Thursday, August 10, 2017

Invasive: When the going gets weird, the weird needs Hannah Stander

What do you think of ants? They always seemed like they were probably the best option in the bug world, even if you are not a fan of creepy crawlies. I mean, think about ant farms. And an ant was a hero in Honey I Shrunk The Kids. Sure, there are those bullet ants that will mess you up for at least a day if they bite you, but overall ants almost seem cute.

YOU ARE WRONG. YOU ARE SO WRONG.
OK, so maybe not cos most ants are FINE (even if some are taking over the planet and we should probably be concerned about that). But if you're in the Invasive world, there's a very good case to be made for why these things are horrifying.

A bio-tech thriller set in the same world as Zer0es (though you don't need to have read it to enjoy this), the book opens with a strangely mutilated corpse. Because let's start the weird right out the gate. FBI consultant Hannah Stander is called in to try to figure out what could have done this, which leads to a compound in Hawaii. There are worse places to have to investigate, even if your investigation involves GMO ants.

Hannah has to figure out what is going on, how did these ants get loose, and how much damage could some ants really do? (Spoiler, OH MAN so much damage.)

I don't want to give away too much in regards to the plot, cos, you know thriller. But I will tell you that the story was suspenseful and creepy and I was engaged. If you've read anything by Chuck Wendig before, you have an idea what you're getting into. And if you haven't, what are you waiting for? His stuff is great (as long as you're cool with thrillers and some-to-a-good-amount of violence). The books are so much fun and he can write female characters who actually seem like real people.

I realize this is a short review but I also feel like I hit upon all the key points.
You may have thought ants were sort of cute but WRONG SO WRONG
Suspenseful bio-technical thriller
Female main character (who was raised by doomsday preppers. I forgot that bit but I'm addressing it here)
Hawaii!
Chuck Wendig

Gif rating:

Wendig, Chuck. Invasive. Harper Voyager, 2016. Kindle

Monday, August 7, 2017

West Coast Bonanza! Part 1

As we get older, it seems it's harder and harder to meet up with people. Life seems to get in the way and making plans requires so much work and coordination and shared calendars. But last month we somehow managed to make it work, and Tom and I spent time on the west coast with a bunch of friends. And it was amazing. So hey, let's look at some pictures I took during vacation while I procrastinate on getting actual reviews written.

First stop: Vegas
OK so, I don't actually have that many pictures of Vegas. I tend to be bad about remembering to take pictures. But Tom is better about that so here's a few.

We spent some time wandering among the various casinos (I don't gamble so I mostly enjoyed how ridiculous they all are as well as the AC). Otherwise we ate some good food, saw the Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil show and hung out with a couple of our friends who drove out from San Diego.

Second stop: Grand Canyon
I was very excited for the Grand Canyon. I'd never been before and it looked so beautiful and different compared to any sort of landscape I'm used to on the east coast. Since we were going to be driving from Vegas to the Canyon and then from the Canyon to San Diego, we stuck to the west rim to save us a few hours of driving.

It was as breath-taking as everyone says. Also, while I understand not wanting to put up anything that would mess with the view, OMG there is NOTHING preventing people from falling into the Canyon other than a few guys going "Hey, don't get to close please" which is STRESSFUL. But beautiful so.

Third stop: San Diego
I give Tom tons of credit for helping coordinate, well really the entire trip, but this piece especially because there were a lot of people to try to get on the same page. There were, of course, the friends that were with us in Vegas (we were staying at their place during the San Diego leg of the trip); there were our other friends who just recently moved (and in her case moved back) to San Diego this past winter; there were our friends who were coming out from Rhode Island for a week in San Diego; and finally there was our friend from NYC who was literally spending 48 hours in Cali before having to head back home.

San Diego was great, in no small part to the company. There were bonfires and zoos and brewery tasting rooms and baseball and beach and lots of Mexican food. Generally this was a very chill part of the trip with some touristy things but a lot of relaxing.

I'll post some zoo pictures (because I have SO MANY from there) and then leave the rest to another post.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

July Reading Wrap-Up

July was a pretty swell month. Tom and I did a big west coast vacation we've been planning for months* which included meeting up with friends in Vegas, spending a couple days there before driving to the Grand Canyon and then San Diego (where said friends live), meeting up with other friends (some from San Diego and some coming in from the east coast) for bonfires and bar crawls and zoo visit and baseball games before Tom and I split off to spend some time in Seattle. I'll have a longer post about the trip, but this is why I've been less available the last few days. But now we're back to the grind.

So hey, let's see how I did reading-wise

Number of books read
4
Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation by Andrew Lycett
World War Z by Max Brooks
Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales

Number of pages read
1,830

Fiction
75%

Female authors
25%

POC authors
50%
US authors
50%

Book formats
audiobook: 25%
ebook: 25%
paperback: 50%

Where'd I get the book
Gift: 25%
Indie bookstore: 50%
Kindle/Audible: 25%

Readalong/Bookclub
50%

Blogger reco
25%

Translation
25%

Reread
25%

Books by decade
2000s: 50%
2010s: 50%

Books by genre
Biography: 25%
Horror: 25%
Sci Fi: 25%
Thriller: 25%

Resolution books
75%
Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation is by a non-US author (Lycett is British)
Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino is by a non-US, POC author (Kirino is from Japan) and is a translation
The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales is by a POC author

*Haha "we". Tom did 99% of the planning and I just showed up.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Stepford Wives: Stepford is out of step

I finally read The Stepford Wives after finding a copy for sale during one of my I'll-just-stop-in-to-browse-but-I-don't-actually-need-anything trips to the Strand.

You know what's frightening? How relevant the book is today. I don't know why, but I wasn't really expecting that to be the case (despite knowing the story and existing in the present day).

For the few of you who don't know the story (from the book, or the '75 movie , or even the 2004 movie) here's a quick synopsis: Joanna and Walter Eberhart (both very interested in the Women's Liberation movement), and their two children, move from NYC to the Connecticut suburbs, landing in the town of Stepford where the homes are beautiful, and everyone seems so welcoming and...well, perfect.

All of the wives in the town seem happy to clean their homes and cook and tend to their husbands. The husbands have their own men's only club, which Walter assures Joanna is just a throw back being held up by a few of the older members, but many of the younger husbands talk about allowing women to join. But really, nothing interesting is happening up there.

But something is off. It's hard for Joanna to put her finger on exactly what it is. Maybe these women just prefer keeping house to the (long disbanded) women's club. Maybe priorities shift when you're in the suburbs and all of this is just normal.

Levin is a master at building tension and making you question what's really going on (even if you already KNOW what's going on). Joanna second-guesses her self, questions what's in front of her eyes. And the children in town seem to like their new moms, who prefer to dote on them instead of following their own pursuits. The men, too, go from perhaps a little odd and old fashioned, preferring their wives stay at home, to quietly menacing and it's difficult to pinpoint exactly when the change happens.

Who knew one of my favorite reads of the year would be a story I thought I knew already?

Gif rating:
and also some of this
Levin, Ira. The Stepford Wives. Corsair, 2011. Originally published 1972

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Today Will Be Different: If everyone were so gung-ho on reality, there'd be no art

Have I made my love of Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette? clear? Have I? If not, let me shout from the rooftops that I love this book and even just thinking about it makes me think I should probably re-read it again, despite a growing TBR list of all NEW things I could be experiencing.

So when I heard Semple had a new book out, Today Will Be Different, I said "YES PLEASE." Like, immediately, out loud to myself. Then I sort of forgot about it for a while because I am easily distracted. But I found an ecopy for sale and so decided to not only read it myself, but foist it on a bunch of other people by suggesting it for book club. And my book was chosen (at random from a bunch of pieces of paper in a hat) so the pressure is on.

...This was no Where'd You Go, Bernadette?.

Today Will Be Different follows around Eleanor Flood through her day, where she repeats the titular mantra. Listen, you don't have to repeat stuff like that if everything is awesome. But hey maybe today will be different. She'll do stuff like shower and get dressed. She'll only wear yoga clothes at yoga, which she will attend. She'll initiate sex with her husband. Today will be different.

But, her young son, who is having some trouble at school, decides to fake sick. This on the same day she discovers her husband, a well-known surgeon who treats famous athletes, has told his office that he's on vacation while telling his family he's at the office. And there's also the matter of her graphic novel, The Flood Girls, a memoir about her and her sister that is years overdue.

The present day bits all take place on this one day where Eleanor is trying to hold it together and figure out just what is going on. There are the flashbacks, some to her and her sister Ivy growing up, others involving her sister and an incident involving New Orleans high society.

The flashback bits were the most successful for me. They were the parts that reminded me of Bernadette that focused on the ridiculous. They were also the parts where the narrative made the most sense. Or maybe it was just he parts I could follow.

Because the thing is, the whole book has Semple's humor which can be biting a cruel at times, but is still pretty great. This quote is long but whatever, it's a good one and a good example of her writing
My point is: for ten years I haven't been able to shake her. She's the friend I don't like, the friend I don't know what she does for a living because I was too stultified to ask the first time and it would be rude to ask now (because I am not rude), the friend I can't be mean enough to so she gets the message (because I'm not mean), the friend to whom I keep saying no, no, no, yet she still chases me. She's like Parkinson's, you can't cure her, you can just manage the symptoms. For today, the lunch bell tolls. Please know that I'm aware lunch with a boring person is a boutique problem.
There were pieces and scenes and conversations I enjoyed but overall it didn't come together as a cohesive story. Part of me wonders what my thoughts would have been like had Bernadette not been a thing because it set up some high expectations.

But seriously, read Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 46

Semple, Maria. Today Will Be Different. Little Brown and Company, 2016.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wilkie-Along Post IV: The back view is the loveliest view

Here we are, the final epochs in the SENSATIONAL life of Wilkie Collins. Thank you, Alice, for finding this book and then hosting this readalong, cos our readalongs are the best readalongs. #fact
In these final chapters and Wilkie's final years, he travels around the US on a less-than-successful tour, stages a few more plays, can't really match the success of his early work, continues to fight for copyright laws, has a few grandkids and then dies. You'd think this would be where the book ends but no, we get another chapter that, in the same vein as the rest of the book, talks about a bunch of people that are not Wilkie. I do not care if his ex-son-in-law had to file for bankruptcy.

Anyway, let's just get to a bunch of bullet points

  • Wilkie does a reading tour around the US and things aren't so great. Only partially filled venues with a consistent criticism that Wilkie isn't the most engaging reader. Which is weird because he was an actor so you'd think this wouldn't be that big of a stretch. Or maybe he was a terrible actor the whole time and Lycett didn't make that clear. One review says: "We should counsel Mr Wilkie Collins to adopt the tone and method of a lecturer, which anyone can acquire, rather than attempt those of an actor which lie beyond his reach."
  • Also we get this amazing line: "He has many fine qualities but he has an unusual amount of conceit and self-satisfaction - and I do not think any one can think Wilkie Collins a greater man than Wilkie Collins thinks himself." I never really got this sense at any other point in the book and I don't know if that is because the woman who said this is alone in this belief or that Lycett has been glossing over this behavior. 
  • Wilkie becomes friends with a guy due to a shared "interest in mildly pornographic pictures of women". Of course.
  • The book says Wilkie visited "Oneida, a community in Connecticut." Except Oneida is in New York. NOW this community, which practiced their own communal sex beliefs and rituals that Wilkie was down with (including pantagamy), had a few off-shoots, including a group in Wallingford, Connecticut. This is where it seems that Wilkie actually went. So yeah, minor error, BUT STILL.*
  • Wilkie makes the hero in one of his short stories a Roman Catholic, prompting Lycett to declare that it "shows that Wilkie was not always prejudiced in matters of religion." Which, let's be honest, is pretty much the equivalent of someone saying they're not racist cos they have a black friend. 
  • Throughout his life Wilkie talks about how much he HAAAAATES the institution of marriage and will not consider it at all and wants to live his bachelor life while having his two mistresses. Then he apparently starts calling some little girl "Mrs Collins" and looks forward to a "conjugal embrace" with the girl. And WTF?? Lycett says my reaction is me just taking this the wrong way and there was nothing weird about this and the girl's mother was included in the exchanges (which, does that mean there was a Victorian version of CC-ing someone?).
  • Wilkie says he thinks "the back view of a finely-formed woman the loveliest view...The line of beauty in those quarters enchants me, when it is not overladen by fat." Thanks for that "no fatties" line thrown in at the end, Wilks. 
  • Oscar Wilde had a brother named Willie. Willie Wilde. This makes me smile each time I say that name. I realize this has nothing to do with Wilkie but it comes up in the book and I didn't know this fact before so there you go.
And there we go. Wilkie's life and the lives of a lot of people around him (and around them...) I do now want to read a LOT more Wilkie so there will be many more readalongs in the future. 

*Also, fun fact, this sex commune is also the group that is responsible for the Oneida silverware.