Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton (Book Review)

Y is for Yesterday (Kinsey Millhone, #25)Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

SEXUAL ASSAULT TRIGGER WARNING: Repeated descriptions of sexual assault, with accompanying “she had it coming” mentality

Grafton crafted a dark story here, then threw away the opportunity to make it count.

My neck hairs first stood up when I read, “I couldn’t think why she’d try extorting money for a sex tape in which she starred front and center.” Um, what? You mean, in which she was being gang-banged and sodomized while passed out. Which is acknowledged a few pages earlier, opining that those making the tape would be facing rape and sexual assault charges. So, is the throw-away attitude toward this girl throughout the book casual victim-blaming on the part of the writer, or is it intentionally written to display the “Well, she shouldn’t have been drunk and naked and wasted with a bunch of guys, and I don’t care if she was only fourteen, she’s a dirty dirty sloot” attitude that everybody, including Kinsey, seemed to share? When a young man is released after serving a sentence for murder, and you feel bad for him because now he’s being blackmailed over a sexual assault he took part in and you don’t want to see him “go through” any more…say what? But of course. Don’t forget that he is rich and white and from a “good family.” Kinsey is so principled that she returns the entire retainer after she’s fired, without deducting for services already performed, but she’s not principled enough to turn down this dog turd of a case in the first place? Or take the tape straight to the D.A.?

Out-of-character characters. “I picked up the scent of the cigar he’d smoked, but the effect wasn’t unpleasant,” writes Kinsey, except that the Kinsey I’ve been reading about for 30 years hates smoking. Henry has always loved and babied his yard, but he’s suddenly torn it up and is letting a homeless couple pee in it? Kinsey’s being stalked by a serial killer, so she carefully cleans her beloved H&K, locks it in the trunk at the foot of her bed, and drifts peacefully off to sleep?

Anachronisms. In 1979, teenage kids use the word “homophobe” and have computer video editing equipment in their bedrooms. Most glaring was not being allowed past airport security without being a ticketed passenger–except this was in 1989, twelve years before 9/11, back when you could go to the airport and get a drink and sit and watch the planes take off and land, which I used to do. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about these novels is being stuck in the 80’s, Kinsey hauling her portable typewriter around and always being miles away from a pay phone when she needs one. In this installment, present-day intruded several times.

These books have never been perfect and I’ve loved them anyway, but this one set my teeth on edge. I only read to the end because I wanted to see if I was right about whodunit, which I was, and I’ve already forgotten it. I never thought I could give a Kinsey Millhone book only two stars, but Kinsey as a rape apologist, who’da thunk it.

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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Norse MythologyNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was going to say it’s impossible for Neil Gaiman to write anything I wouldn’t like, but then I remembered Neverwhere, which I couldn’t get into, and I blame that mostly on the rats, which did not become a horror to me until I moved to Seattle in the midst of a seven-year stretch of chronic and heinous insomnia, and my rented-online-sight-unseen apartment turned out to be infested with the hideous creatures, and the job I moved here to take turned out to be the absolute worst employment experience of my life, leading to an almost complete psych breakdown and years of therapy. It became an association thing: I fucking hate rats. I also blame the character named Jessica. I’ve just always disliked that name. No real reason. No idea. But rats + Jessica = couldn’t read the book.

But any other Gaiman book, I’m totally down for.*

Norse Mythology is an absolute delight to read of an evening, wrapped up cozy in a warm blanket, with warm lamplight and a warm cuppa, perhaps rain on the window. The language is not childish but creates that “once upon a time” atmosphere that recalls being read to as a child. This book might be superb on audio.

The stories are wonderful, and this collection includes a nice tour of Yggdrasil and the basics of Norse belief (those interested may want to check out the spiritual path of the Asatru). Gaiman sources his tales straight from the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, all with the unique flavor and rhythm that are Gaiman’s own. All of your favorite gods are here…Odin, Thor, Loki, Frigg, Tyr, Frey and Freya, Heimdall, Baldur…and some you may not have heard of.

My personal favorite was Thor in drag.

*Unless he chooses to name a character Tracy, every Tracy I’ve been intimately involved with having turned out to be a manipulative, backstabbing C U Next Tuesday. It’s a puzzle. I once worked and became sort-of friends with a woman in the screen-name environment of the Internet, and was dismayed when I learned her real name was Tracy. “Don’t be silly,” I told myself, “it’s just a name. Just because her name is Tracy doesn’t mean she’s going to suddenly turn into a skank.” Lesson learned, that I could not have been more wrong, as I pulled not one but two of her knives out of my back. I’m aware that there are probably a great many women named Tracy who are upstanding and moral people. Maybe it’s an alchemical thing, that happens when I become involved with the woman named Tracy. So if you are a Tracy, let’s just not meet, or at least don’t let me know, so all of these Tracy’s can continue being good people. Please, Neil, don’t ever name a character Tracy. Because I know you’re reading this.

This was #17 in my 2017 Reading Challenge, a book published in 2017.

Bookshelves: myth-and-legend, deities-behaving-badly, retelling-a-classic, literary-fiction, once-upon-a-time, religion-sort-of, reading-challenge, short-stories, humor

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Exodus by Leon Uris (Book Review)

 Exodus Exodus by Leon Uris

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the fictionalized story of the creation of the present-day nation of Israel as symbolized by the Exodus, a ship refit by the Mossad Aliyah Bet, carrying Jewish refugees from post-WWII internment camps on Cyprus to run the British blockade and settle in Palestine.

Bookshelves: well-i-tried, disappointment, world-war-ii, in-the-news, historical fiction, jewish-history, middle-east

So much potential, but I’ve been reading for a week and I’m not even halfway through. The story is interesting enough, but there is a lack of balance in writing about a many-faceted period in world history. The characters are without nuance, written in black-vs-white terms. Zionist activists and Jewish people are good; Arabs, Turks, the British, and Americans (sympathizers excepted) are bad. I understand and do not disagree with the basics of Zionism and the negation of the Diaspora, and the basis for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that’s enough to know it’s a helluva lot more complicated than Uris would have us believe. Even now, President Twitler creates some controversy by proposing to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, flying in the face of virtually every other country on the planet, most likely as another way of flipping the bird to the United Nations.* This book is 100% pro-Israeli, as far as I read, and I dislike that one-sidedness.

I could even deal with that. Just finish this book, then go read one sympathetic to the Palestinian viewpoint, but there are other things. The different characters’ backstories are visited as flashbacks that read more like infodumps, dry as unbuttered toast. Slog, slog, slog. There are a couple of romances in the offing, between the Brokenhearted Steadfast Warrior Heroes and the Beautiful and Plucky Women Who Melt Their Hearts, who come off formulaic and trite. And somebody really needed to curb Uris’s enthusiasm for the ! key.

The story is based in truth, which you can read about here and here, with a lot of poetic license that I truly have no issue with. The real Exodus sailed from Marseilles, not Cyprus, carrying far more people. I am given to understand that somebody saves the day at the end of the fictional voyage; the real life voyage did not end happily.

I was hoping for an epic I could fall in love with and gush over, but I’m more annoyed than anything, and I try to discontinue things that annoy me. I usually only give one star to a book I can’t finish, but I’m throwing in an extra for the scope, the fact that the book is dated (1958) and that’s not its fault, and that it inspired me to research the true story and learn something new.

*I hate, loathe, and despise #45 and will get my digs in where I can.

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Mystic River by Dennis Lehane (Book Review)

Mystic RiverMystic River by Dennis Lehane

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“You ever think how the most minor decision can change the entire direction of your life? Like, say you miss your bus one morning, so you buy that second cup of coffee, buy a scratch ticket while you’re at it. The scratch ticket hits. Suddenly you don’t have to take the bus anymore. You drive to work in a Lincoln. But you get in a car crash and die. All because you missed your bus one day. I’m just saying there are threads, okay? Threads in our lives. You pull one, and everything else gets affected.”

I finally read this. Oh. My. God.

Even though I’d seen the movie years and years ago, and already knew whodunit and what happens, this is one of the top three mystery/detective/psych thrillers I have ever read. Ever. Even if I did keeping putting Sean Penn’s face instead of Kevin Bacon’s onto book-character Sean.

My first Dennis Lehane book, but it will not be my last.

And when I was texting my son Monster to tell him how good this book was and how he just has to read it right away, he texted me back that he happened to be in Barnes and Noble at that very moment and someone had just asked the clerk if George Orwell “had a new book out.”

This is why it’s important to talk about books.

And why Sean is a great name, because that’s Monster’s name, too.

So name your kid Sean, and read books, and talk about books, and go read this book.

Bookshelves: detective, grittiest-reality, police-procedural, psych-thriller, this-is-the-stuff-right-here, mystery

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Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler (Book Review)

Farewell, My Lovely (Philip Marlowe, #2)Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good Lord.

I know it was the attitudes and nomenclature if the time–this novel was published in 1940–but I have never waded through the sludge of so many racist and misogynistic attitudes EVER. I even learned some racial slurs I hadn’t known before. See, kids? Reading is educational.

This book is chock-full of dinges and niggers and shines and wops and dames and broads and an Indian who says things like, “Gottum car,” I kid you not. So part of me is just rolling my eyes and cringing through the whole thing. And I think PC is important, yes I do, although I also think we get carried away with it sometimes. But the thing to realize is that PC is only just the surface, it’s the skin-deep beauty that cannot hide the flesh underneath, still rotten with prejudicial attitudes. Almost eighty years after this book was written, women are still not fully credited for everything we can do, still do not have equal pay or control over our own bodies. Racism is going strong, institutionalized and systematic in virtually every aspect of American life and even normalized by our current presidential administration. Simply making the words unacceptable in polite society does not enlighten anyone, does not change the underlying attitudes and accepted norms of that society. We’ve got a lot of work to do yet. But we have to start somewhere, and PC is as good a place as any.

But on the other hand- -that’s my favorite hand, the other hand–the prose. The prose! Hard-boiled poetry.

“I had seen some of his work and it was the kind of work that stays done.”

“She’s a nice girl. Not my type.”

“The wet air was as cold as the ashes of love.”

“She hung up, leaving me with the curious feeling of having talked to somebody that didn’t exist.”

“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”

Gold.

Couple of things to note. The word “okay” is spelled “okey” through the book and I kept tripping over it. Was that normal then? I learned a few new terms for “marihuana,” including “jujus” and “tea” and “American hasheesh.”

One of the best parts of the writing of the time is that “dick” is not a dirty word. “Private dick.” Private dick? Don’t mind if I do. The best dick is always private. Dick, dick, dick.

As for the story itself, I’m torn. The plot is all over the place and in a couple of spots, but particularly toward the end, it was really slogging. I considered not finishing it– I know! Not finish a Raymond Chandler book?–but at 88% you might as well push through. Then I read somewhere that this novel is the cobbling together of three of Chandler’s short stories, which explains the disjointedness. The story opens with Marlowe working on a case, and he gets sidetracked by a shooting in a “shine joint” and a missing woman, and never bothers to go back to his original case. So, the plot. It’s okay (or okey), but I think we really read Raymond Chandler for the tough-guy characters, and the dames with legs “to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window,” and the sentences you read over and over again because they’re just that good. The plot is only necessary as a vehicle for everything else that sets noir apart. And for that, four stars.

Bookshelves: noir, whodunit, manly-men-kicking-ass, detective, mystery, crime, bad-dialogue, so-bad-it’s-good

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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Book Review)

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: fantasy, magic, ya, love-the-cover, steampunk, lgbt-inclusion, multiple-povs, this-is-the-stuff-right-here, witches-and-wizards

When everyone knows you’re a monster, you needn’t waste time doing every monstrous thing.

Finally got that fantasy fix I was wanting.

I had posted my negative review of Mistborn and was reading through other reviews. One fellow negative reviewer referred readers to Six of Crows instead, and I’m so glad she did.

This is another of those YA books that doesn’t really read YA, to me. The language isn’t simplistic, nor is the plot. The only thing really “teen” is that sexual content is circumspect, and I’m fine with that. Few things are more awkward for me the reader than a detailed sex scene that has obviously been laboured over that leaves me cold or unmoved or even cringing. I’d rather a writer allude to what’s going on and leave the rest to my imagination, which is probably our biggest erogenous zone anyway.

So, back to the book. Six badass outcasts of society come together for the one big job that will buy them all freedom:

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Lots to love here, along with the little bit of love that is fallen into. I love these characters, kids who don’t read like kids, forced to grow up too fast. I love the world of the Grisha, which reads like a fantasy Scandinavia with modern elements, magic and witchhunting, and a steampunk vibe. The dialogue is fresh, the pace is galloping, and the plotting is tight, no loose ends here even if it is a cliff-hanger at the end. (Sequel coming right up!)

What I might have liked most of all, though, is the actual, physical book. The physical object, all black and goth with the black-edged pages, how arty and stylish and sexy is that? The pages of the sequel are red. These books make me happy just looking at them.

Six of Crows

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Girls Standing on Lawns by Maira Kalman (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Girls Standing on LawnsGirls Standing on Lawns by Maira Kalman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is very simple and short for packing such an interesting punch. It was #29 in this year’s reading challenge, a book with pictures.

Bookshelves: art, pictures, artsy-fartsy, nostalgia, americana, non-fiction, social-commentary

This deceptively simple little book is a small collection of anonymous photos donated to MOMA of…girls standing on lawns, with poetic blurbs from Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) and paintings of the photos by Maira Kalman. And that’s all it is. You can read the whole thing in ten minutes, and that’s meandering.

But wait. Such intrigue. I turn the page, then turn it back, look more closely, study it. Who are these girls, these women? What would someone think of the pictures in my mother’s endless boxes of pictures that have me standing on one lawn or another? I would be as anonymous as any of the women in this book. It’s an interesting way to see yourself, with no context whatsoever, without knowing that was me before my initiation into the clique-ish Job’s Daughters and not a prom, without knowing how much money my mother spent on that beauty parlor hairdo, without hearing the screaming argument as I furiously dragged a brush through it, ruining it because I hated it so. Or without knowing how badly my stomach was knotted as I posed before that first day of school in a new town full of strangers. Without knowing how desperate I’d been to be invited to that birthday party I was on my way to, without knowing how many hours I’d babysat to earn the money for that dress I was posing in, without knowing that lawn was lovingly watered and trimmed by my grandfather and felt like velvet to bare feet, without knowing who loved me enough to want to preserve me at that moment and said, “Stand over there. Let me get a picture.”

girlsstandingonlawns2
What’s the story, Morning Glory?

A moment in time, sliding over the surface only. But what was the moment, exactly? Who was behind the camera? It’s hard for me to remember, after all these years, and you don’t know at all. I’m just a girl, standing on a lawn. I could be any girl. That could be anybody’s lawn, anybody’s camera. The lack of context is what gives these photos their depth, their potential to be any story you want them to be.

girls

It can be difficult to see these sorts of snapshots as art, or this book as a literary pursuit at all. I think people tend to view photography as the red-headed stepchild of the arts, not taking it quite seriously, especially once cameras became readily available to the common person with no sense of the artistic whatsoever. I fear this has only increased as cameras have proliferated to the point where one can be found in almost anyone’s hand at any given time. Selfies are almost offensively ubiquitous — or are they? Are they another art form, a reflection of the fluidity of art and of our culture? Artist Dylan Neuwirth would say so, judging from his “Just Be Your Selfie” exhibit, recently seen at Tacoma Art Museum and in Seattle’s Occidental Park.

Pictures of girls standing on lawns are going to be few and far between before very much more time passes, and that’s a shame.

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