Featured

Destiny’s Destiny (Six Sentence Stories Flash Fiction)

“You are my destiny…” he sang, giving a cheesy grin for flourish.

“Knock it off with the cornball, I’m not your destiny and you know it,” she snapped back.

“But you’re my love, my darling, my fiancée, my betrothed, right?”

“Yeah.”

“And your name is Destiny, right?”

“I swear to God, Mom, why couldn’t you have named me Madison or Courtney or Britnee like all the normal trendy mothers did,” she grumbled.

asy819
Photo: asy819

Every week, Denise at Girlie on the Edge hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. The rules are simple: Write a story, any genre, in exactly six sentences. This week’s cue was DESTINY. More fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Come join us; it’s a blast!

Advertisements
Featured

True Grit by Charles Portis (Book Review)

True GritTrue Grit by Charles Portis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fifty-seven out of five stars for True Grit.

Bookshelves: the-shit, wild-wild-west, western, coming-of-age, americana, action-with-a-body-count, adventure, love-the-cover, comfort-favorites, classic

Unless you’ve lived under a rock your whole life, you already know the story – young girl in 1870’s America hires tough old U.S. marshal to hunt down her father’s killer. But even if you’ve seen either or both of the movies, the book is worth reading simply for that joy only a bibliophage can know–that of a master wordsmith practicing his craft.

Mattie Ross is one of the best characters I have ever read. She jumps off the page at you, fully alive and telling an action-packed story in her unique, full-throated voice. I started the book on a Monday evening, settling in with it for my bedtime reading, and finished it on Tuesday night, after a (mostly) full night’s sleep and a full workday. Mattie pulled me headlong after her. Rooster Cogburn is merely a co-star.

Over the years I’d seen bits and pieces of the John Wayne movie but never watched it in full — the bits I caught here and there seemed hammy and overacted to me, and I wasn’t interested. More recently I did watch the redo with Jeff Bridges, more because I like Jeff Bridges than for any other reason (when they were both younger, my first husband looked so much like Bridges he’d occasionally be asked for his autograph), and I really enjoyed it, especially watching Hailee Steinfeld flat-out own every scene she was in. After reading the book I figured I’d better watch the Duke’s movie so I’d be fully informed on the matter. The Bridges version is much truer to the book, and was a better job in my opinion. The Coen brothers made it clear that their version was not a remake, but was a new interpretation of the book it was based on, and I think it did the book much more justice.

I had this book in my possession only by chance. I bought it in 2010 for my husband (a huge John Wayne fan) to read while recuperating from open-heart surgery and was disappointed when he never even cracked it. I’m rather surprised I even packed it to move to another state, when I was already having to winnow my book collection down and leave so many behind. I was finally motivated to read it after Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby (the first Spenser novel written by somebody else after Parker’s death, and that’s a whole rant I’ll spare you) disappointed me so, but I didn’t fail to notice the mini-homage to True Grit tucked inside it. So Lullaby was good for something besides convincing me once and for all to never read another not-written-by-Parker Parker book again.

But I digress. I’ve found a new comfort book. Cannot recommend this highly enough.

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Looking Back (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“Only whores pierce their ears and gad themselves up like that,” Daddy had said. Daddy had said lots of things and done worse, which had a bit to do with her running off at sixteen.

And which had a lot to do with why almost the first thing she’d done, alone and free, was pierce her ears.

And which had everything to do with why the first earrings she’d bought were the biggest, brassiest, whoriest pair of hoops she could find.

She feels eyes boring into back, but when she looks behind her in the mirror, she’s alone. Smiling.

c_scott
Photo: C_Scott

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction linkup. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a character who looks back. It can be a metaphorical reflection or a glance in the rear-view mirror. Who is looking back, and why? Go where the prompt leads.”

This week’s flash is partly in honor of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who bucked what I hope will be uncountable conventions at her Congressional swearing-in with bold red lipstick and big bold hoops. You go girl! And it’s in honor of every woman who wears what she wants, when she wants. You go too, girl!

Featured

Missoula by Jon Krakauer (Book Review)

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College TownMissoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is slimy, horrific, and enraging. It absolutely needed to be written, and it absolutely needs to be read.

It’s easy to listen to the numbers on rape and other sexual assaults and think, “Well, that just happens to other people.” Until you look around you, the next time you’re in your classroom, or your office, or at your book club or your yoga class, or your family reunion, and wonder which of the women you’re with are the ones? Are there 20 women there? Which 4 or 5 are the ones who have been raped? Funny, none of them look like victims. Of those women, 2 or 3 were, statistically, raped by someone they knew and probably trusted–is he here? That nice-looking guy tending the grill, maybe, or the class calculus whiz, or the new salesbro down the hall? Huh. They don’t look like rapists.

Which is what makes them look exactly like victims and rapists.

In the early 2010’s Missoula gained a reputation as the Rape Capital of America, and while Krakauer examines Missoula specifically, he takes care to point out that based on national averages, Missoula’s rape statistics are actually slightly lower than the national average. Still, Missoula, as a college town and home of their adored Griz football team, serves as a microcosm against the vast macrocosm: An examination of not only rape, but social attitudes about rape, rape victims, and the culture of the athlete or all-around-great-guy that lends protection to rapists and vilification of their victims.

This book follows the brutalization of several women and the further humiliations they suffered at the hands of those they could have expected to believe them and have their backs: the cops, the prosecutors, the juries of their peers, their friends and families. It is gritty and graphic. Definite trigger warnings here.

One of the saddest and biggest points Krakauer makes is that rape is the only crime in which the victim’s veracity and motives are continually questioned and her (or his) story routinely not believed. When you apply this standard to any other crime, you see how ludicrous it is. If you report your car stolen, are you repeatedly hounded at: Did you let the thief know you didn’t want him to take your car? Are you sure you told him “no?” Did you try to fight him off? What about the mugging victim: Why didn’t you scream, fight him off? Oh, you were in shock while it was happening? You were afraid he’d hurt you worse, maybe even kill you? Of course, we understand. Nobody ever says, “If you didn’t want to be mugged, you shouldn’t have worn your diamond wedding ring.” It’s appalling.

Rape victims are given no such understanding or compassion.

I especially appreciated the author’s ruminations at the end of the book, where he noted that until he stumbled across it while researching for a different book, he had no idea what American rape culture was. Then he took the time to ask the women around him, and was stunned at what he learned. Thank you, Jon Krakauer, for being one of the good guys who takes the time and applies the critical thinking necessary to actually get it.

Bookshelves: journalistic, social-commentary, in-the-news, current-social-issues, women, misogyny-rules, true-crime, non-fiction, sleep-with-the-light-on, trigger-warning, thank-you-for-getting-it-right

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Sugar (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“Lighten my load a little.” Kathy extends the laden tray to Torrey. “These red velvet cookie pies are adorable, and don’t tell me you can’t indulge in a little sugar for the holidays.”

Torrey glances up at the mistletoe over her head, then nods her chin across the room. “Eventually Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Handsome has to come this way for a fresh drink, and until then I’ll be right here holding up this doorway. He’s the only sugar I’m after at this party.”

Kapa65
Photo: Kapa65

Every week, Denise at Girlie on the Edge hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week’s cue was SUGAR. Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Come join us! It’s a blast!

Featured

The Bonanza King by Gregory Crouch (Book Review)

The Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle over the Greatest Riches in the American WestThe Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle over the Greatest Riches in the American West by Gregory Crouch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: american-history, there’s-gold-in-them-thar-hills, wild-wild-west, made-me-homesick, biography, non-fiction, rags-to-riches

I am one of those weirdos who at least skims the acknowledgment pages of books, hoping to find someone I know. My son, as a university special collections librarian, is in these acknowledgments, so that was the number one selling point. The other was that Virginia City, Nevada, was part of my stomping grounds as a kid. I’ve had good times getting hammered at noon in the Delta Saloon of touristy, modern-day Virginia City. I’ve tramped its surrounding hills and old mine tailings on childhood rock-hunting trips with my grandparents, and gone through some of the old buildings on ghost-hunting expeditions. There’s a lot of fun to be had in Virginia City.

This book is not about rocks or ghosts; it’s a history of the Comstock Lode and a biography of John Mackay, a fabulous rags-to-riches story of an Irish immigrant who journeyed from hawking newspapers on NYC street corners, to toiling through the California Gold Rush, to becoming one of the richest men in the world through honest hard work and innate business savvy. Few deserved it more than Mackay, who remained down-to-earth and likable despite his unimaginable wealth. He stayed at the top by treating his employees well, jealously guarding his good name and reputation, and successfully taking on some notably unscrupuled heavy hitters of the time, including Jay Gould and William Sharon and his notorious Bank Ring. I might have learned more than I’d ever planned to about the science and engineering involved in mining, and I’m okay with that. It was fascinating.

Mary Jane Simpson was AWESOME. I’m talking about the mule, not the newspaper correspondent, although I’m sure she was a very nice person. But this mule!

It’s not an easy-breezey read; I had to renew my library copy twice, and I’m frankly surprised they didn’t email me saying, “You’ve had it long enough. Give it back. Go buy your own.” Which I probably will.

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (Book Review)

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBIKillers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once upon a time, the Osage tribe was threatened, massacred, and leveraged out of their own land. They invested the pittance they were paid and invested in more, different and apparently worthless lands in Indian Territory in what is now northeastern Oklahoma, near the end point of the Trail of Tears, buying it and settling in during the 1870’s.

Then somebody struck oil.

And, as one newspaper reporter wrote in 1923, “The Osage Indians are becoming so rich that something will have to be done about it.”

Killers of the Flower Moon is the pull-you-along recounting of the 1920’s “Reign of Terror” in Oklahoma oil country that saw dozens of Osage murdered for their oil headrights, their “underground reservation.” The U.S. government decreed that American Indians were automatically incompetent and therefore incapable of managing their own property, appointing white (naturally) guardians and creating an irresistible opportunity for whites to murder and steal with impunity.

Simultaneously, the book also tells the story of the nascent FBI, its creation under J. Edgar Hoover, and the “cowboy” lawmen who were determined to bring killers to justice – or some kind of justice, anyway.

This is non-fiction that reads like a mystery novel, highly readable and compelling. This story of a shameful part of American history is not to be missed and should be required reading in our schools.

Bookshelves: american-history, native-american-history, bigots-gonna-bigot, journalistic, social-commentary, true-crime, non-fiction

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Annual (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“Oh sweetie,” Helen says, wrapping her daughter in a tight hug, “I wish we could do this every month.”
“Once a month?” Becca pulls back. “Dinner it takes a week to cook? Miserable airports and overbooked flights and fighting to get time off and spending money I don’t have to show everybody how much I love them and Uncle Ed’s never-ending fart jokes? I’d like to see you every month, but I think annual is too much even for yearly holidays!”

Skitterphoto
Photo: Skitterphoto

Every week, Girlie on the Edge hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction blog hop. This week’s cue was ANNUAL. (And may I add that doing all of my holiday shopping while never getting off the couch is cause for celebration itself, for people like me who have a pathological dislike of peopling. Just finished mine online–booyah!)

Featured

Man to Man (2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo Honorable Mention)

This is the only contest of the 2018 Second Annual Flash Fiction Rodeo at Carrot Ranch that I entered, but it was a great time, just like the first rodeo.

The first weekly contest was themed around dialogue and all the different ways to use it, not only through what people say, but perhaps what they don’t say. How they dodge questions, interrupt each other, make assumptions, and the picture they paint. The point of the contest, of course, was to tell a story in 99 words (no more, no less) using dialogue only. The second point was to use the photo prompt as a jumping-off place.

Judging blind is a wonderful thing, and in this case it highlighted a good dialogue writer, who took both first and second places. I got an honorable mention which thrilled me, being in the company of such talented writers. The winners are here; check them out!

Dialogue Prompt
Photo courtesy of Geoff Le Pard, Rodeo Leader

MAN TO MAN

“You seem like a wise old thing. May I ask a question?”

“Well, I don’t know from wise, but I’m old enough. Ask away.”

“It’s just you’re the first I’ve come across where I feel comfortable asking. You look like you’ve seen a thing or two.”

“Or three, sure.”

“Don’t tell anyone, but I’m having woman trouble. We don’t move through life at the same pace.”

“Can’t she slow down? Can’t you speed up? Compromise?”

“We’ve tried. Nothing works.”

“Then maybe it’s time to move on.”

“I live in a giant terrarium! How far am I going to get?”

Featured

Good Intentions (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“Oh my god, Becca.” Cupboard doors slam, one after another. “We’re trying have a bff chick flick night here, and you’ve got no movie food–no ice cream, no buttery popcorn, no chips and dip, no cookies, no nothing!”

Becca’s voice is rueful. “Unfortunately, I was being a good girl when I did my shopping. My budget and my list and my desire to eat healthy all agreed, which of course means there’s nothing to eat in the house.”

Foundry
Photo: Foundry

Hey, not bad, considering I kinda wrote this in my sleep–I was in bed, slowly swimming up toward consciousness, and this was writing itself in my head. Now I can’t decide if it’s a sign that I’m a “natural born writer” or that I need to do some grocery shopping. Maybe both.

Every week, Girlie on the Edge hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week’s cue was AGREED. Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Join us!

Featured

Charleston by John Jakes (Book Review)

CharlestonCharleston by John Jakes

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I remember adoring the Kent family chronicles back in the 70’s, starting with The Bastard. It’s been a while since I’d read anything by John Jakes, so I picked up Charleston.

I learned a couple of things as a result of this book, but I didn’t learn them from the book.

This novel is very poorly placed in time. I kept having to jerk myself back to the Revolutionary War, because the constant references to the issue of slavery had me thinking I was reading about the Civil War. I’d be reading along, my thoughts all blue and gray, and then a reference to General Washington would yank me back. Slavery, slavery, slavery. At no time did anyone raise any other issue that lead to the Great Flipping of the Bird to King George. No mention of the Stamp Act. No mention of the Boston Port Act. No mention of the Quartering Act. No mention of either of two Currency Acts. No mention of the the increased taxes levied on colonies to pay for England’s disastrous French and Indian War. No mention of the Massachusetts Government Act, or the Administration of Justice Act, or the Quebec Act. No mention of the Proclamation of 1763, that prevented colonists from pushing farther westward. Certainly no mention of harbors and tea.

But it got me curious and I started looking around. It would appear “some historians” believe slavery was one cause of the American Revolution (those “some historians,” as far as I could dig, being limited to the book’s author–although he never comes right out and says so–and some guy on Quora). Their argument seems to center around Somerset v Stewart, a British legal case from 1772. However, England didn’t do anything to outlaw slavery or the slave trade until decades after its American colonies rebelled. Nowhere else do I find slavery mentioned as a cause of the American Revolution, and my son Monster the historian (M.A., specialty American and with a focus on civil rights, he knows his shit, folks) points out that our Constitution went out of its way to delineate how the slave population counted toward congressional representation — the Three-Fifths Compromise ratified by the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Poking deeper, I learned that four states had outlawed slavery prior to that (Vermont, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in 1777, 1780, 1783, and 1784 respectively), but at the federal level the United States, no doubt pragmatic about the money flowing in from the slave trade and slave labor, did not specifically mention slavery either way until the Thirteenth Amendment was adopted in 1865. Before that, the Constitution referred to slaves rather delicately as “other persons” and mentioned race not at all.

None of which supports the notion that the slavery issue contributed to the Revolutionary War, and most of which contradicts it. If anyone knows of a good academic source that says otherwise, both Monster and I would be intrigued.

The other thing I learned, by looking it up on my own, was that Carolina was one of the original thirteen colonies. I feel like I should have already known that, so now I’m even more annoyed with this book for shaming me.

Nobody likes so much exposition it feels like reading a history textbook, but who wants to read a book about a war in which none of the characters have any feelings or beliefs or even knowledge about what actually led to the goddamn war? There is a lot of action, as far as I got, but it still reads flat. Most of the characters have one motivating trait that exists in a vacuum; the arrogant asshole loyalist is an arrogant asshole loyalist because the story needs an arrogant asshole loyalist and he drew the short straw, readers are all gonna hate him, sucks to be him. The slutty greedy one is a greedy slut; the spunky one is spunky; the saintly slave friend is a saintly slave friend. That’s it. They don’t shape events and events don’t shape them. These same characters could just as easily have been plunked into the Spanish-American War or the Whiskey Rebellion or maybe even the Great Emu War of 1932 (that story is a howl; listen here ).

I am underwhelmed. Hang me for a deserter.

Bookshelves: historical-fiction, american-history, family-saga, abandoned

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Super Mash (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“Pass the mashed potatoes, Mom?”

Eleanor’s eyes glint  as she hands the bowl down the table. “Torrey needs the whipped potatoes,” she says. “We don’t do mashed if Torrey’s going to be at the table.”

Her needle hits Torrey square; always so prickly. “Mom, don’t, not that dumb story.”

“It’s just,” Eleanor tells the company at large, “that Torrey cannot abide lumps in her food. It’s like a super power, the way she can find the tiniest lump and gag on it.”

Torrey’s face thunders.

Eleanor concedes. “Very well. Let’s talk about something less contentious. Religion or politics, anyone?”

mp1746
Photo: mp1746

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pairs mashed potatoes with a superpower. It can be in any circumstance, funny or poignant. Go where the prompt leads.”

Featured

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (Book Review)

Breakfast at Tiffany'sBreakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting paradox here. I really don’t like Holly Golightly very much, and at the same time I kind of want to be her. That is, the her who comes off as carefree and independent and living in a new York brownstone with a tufted satin bed and an endless array of lovers and pearls and drinks at El Morocco. The lonely escaped-child-bride racist alcoholic, not so much.

(One annoyance: The store is not Tiffany’s. It’s Tiffany. Tiffany & Co., if you want to be pedantic.)

Truman Capote was a wordsmith, capturing moment after moment to weave a tapestry of a time and a place and a woman the narrator cannot forget. This is one case where I’d seen the movie before I read the book, but even so I had trouble picturing Audrey Hepburn as I read, picturing instead more of an ethereally captivating blonde. That shows how well Capote paints a picture, as I can’t recall now whether Capote directly described her as blonde or not–if he did, it wasn’t repeatedly. After I finished the book I read that Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly and felt double-crossed that she hadn’t, out of concern for what playing a harlot would do for her image. And Audrey was ethereally captivating, too, and I’m not complaining about her performance at all. It was iconic. But it was brunette.

So, was the book better, or was the movie better? Neither. They were only loosely the same. The film was lighter, Holly cleaned up to meet the Hays Code’s proscription against a female protagonist using her beauty to live off the expense accounts of businessmen and weekly payola from an incarcerated gangster. Movie Holly is naive and breathless, tripping through life like a happy creek, as charming and disarming as her name. Book Holly is much darker, with a secret past, street savvy, and a sex life that was unacceptable movie fare in 1961. Movie Holly was unabashedly trying to marry up; Book Holly was, well, maybe not a call girl exactly, but if a guy slipped her a fifty as powder-room money at “21,” he’d be more likely to get her into bed later. The movie has a happy ending; the book…well, read it. And for days after watching the movie, I walked around singing “Moon River” to myself; all through the book I could hear that song by Deep Blue Something playing in my head, and neither of those is a bad thing.

Excellent.

Bookshelves: literary-fiction, classic, pomo

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Up (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“I don’t care what the alarm says; it’s warm in here and I’m not getting up.”

“But Self, you actually have a job interview today–it’s your up, take your swing and make it count!”

“I don’t think I’m up for this.”

“Life can’t be down all the time, there’s gotta be an up coming.”

“My get-up-and-go seems to have upped and left me.”

“Get. UP.”

fda54
fda54

I dunno, peeps, that sounded better in my head. I’ve not been up for writing much lately; been kinda down. But I’m trying! This week’s Six Sentence Stories flash fiction blog hop and link-up is hosted, as always, by Girlie on the Edge. This week’s cue (in case it wasn’t obvious) was UP.

Featured

This Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us by Edgar Cantero (Book Review

This Body's Not Big Enough for Both of UsThis Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us by Edgar Cantero

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“And then, like a high heeled coup de grace, she arrived.”

I discovered Edgar Cantero when I selected The Supernatural Enhancements for the pick-a-book-by-its-cover slot of a reading challenge, and have been in love ever since. He is crazy brilliant.

TBNBEFBOU’s not in that vein; it’s more in the vein of Meddling Kids: A mashup of homage, noir, and spoof, with plenty of snappy dialogue, hilarious vulgarity, and dark humor. But what else would you expect from a story about the world’s first known instance of chimeric twins, a sister and brother with separate DNA and everything, who share the same androgynous body but control different sides of the brain? Brother Adrian is the analytic, cynical, arrogant, socially inept half; sister Zooey is the impulsive, empathetic, compassionate, nympo half. Together they must rescue their deep-cover cop friend from the deep shit he’s gotten into as a worm with the Lyon crime family, find out who’s trying to start a turf war and keep it from destroying the whole of San Carnal, and rescue the improbable femme fatale, all while avoiding the thick-necked thugs that haunt their Fisherman’s Wharf office and trying to keep the toaster in working order.

Insanely good. As in, this was going to be the first book I got signed by the author at a book signing, but I failed to plan ahead and my chronic anxiety combined with insomnia and stress over bus vs parking in Seattle and stupid anxious fretting about how book signings actually go and what if I did it wrong…all that screwed me out of it, but I didn’t even deduct half a star! Because I love Edgar anyway.

Bookshelves: the-shit, spoof, noir, dark-humor, detective, punk, lgbt-inclusion, defying-gender-roles, love-the-cover, homage, action-with-a-body-count

Be my friend on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Breathing While Black (Twofer Book Review)

I happened across both of these books when I read a news article about the South Carolina police association trying to have both books removed as student summer reading choices. Um, hello. I would hope the cops know that the quickest way to get a kid to do something is to tell them they can’t. Oh, you did know that? Good job, then. Except I don’t think that’s what happened here. Now, I pretty much never agree with censorship, and what we have here looks an awful lot like Fahrenheit 451 meets the Third Reich, from an institution that is historically sucky at holding itself accountable. And I’m not saying all cops are bad cops. But I’d ask: If a good cop covers for a bad cop, is he still a good cop?

The bigger problem is it’s not just cops, not in this age of #BarbecueBecky and #CouponCarl and #PoolPatrolPaul and-and-and, the list goes on, ad nauseum.

The thing to remember is that America is rife with incidents of white people calling police on black people for everyday activities. Breathing While Black. And yes, this is hostile, given relations between law enforcement and people of color in America, and how horrifically often such incidents escalate into loss of life at the hands of police. It’s nothing less than white people trying to weaponize police in support of their own bigotry.

Back to the books. First, it’s imperative I point out that neither book demonizes cops; both books include a police officer as something of a hero figure, which highlights the depth of the problem and provides balance. Second, I wonder how it didn’t occur to anyone involved in this challenge to have some South Carolina police representatives actually read the books, then hold town-hall type events or offer to participate in classroom discussions. You know, interact with their communities. Educate. Try to make things better.

Hopefully the kids did like I did and immediately got copies and read them. Banned books generally shoot straight to the top of my TBR list. Both of these titles absolutely belong in school reading curricula, and I don’t care what the cops have to say about it.

On to the reviews.

 

The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a stellar (heh…the protagonist’s name is Starr) story about a young girl who’s life is plenty complicated enough, thank you, with the two worlds she lives in and keeps meticulously separated, careful not to be the “sassy black girl” at her mostly-white prep school and careful not to sound “too white” when kicking with her homies. Then comes the night she is the passenger witness to a traffic-stop killing, white cop vs black kid. And it’s not enough that she must deal with seeing her friend murdered in front of her and being held at gunpoint herself, for the crime of Riding in a Car While Black; things are further complicated by her cop uncle and her white boyfriend. Starr’s universe explodes as she finds herself in national headlines, wrangling the monumental contradictions of right vs wrong, justifiable fear vs speaking out for justice, black vs white.

Excellent characterizations and great pacing–I couldn’t put it down. A deeply emotional story told without being maudlin.

 

All American BoysAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this after reading The Hate U Give, and I might have liked it more if I’d read it first. In comparison this book reads as slightly dumbed down, less nuanced, which seems a bit unfair. It’s still a compelling story, though, about a black teenager who is brutally beaten by a white cop for the crime of Shopping While Black. The POV alternates between Rashad, as he grapples with a parent who also assumes the worst of him and the enormity of being a national cause and a trending hashtag, and Quinn, the white teenager who witnessed the beating and must now struggle with the realization that a hero from his childhood is the accused cop. Both boys learn first-hand that racism and police brutality are alive and well in America long after MLK and Affirmative Action. As each of them sees that they each have the ability to write their own entries into the history books — what will they write?

Both books are easy YA reads with a lot of depth that adults can also enjoy. Both are timely and important.

Bookshelves for both: current-social-events, racism, ya, banned-and-challenged

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Parade of Nations (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Jane ambles through festival avenues, enchanted. The diversity is staggering. Bright colors, strains of different styles of music, smiling faces beckoning her to their booths: Come see this blanket, this bracelet, this vase. Flags are everywhere, almost none she recognizes.

What draws her most are the smells, the different foods. There are foreign foods she’s familiar with, of course — Thai, Korean, Italian, Mexican. But so much to taste from countries previously unconsidered: Romania, Guyana, Cuba, Lebanon, the Basque provinces. Her mouth waters, her stomach rumbles.

As a parade of nations, the Olympic Games have nothing on downtown’s International Festival.

kirkandmimi
Photo: kirkandmimi

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a parade of nations. It can be literal, or it can be a phrase that you use to describe a situation. Explore what it could be. Go where the prompt leads.”

Featured

Broadchurch by Erin Kelly (Book Review)

BroadchurchBroadchurch by Erin Kelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hesitated to pick this up, as it’s the novelization of a TV show and I’m not much for TV. I’ve enjoyed other Erin Kelly books though, so I gave it a shot.

Kelly’s other books are twisty-turny psych thrillers with good payoffs at the end, although I found all of them a tad slow to build, lacking the urgency I like. Broadchurch is the exception, perhaps because it is based on a TV show. Peeking through the narrative are glimpses of the lighting and camera angle tricks and little cliffhangers that are the trademarks of serial television dramas, but tempered enough that I don’t feel I’m being played. There is no shortage of suspects in this tale of the senseless killing of an eleven-year-old boy. The atmosphere of a fairly insular small town, where everybody seems to have at least a passing relationship with everyone else, and if they don’t know your business they’ll be happy to make it up out of whole cloth, shines through and adds to the tension and intrigue.

Bookshelves: book-from-film, brit-lit, crime-drama, mystery, detective, police-procedural

Be my friend on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Pasta (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Jane ambles through the grocery store, pushing a cart and luxuriating in the experience of grocery shopping. Like people who have a food budget, cupboards to store recipe ingredients, a kitchen for melding them into a home-cooked meal, refrigerator for leftovers.

She hesitates in the pasta aisle, torn between the thought of a steak or her mother’s standby, macaroni with tomatoes and cheese melted through. She used to think of pasta as poor-people food – before she became a poor-people. But it will always be comfort food, Jane thinks, tossing three times as much as she needs into her basket.

TanteTati
Photo: TanteTati

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes pasta. It can be spagetti, macaroni and cheese, or any variety. It can be a meal or a work of art. Go where the prompt leads.”

Come join us! It’s fun!

Featured

Supplement (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“Jane, I wanted to ask you,” Audrey says. “I overheard in the break room the other day that you’re between apartments, staying someplace crowded and noisy.”

Jane nods, not elaborating that “between apartments” translates, for her, to “living in a tent in a homeless camp.”

“My husband and I will be out of the country for a couple of months, and I think you and I can help each other out,” Audrey continues. “We can get you off your friend’s sofa and pay you a little, supplement your part-time work here and give you a quiet place to study, if you can house-sit and take care of our yard and the animals.”

Jane’s heart is suddenly triphammering; she knows Audrey lives on Lake Washington, but visions of a working refrigerator and cable television and real beds and deck with water view all pale in the holy glow of the thing she misses most of all: a bathtub.

bathtub
StockSnap

Every week, Girlie on the Edge hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction blog hop and linkup. This week’s cue: SUPPLEMENT. Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Come join us!

Featured

Everything is Relative (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

But I thought you moved there for the epic job, your career pinnacle,” Barb said. “How’d you end up homeless?”

“No trick at all,” Jane assures her, switching her phone to her other ear. “The fancy skyscraper, the water view, the little bistros for lunch…those were disguising the Job From Hell. But I’m still epic.”

“I thought your new boss is a royal bitch too.”

“Sure. And the place is a dump, and the pay is a joke, and people won’t even say hi. But…after two years unemployed, anything with a paycheck is epic in my book.”

howiweb
howiweb

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an epic workplace. It can be real or imagined. Go where the prompt leads.”

Featured

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (Book Review)

The Sun Also RisesThe Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: literature-with-a-capital-l, artsy-fartsy, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous, classic

I hadn’t actually read anything by Hemingway before; I’ve just been in love with his “the first draft of anything is shit” line for years. Then I read The Paris Wife recently and figured it was time to bump up my Literature-with-a-capital-L cred.

And here I go, being all lowbrow.

As far as I can determine, this is a book about a bunch of whiny-ass alcoholics who can afford to be pretentious elite whiny-ass alcoholics in Paris instead of garden-variety peasant whiny-ass alcoholics in Bumfuck, South Dakota. They start out in Paris where they drink and then they go drink in San Sebastian and then they go to Vienna where they drink some more and then they go drinking in Paris again and then they go to Spain and catch some fish and drink and then they go their separate ways because they’re finally all sick of each other–still drinking. They have repetitive conversations about nothing, probably because they’re always drunk. And did I mention they drink? They drink a lot. A lot. I’m surprised any of them can stand up.

I did try to get into the spirit of it. I was early for work one morning so I went next door to McDonald’s and pretended I was reading over breakfast at Les Deux Magots. Très continental. My lips were turning blue in the air conditioning and the toddler at the next table was screeching so I moved to an outside table and pretended I was looking out at the cobblestones of Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève instead of at that homeless guy on Houser Street. No joy. My Egg McMuffin did not turn into a brioche. My coffee did not turn into espresso, which is okay because I don’t like espresso. Jake and Brett did not stop drinking.

I get it, though. I do. This is the quintessential novel about the Lost Generation with all its angst and navel-gazing, its souls seared by war and ennui and its future filled with existentialist despair. All I can say is, maybe if they pulled their heads out of the bottle and thought about something other than themselves and actually did something useful, life might take on some meaning. And I see why Papa’s writing style is so universally admired, but you can only drink so much absinthe and drop the names of so many Paris streets before I start to think you’re just showing off.

Things I appreciated:

1. Basques, and the fine art of drinking from a wineskin.

2. Trout.

3. The romanticism of bullfighting.

4. Brett Ashley running off with a fine young bullfighter just because she wants to. Women with sexual agency and all that.

Things I didn’t appreciate:

1. The barbarism of bullfighting.

2. Pretty much all of the dialogue. It sucks. Maybe it was supposed to, I don’t know.

3. Brett Ashley. She has the right to boink a fine young bullfighter if she feels like it, but I still don’t like her.

I did finish it, and now I have the frustrating feeling that I’m a failure if I don’t get something out of Hemingway.

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Asta’s Book by Barbara Vine (Book Review)

Asta’s Book

Asta’s Book by Barbara Vine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bloody good book.

There’s a reason for the word “bloody.” I’d been reading another book that led me to mini-rant on Facebook about the anachronism of a woman “having her period” in the 16th century. The ensuing discussion led me to this book, in which a somewhat obscure menstruation euphemism provides a clue to the hidden origin of a child and the solution of a century-old murder.

One of THE BEST family saga-mystery type books I’ve ever read, told partly from the present-day viewpoint of Ann and partly from the translated and published diaries of her grandmother Asta, a Danish immigrant to Edwardian London. Asta is contemptuous of her husband, a bully to her maid, an enigma to her children, and a wee bit of a snob to the neighborhood in general, but is curiously likable for all that.  She’s a treat, actually.

The story is compelling, the plotting is complex, the writing is elegant, the characterizations are vivid. Until this book was mentioned to me I’d completely forgotten about Ruth Rendell, who penned this tale under the name Barbara Vine. I have–happily!–so much catching up to do.

Bookshelves: historical-fiction, immigrant-life, women, mystery, family-saga, epistolary

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Comet (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“They say our origins dictate our path in life, our fate,” Henry says. He looks at the homeless tent city around them. “The son of a teacher and a CPA, upright churchgoers, shouldn’t end up without an old-age pot to piss in, wouldn’t you think?”

Jane laughs ruefully. “I was conceived on a hot summer night, in the blaze of forbidden teenage passion, in the backseat of a ‘64 Mercury Comet,” she tells him. “Shouldn’t that make for a charmed life?”

Henry tops her wine cup, his grin brilliant. “Maybe, maybe not. I’d love to have that car, though.”

sv1ambo
Photo: sv1ambo

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less)  write a story about a comet. You can consider how it features into a story, influences a character, or creates a mood. Go where the prompt leads.”

I’ve always thought Mercury was the coolest name for a car make, being the Roman god of travel, and I had one that I drove literally to pieces. I was a bit sad when Mercury discontinued not too long ago. And the whole time I was writing this and looking for pictures, I was hearing the Steve Miller Band’s “Mercury Blues.” (Can someone tell me why this video has a Mazda ad in front of it? That’s just wrong.)

Featured

Fear (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“If you’re not afraid of flying, please explain to me why you’d rather we drive for fourteen hours instead of taking a two-hour flight, especially since, statistically speaking, it’s the safest way to travel, and if it’s claustrophobia, then you can have the damn window seat.”

Torrey shakes her head sharply, embarrassed and angry about being embarrassed. “I’m not claustrophobic, and it’s not agoraphobia either, and I’m not scared of heights, and I’m not scared of speed.”

“Then what?”

“It’s the panic attacks–can you imagine a panic attack, stuck in a narrow metal tube with 200 strangers and the threat of arrest for making a disturbance, at 35,000 feet up in the air? It really is true that there’s nothing to fear but fear itself!”

Gellinger
Photo: Gellinger

Every week, Girlie on the Edge hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction link up and blog hop. This week’s cue: FEAR. Fun Sixes from other writers are at the link. Join us! It’s a blast!

Featured

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Book Review)

The Poisonwood BibleThe Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: africa, historical-fiction, in-the-news, women, literary-fiction, bible-thumpers, alternating-povs

I discovered Barbara Kingsolver when I chanced across Prodigal Summer. Other fans enthusiastically recommended The Poisonwood Bible so of course I put off reading it, because I didn’t want to be not cool by not liking it. I needn’t have worried; this novel ranks among the top 50 I’ve ever read.

Factoid: African driver ants bite so ferociously that indigenous people use them as emergency sutures, positioning them to bite on both sides of an open wound, then breaking off their bodies. Imagine having a line of stitches made of ant heads. Then imagine what a swarm of them will do to a baby or immobilized adult. I think I’d rather face down a lion, thanks.

This is the story of fire-and-brimstone preacher Nathan Price, who drags his wife and four daughters to rescue the souls of the savages in 1959’s Belgian Congo, through the American overthrow of their democratically elected independent government and the aftermath. None of the Price family escape unscathed.

Anatole leaned forward and announced, “Our chief, Tata Ndu, is concerned about the moral decline of his village.”

Father said, “Indeed he should be, because so few villagers are going to church.”

“No, Reverend. Because so many villagers are going to church.”

And in case that seems unduly harsh toward Father, be aware that he is livid because the villagers will not agree to full-immersion baptism in the river because they don’t want their children eaten by crocodiles. He takes this as a personal affront and an affront to Jesus. Zealous to the point of madness, arrogant, abusive, concerned solely with earning redemption by a God he will never admit he has let down. Viewing his wife as an appliance and his daughters as troublesome property, Nathan Price is despicable, showcasing everything loathsome about those who insist on ramming a vengeful and punitive religion down other people’s throats.

So, as with the others of Kingsolver’s books I’ve read, she has an agenda. I don’t mind it because I agree with it, but people who identify with evangelicalism or white supremacy should probably pass (although they may identify with daughter Rachel).

All of Kingsolver’s settings are characters in their own right and the Congo is no exception – living, breathing, raped and savaged by colonialism and capitalism and those who will just not let her be, but breathtakingly beautiful nonetheless. There is a feeling I get when I read about Africa, that its very earth is different, that it is somehow on a different Earth from the rest of the world, a shimmering existence in a slightly different dimension. Kingsolver captures this perfectly, telling a riveting story with prose that is poetic and elegant. A must read.

Be my friend on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Pee(r)ing Through the Woods (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Jane hunkers down in the foliage. Her knees already ache from the awkward stance. She checks her pants and shoes; both should be out of the splash zone.

Just as she relaxes her muscles, feels the stream start beneath her, of course that’s when she hears voices.

She’s been here for hours, hoping for someone who might buy a paper. Naturally, it’s not until she can’t hold it anymore, with the nearest public restroom an hour away, that anybody comes along.

Jane narrows her eyes, peering through the bushes. If she can’t see them, they can’t see her…right?

annekroiss
Photo: annekroiss

Each week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes  an act of “peering from the woods.” Go where the prompt leads.

Featured

Spinsters, Periods, and English Royal History (Triple Play Book Review)

Yes, I know Queen Elizabeth I and the Wars of the Roses were not directly related, but these three were from the same author and two can be read sequentially. Of the three, I only read one in its entirety. Here’s a threefer review, with a tiny rant about apparent anachronisms at the end.
The Wars of the RosesThe Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Weir’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII and can usually read biographies just fine, but I couldn’t stick with this one. It covers a lot of time and involves a multitude of people, all of whom are named Richard or Henry or Robert or Alice or Elizabeth and are interrelated in convoluted ways. This gets even more confusing when titles are added. I’d see a reference to de Vere doing something, and then to Oxford doing something, and to Lord Richard saying something, and go wait a minute, who the heck are all these people again? and flip back to recall that they are all the same guy. Add in the fact that titles were either passed down father to son or yanked away and given to someone else if the king got pissy, so you have multiple Oxfords, and it’s just a royal noble mess. I know it’s a nobility thing and an English thing but please have mercy on my poor commoner Yank brain. Call him Oxford or call him Lord Richard or call him de Vere, I don’t care, but pick one and stick with it.

I chose to be too lazy to finish the book. Other readers loved it, so maybe I’ll try again someday, particularly since these events inspired Martin’s ASOIAF series. Other readers also recommended The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, so I’ll give that one a try.

Bookshelves: history, merry-olde-england, i-am-an-anglophile, abandoned, well-i-tried

The Lady ElizabethThe Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I fairly enjoyed this one. Considering her scholarship, Weir’s fiction writing is pretty pedestrian romance novel stuff–lots of telling as opposed to showing, plenty of head-hopping, and people are always exclaiming or lying or remonstrating or reminding as opposed to simply saying something–but it’s still readable.

This is the story of Elizabeth I before she took she throne, as her father’s daughter, as Anne Boleyn’s bastard, and as sister to King Edward VI and to Queen Mary I. Sometimes her precocity as a child had me rolling my eyes, but I also understand she really was both very clever and highly intelligent (although that could be a relative thing, as the intellectual capacity of women was not explored or held in much regard at that time). Some reviewers took exception to a series of events such that the Virgin Queen was–ahem–not actually a virgin, but the rumors had gone around, and building upon that to make the story a bit juicier is poetic license and it worked for me here. I appreciated the devotion to her deep affection for Catherine Parr, and the detail of Wyatt’s Rebellion that landed her in the Tower of London, fully expecting every day to receive word that she’d be sent to the block. I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of Anne Boleyn’s “A” pendant as worn by Elizabeth in the Whitehall family portrait; I’d never have noticed that otherwise and it was a great scene.

Bookshelves: just-barely-not-a-romance, merry-olde-england, historical-fiction, i-am-an-anglophile

The Marriage Game: A Novel of Queen Elizabeth IThe Marriage Game: A Novel of Queen Elizabeth I by Alison Weir

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

According to Weir’s fiction, Good Queen Bess gave Robert Dudley the most extreme and prolonged case of blue balls in recorded history.

The title is not misleading. The focus is on romantic games rather than Elizabeth’s actual queenship and is disappointing for that reason alone. The Virgin Queen was constantly pressed by her council to take a husband and produce heirs, and constantly told her council to stuff it, while constantly playing suitors against each other to keep their home countries allied to England. Well and good, that’s politics for you, but the constant yes-I-might-marry-you-but-no-I-might-marry-this-other-dude-oh-no-I-will-not-submit-myself-and-my-realm-to-any-man-no-wait-yes-I-really-might-marry-this one-oh-no-I-can’t-possibly got really…fricking…boring. Over and over, the same princes or kings or dukes around and around like a carousel, the same conversations every time, with poor Lord Robert straining against his codpiece and dangling from her little finger through all of it, lather, rinse, repeat.

After 140 pages of this my eyes were glazing over so I skipped ahead to Mary Stuart’s arrival on the scene. That devolved into more man-juggling, so I skipped ahead again to the Babington Plot, the Spanish armada, and Robert Dudley’s death, which according to this book is the end of Elizabeth’s story because, you know, women only have stories as they relate to men and not because they are real, actual RULERS, enacting policy, influencing art and culture, dealing with councils and Parliament and threats of war and assassination plots, handling economic, religious, and international political issues. We’re just concerned with whether she was getting any.

I did learn that Elizabeth had one of the first known wristwatches, a timepiece set into a bracelet. I bet it was stunning.

Bookshelves: historical-fiction, just-barely-not-a-romance, merry-olde-england, couldn’t-really-read-it, i-am-an-anglophile

AND NOW FOR A BIT ON ANACHRONISMS

Anachronisms always annoy me, and it must be pretty glaring for my non-historian self to spot. Not items or clothing, but words. As Robert Dudley was thinking Elizabeth was “sexy” my mind screeched to halt; Mirriam-Webster says “sexy” came into use in 1896, a lot earlier than I would have guessed but still more than 300 years after Dudley was supposedly applying it to Elizabeth Tudor.

I got somewhat schooled when I bristled at the use of the phrase “stay single.” That sounded too modern to me, but my historian son pointed me to a quote attributed to Elizabeth that uses the word–“I would rather be a beggar and single than a queen and married.” I’m unable to find if that’s apocryphal or not, and historians can’t seem to agree on stuff like anyway. I did learn that a “spinster” was, ca. 1300’s, an older, unmarried woman of no independent means who supported herself by spinning. By the 17th century it referred generally to any woman still not married past the usual age for it.

The other one that annoyed me was the reference to Elizabeth “having her period.” I can’t find anything on it, but other history-minded book-loving peeps agree with me that the phrase is anachronistic. One friend said the earliest citation she could find with that usage was mid-1800s.

Of course it’s entirely possible that Weir is right and I’m wrong, and all the other historical fiction I’ve read was using phrases like “unwed” and “being indisposed” and “moon time” to set atmosphere. But it remains that they felt out of time to me. If anyone can shed further light on these things for me, please do!

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (Book Review)

Magpie MurdersMagpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: brit-lit, cozy-mystery, homage, the-shit, i-am-an-anglophile, mystery, reading-in-airports

This is a delightfully clever mystery that I read sooner than I otherwise might have, after I lost my phone on the metro for SIX WHOLE DAYS, leaving me without any of my library e-books until I finally accepted that my particular phone was found by an asshole who chose not to turn it in, and shelled out for a new one. It reinforced my new practice of referring to my phone as my “hand terminal,” with a huge nod to James S.A. Corey and the Expanse series. Without my phone I couldn’t read a book, play a game, order coffee, get a ride, see the weather forecast, Google various things that pop into my head, write flash fiction, look at pictures of other people’s gardens and lunches, check the news, listen to music, read my email, troll President Twitler, refill my prescriptions, check in for my flight, or shop. I might still refer to it as a phone if I ever used it to actually talk to people, but that’s the one thing I pretty seldom use it for. It’s hilarious. I do text, though, although I couldn’t do that either. I seriously thought I might die.

Bereft of my hand terminal full of reading material, I picked this out of my TBR pile, having bought it a while back in a concourse shop after the TSA had been particularly efficient and I had time to kill, because while e-books make traveling that much less laden, I am a nervous flyer and am comforted by the look and feel and smell and potential of a real paper-and-glue book in my hands. It works so well that I never even crack the spine while on the plane but instead spend the whole flight holding the book and looking quite calmly out the window. The magic of books. Wine helps too.

Anyway. A very well-written cozy in the tradition of Agatha Christie, with a clever Escher-like story-within-a-story element, a twofer mystery, one being the did-he-jump-or-was-he-pushed death of a mystery writer and a parallel whodunit contained in his most recent manuscript, with the final chapters missing. I’d never heard of Anthony Horowitz before, was snagged by the cover, and am disappointed to see he only has 3 other adult books for me to catch up on (one brand new this month!) He’s got a new fan, for sure.

Highly recommended.

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

The Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin (I Wish This Was a Book Review)

The Winds of Winter (A Song of Ice and Fire, #6)The Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin

I’m breaking up with you, George.

I fell in love with the ASOIAF series with the very first book. I happily reread all of the preceding books over again before cracking the spine on each new one. I freaking loved them. I loved you, George. The first four books in the series are some of the best fantasy I’ve ever read.

A Dance With Dragons, not so much. The only really amazing thing about A Dance With Dragons was that it could somehow manage to be 1000 +/- goddamn pages of pretty much nothing happening. After waiting six freaking years for it, I was mightily disappointed. Still, I was loyal. I put it down to Middle of the Series Slump Syndrome and went back to waiting. But I just read that, once again, this year will not see The Winds of Winter. Seven years and counting.

8732247._SX540_
Fine. I’m not asking.

Stephen King did this to me too, way back when with The Dark Tower series. Five years after the third one, with no fourth one in sight, I gave up and gave my copies away and actively ignored the series. I’d see a new one in the bookstore and go, nope. Not going there. You’re not going to win me back only to let me down again, Steve. Then finally, six or seven years ago, I found the entire series used online, for about twenty bucks including shipping, and I happily lost myself in them, beginning to end. It was better than munching my way dreamily through an entire bag of Milanos, and that’s saying something.

And now ASOIAF. I look forward to reading the entire completed series the same way I look forward to vacationing on the Moon, like something that might be possible in my lifetime but by the time it is, I’ll be too old and decrepit to actually do it. I have shelved this as “the movie was better” not only because the HBO series has been shockingly well done, but because it will actually be finished.

Seven years and counting. And there are supposed to be at least two more books after that? When, in 2057? I’m done, George. I’m happy to clear the shelf space for other books that don’t annoy me each time they catch my eye. Pack up your shit and get out.

It’s not me. It’s you. Bye.

Bookshelves: the-movie-was-better, fantasy, the-shit, i-can-dream-can’t-i

Be my friend on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Kids These Days (Twofer Book Review)

For any young people reading and experiencing bullying in the overall lameness that is high school, here’s my advice. If you don’t really fit in with any one clique – the Popular Girls, the Jocks, the Brains, the Geeks, the Goths, the Future Congresspeople, the Jesus Freaks, the Sk8ter Bois – go hang out with the Stoners. They have a lot more depth than they get credit for and they’ll be cool with anyone who’s cool with them first. You don’t even have to toke up.

Both of these YA books address bullying. The first additionally takes on the modern-day school issue of mass shootings, while the second brings up consent and victim-blaming.

Hate ListHate List by Jennifer Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: teenage-flashback, ya, current-social issues

 

Top Ten Strategies for Handling Bullies:

1. Ignore them
2. Remember they’re miserable and they hate themselves more than they hate you
3. Join a club or take up a hobby
4. Make friends with the next new kid to your school
5. Try to talk with them calmly about how their behavior makes you feel
6. Eat right, exercise, get plenty of sleep, meditate, do yoga
7. See a therapist/get some Prozac
8. Report it to a teacher or the principal
9. Transfer schools
10. Kype your dad’s guns and shoot up the school (new option as of April 20, 1999)

Yes, bullying is bad. It damages people in very real ways. But here’s the thing. There have been bullies since there have been people coexisting in groups. Bullying is a worldwide phenomenon. School shootings, however, are a distinctly American phenomenon. I know that modern American culture is fucked up in a lot of ways–raising snowflake children, normalization of violence, lack of access to health care–but you will never convince me that the biggest factor in American mass shooting culture is not American gun culture.

This book does not look at school shootings with regard to guns or mental illness (or chemtrails, or autism, or bad parenting, or video games, or vaccinations, or death metal, or trench coats, or too many doors, or porn, or not knowing CPR, or thoughts and prayers). It focuses on the disconnect many teens experience, the bullying and crappy home lives of Valerie and her boyfriend Nick. Valerie is left coping with her own guilt after venting to her notebook, creating what she calls the Hate List, unwittingly providing Nick with a target list when he snaps and opens fire at their school.

It was a thought-provoking read with more than one trigger for me. I cried a little.

I was a target in junior high and high school as well, although I eventually developed the strategy of showing up for school so completely stoned that I honestly did not give the smallest shit what anyone said to or about me. Self-medication, yay! Unfortunately, I did not consider that an option when I was badly bullied much later in life, by a boss in the workplace when I was a grown woman. It is gratifying to read an account that genuinely reflects how demeaning and demoralizing it is to be so relentlessly humiliated by others. I appreciated that Brown took care to show Nick’s good side, the “Beloved Son” who also died that day. It still angers me that Nancy Lanza is not included as a victim of the Sandy Hook massacre.

So, food for thought. It’s facile to dismiss deeply troubled kids as merely evil. It’s also facile to self-righteously claim that no matter how bad we had it, we would never wish our tormentors to hurt like they hurt us. I admit I pretended I was a Haitian priestess one day and stuck a pin through the head of the yearbook picture of one girl who was an unrelenting hag to me for 5 years. The thought of her possibly suffering migraines because of my amateur voodoo bothers me not at all. The thought of that Cersei Lannister ex-boss of mine being dumped by her husband for another woman or being the subject of a RICO investigation gives me a twinge of angry satisfaction. And I don’t think that makes me evil; it makes me human.

But.

Would I feel differently if I actually saw something horrible happening to either of them? Saw them being mowed down by a pimply-faced malcontent with a confederate flag and an AR-15? God, I hope so.

Would I be able to find common ground with them after that? Or them with me, knowing I’d even idly wished them harm? Would any of us even want to? Would any of us be able to admit the parts we’d played?

That’s what this book is about.

Overall a much better read than this next one.

Some Girls AreSome Girls Are by Courtney Summers

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: teenage-flashback, ya, current-social issues, ugh

After her best friend’s boyfriend tries to rape her at a typically alcohol-flooded Friday night party and she confides in the wrong person, Regina shows up for school Monday morning the subject of a freeze-out.

It’s a good premise, that could have addressed the timely topics of consent/victim-blaming and bullying. Unfortunately, Summers stayed utterly superficial, using these heavy issues as setup for endless tit-for-tat that ultimately goes nowhere.

THE PROBLEMS:

1. Over-the-top-ness. The freeze-out is carried out by every single person in the school. Everybody is snickering and whispering. Nobody will let her sit next to them (except for the emo guy at the Garbage Table, which would be okay, but set against the “everybody hates me” backdrop it becomes incredibly hokey.) In Real People Land, the Popular Girls are not so powerful they can dictate the thoughts and actions of every single kid in the lunchroom. The vast majority of the non-popular kids at school are focused on their own lives and simply do not give a shit about the bathroom rumors about you. This book takes “everybody’s talking about it” and “everybody hates me” waaaaay too literally.

2. Caricatured, two-dimensional characters. Everybody has one personality trait, and that’s mostly just being an asshole.

2.1. I’m awarding an extra star because the main antagonist was named Anna. My high school tormentor was named Anna. I imagine these two Annas have exactly the same snotty smirk.

3. No Adults Syndrome. Regina cannot take any of her problems to her parents because they are “useless,” not having given her the latest iPhone with unlimited everything. Nobody else even has parents, except as a source of unsecured prescriptions and liquor and a house to trash with a party because said parents are never home. Teachers are merely walk-ons, there to orchestrate the agony of Picking Teams or to further humiliate a student by yelling at her because someone else spray-painted WHORE on her locker.

4. Utterly unlikable protagonist. I don’t have to adore the main character, and I even like antiheros, but they have to have some redeeming quality I can empathize with. Regina has none. She’s as nasty as the Mean Girls who have frozen her out, a whiny victim who experiences compassion only as a guise to get back on the good side of people she herself has bullied in the past. I spent most of the book wanting to knock her on her ass myself.

5. Prop overuse. Throughout the book, Regina pops antacids like they’re cocktail peanuts. No wonder she’s full of shit. Probably literally. Those things will constipate you big-time.

6. The ending. After all the back-and-forth revenge, it just fizzles out. No climax, no payoff. Nobody internalizes their experiences, no one learns anything, no one changes, no one grows. Just pffffft.

For my money, you’ll never find better YA fiction than S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and That Was Then, This Is Now. They’re books about teenagers, written by a teenager, and are classics for a reason.

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Button Stories (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

She’s dreaming, but she can hear them rattling inside the powder box. Grandma’s button box. She feels them between her fingers, sees them with her dream-eyes. Bone ones, feather-light carved wood ones, painted china ones, cloth-covered ones. Stamped brass and pearly shell.

They used them as coins for betting, learning arithmetic playing “21.” They played a bastardization of marbles and tiddlywinks with them. But she loved it most when Grandma told their stories.

“This one came off your Great-Aunt Alice’s wedding suit. She married a rake, let me tell you, we all thought he’d never be more than a fancyman…”

Hans wedding
Photo: Hans

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes buttons. You can use the word plural or singular in different expressions, or focus on how buttons relate to a story. Go where the prompt leads.”

Featured

Exhaust (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“Glad you’re better today, Michelle–or were you just hungover, wink, wink, nudge , nudge.”
“I swapped,” Michelle replies tartly. “Came in on the Fourth, got a lot done with no one else here. Stayed home yesterday, slept in after everyone in a hundred-mile radius finally stopped setting off mortars at 3 a.m.”
“So you worked on the Fourth of July.”
“Independence Day is too exhausting for a school night.”

denfran
Photo: denfran

Every week Girlie on the Edge hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week’s cue was “exhaust.” Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Join us! It’s fun!

Featured

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (Book Review)

The Woman in the WindowThe Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book at the same time I was annoyed with it.

Bookshelves: psych-thriller, trendy, mystery, noir, unreliable-narrator, mfa-style, hot-off-the-press, popcorn-reading, purple-prose

It gets points for not being touted as “the next Gone Girl!” or compared to Gillian Flynn anywhere on the cover. There’s still a trend, though–the narrator who witnesses a terrible crime, but no one believes her because she’s unreliable, and she’s unreliable because she’s mentally ill or a drunk or a pillhead or some combination, and she is styled in the book title as the girl/woman/wife/sister/daughter. Of course you’ve seen these books; they’re everywhere. I’m surprised I even picked it up. Not disappointed, because I actually did like it, but surprised that I picked up a bandwagon book. (I guiltily admit to reading the Twilight books, but only where no one could see me doing it, and I will no longer read anything about vampires not written by Anne Rice. And maybe Stephen King.)

I have a few gripes. The writing is what I’ve seen others call “MFA-Style” and I’m totally stealing it. That flowery, uber-descriptive way of writing each and every moment and emotion and impression and insight that I imagine must be the mainstay of modern writing curricula: “Help,” I shout, only it’s a whisper, creeping through my throat on tiptoe, smearing itself across my tongue. “He-elp,” I try again; this time my teeth bite into it, sparks raining from my mouth as though I’ve chewed a live wire, and my voice catches like a fuse, explodes. (I’m an Elmore Leonard girl: “He-elp,” I croak. I try again: “Help.” Better.) And it seems there wasn’t a single page when Anna wasn’t craving wine, pouring wine, sipping wine, chugging wine, sloshing wine, spilling wine, dropping her wine and shattering the glass, fuddled from wine, trying to remember if this her fifth or seventeenth glass of wine, hungover from wine, opening more wine, swallowing multiple sleeping pills with wine. It wore thin. She stumbles or sinks or slumps or falls to her knees a lot, too–and no wonder, with all that wine–which I cannot recall ever seeing anyone do even once in real life. Between the beating her knees take and all the wine, I’m amazed Anna doesn’t break her neck navigating the endless flights of stairs in her (admittedly charming) gentrified-Harlem five-storey brownstone.

But. A lot of people like that writing style and if you do, good on ya. I don’t hate it; it’s just not my favorite. And even if the premise is rather derivative, the story is still a suck-you-in popcorn-type psych-thriller page-turner, on a par with The Girl on the Train (which I see I never reviewed, but loved) and easily outstripping The Woman in Cabin 10. I find the unreliable narrator hard to resist and Anna’s obsession with film noir darkens the atmosphere nicely. I saw through both of the prestiges well in advance of the reveals but still devoured it in about 24 hours, even with time out for beauty zzz’s and a full workday. It loses a star for being an obvious bandwagon book but is still worth reading, particularly recommended if you’ve got long flights and a layover to deal with.

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Bouquet (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“You got a job offer! But this is thrilling!”

Jane laughs. She pulls a bottle from her backpack with a flourish. “It’s not much, but we can celebrate.”

“I’m honored to help you celebrate, dear girl,” the old man says. “I wish I had proper glasses, to appropriately savor the bouquet of this lovely drop.” His eyes dance.

“Bouquet,” Jane snorts, uncapping the wine. “Two-Buck Chuck doesn’t have a bouquet. More like a…twang.”

“A pungency.”

“A stench!” Jane squeals, giddy.

Henry drinks, wipes the the bottle, passes it. “I could not be happier for you,” he says quietly.

two_buck_chuck_for_sale

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a bouquet. You can explore the meaning of the word or gather a bunch of flowers. Go where the prompt leads.”

Featured

The Last Colony (Old Man’s War #3) by John Scalzi (Book Review)

The Last Colony (Old Man's War #3)The Last Colony by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Scalzi for President!

But then, he wouldn’t have time to write his humanistic, cynical, wryly humorous, Joe-Sixpack-philosophy, utterly awesome sci-fi books. So, never mind.

This series is so good.

Bookshelves: gigantic-interstellar-battle-cruisers-playing-chicken, sci-fi, the-shit, action-with-a-body-count

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Warrior Woman (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Jane’s eyes open to the phone alarm. She pokes her nose out of the sleeping bag: Cold.

Just today off? Just one day? To lie around, to not strain her eyes at job listings, to not duck the judging eyes of the homed and employed. One day to pretend her life is good enough to relax into.

No.

One day of not trying leads to one missed opportunity leads to another damned lifetime of this life she’s lived too long already.

Growling, she flings back the top of the sleeping bag and jerks her legs out of the warmth.

WikimediaImages
WikimediaImages

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about warrior women. It can be myth or everyday mothers and wives. Go where the prompt leads.”

 

Featured

The Secret Place by Tana French (Book Review)

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad, #5)The Secret Place by Tana French

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: mystery, detective, psych-thriller, teenage-flashback, mfa-style, coming-of-age, ireland

I think I’ve figured it out, what I do and don’t like about Tana French.

I was disappointed with The Secret Place. It seemed to drag, then picked up about a third in, and the last quarter slogged again. It was bogged down by the same things I didn’t like about The Likeness: the miniscule description of each individual moment, done for moment after moment after moment after, every nuance of feeling and thought and spoken word between each and every character…it was too much. Both books had groups of characters who were close and constantly interacted, so that a two-minute conversation took 30 minutes to read. French’s ability to distill a flash of time into its essence is admirable and her writing is lovely, but I find that more enjoyable in small doses.

I loved the premise for The Likeness even if I found the execution lacking, but I found the gist of The Secret Place to be thin and unbelievable–you get to the solution of the mystery and it’s like, is that all? Somebody killed somebody else for that? If you removed all the flowery atmospheric description and rewriting the same thing from three or four different pov’s, you’d have 200 pages of nothing-much-of-a-mystery. And maybe this is a personal prejudice, but the teen-speak got old after so much of it. I mean, excuse me? It’s just so not totes amazeballs, hello?

In the Woods, Broken Harbor, and Faithful Place are much better bets.

Totes be my bff on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

The Run of His Life: The People versus O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin (Book Review)

The Run of His Life : The People versus O.J. SimpsonThe Run of His Life : The People versus O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Mommy, please call me back. I want to know what happened last night. Why did we have to go to the police station? Please answer, Mommy. Please answer, Mommy. Please answer, Mommy. Please answer. ‘Bye.” ~ Eight-year-old Sydney Simpson on her mother’s answering machine the morning after

I like Jeffrey Toobin’s true crime. They are not merely recounts; they are in-depth analysis of entire cases, including enlightening portraits of the principals and with clear and engaging explanations of forensics, legal machinations, and jury dynamics.

Factoid 1: The O.J. Simpson trial was not the first to be live-broadcast as it happened, but it was the one that proved the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that the very act of observation changes the outcome. Since this trial, judges have been much less inclined to allow the media to turn criminal trials into reality TV. Thankfully.

Factoid 2: This trial was the first big one to include DNA evidence, and the science was new and confusing, perhaps not to be trusted by a jury that, for the most part, was not educated beyond high school. Barry Sheck and Peter Neufeld, co-founders of the Innocence Project that has used DNA technology on old physical evidence to prove that hundreds of rape and murder suspects were wrongfully convicted, were the DNA specialists who effectively twisted the DNA science for the Simpson jury. Reading about their work for the Simpson defense cost them several notches on my esteem-o-meter.

Factoid 3: Pat McKenna, the lead private investigator brought in by F. Lee Bailey for the defense, later worked to help acquit Casey Anthony,* and is in fact now living with her. The elite world of criminal defense is a small one.

I found it helpful to supplement this book with interviews given by a couple of the O.J. Simpson jurors. Even without that, though, when you look at it from a point of view of what the sequestered Simpson jury was actually given to work with, without news reports and all the media sensationalism, without the back-and-forth between legal teams and the judge, without the 20/20 vision hindsight gives, then it’s a bit clearer how the verdict came to be.

The “Dream Team” ultimately managed to do what it was paid millions of dollars to do: plant reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury. But they did it in particularly slimy fashion. It is no longer permitted in criminal courts to slut-shame rape victims, but still almost de rigueur to defend a murderer by trashing the victim, in this case by intimating that Nicole Brown Simpson somehow deserved to be hacked to death on her own front walk with her children sleeping in the house. (And let’s not forget Ron Goldman, who is so often overlooked and whose grieving family has worked so hard to keep a murderer from profiting from his crimes.) The defense, principally Johnnie Cochran, very deliberately turned the “Trial of the Century” into a racial maelstrom. Robert Shapiro later stated, in what to me is a jaw-dropping admission, that they played the race card early, and they “dealt it from the bottom of the deck.” Ignore the veritable mountain of damning physical and circumstantial evidence, folks, and ignore his previous abuse of his ex-wife as well–O.J. Simpson is only sitting at the defendant’s table because he’s black. Was Simpson acquitted partially because his jury was preponderantly black? Almost certainly. But it’s disingenuous to dismiss the importance of race and the weight of entire lives shaped by being on the receiving end of constant and insidious institutionalized racism. A country that insists on marginalizing a good part of its population cannot pretend to be surprised when that population closes ranks to protect its own, particularly when the accused is a celebrity.

Still, in my view, the biggest factors in Simpson’s acquittal were the prosecution and the LAPD itself. Not only did the LAPD bungle some of the physical evidence–and their entry onto O.J. Simpson’s property amounted to a Fourth Amendment violation–they had spent decades engaged in a concentrated war against the people of color in Los Angeles. Without these factors, perhaps the defense would not have been able to weaponize them so effectively. As to the prosecution, it was outmatched in the talent department and often painfully bumbling, clearly unsuited for this particular trial. Marcia Clark was hot-headed and arrogant and convinced that black women on juries loved her despite a professional jury consultant telling her they actually thought she was an uppity white bitch. Chris Darden, who could have been particularly effective as a black prosecutor convinced of Simpson’s guilt, was too easily baited and given to childish outbursts and sulking. Prosecutors worthy of the name should have been able to demonstrate how, despite what a flaming bigot Mark Fuhrman actually was (and he was), he could not have planted O.J.’s right glove and smeared the victims’ blood around O.J.’s home and Bronco without being both a precog and a teleporter. Calmer heads more inclined to cool-headed strategy, damage deflection, and, you know, actual trial and witness preparation may have prevailed here. We’ll never know.

All of this is not to say O.J. was innocent. He was absolutely positively one hundred percent guilty, and if you still doubt it, read his memoir If I Did It, if you can stomach it. (Factoid 4: If I Did It was ghostwritten by Pablo Fenjves, who lived sixty yards from the Simpson murder scene and heard the mournful barking of Nicole’s dog that night.) But reading this book has helped me understand the verdict a bit better. But only a bit. When you can see the evidence and hear the testimony,** all of the various factors pale. “Not guilty” heard twice in that courtroom was abominable.

An eye-opening, highly informative read.

*I was in the small minority who, even without hindsight, believed the Casey Anthony verdict was correct. It was ludicrous for the prosecution to expect a jury to convict and impose a death sentence when they couldn’t even show exactly what crime was committed, when whatever-the-crime-was was committed, where whatever-the-crime-was was committed,  how whatever-the-crime-was was committed, and had virtually no physical evidence to support any thesis at all.

** I did not watch the FX dramatization based on this book. I’m not a TV watcher anyway, and I’ve seen several reviews of the book pointing out that the book is more accurate and complete. Hollywood liberties are the reason I read instead of watching.

Bookshelves: true-crime, in-the-news, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous, misogyny -rules, racism, as-seen-on-tv, social-commentary, controversial, non-fiction

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin (Book Review)

The Boys from BrazilThe Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“I say in my talks it takes two things to make it happen again, a new Hitler and social conditions like in the thirties. But that’s not true. It takes three things: the Hitler, the conditions, and the people to follow the Hitler.” ~ Yakov Liebermann, “The Boys From Brazil”

Eerie words to read from 1976, quite relevant in 2018’s Trumpmerica. This is not a book about the Holocaust per se. It is the story of a Jewish Nazi-hunter who stumbles upon a Kameradenwerk plot to kill 94 men, all around 65 years old, humble civil servants, in various parts of the world. His investigation leads him to an ongoing experiment by the fugitive Josef Mengele, Auschwitz’s “Angel of Death.”

This is a headlong, pull-you-in tale that stands the test of time. For some reason I had this marked as “read” even though I hadn’t, so I amended that. I recall I hadn’t liked Rosemary’s Baby all that much, am not much spooked by satanists (the ones I’ve run across have no idea what religion they’re perverting or how to do it correctly and their wannabe-ness really just cracks me up), but I loved The Stepford Wives when rereading it recently. I must now read the rest of Ira Levin’s books.

In reality, Mengele met his end in 1979 when he had a stroke and drowned while swimming in South America, where he’d successfully eluded capture by various Nazi hunters for thirty years. Rather anticlimactic, especially since the world didn’t even learn of his death until 1985. I promise you, you’ll like the ending of the book much better.

Bookshelves: thriller, nazi-hate, intrigue

Be my pal on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Property Value (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“But I don’t want to sell my house,” Michelle says.

“Property values are up,” Caroline presses. “Now’s your chance to make a killing.”

“Just move for no reason? I like my house.”

“Roll it into a bigger house, with land.” Duh, says Caroline’s tone.

“Uh-huh,” says Michelle, “with an even bigger mortgage, double the payment.”

“Not if you buy farther out, get ahead of the next gentrification rush.”

“Yeah, so then my commute is two hours one way instead of one. No thanks.”

“But property values–”

Michelle holds her hand up: stop. “There’s a big difference between value and worth.”

scholty1970
Photo: Scholty1970

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about property values. Perhaps its a home, business or pencil museum. What makes them go up or down? Go where the prompt leads.”

Featured

Cover Her Face by P.D. James (Book Review)

Cover Her Face (Adam Dalgliesh #1)Cover Her Face by P.D. James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What is a to-the-manor-born family to do? Look at this housemaid, a charity case, an unwed mother, oh the scandal, the little strumpet! We took her in, gave her a job, gave her a chance to be respectable, and what do we get in return? She’s sly and manipulative and uppity with her betters, actually thinks she’s going to marry into this family! What are we to do?

Drug her cocoa and strangle her, of course. That’ll teach her.

Of course there is a tangle of suspects and motives and opportunities (not to mention a mystery baby daddy), but never fear. Inspector Dalgliesh will get to the bottom of it.

I read several, or perhaps all, of P.D. James’ mystery novels twenty years ago or more, and I remember that I absolutely loved Children of Men, but twenty years is long enough for them to read like new. I had forgotten how intricately plotted and well-written these books are. P.D. James is one of Britain’s four Queens of Crime for a reason. If you like period English mysteries — post-war, in this case — they are not to be missed.

Bookshelves: brit-lit, cozy-mystery, period-mystery, detective, mystery

Be my friend on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

The Charisma of Cranes (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Fresh to the city from her small hometown, she’d tilt her head back and get vertigo from the skyscrapers. First time she’d felt fear of heights looking up.

And the cranes. At first, she’d wondered when the buildings would be finished and she could get a pretty skyline photo without those unsightly cranes. Never, she eventually realized. The building never stops. She’d never thought of that, that cities are never finished. Bigger, better, faster, more.

She’s grown to appreciate having a skyline, but she surely does miss a horizon.

Although cranes strung with Christmas lights are kind of pretty.

webandi crane
Photo: webandi

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story defining ‘the charisma of cranes.’ For centuries, cranes have inspired art and philosophy. You can write a crane story or create something new out of the phrase. Go where the prompt leads.”

Featured

Echo (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“I hate my plain-Jane name,” Jane says.

“Well, I think Jane is a lovely name,” says Mikki, “but if you could choose your name, what would it be?”

“Echo.”

“What?”

ECHO, ECHO, echo, echo,” Jane laughs. “See, that got your attention!”

Echo 3271136
Photo: 3271136

Every week, Girlie on the Edge hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week’s cue was “echo.” Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Join us! It’s fun!

Featured

All-American Murder by James Patterson (Book Review)

All-American Murder: The Rise and Fall of Aaron Hernandez, the Superstar Whose Life Ended on Murderers' RowAll-American Murder: The Rise and Fall of Aaron Hernandez, the Superstar Whose Life Ended on Murderers’ Row by James Patterson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: biography, gangsta, in-the-news, party-like-a-rock-star, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous, sports, non-fiction, true-crime, show-your-work, sports

This account of the shooting-star NFL player Aaron Hernandez is a lot like shallow whitewater; it pulls you right along, swirls and eddies and churns and is exciting enough, but it’s not all that deep. To be fair, In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter have already been done. Spoiler alert: There may be some in this review, but if you followed the headlines as events played out, then not really.

The book follows Aaron’s football career, from high school through his years with the Florida Gators and his signing by the New England Patriots. This is paralleled by his off-the-field life, with stops for various shootings and bar brawls, a couple of murder trials, and ultimately his death in 2017. There are a lot of major and minor players, and events spill over into each other, so things are occasionally hard to keep straight. But for all the detail included, there is much missing. Aaron’s fiancee doesn’t appear until he is signed with the Patriots, although they had reportedly been a couple for some years, and there’s next to nothing on the relationship that included her disposing of murder weapons and committing perjury on his behalf. There’s nothing on the investigative and legal teams beyond the tidbit that one defense lawyer was the one who got Casey Anthony acquitted.

It appears that things brought out in the investigations and trials were recreated in a narrative biography form that reads more like fiction, although I can’t say that definitely because no sources are listed. But that is not my preferred style for true crime. I prefer the more standard format of (1) crime (2) in-depth account of the investigation, and (3) solid showing of how all the evidence and testimony played out (or was disallowed) in the courts. I dislike the assumption of omniscience on the writer’s part, with little or no reference to where the information came from. It doesn’t give me what I want, which is to be a fly on the wall for the detective work, forensics, and legal maneuvering. I want to see and hear what the cops and the juries saw and heard, or why they didn’t see or hear it. That’s the reckoning. I want to know where the “facts” came from so I can reach my own conclusions. So ultimately, I don’t have much opinion on the verdicts, as I was left with a poor idea of what the different juries were actually given to work with. (I can say I don’t understand how Aaron’s agent and attorney could refuse to believe he committed suicide. The only reasonable alternative is murder, but the description of his death scene is the classic locked-room scenario.)

There’s enough actual football here for devotees, but not too much for non-fans. There is good backstory on Aaron himself, and I appreciate that every little detail of his childhood was not laid out; it’s tough to make anyone else’s toddler stage interesting to me. Aaron’s emotional chaos from the sudden and shattering death of his father and idol is reflected well, along with his long-term substance abuse and his associations with society’s bottom-feeders. But his advanced CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy, brain degeneration resulting from repeated blows to the head) and how it may have worked with those other factors to produce his erratic, paranoid, and violent behavior is brought up almost an afterthought.

Whether intentionally or not, the book does serve as an indictment of the culture of the athlete in America, with the win-at-any-cost business model, exorbitant salaries, celebrity status, entitled attitudes, and tolerance, if not cover-ups, of domestic violence, drug use, drunk driving, sexual assault, and generally shitty and unsportsmanlike behavior off the field. Not all athletes, certainly not–but for every one that makes the news, how many don’t?

So, it’s not the best true crime I’ve ever read, but it’s still a page-turner. Patterson’s style is headlong, with little cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, and the chapters are so short that it’s easy to read just one more and just one more and just one more… I started reading on a Saturday night and couldn’t stop, fell asleep over it with the light on about 3 a.m. and finished it the next morning. For all its churned-out feel, it’s still an engrossing read.

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain (Book Review)

Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist ChurchBanished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the memoir of Lauren Drain’s years in the Westboro Baptist Church, from being forced into it as a teenager by her parents up until her banishment by both “church” and parents seven years later. I’m not even sure why I picked this book up, other than I love being a fly on the wall and I wanted to see what spiritual message could possibly support the vitriol they spew. I did not like the book, more for the content than the writing; the content was so nasty that I skimmed probably half of it. Still, I know more than when I started.

THE PREMISE: Doctrinally speaking, it’s masturbatory. Like Calvinism, the WBC believes only a select few are chosen for salvation before birth, and nothing can change that. No amount of faith, of love, of good works, of repentance, of atonement, nothing. If you are not pre-selected, you will burn in hell. Of course you can see the same thing I did, the tidy little paradox that renders the message and the “church” itself pointless. (Although it’s certainly arguable that living with faith in God and love of God is its own reward, that’s a dogmatic discussion for another time and in any case does not apply to the WBC.) And–but you saw this coming–the entire Phelps family is chosen. God talks directly, and only, to WBC “elders.”

THE MESSAGE: Hate. That’s it. Just hate. The “Thank God for dead soldiers” shit is explained by the cult’s hysterical homophobia: Any military that allows “fags” to serve, and which safeguards a country that “enables” homosexuality, is cursed. When I read, “Our primary motivation was to let people know God hated them,” I got sick of feeling sick and started skimming. Tragedies like 9/11 and Sandy Hook and hurricanes are all God saying he hates everybody except the WBC, but especially “fags.” Of course there is no reason for this message because even if God kinda sorta liked some of the rest of us, we still have only about a one in 110-billion chance of being one of God’s chosen few, but who cares about logic? We don’t need no stinking logic!

(Since hypocrisy and irony abound with these people, I have to wonder if the writer’s banishment and the defections of various Phelps family members opened up any spots on that Great Reservation List in the Sky.)

THE GODLY HUMILITY: Absent. “When prophets like us, who spoke only for God, were persecuted, our country was doomed.” She complains about feeling disrespected and misunderstood by the public. Sorry, sweetheart, but when you’re spewing venom into the faces of grieving families, you are not being misunderstood. At. All. At other points she wrote that she was “still confused,” or that she “just felt doomed,” which says her conscience and intuition hadn’t completely deserted her, but when you know you’d better cover up your picketing signs to board a plane, when your “church” is officially designated as a hate group, those are reliable hints you’re on the despicable side of humanity.

THE ORGANIZATION: It is facile to dismiss these people as merely ignorant. This brand of homophobia is not Cooter sitting in his trailer all beered up and hatin’ on the hommaseckshools. They are intelligent, many of them well-educated, with law licenses they use to defend their First Amendment rights all the way to SCOTUS. They are organized and strategic and detail-oriented to a gnat’s fanny. Everywhere they go, they know exactly what they can get away with. Baleful and vitriolic they may be, but stupid they are not. (The tragedy is that this evil narcissism is mostly taught, springing from the WBC founder, Fred Phelps, to his children and grandchildren. Without that upbringing, Phelps’ descendants might have been normal people, although that’s a nature-vs-nurture discussion, also for another time.)

THE INDOCTRINATION: As many memoirs and biographies do, this book suffered from Other People’s Childhoods Syndrome, so I skipped that part. I started reading in earnest when Lauren was thrust into the church by her parents at age 14. The immersion was absolute, including insularity, microrules, tattling and competition for favor, verbal and emotional abuse, isolation, constant monitoring, rote learning, public shaming for perceived wrongdoing–everything required to create a good little automaton. Of course, you also have to have a verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive father and a mother who’s essentially useless beyond giving birth. (Steve and Lucy Drain are utterly horrible people and that’s not open for discussion.)

THE REMEDY: Ignore them. Utterly. They are trying to engage people so they can show off how smart and well-informed they are (a repeated bragging point), and to get headlines and photos. Do not feed the trolls. However, it remains that I adore the Bikers Against Child Abuse and the Patriot Guard Riders, bikers who create a physical wall of protection around funerals so the WBC can’t get close enough to picket effectively. I also loved the approach of the band Panic! at the Disco, who promised a donation to the Human Rights Campaign per WBC picketer at one of their concerts, then increased it and threw in a percentage of their merch sales too. That’s how you fight hate with love.

THE AFTERMATH: Unsatisfying. I did read the final two chapters and the epilogue in their entirety, and was left wanting the rest of the story and some real insight. Life after banishment is glossed over. The homilies and apologies felt canned and impersonal. She feels terrible about the people she hurt, she wants everyone to know God’s love, she now accepts other religions, blah blah blah. “I will never be a political activist for gay rights, but I like gay people and have lots of gay friends, too. I don’t judge them, and I don’t believe anyone else has the right to judge them, either.” Ah, the but I have gay friends! schtick. Hint: If you don’t think the LGBT population should have the same rights you have, you are judging and you are not their friend.

Her experiences about picketing and learning “church” doctrine have a good-old-days feel to them, and I’m not convinced she wouldn’t go back if they’d have her. I realize that could be nostalgia for the family she’s lost–even if they are shits, a part of us still aches for their love. Of course she misses her siblings, who are still trapped victims. I suppose it’s normal to fondly recall performances that earned you feel-goods, even if the script was malevolent. But when recalling her friends from the WBC, she writes merely that her “misgivings are stronger.” Um, what? The writer seems immature, but perhaps that’s to be expected from what is probably a textbook case of arrested development. I’m trying not to see her NOH8 message and her bootylicious pictures all over the internet as nothing more than a great big “Fuck you, Mom and Dad!” That would be understandable, but I want more for her.

I’m trying to be fair. Really. What I read is conversational and matter-of-fact and with the viewpoint of someone who actually believes this poison, which makes sense since it’s what she was living at the time–but man, is it hard to stomach. I like to believe people can change. Lauren Drain suffered horrific abuse during some very formative years and I suspect much deprogramming and healing remained to be done as of the writing of this book. Banishing her is probably the kindest thing her parents ever did for her, but my impression is she’s not in a place to see that yet. I hope she gets there. I’m sorry they hurt her so badly. No child should be treated as she was and I’m glad she’s out. Many blessings as she finds her own path of light.

Disclaimer: No, I am not a Christian. Yes, I have read the Bible, cover to cover, and I still own mine. When I cherry-pick it, I cherry-pick the good stuff, like help people, be kind, act in love, and so forth, because that Jesus dude was pretty chill.

Bookshelves: memoir, somebody-get-the-slime-off-me, couldn’t-really-read-it, religion-sort-of, in-the-news, non-fiction, controversial, just-nasty, unreliable-narrator, well-i-tried

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

Gone Fishin’ (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“I’m completely renewed, you know how revitalizing a whole makeover is — new cut, new clothes, new toilette, new everything,” Torrey chirps. She raises one wrist, takes a deep sniff, smiles at Lesley, smiles even more brilliantly at Alan’s attorney across the conference table. Alan couldn’t make this settlement negotiation; business. That suits Torrey. She flips her hair and sniffs her wrist again, simpers at the attorney.

“Ah, yes,” the man says drily. “Deep Woods Off No. 5.”

Torrey’s mouth snaps shut audibly.

“You were angling for a compliment, Mrs. Graff,” the attorney says. “Be careful what you fish for.”

TBIT
Photo: TBIT

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a fish tale. It can be about fishing from any angle, about those who fish, or what might be caught. Go where the prompt leads.”

Featured

An Inconvenient Woman by Dominick Dunne (Book Review)

An Inconvenient WomanAn Inconvenient Woman by Dominick Dunne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always say if you’re going to read trash, read the good trash.

As a roman a clef, this is not the story of Alfred Bloomingdale, the soap opera that churned around his mistress, Vicki Morgan, his widow Betsy’s refusal to honor her husband’s promises to Vicki after his unexpected death, and Vicki’s palimony suit and grisly murder. But even if it was that story, the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

I’m still not sure how libel issues are avoided when characters and events in a “novel” are known to be only thinly disguised, but it’s fun. Jules and Pauline Mendelson are the quintessential high society couple with their endless millions, their highly-placed and rich friends, their palatial estate, their impeccable taste. Flo March is a rather more innocent Vicki Morgan, being a waitress with daydreams rather than a full-on prostitute. I idly wondered how many other characters and incidents were based in reality (except for Truman Capote; he was obvious), but it didn’t matter. The artfully interwoven threads sewn around a real-life scandal, the little details that turn out to be a big deal, the dish and the dirt and the naughty behavior and the $40,000 curtains, add up to a delightfully guilty pleasure of a book.

Bookshelves: roman-a-clef, high-society, trashiest-trash, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous, in-the-news

Be my friend on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli (Book Review)

The Secret Life of Marilyn MonroeThe Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: biography, ugh, conspiracy-theories, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous, addiction, mental-illness, show-your-work, americana, hollywood

I’m fascinated by Marilyn Monroe. Not sure why. It’s not that my husband likes to say I look like her–I don’t. He’s just being sweet. But it’s odd that it took me this long to read a Marilyn biography or watch a Marilyn movie. I chose this one because it was the highest-rated on Goodreads. I almost decided not to finish it, and now I’m pissed that I did finish it.

1. Much of Marilyn’s life was mysterious, glamorous, tragic. Mostly mysterious, particularly her death. I was annoyed several times as the author glossed over speculations about her death and things rumored to have factored in to it such as the possibility of an affair with RFK as well as JFK, with statements like, “Fresh research assembled for this book says it didn’t happen.” That’s it. Just take his word for it. But it’s even worse than that. He starts the sources section by saying that appendices are just typing exercises, they’re a waste of ink and paper, nobody reads them anyway, so he’s not actually going to set out his sources. He refers to a few documentary sources in the narrative, such as reports from the FBI (whom he trashes). But he doesn’t cite them as a source.

What the what? Math and biographies, dude: SHOW. YOUR. WORK.

I’m one of those people who does read appendices.

But here’s the real kicker. He dismisses speculation about her death this way: “If she had been a stable woman who had never overdosed in her lifetime, then, yes, one might legitimately question the circumstances of her death. However…” And I am not using that quote that out of context.

What in the actual fuck. She was an addict, so any questioning of suspicious circumstances is not legitimate? She was an addict, so she can’t also be a victim of foul play? Is the author one of those assholes who thinks a rape victim’s sexual history is relevant? This is especially galling after you’ve read an entire book themed around poor-Marilyn-nothing-was-her-fault; see #2.

2. The writer was perhaps a bit too dazzled by his subject. To hear him tell it, she was incapable of making a stupid decision or simply acting like a shit sometimes like the rest of us. Every negative behavior is blamed on mental illness, her sad childhood, her crazy mother, her daddy issues, power-tripping studio heads, greedy and controlling acting coaches, hyperprescribing doctors, too much therapy and wallowing, abusive husbands, the effects of alcohol and pills, the nature of addiction, paranoia from the FBI following her around. Marilyn herself was never culpable for anything. It wore thin.

Except for her death, of course; she evidently had that coming. It’s appalling.

3. It suffers from Other People’s Childhoods Syndrome. Normally I’d give the author a pass for this one because it’s so tough to make anybody else’s childhood interesting to me, but I’m throwing the book at this book, ha ha. I skipped ahead to the James Dougherty marriage and the beginning of modeling, and don’t feel I missed anything, especially since he repeats so much; see #4.

4. The writing is meh, and the narrative jumps around in time and repeats things so I was always flipping back and forth to see if I really already had read something, and yes, yes I had. Overall, it reads like a not-quite-finished draft; do some more editing, tighten up the timeline, cut about 200 pages of minutiae. One photo is said to have been taken at a party hosted by producer Harvey Weinstein, who would have been ten years old at the time. Understandable mistake, I suppose, but then it appears that Harvey Weinstein, writer Walter Bernstein and producer Henry T. Weinstein are all conflated when the book references the (as far as I can determine) non-existent producer Harvey Bernstein. Exhaustive detail is not always a good thing, and there’s way too much of it here…

5. …right up until her death, which the author treats almost like a postscript. The book bogs down with detail and it was getting annoying, glancing down and seeing I was only at 35%, 43%, good Lord, I’ve been reading for a day and a half and I’m only at 48%? I initially skipped what I was sure would be the most interesting parts (the Rat Pack, the Kennedys, the Lost Weekend) because I’d had enough, and jumped ahead to her death. I couldn’t believe the treatment he gave it, so I went back and read what I’d skipped to see if I’d missed some justification for the conclusions. I had not.

Yes, my interest may be morbid, but in my own defense, I also like true crime. Marilyn’s death remains so mysterious but the author skims right over it. After endless imagined or third-hand conversations, interviews with people only peripherally involved in her life, detailed descriptions of what she was wearing, allusions on virtually every page to her vulnerability and mental illness and despair and emotional spirals and loneliness, she’s a poor-little-lost-girl-victim all the way, over and over, okay, okay, I get it, and then the last chapter is like, “Marilyn was found dead from a drug overdose. Lots of contradictions and different theories. Ignore the suspicious stuff because I said so. Accidentally or intentionally, she did it herself. So sad. Legend, icon, live forever in our hearts, blah blah blah. The End.”

Since I was lying around feeling lousy, nursing a sinus infection/allergies/spring crud, I decided to continue being unproductive and turned to YouTube clips. Yes, she did have a certain something, a fascinating blend of innocence and sophistication. We’ll never know if she could have become a good dramatic actress, but she certainly had a gift for the sexy and funny. All glammed up she was the quintessential movie star but au naturel her beauty was ethereal. The woman was stunning, and cameras loved her. (Some of her nude shots don’t even try to cover a surgical scar, and I appreciate that.)

Movie clips led to Marilyn documentaries, the conspiracy stuff. Good Lord, I’d never known. What really gets me is the story of how she was found: The housekeeper became alarmed when Marilyn’s door was locked, she called the doctor, he came over, he looked through the window of the French door to her bedroom, saw her lying face down with the phone in her hand, he broke the window and reached in to open the latch so he could get to her. Fine, but now Google photos of the house. (1) Where she was lying on the bed, Marilyn would not have been visible through the window at that angle; there’s a bureau or something with stuff piled on it, in the way, and (2) no intelligent person would reach through that broken window; you’d shred your hand and arm.

That’s just for starters. Yes, innuendo and rumor are one thing, but suspicions raised by officials and forensic science are quite another. Those officials’ statements and crime scene reports are not even referenced. What about the later statement that none of the interior doors in the house had locks, including the one to her bedroom? What about the assistant district attorney who says that Marilyn’s organs and other samples and slides disappeared, that what tissue analysis was done was almost perfunctory? What about her completely empty stomach and the lack of any water glass at the scene? What about the claims that bruising and lividity indicated her body had been moved after death? (And if you look at the “death” photo, that shows her lying face-down on the bed, that lividity is clearly visible.) What about the missing diary? What about the Hollywood cop who stated that on the evening of Marilyn’s death, he’d pulled over a car driven by Peter Lawford with Bobby Kennedy in the passenger seat, even though Kennedy was supposedly in San Francisco that night? Rumors of the FBI, the CIA, the mob? Only some of that is here, and it’s glossed over and dismissed out of hand.

There’s a lot floating around out there; the only conspiracy I didn’t find online is that she faked her death and is off somewhere living it up with Jimi Hendrix and Elvis. And I understand how it is. One person says this, another says that, the first person later says another thing, and things contradict other things.  People misspeak during trauma, perhaps remember differently later, misjudge times and whatnot. Memories fade after 50 years. I get that. But it’s one thing when a conspiracy blogger says “research shows” without citing that research; I expect better from a journalist.

This book has a lot (a lot) of information about Marilyn’s relationships with her mother and half-sister, other friendships, her marriages, her movies. The author hammers on indications that she was borderline paranoid schizophrenic. But as far as her death is concerned, and life circumstances that contributed to it, it’s hardly definitive. Not when the writer doesn’t address discrepancies, justify conclusions, or cite sources.

I’m quite annoyed that this is the Marilyn biography I chose to read. We can call it my Lost Weekend.

P.S. My daughter and I just watched The Seven Year Itch in its entirety. Loved it.

P.P.S. A good friend of mine is adamant that he saw Marilyn’s ghost at the Hollywood Roosevelt. I believe him.

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Featured

What Happened? Fire and Fury (and Some Russians, and a Porn Star) (Twofer Book Review)

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White HouseFire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: in-the-news, politics, journalistic, non-fiction, current-social-issues, controversial

My mom and I were bashing our fake president one day when Mom pronounced Ivanka with a flat A, as in apple. I said no, Mom, it’s i-VAHN-ka, and Mom replied, “I-vank-a Stank-a.” Oh Mom, I love you so much.

I wasn’t going to read this book. I am already so utterly sick of this White Trash White House, with its 14 new contentious/sordid/idiotic headlines every morning. I changed my mind when I read that the Pussy Grabber in Chief sent a cease-and-desist letter to the publisher, in his typical wannabe-dictator-and-screw-the-Constitution style. Then I almost actually bought a copy, figuring it was the most patriotic thing I could do, but in the end I couldn’t make myself shell out 17 smackers that could, based on any possible agreements the author had with his sources, end up in any of these slimeballs’ pockets. So I patiently worked my way up from #1,947 on the waiting list at my library. No joke.

And here I am. Wiser? Who knows. I figure anybody should take this with a margarita-rimful of salt. More depressed? Certainly. More convinced we’re all going to die? A bit.

There’s a lot of dish here, but not the fun salacious-gossip kind of dish. Ugly, moronic, appalling dish that showcases just how badly eroded the Republican party has become over the last 30 years (I am a recovered Republican, finally got disgusted and jumped ship after Dubya’s first term, and who’da thunk I’d be missing him?). Wolff is an engaging enough writer, and his probes into Trump’s psychological state feel absolutely correct. Still, the whole book has a slapped-together, not-entirely-edited feel that isn’t helped by the cheap paper and the (satisfyingly) unflattering photo on the cover. The takeaways are even more alarming than what you read in the news: Trump himself is a childish narcissist who is bored by, you know, policy, doesn’t read, and is influenced most by whoever he last spoke with. The real evil here is Steve Bannon, followed closely by Jarvanka (the only portmanteau couple name I’ve ever actually liked; makes me think of Jar Jar Binks), who are also flaming incompetents along with virtually everyone else in the West Wing. It’s frightening.

Ultimately, the whole book is like Trump himself: An unfiltered, diarrhea-stricken bull in a china shop, somehow managing to look like a used-car salesman even in a ten-thousand-dollar suit, no real plan, instant gratification only, thrown together with enough glitter and hoo-rah to suck in the masses and make a quick buck by telling us what we want to hear.

Some of it might even be true though. It certainly rings true. I’m glad I read it, for the same reason I follow our Narcissist in Chief and his grifter family on social media–always know what the assholes are up to. But now I feel like I have a film of slime all over me. I’m going to go have a bath, and dream of Democrats retaking Congress at the midterms so impeachment proceedings will actually mean something. With a huge margarita, extra salt.

Five stars, just to push it higher and piss Emperor Hirocheeto off even more.

What HappenedWhat Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: memoir, non-fiction, politics, in-the-news, controversial, current-social-issues, feminism, women

I read this immediately after reading Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, although at that point I was tired of it all, from Wolff’s book and keeping up with current headlines. Who wants even more election upheaval? But I’d only read the author’s introduction to What Happened before I felt better. No matter what she has to say, I thought, at least what I’m reading is compassionate, considered, intelligent, articulate–everything the Trump campaign was not.

The biggest takeaway: “All or nothing” does not work when fighting for change. Reluctance to compromise can bring about defeat. The forces opposed to change have it easier. They can just say no, again and again, and blame the other side when it doesn’t happen. If you want to get something done, you have to find a way to get to yes. Hillary Clinton understands that at its core, this is how politics is done.

Critical reviews say Hillary is merely justifying herself, telling things so she looks good. Oh, like Trump–or anyone else for that matter–wouldn’t? I found her explanations of policy enlightening and her optimism refreshing. One zinger I particularly loved, when she talked about those who figure she and Bill must have some kind of “arrangement” that kept them together through the Monica Lewinsky scandal (and I paraphrase): “Yes, we had an arrangement. It’s called a marriage.”

Other critical reviews suppose that she couldn’t possibly have written this herself and done such a good job. Perhaps. But if that’s the case, at least she had the goddamn sense to hire someone who could write it. Unlike someone else who comes to mind, Mr. “Only-I-Can-Fix-It” who evidently considers a model and Twitter to be an adequate substitute for a politically qualified and experienced communications director. (Oh, whoops – now Hope is gone, too.) And the book is well-written.

Hillary recalls the harried and hectic life of the campaign trail, the career that led to the campaign, the particular difficulties faced by any woman in a professional setting and particularly politics, friendships and family, and the constant, partisan, fruitless investigations she endured. And, of course, those fucking emails, blown up by the media and James Comey to be one of the biggest, stupidest, and least scandal-worthy political scandals in the last 100 years. She owns her campaign and admits the mistakes she made and the missteps she took, and talks frankly about her shock and bitter disappointment and what it took to crawl out of bed and keep going after 11/9.

My own great-great-aunt was deep in the fight for women’s suffrage, and I was so happy to cast my vote for a woman for President of the United States. I cried the next morning when I saw the headlines, but not only because she’d lost. It was who she’d lost to. And why. James Comey has a lot to answer for. It’s true that I lean more left than right, but there are some Republican principles I support as well–and you will never convince me that the current administration is anything less than a circus. You might not like her personally, but Hillary is infinitely more qualified, in education, intelligence, experience, temperament.

This book got the bad taste out of my mouth, left me feeling a little bit hopeful, and reminded me that while we didn’t break that highest glass ceiling this time, we’re still so much closer. I still believe it will happen in my lifetime, and Hillary Rodham Clinton did a lot to get us there.

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews