Book of the Month: Dark Matter

My September Book of the Month selection was enjoyable enough to read, but ultimately a disappointment.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch57b3642421eed-image

Jason Dessen is a family man, a brilliant physicist who chose domestic bliss over career success a decade and a half before we meet him. One night, after going out for a quick drink to celebrate a colleague’s achievement, Dessen is abducted by an unseen man asking “Are you happy with your life?”

Dessen is knocked unconscious, awakening to find himself in a world where he is at the cutting edge of theoretical physics…but his wife is a stranger and his son doesn’t exist.

Now, it may just be that I usually love this sort of story and have watched/read this kind of thing too much, but I immediately knew who had kidnapped Dessen and why. This story held zero surprises, but that actually wouldn’t have bothered me if it were better written. The plot felt rushed, giving us little time to connect to the gravity of Dessen’s situation or his feelings about it. His feelings are often stated directly in a single sentence that doesn’t evoke much. He is desperately in love with his wife because she has “Spanish eyes” and an “architecturally impossible” smile. We see several different iterations of this woman and none of them has much personality.

The whole story hinges on Dessen himself, he is our only true through-line, and he is just not particularly interesting. The most interesting side character doesn’t last long at all, and departs in a manner that makes it feel as though a critical scene was cut from the novel. The opening and the climax are the book’s strongest points, but the end fell short for me.

Overall, Dark Matter wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t a great one. The idea was stretched thin without the richness of engaging characters to sustain it. There was enough plot for a TV episode, but not a novel spanning hundreds of pages. Then again, I passed it off to a chemist friend who hasn’t been able to put it down. Make of that what you will.

If you like this type of story, I would recommend: Quantum Leap, the first two Terminator movies, the Back to the Future trilogy, Primer, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The One I Love, William Sleator’s Strange Attractors or Singularity, or The Twilight Zone series.

Book of the Month: The Girls

My third Book of the Month selection, for July, is my second favorite of all those I have received so far and the one that made me decide to renew my subscription when the promotion period ended.

The Girls by Emma ClineTHE GIRLS_final jacket (1).jpg

The story of Evie Boyd’s summer with a Manson-Family-style cult, told in retrospect by a middle-aged Evie nigh on invisible, is anything but what you’d expect. Rather than a sordid tale of blood and guts, “gore porn” finding titillation in the macabre, it provides an immediate look at what it means to be female in America. Through the eyes of Evie at two points in her life, the reader experiences the draw of charisma and the weight of expectation on women finding their way in the world.  Evie’s journey is anything but linear, ranging from teenage suburban bedrooms littered with mascara and magazines to remote sheds full of mouse shit and moldy clothes. A folk singer’s palace to the shadows of a beach house borrowed in the off-season. The men are tertiary. This story is, as promised, about the girls.

The Girls is not a morality tale, more of a beautifully rendered impressionist painting posing dozens of unanswered questions. The prose and themes reminded me of one of my favorite novels: White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I passed it on to a female friend as soon as I finished reading.

The Girls is a worthy read for anyone who has ever been mystified by womanhood. Which is to say, everyone.

 

Book of the Month: The Veins of the Ocean

With my second Book of the Month pick (along with Heat and Light, which I have yet to finish) I decided to try something I probably wouldn’t pick up on my own.

The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engeldownload-1

Reina Castillo’s brother is serving a life sentence in prison for a terrible crime: the murder of a child. She visits him with unwavering devotion, blaming herself, until the day he ends his life. Set adrift, she moves down to the Florida Keys to start a new life where no one knows who she is and where she came from. Working in the Keys she meets Nesto Cadena, an immigrant from Cuba determined to bring his children to America. As a deep friendship grows between them Reina is called to discover what lies beneath the waves around her home and the guilt eating at her heart.

It took me a while to get into this novel, but I am glad I took the time. It seems superficial to start: the sordid story of a family with a seedy background, but the narrative quickly dives deep. The language is beautiful, the plot steeped in the rich cultures of Cuba and Colombia. The pace is meditative, as Reina confronts the factors that led her to the place and woman she finds herself. Opportunities for self-reflection arise as organically as waves bubbling over the shore: encounters with people from her past, both chance and deliberate, recurring questions about whether it is better to save your own hide or reach out to a suffering creature. Questions of family and faith. The resolution of Reina’s story is both complete and satisfying to the soul.

In the end, I was glad I took a chance on this beautifully written novel. It left me looking forward to the next month’s BOTM selections!

Book of the Month: The Nest

Well, I’m starting to get the hang of this teaching and still having time to do other stuff that makes me feel like a human (not a money-seeking-robot) thing. Earlier this year I was offered a deal on three months of Book of the Month at half price and jumped at it, since it was right before summer vacation and I thought I might finally have time to read again.

Each month on the first, five book selections are revealed and members have five days to choose one for the month. The selections range across genres including thrillers, historical fiction, contemporary literature, science fiction and more. Each month there is a celebrity judge who endorses a selection, and other judges each put forth an argument for their pick.

The books are up-to-the-minute new releases in hardback, and a total steal at $9.99 apiece. Up to two extra novels can be added to your box for that low, low price each month. They are usually around the 300-400 page mark, meaty but finishable. The box always contains a note from the judge who endorsed your selection, a branded treat like a crazy straw or “after book mints,” and a bookmark with a literary quote in addition to your selections. If you can’t decide, the site will pick a novel for you based on a brief preferences quiz completed at sign-up.

On to a review of my first selection: The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, selected by thenest-bookcoverguest judge and actress Ellie Kemper of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

The Nest is the story of the Plumb family, a collection of middle-class siblings on the cusp of receiving an unexpectedly sizable inheritance. After decades of counting on those chickens that are about to hatch, the eldest brother Leo becomes involved in a scandal that might just ruin everything.

The Plumbs include:

  • eldest brother Leo, a rake and sometime entrepreneur who is rapidly coasting toward the end of his good fortune and goodwill;
  • elder sister Beatrice, a writer in a long dry-spell following early success;
  • younger brother Jack, an acerbic antiques dealer seldom troubled by ethics, whose taste outpaces his income;
  • youngest sister Melody, a supermom with a perfect house she can’t afford and two perfect twins she hopes to send off to perfect Ivy League schools on the strength of perfect SAT scores;
  • and mother Francine, former half-hearted trophy wife to the deceased Plumb patriarch and half-hearted mother of four.

This book was a quick, moderately interesting read. It’s very gossipy, so if you love a fresh issue of People magazine (or Page Six column), this might be one for you. The characters are well-drawn, but it was actually side characters like a retired fireman, Jack’s husband, and Beatrice’s agent/Leo’s ex Stephanie who I found most engaging. The plot has some complexity, with each Plumb scheming and maneuvering to achieve their ends, but I admit I didn’t like any of the Plumbs enough to be invested in how their story resolved.

The Nest was more than worth the five bucks I wound up paying for it, but left me ambivalent about whether I would continue my BOTM subscription when my promotion ran out. Stay tuned, I will be posting reviews of more BOTM selections all week!

Random Review: Joyland

Formulaic, in the best possible sense.

Joyland, by Stephen KingJoyland-Cover

Devin Jones is a heartbroken college student working at a South Carolina amusement park over the summer between his junior and senior years. He makes some friends, pines, works his tail off, and stumbles across a murder mystery in the process.

If you have read a pulp novel, you have read this story.

If you have read a handful of Stephen King novels, you have read this story.

And that is what’s great about it. Every year, I go to the State Fair and get a corn dog and a big fresh-squeezed lemonade. I know just how they will taste, and I love them just as much every time.

Joyland deftly combines some of King’s most familiar themes and quirks (coming-of-age, the power of childhood friendships, everyday evil, leaving no breast un-described) with the formula of cheapie paperback mysteries from the 70s. Two great tastes that taste great together. There is even a cheeky wink at the format, in the form of tossed-off comment about Joyland’s mascot resembling Scooby-Doo.

I can’t recommend Joyland enough if you enjoy stories with a little horror, a lot of humanity, and a little magic. Short enough to be fun and long enough to be satisfying. It had me nostalgic for a rather terrible job at a summer camp I had around the time I was the main character’s age.

Random thoughts:

  • I love carnivals and amusement parks in real life and as a novel setting. I think I may explore that in a future Character Study.
  • “When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction.”
  • Very little gross-out gore in this, especially for a King novel.
  • I bought this in pocket-size paperback, as King hoped it would be read. I miss those novels, easily stashed in a purse or glove-box for unexpected downtime.
  • Going with a painted illustration over a photograph or a hyper-modern graphic for the cover was a great choice, as an object this book is the total package. A piece of nostalgia through-and-through.

Chair Rating: 

bumper car

A guaranteed good time!

2015 in Review: To All the Books I Might’ve Read

2016 (2)

An annual tradition started by The Perpetual Page-Turner.

2015 reading stats (4)

Number Of Books You Read: Eighteen-ish, not counting unfinished.
Number of Re-Reads: 3
Genre You Read The Most From: YA (Contemporary, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi)

Best in Books

1. Best Book You Read In 2015?

Re-read: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

New to me: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Released in 2015: The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Every Day by David Levithan. I liked it, but it wasn’t the revelation I expected from the way others talk about it. It was my least favorite work by David Levithan. I really enjoy that he is is very experimental and high-concept with a lot of his writing, though.Screenshot_2014-04-23-13-54-05-1

 3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. I don’t usually read romance, and I was expecting a featherweight YA, but this had a lot of heart and genuine family relationships. Very sweet, but not dopey or ridiculous. I’ll be reading the sequel.

 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

Tie between Unwind by Neil Shusterman, and Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson. I gave both to students, and the student who read Unwind went on to read Unwholly.

 5. Best series you started in 2015? Best Sequel of 2015?

Best Series Started: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenni Han

Best Sequel: The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015?

Jenni Han, Leigh Bardugo

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, translated by Cathy Hirano

 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

 9. Book You Read In 2015 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

The Last Unicorn or The Scorpio Races

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2015?51H8x07Fd7L._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s just a lovely object that gives a feeling of tidiness and serenity. It’s small and square, with charcoal gray end-papers and an abstract, green watercolor cover. The title is all in lower-case, orange-red, in a traditional serif typeface. Just lovely, and reinforces the drive for both simplicity and beauty in the book.

11. Most memorable character of 2015?

Tik Tok, the gender-fluid medicine man. Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2015?

Tie: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2015?

Unwind by Neal Shusterman. The ideas were absolutely killer, even if the writing itself is not mind-blowing. He really thought about his premise from all angles.

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2015 to finally read? 

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. I loved it so much, and the sample had just been sitting neglected in my Nook for two years!

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2015?b629d9bad0f4440d14262b871bbf6240

“…but to the unicorn’s eyes Molly was becoming a softer country, full of pools and caves, where old flowers came burning out of the ground. Under the dirt and indifference, she appeared only thirty-seven or thirty-eight years old – no older than Schmendrick, surely, despite the magician’s birthdayless face. Her rough hair bloomed, her skin quickened, and her voice was nearly as gentle to all things as it was when she spoke to the unicorn. The eyes would never be joyous, any more than they could ever turn green or blue, but they too had wakened in the earth. She walked eagerly into King Haggard’s realm on bare, blistered feet, and she sang often.
And far away on the other side of the unicorn, Schmendrick the Magician stalked in silence. His black cloak was sprouting holes, coming undone, and so was he. The rain that renewed Molly did not fall on him, and he seemed ever more parched and deserted, like the land itself. The unicorn could not heal him. A touch of her horn could have brought him back from death, but over despair she had no power, nor over magic that had come and gone.”
Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2015?

Shortest: Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

Longest: Under the Dome by Stephen King

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most7514925

(Because of a plot twist, character death, left you hanging with your mouth wide open, etc.)

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson. Toward the end, the hits start coming and she doesn’t let up until the reader is gutted.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

(OTP = one true pairing if you aren’t familiar)

Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick forever, duh. Peter Pan didn’t deserve Tiger Lily.

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Petra and Geraldine, Ladylike by Maggie Stiefvater, Anatomy of Curiosity

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2015 From An Author You’ve Read Previously26308619

Anatomy of Curiosity

21. Best Book You Read In 2015That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

Every Day by David Levithan

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2015?

Pine Sap, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

23. Best 2015 debut you read?

N/A

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?2015-06-08-1433728699-2614985-rudecakes_600-thumb

Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2015?

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

Variations on Drowning by Brenna Yovanoff, Anatomy of Curiosity

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Tiger Lily, in several ways.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2015?

The Anatomy of Curiosity

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking Ahead

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2015?

I was a very bad book blogger this year, what with getting my teaching credential and all. I don’t think I read any new book blogs. D:

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2015?

Easy, I only wrote one: Random Review – To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

Again, there was only one: Character Study – Dumbledore’s Cruel Intentions

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

Nada. So sad.

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2015?

Completing this survey, and keeping Ink alive.

6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?

A total lack of time. Finishing my credential and starting my first year of classroom teaching left me exhausted, with almost no time to indulge in reading for pleasure. I didn’t quite make my New Year’s Resolution of reading 25 books this year. Weak.

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

The eternal champ: Character Study – Ginny Weasley vs. Cho Chang

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

Character Study: Dumbledore’s Cruel Intentions

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

I gave Audible a try, and was pleasantly surprised. Easy to use, and more enjoyable than I anticipated.

10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

Nah. I missed my reading goal by seven books. :/

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2015 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2016?

Joyland by Stephen King

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2016 (non-debut)?PNOK Final Cover 101515.indd

Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

3. 2016 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

 4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2016?

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2016?

Write in my blog more than twice? Read at least five classics and twenty-five books total. I have Plato’s Republic and Don Quixote on deck.

 

Why Must Dudes Ruin Perfectly Good Superheroine and Action Franchises with Their Requests for Diversity?

Literature is a bit more diverse than film, but it is interesting that John Green is the breakout personality of YA lit when you have best-selling female authors like Maggie Stiefvater participating just as much in the media machine with significantly less brand recognition.

Here is a tongue-in-cheek reversal of arguments heard so often from the gatekeepers of superhero nerdery.

Feminist Dragons

What is it with dudes and their never-ending cry of “Diversity! Diversity! Diversity!” ? Ugh, it doesn’t MATTER what the characters are like! Only the story matters! And we all know that those fanboys love to complain about how there’s no representation of LGBT (or are they calling it GLBT now? IT’S SO HARD TO KEEP TRACK OF LETTERS) or not-white people.

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