laugh-out-loud funny and even a little bit philosophical.

Rating: 4.5/5

65bragan
syyskuu 2, 2020, 9:04pm

76. In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell



Hoo, boy, how do I even begin to talk about this book? I could try saying that it's about a man and a woman in, well, a house upon the dirt, between a wood where there's a bear and a lake where there's apparently a squid, and they want to have children, but all the woman's pregnancies keep failing, and then...

Nah. That doesn't give you the sense of what this book is at all, and honestly I have no idea how to even finish that sentence after the "and then..." Better, maybe, to say that it has the feel of a dark fairy tale, or a strange mythology, or, better still, some kind of dream that seems to be made up of metaphors I don't feel like I entirely understand, shaped into a whole that I feel like I might sort of understand if I glance at it sideways, but maybe not. It's fascinating, though, in its own surreal way, and the writing is impressive. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure what the hell I just read, but I do think I'm glad to have read it.

Rating: 4/5

66bragan
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 6, 2020, 12:06am

77. How the Post Office Created America by Winifred Gallagher



This is a history of the United States Post Office, from its origins up through the present. (Or very nearly the present, anyway. The book was published in 2016, but, of course, more history is happening to the postal system even as we speak.) It does live up to its title, as it becomes very clear through this history that that Post Office has had a massive hand in shaping the evolution of America, from providing those planning the American Revolution a network of communications not dependent on mail service administered by the British, to creating roads all across the country, to encouraging the development of railroad and aviation, to exerting subtle influences on the shape of society.

It's all fairly interesting (and occasionally genuinely surprising) information, although I have to say that I found the writing rather dry in places, especially in the early chapters, to the extent that I occasionally realized I'd zoned out a little and had to go back and re-read the last few paragraphs to see what I'd missed. I also can't help the feeling that the author buys in a little too readily to the colonialist myth of America as a country heroically wrested from a savage wilderness, or at least isn't willing to cast the critical eye on the idea that it deserves when it comes up. Which it frequently does.

The last couple of chapters and the afterward, however, about the challenges and difficulties faced by the Postal Service in the last few decades and the uncertain prospects for its future -- complete with a succinct laying-out of the downsides of privatizing mail delivery -- are well-done and certainly feel very, very relevant at the moment.

Rating: I'm going to give this a slightly stingy 3.5/5, but I'd say that it is worth reading right now, more than that mildly lukewarm rating might indicate.

67bragan
syyskuu 8, 2020, 10:52pm

78. Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid



The novel tells the story of a fictional hit rock band from the 1970s, including all the drama and disputes and sexual tension between the band members that led to the group breaking up right when they were at their height. It's told in an "oral history" format, with little "interview" snippets from the various characters interspersed to tell the story, giving something of the feel of watching a behind-the-music documentary. You'd think maybe this format might feel gimmicky, or start to get old after a while, but it works really well. Not only did I get very caught up in the lives of these people and come to care about them and their messed-up interactions, but I think I actually started to find it difficult to remind myself that they weren't a real band whose music I had somehow inexplicably never heard. Although now I really, really wish I could hear it.

Rating: 4/5

68bragan
syyskuu 9, 2020, 10:52am

79. Book Love by Debbie Tung



A collection of cartoons about books, reading, and the obsessive love of both. I think there is probably a little too much of the slightly corny "Books are magical!", "Books are an adventure!" sort of thing here. I mean, I certainly don't object to or disagree with the sentiments, but maybe there's a limit to how much of it I need to see in one place.

On the other hand, I never, ever, ever get tired of jokes about buying too many books, no matter how many you already have or how much money you're lacking. And there are a few cartoons here that captured some unexpected bookworm experiences in ways that made me laugh. Why, yes, I have been the person getting wet in the rain because I took my jacket off and wrapped it around my books to keep them dry.

Rating: 3.5/5

69bragan
syyskuu 18, 2020, 12:26am

80. The Empire of Gold by S. A. Chakraborty



The third and final book in the Daevabad trilogy.

I have to start out by saying that there is a lot of stuff I really, really like in this series. The worldbuilding is terrific, really fantastic and detailed and rich. The magic is fascinating and magical. The characters are interesting and believable; even the worst of the bad guys has motivations that make emotional sense. The plot's pretty good, too, full of complicated conflicts of various kinds, some of them downright epic.

But it has one serious problem. The pacing is way off. It wasn't too much of a problem for me with the first two books. Sure, they started off slow, but they made up for it. This one, though... Well, the last 250 pages or so were great (notwithstanding one slightly clunky instance of the author keeping some information secret from the reader to make things more dramatic). But there were 500 pages before that. Five hundred. And while they didn't consist entirely of characters sitting around talking about things that had already happened, it definitey felt that way, and by the time I got to the payoff, I was already a little tired from wading through it all.

Rating: 3.5/5. I want to rate this more highly. It's probably unfair that I haven't. But I keep thinking how much patience it took to get to the really good stuff, and I can't quite justify it to myself. Even if I do still think the series as a whole is worth reading.

70avaland
syyskuu 21, 2020, 6:42am

Just stopping in to catch up on what you are reading :-)

71bragan
syyskuu 21, 2020, 5:34pm

>70 avaland: Hello! You are always welcome! :)

72bragan
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 24, 2020, 7:36am

81. What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton



I figured that before whatever happens this time with the US Presidential election, it was time for me to do some reading about what happened last time.

Hillary Rodham Clinton tells her side of that story here, as well as speaking on a number of other related subjects, including a couple of engaging and surprisingly affecting chapters on the difficulties and inspirations of being a woman in politics.

She pulls absolutely no punches when it comes to calling out Donald Trump on his corruption, abuses, and lies -- especially in the Afterword to the 2018 edition I have -- but she comes across here, by and large, as a measured, reasonable, thoughtful person, someone who was and is desperately interested in issues of policy and the practical business of governing and who was deeply frustrated by how those things ended up being completely ignored in the multimedia mess that was the 2016 election.

I'll be absolutely honest here. While I don't have a major problem with her, I've also never been a huge fan of Hillary Clinton. Personally, I'd pick Elizabeth Warren as my top choice for the first female US President. But I never doubted Clinton's competence or her dedication, and reading her thoughts in this book has only reinforced that impression. I cannot help thinking now about that so-close alternate timeline in which it would have been her hand on the rudder to guide us through our current crises, and it's a thought that generates a very real sense of grief. Reading here about all the plans and preparations she had made for her presidency, about the speech she had intended to make if she won and the things she had hoped to accomplish, and contrasting all of that with what we actually got... It's just heartbreaking. There is simply no other word for it.

Clinton herself makes a point of finding notes of hope and optimism in the midst of it all, but sitting here reading this in September of 2020, I'm honestly finding it hard to feel anything other than depressed.

Rating: 4/5

73bragan
syyskuu 24, 2020, 7:26am

82. Fruit Rot by James R. Gapinski



This is a tiny little chapbook containing a 24-page short story, a satiric dark comedy piece about a comic book artist and his wife who one day suddenly find a tree in their back yard whose fruit can cure whatever ails you. It's so short I don't want to say too much about it, but I will say that I enjoyed it. It's well-written, amusing, a bit thought-provoking, and the right kind of weird.

Rating: 4/5

Note: This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book.

74bragan
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 24, 2020, 8:58am

83. Felines of New York by Jim Tews



A parody of the excellent Humans of New York, featuring pictures of cats, with short "quotes" from them. (Example: "My grandparents immigrated here from New Jersey, and now I have this box. I wish they could see me. They'd be like, 'How the fuck did you get that box? We never had a box.' But I don't know, the box just kind of showed up, so I sat in it.")

The quotes are, overall, actually a lot funnier than I was expecting, and the cat pictures are very pretty. I want to pet and cuddle all of these cats. All of them. So much.

Rating: 4/5

75EdwardMcLean
syyskuu 24, 2020, 9:01am

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76Nickelini
syyskuu 25, 2020, 2:30am

>72 bragan: & >73 bragan: - both very interesting comments on books I'll probably never read (although if I come across the second one I'll grab it)

>74 bragan:
LOL - I hope at least there was a cat or two in a sink (my cat never sits in the sink, but today she sat in the flipped over box lid. That was a new silliness. Usually she just squeezes herself into a size 56, when obviously she's a 58 or even a 59. I once gave her a luxurious size 71, but no, she showed me by oozing herself into a 53*)

* random cat box sizes that don't correspond to anything in the human world

77bragan
syyskuu 25, 2020, 4:04am

>76 Nickelini: There was not a cat sitting in a sink, but there was one drinking out of a sink faucet in a very awkward-looking way.

And cats, of course, are extremely compressible! Sometimes they feel compelled to prove this fact. :)

78auntmarge64
syyskuu 25, 2020, 5:53pm

>24 bragan:. Your review of The Fireman gave me the giggles (slightly hysterical giggles, actually), especially when it got to the spontaneous combustion and the wildfire parallels. Now if only we could close this year's cover and get on with real life ourselves!

>31 bragan: Murderbot, YES! A fascinating character.

79bragan
syyskuu 25, 2020, 8:36pm

>78 auntmarge64: What's extra funny, in a horrible kind of way, is that I wrote that review before the wildfires got going the way they are, at least here in the US. I was thinking, heh, instead of the metaphorical fire that the world is on right now, the book has it literally on fire, isn't that darkly amusing? Except now we're literally on fire in the real world as well, and I should absolutely stop thinking fiction could possibly be worse than the actual world of 2020.

And, hey, good timing! There is more Murderbot reading incoming!

80bragan
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 25, 2020, 8:44pm

84. Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells



The third installment in Martha Wells' Murderbot series. This time Murderbot investigates an abandoned terraforming station that is, in fact, neither abandoned nor actually a terraforming station, and once more finds itself in a dangerous situation with some squishy humans to protect.

As usual, and unsurprisingly for a book that's only about 150 pages long, the plot is pretty slight. And the action sequences in this series might be getting a little bit same-y. But, oh, never mind that, because it's always an utter delight to see Murderbot again. I just love that snarky, emotionally confused, TV-addict cyborg so much. Seeing it again is like running into a beloved friend, and I swear every time it shows a sign of actually caring about someone -- which it does a lot, whether it understands the fact or not -- something embarrassing happens to my heart.

Rating: a very un-objective 4/5

81lisapeet
syyskuu 25, 2020, 9:03pm

>80 bragan: Oh I think I need to get on the Murderbot train. Everyone I know who's read them seems to love them.

82bragan
syyskuu 25, 2020, 9:38pm

>81 lisapeet: They're not quite what I was expecting -- although I'm not at all sure what I was expecting -- but they're delightful.

83auntmarge64
syyskuu 25, 2020, 10:37pm

>82 bragan:. Yup, delightful, that's exactly right. You really never would expect that. Very original, too. And just think, you still have a novella and an actual novel to go before having to wait (sob) for the next one

84bragan
syyskuu 26, 2020, 12:16am

>83 auntmarge64: As soon as I started that one, I found myself thinking that I hated the thought of catching up and not having any more to read.

85bragan
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 26, 2020, 3:54pm

85. Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh



The long awaited and much anticipated follow-up to Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half. This one follows the same format, interspersing text and illustrations that feature Allie herself as a crudely drawn cartoon figure. As with the first one, there are depictions of mishaps from her childhood, incidents from her adulthood, tales of depry pets, and ponderings on her own dysfunction and weirdness. There's also a very serious chapter -- it's labeled "the serious part" -- in which she talks a bit about a very bad time in her life, in which she had to deal with scary medical problems and the death of her sister while already in the throes of what can only be called an existential crisis. Although even in that chapter, she demonstrates the ability to shake us out of the emotional depths with perfectly timed hits of charming, oddball silliness.

Overall, though, this book has a rather different, considerably heavier feel to it than the first one, I think. Clearly Brosh's existential crisis is not remotely over, because there's a strong theme throughout of the difficulty of knowing how to deal with the unfairness and meaningless absurdity of life and our powerlessness and incomprehension in the face of it all. Sometimes you can laugh about that. Sometimes you really, really can't. And in the end, all you can do is try to be your own friend and get through it all as best as you can. Which is a theme I very much appreciated.

I will say that I don't think that this ever made me laugh nearly as hard as the first book, nor did it affect me quite as deeply as her writings about depression there, maybe because I like to believe I've more or less come to terms with the meaningless absurdity of life already, myself. But, well, that's a really high bar, and it certainly did both affect me and make me laugh.

Rating: 4/5

86avaland
syyskuu 27, 2020, 8:55am

>72 bragan: Great review; your thoughts are interesting and I agree with most. I read...er... listened to this on audio when it first came out as part of the mourning process. I have followed this woman since the "Maybe I could have stayed home and baked cookies" statement. I also love Liz Warren but I feel that she has been able to be herself on the presidential political stage because of Hillary and so many other women who came before (being told to do this, not that; say this, not that' wear this, not that, if you know what I mean). There is a really good (4-part?) documentary on one of the streaming channels (ETA: Hulu, trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViAAwc0BtiE), interesting even for those who are not self-described fans.

87bragan
syyskuu 27, 2020, 10:36am

>86 avaland: It's a good point; there's little question that she has been blazing a trail others have been able to follow. It's clear that hasn't been easy, and I have a lot of respect for her on that, more so, I think, after reading the book.

The documentary does look potentially really interesting. I don't have Hulu, but I'm probably going to at some point in the future, so maybe I'll find time to check it out then.

88bragan
syyskuu 27, 2020, 11:53pm

86. Bird Box by Josh Malerman



There are creatures wandering through the world. Creatures it is impossible to look at, even to catch a glimpse of, without going mad. Those who see them may violently and horribly attack others, and inevitably seem to kill themselves before long. The narrative here alternates between the story a woman making a dangerous blindfolded journey down a river with two small children, and the events of a time before the children were born, when she lived with a house full of roommates in hiding from the creatures. We have no idea what's going to happen on the river, but it's very clear that something awful did happen to the roommates, with only the exact, horrible details waiting to be revealed, and I'm genuinely not sure which of the two I found to be more suspenseful.

The writing, admittedly, often feels not very polished, and there are a number of small details that don't ring entirely true to me. I'm also not entirely sure the ending hits quite the right note, after all of that. But, man, the brilliant creepiness of the whole concept and the extremely effective sense of tension and fear through the whole thing does a surprisingly good job of sweeping all of its flaws out of mind.

Rating: Based entirely on how good it is with the creepiness and the tension, I'm giving it a 4/5.

89bragan
syyskuu 29, 2020, 12:21pm

87. Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North



Have you ever wanted to give Romeo and Juliet a happy ending? To force them to have more mature attitudes about love? Or maybe just watch them fighting some ninjas? Well, then, good news! Now you can make all those crazy lovers' decisions for them!

This is a sort of follow up to Ryan North's Choose-You-Own-Adventure -- sorry, Chooseable-Path Adventure -- To Be or Not to Be. I will say that I think I liked that one a little bit more, probably in part because it was more of a novelty and I spent a lot of the time being happily astonished that it worked at all, and partly because I adore Hamlet but have never felt remotely the same about Romeo and Juliet. This one is also slightly less well-produced. It does have fun illustrations for each ending, but not the amazing full-color ones To Be or Not to Be did, and it also doesn't give each choice its own separate page, which made my usual habit of marking all the choices with post-it notes so I could go back to them later a lot messier.

But never mind all that, because even if I did like the first one slightly better, this one was still pretty delightful, with its amusing little digs at the characters' ideas about romance, and its sprinkling of silly pop-culture references, its moments of meta and unexpected dips into completely different genres. You also get three other bonus Shakespeare plays hidden inside!

Rating: 4/5

90Nickelini
syyskuu 29, 2020, 10:39pm

>87 bragan:
I've never heard of such a thing and it sounds fun and delightful

91bragan
syyskuu 30, 2020, 12:19am

The choose-your-own Shakespeare? It is ridiculously fun!

92bragan
lokakuu 3, 2020, 11:34am

And that's it for the third quarter of the year. Please join me for the rest of 2020 here.