I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg (Book Review)

I Still Dream About YouI Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: women, chick-lit, southern-writers, americana

I discovered Fannie Flagg after falling in love with the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. When I learned she had also written the screenplay, I figured the movie had to be pretty close to the book. I loved that book, devoured it in almost a single day, aided the summer windstorm that knocked our electricity out for about 36 hours so I had nothing else to do, and fortunately I’d bought a paper copy. Loved it.

Alas, I Still Dream About You, not so much. It was good, don’t get me wrong; 3 stars mean I liked it just fine. But I didn’t love it.

This is the story of Margaret Fortenberry, elected Miss Alabama the same year as the Birmingham race riot, and determined to win back some decency cred for her state. Problem is, forty years after the fact she just cannot get over herself having been Miss Alabama, and she’s a bit whiny. She’s also nice. Incredibly nice. I’ve never met anyone as thoroughly nice as Margaret Fortenberry. Maybe it’s a Southern thing. She is also, as it happens, planning her suicide, so meticulously that her body will never be found, very considerately leaving no mess for anyone else to clean up. Did I mention how very nice she is?

She is also determined that no one will have to deal with her possessions, so she gives them all away, but circumstances keep arising so that she has to push back the date at the last minute, leaving her with no clothes to wear as she deals with these various circumstances, not even an aspirin to take for the headaches they give her, and a “To Whom It May Concern” letter with the date whited out and rewritten several times. It gets comical.

Flagg deftly writes Maggie’s despondency and the dark cloud of suicide with a lightness that is not at all grotesque–it’s almost whimsical. The biggest problem I had was that the plot didn’t really thicken until almost halfway in, when things really heat up, helped by the discovery of a real live–well, no, dead actually–skeleton in the attic. Dressed in a kilt. The second half of the book moved right along.

Extra points for one of the best antagonists-you-love-to-hate I’ve ever read.

So no, it’s no Fried Green Tomatoes, but it’s still worth the read.

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Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose (Book Review)

Undaunted Courage: The Pioneering First Mission to Explore America's Wild FrontierUndaunted Courage: The Pioneering First Mission to Explore America’s Wild Frontier by Stephen E. Ambrose

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephen E. Ambrose’s recounting of the Corps of Discovery is largely a biography of Meriweather Lewis, with lots of excerpts from his and Clark’s journals and from the letters exchanged by Lewis and President Thomas Jefferson. The casual racism and colonial high-handedness are appalling, although they accurately reflect the attitudes of the times. I was also disappointed that there was so little on Sacajawea, the only woman in the party, who kept up with all the men and sometimes outpaced them, with a newborn on her back no less. However, seeing pristine, largely unexploited country through the eyes of Lewis and Clark is a treat.

The primary goal of the expedition was to find a route by water from the Atlantic to the Pacific, across the brand-new Louisiana Purchase and beyond, to give America a firm foothold in trade across the continent. The secondary goal was that of scientific exploration, and Lewis’ vast notes, drawings, and specimens of hundreds of species of plants and animals, along with his surveying ability, make you see how dedicated he was to the adventure of discovery and the acquisition of scientific knowledge. When you measure the lack of technology against the expedition’s requirements, the scope–almost audacity, really–of the undertaking is freaking impressive.

It’s not a fast read, though; my library loan expired before I could finish the e-copy. Fortunately, I was able to download an audio loan immediately so I didn’t lose traction. I am almost impossible to please when it comes to narrated dialogue, hence most novels, but nonfiction is okay for that and the narrator was good.

Recommended for anyone interested in American History beyond the schoolbooks.

Bookshelves: american-history, mother-nature-will-kill-you, americana, biography, non-fiction, adventure, man-vs-nature

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Red Notice by Bill Browder (Book Review)

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for JusticeRed Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: politics, high-crimes-and-misdemeanors, non-fiction, memoir, in-the-news, fucking-russians, true-crime

I heard about this book when I was listening to the most excellent podcast Mueller She Wrote, partially to satisfy my admitted Mueller obsession and partially just for anything entertaining to listen to through the headphones I am forced into at work to drown out my office clerk’s incessant grunting and sniffling and burping and fake-coughing and sighing and growling, and my office neighbors’ incessant abuse of speakerphone, both offenses for which I believe death by stoning is entirely appropriate.

But I digress.

I’d only had the vaguest notions of what Russian sanctions were all about until MSW host A.G. and her co-hosts went into the Magnitsky Act in some detail and this book was mentioned.

Holy shit.

Author Bill Browder was a hedge fun manager who pioneered investing in the crippled Russian economy following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He learned of vast abuses and outright thefts from the Russian people, and himself was targeted by none other than Vladimir Putin among others, when he fought back and went public with the atrocities committed by government officials and the oligarchs who rose from the ashes like malignant phoenixes. The imprisonment, torture, and death of his Russian attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, were what led to the United States’ passage of the Magnitsky Act, which provides for sanctions against Russian individuals known to be involved in such activities.

THE GOOD: This is non-fiction that reads almost like an intrigue novel. High-finance shenanigans are described so that I, who feel rich if I am in possession of $3,000 all at the same time, could understand them. The writing is not Pulitzer-quality, but then, Browder is not a writer by trade, and it is still clear and engaging. The story packs punch after punch and pulls you along. I couldn’t put it down.

THE BAD: Browder comes across as quite likable, to the point that I almost forgot he is one of the capitalists who, in the long run, are not doing the world any favors. It’s all about making money, obscene amounts of money, more money than anyone could ever need, while ignoring the good that could be done for the world at large instead of indulging in $1200-a-night hotel suites at Lake Como and the like. He is quite self-congratulatory for his role, which was central, in getting what justice he could for honest, patriotic Sergei Magnitsky and bringing the Magnitsky Act into being, but glosses right over his own personal profiteering. Does one offset the other? I suppose. Maybe. But still.

THE UGLY: Russian government and oligarchs. Fucking Russians. I am even more appalled than I already was at the interference in U.S. sovereignty, and at the compliance of Americans who have or have not yet been named, may they all choke on their Beluga Gold Line.

Recommended.

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An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon (Reading Challenge Book Review)

An Unkindness of GhostsAn Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: love-the-title, fantasy, sci-fi, all-the-isms-and-phobias, current-social-issues, outer-space, reading-challenge

This was both #19 and #24 on my 2020 Reading Challenge, a book with a title that caught my attention and a book written by a trans/non-binary author, respectively. I LOVE the title.

There was SO MUCH potential here, but I’m underwhelmed.

The world-building was phenomenal, with the story set on a gargantuan generational spaceship searching for a habitable world after climate change finally wipes out Earth. Culture is lushly painted, a theocracy ruling the ship, the upper decks reserved for the white elite and people of color relegated to the slum lower decks. I loved the rotating field decks on which crops are grown under the ship’s Baby Sun. The whole ship, so big that different decks have different languages, is a nice metaphor for our entire society, and issues of classism, sexism, trans- and homophobia, racism, ableism, and the myriad traumas that go along with those are included.

The characters are also fantastic. Our heroine, Aster, is a black woman who serves as a healer for her fellow slaves, nurturing healing plants and concocting curatives in her hidden botanarium while enjoying the personal friendship of one of the elites of the theocracy, the Surgeon General and nephew of the cruel reigning Sovereign. Aster is somewhere on the autism spectrum, perhaps with Asperger’s Syndrome (apologies, this isn’t my wheelhouse), and her viewpoint and voice are a delight. I loved Aunt Melusine and my heart ached for Giselle.

The writing is also lovely:

“In my language, there is no word for I. To even come close, you must say, E’tesh’lem vereme pri’lus, which means, this one here who is apart from all. It’s the way we say lonely and alone. It’s the way we say outsider. It’s the way we say weak.”

That’s where my praise ends, unfortunately. The plot felt a bit aimless to me. Things would ramp up for a chapter, then meander off into a flashback, then come back to the present with a different plot point or character point of view. Kind of all over the place. It all comes together in the end, but it felt almost like an accident.

I wanted to love it, and a lot of people do, but while I didn’t outright dislike it, I had to push a little to finish it. As always, your mileage may vary.

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