Inspection

I am a huge fan of Josh Malerman’s work. I’ve read everything of his that I can get my hands on including Bird Box, Black Mad Wheel, Unbury Carol, and A House at the Bottom of the Lake and can’t wait to see what he has in store for us with the Bird Box sequel, coming out this fall (last I heard). He’s one of those authors that when I hear he has a book coming out, I make reading it a priority. Bird Box is still my favorite, but Inspection is his best since.

J is an Alphabet Boy. Raised in a turret with 25 other boys (one for each letter of the alphabet), he only knows his small world comprised of only men. The boys, their instructors, and their father figure, D.A.D., live together in a tower. D.A.D. is convinced that the opposite sex causes boys to neglect their studies, which in turn, makes them less productive members of society. So, he creates an experiment to eliminate that distraction. Women don’t exist in the boys’ world. They are told they were born from trees, are educated in traditional subjects, and show tremendous abilities.

However, not everyone is on board with this idea. D.A.D hired a man to write propaganda for the boys in the form of children’s novels, but this man knows what D.A.D. is doing is wrong and creates his own book, hands it out to the boys, and some read it, learning of women for the first time. Once that happens, they are deemed “spoiled rotten” and sent to THE CORNER, which is the scariest place for them. Every day these boys go through an “inspection” to check their bodies and minds for outside influence. They play an honesty game called Boats complete with nodes they place on themselves.

Halfway through the book, there is a giant reveal. I’m sad to say this reveal was in the book jacket summary, which was a bummer because I wish I hadn’t known it was coming. This book had a very 1984 feel to it.  J begins to realize there’s more to life than this tower, but he’s unsure what that means. The boys are blind followers of D.A.D., never questioning his authority, THE CORNER is so much like Room 101 that the parallels are downright obvious. All of these examples made me love the book even more. Once I got to the ending, there was no putting his book down. I was rooting for J to figure everything out and then quite crushed as his world kept collapsing under him, little by little, the curtain pulled back more and more. D.A.D. is an excellent villain, leaping off the page, and watching his transformation from bad to worse is simply horrifying. Another excellent novel from Malerman. Hopefully, it tides me over until the Bird Box sequel.

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An American Marriage

I read Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones a number of years ago when it was a selection of The Rumpus’s Book Club selection. I don’t remember much, but I gave it four stars on Goodreads, so I must have enjoyed it. I do remember that it shifted narrators, just like An American Marriage does. I found an ARC of AAM at my local library several months ago and bought it for $1. Turns out I had a signed copy and didn’t realize it until I sat down to read it.  I immediately placed it on a very high shelf never to be read and borrowed a copy from my library.

The story follows newlyweds Celestial and Roy through an all too real situation- the false imprisonment of an innocent man. Roy is found guilty of raping a woman, even though he didn’t do it and his wife testifies they were together. But the jury believes the victim, and Roy is sent away. Much of their story early on is told through prison letters. Each one a bit more heartbreaking than the last. Roy discovers a familial connection while in prison, which makes life a bit easier for him, while Celestial just misses her husband. But time passes and she moves on. She isn’t trying to, but it just happens. Her life is thriving with a small, successful business and her childhood best friend, Andre, becomes something more.

The trouble arrives when Roy is released early. Five years have gone by and he no longer has a wife. They are still legally married, but too much has changed for both of them. The cost of imprisonment, especially for an innocent person, is unmeasurable. Not only did the true perpetrator get away with a crime and justice isn’t truly served, but the lives of all those surrounding the innocent are ripped apart. To this day, 364 people have been cleared of false charges against them through the DNA findings of The Innocence Project. Celestial and Roy are only an example of the true horror of the falsely convicted in our country.

The Likeness

If you have been following me at all, you know how particular I am about my murder mystery books. Most are crap. Let’s just lay it all on the table. When I find a book or an author worth my while, I’m pretty excited. When I read In the Woods a couple of years ago, I was hooked. Tana French wrote an excellent thriller that kept me guessing without using tired old tropes. For the record Robert Galbraith (AKA JK Rowling) writes great thrillers, too. Start with The Cuckoo’s Calling.

What’s clever about French’s books is they are connected but not direct sequels. The first book features two detectives, Rob and Cassie. The second book features Cassie and her superior, Frank. The third book (I peeked) features Frank but takes place in the past. So, there are familiar characters, but the plots aren’t directly hooked so I would say you could read them in any order.  A few things from the first book were mentioned in the second, but you don’t really need to understand them to follow the plot.

Cassie used to work undercover as a girl named Lexie Madison. Said Lexie turns up dead and happens to look exactly like Cassie. So, the police get creative and send Cassie back home with her four claiming innocence roommates. They tell her Lexie was injured rather than dead and let Cassie take her place to see if she can dig up any dirt. What’s really great about these books is the lack of red herrings. I am exhausted by “the killer reveal on page 30…oh wait just kidding” plots. French just lets it all unfold and evolve naturally. It’s what I like best about her books.  I can’t wait to dig into her next book.

Circe

I’ve never been a big fan of mythology. I find it interesting, but mostly, I don’t seek it out to read. I guess I’m familiar enough with the stories and don’t feel the need to revisit them. But when I heard about this book and how it’s a creative retelling of a familiar mythological character, I figured it would be a good way to get back into the genre.

Circe is one of the goddesses who I didn’t know much about. I haven’t read any mythology in a while (I did read Medea in college…uh…wow, she was something else) so this story really was more new to me than it might be to others. Basically, the plot is Circe angers her father, the sun god, and gets banished to spend eternity alone on an island. She’s allowed visitors, and she receives plenty. She bides her time by growing crops and herbs, creating animals, working with potions, etc. One visitor after another comes bringing her news of the world and asking for her help.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but I think it would have been more meaningful if I had known more about Circe. That said, I talked so a few friends about this book who had zero knowledge of Circe and loved the book. Whether you love mythology or not, this book is a well-written, creative one.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

I’m a big fan of true crime. That’s a really weird thing to say. But I also know I’m not alone, given the sheer volume of books, tv shows, and podcasts featuring true crime. I’ve read about plenty of serial killers, but the Golden State Killer (GSK) was one I didn’t know much about. I had heard about this book from several people, but I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to read it. Usually, I don’t enjoy when an author inserts him/herself into the narrative. Not that I think they shouldn’t, but rather, it just doesn’t appeal to me as a reader. However, I read The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir earlier this year and really loved it. The author completely immerses herself into the story, and it worked. So, I went ahead and gave this one a try.

Sadly, Michelle McNamara passed away in her sleep before this book was finished. Sections are pieced together from previous stories and notes, but the bulk of it was finished. Michelle was married to Patton Oswalt, a comedian, so she spent a bit of time in the spotlight. Though, it seems she never used this to her advantage. She did her work, dug through countless files, interviewed dozens, etc. She was desperate for the GSK to be revealed. It’s clear she didn’t care if she was the one who identified him, but she was on a mission to uncover as much as she could.

Knowing she never knew who the GSK was (spoiler alert- he was found recently. Look up how. It’s fascinating), made this book hard to read. I feel really bad for her husband and daughter who lost someone they dearly loved. However, if you are someone who is interested in true crime, unsolved mysteries, etc, then this is a great one to read.

Parkland

Let me start this off by saying that if you think the Parkland kids need to stay in their lane, are crisis actors, or don’t support any kind of gun reform, stop reading. This post isn’t for you.

I was in my first year of teaching when Columbine happened. I came home from a day with my sixth graders to terrible news. I was riveted, watching children running, crying, climbing out of windows, and I had no idea how much my world would change. We had drills, needed key cards to get into locked doors, students had a stricter dress code with no black, no concert shirts, no trenchcoats allowed. Even though we had drills, I have taught in some very unsafe buildings, though.  Doors were unlocked, no police presence, and it terrified me. And the thought of arming teachers is sickening, as one teacher says in this book, (paraphrasing) “how can you ask me to kill one of my own students?” and it’s true. Teachers are nurturers, provide guidance and support, and in an instant, we would be expected to shoot one of ours. It’s unthinkable.

I followed the Parkland story closely, but I had no idea what all these kids accomplished. And I call them kids with the utmost respect. They are. It’s simple. Most of them were 16 or 17 when they were forced into adulthood, well before they were ready. Many didn’t handle it well, although some did, finding their voices overnight, some within hours, even. A dozen of the survivors came together in a perfect storm of media and made a life-changing decision. They were going to tackle gun reform.

These kids handled themselves brilliantly. They took on lawmakers and politicians. They rallied millions in March For Our Lives. They recruited other teens across the country to join their cause. And they did it with very little adult help. Simply, they are a true inspiration. I was absolutely in awe of these amazing young people.

Written by Dave Cullen, the same author who wrote one of the most important, yet harrowing books I’ve ever read, Columbine, this book has a very different tone. Columbine is hard to read. It is as gut-wrenching and painful as it is gripping and horrifying. The story is about HOW. How could the Columbine shooting have happened? How did the shooters come together with this plan? How did the survivors manage their lives? How have we changed because of this event? Because it was published ten years after the shooting, Cullen had plenty of time to research and draw conclusions. Parkland is simply about these kids and all they have accomplished. Clearly, Cullen supports gun reform (just check out his twitter feed) and this book makes no bones about what the kids are trying to accomplish. But Cullen also simply reports. He watches the kids, follows them on tours, interviews them, and, on occasion, gets into their inner sanctum office. This book isn’t a profile of any particular kid, even though the movement definitely has it’s more well-known faces, but an excellent portrayal of how they worked together to change the country, and I’m a firm believer that these kids have.

I only teared up once. My gut was never wrenched. My heartstrings were never pulled. Instead, I was motivated, proud, inspired, and in awe of these amazing kids.

Jurassic Park

We’ve all seen the movie. If you haven’t, there will be some spoilers here. I’m not sure how that’s even necessary, given how old the movie is, but there it is anyway. I saw the movie in the theatre when it came out. Instant classic and just the most fun movie. But I had never given the book a second thought. So when the reading challenge had a requirement of “a book with an imaginary or extinct creature,” I decided to give it a shot.

I was pleasantly surprised at how great this book is. The first half is more or less the same as the book. There are a few more characters, a few different scenes, but overall it feels very familiar. The only big change was the ages of the kids. Tim is the older kid, still a dinosaur nut. Lex is younger in the book and a completely useless and annoying character. I can absolutely see why they made her older in the movie and more relevant. The actors were really well cast for the movie, also. Of course, I kept picturing them as I was reading, but it wasn’t a far stretch.

I won’t give away much about the book difference, but I will say there’s a plotline through the book that wasn’t at all in the movie.  The difference is an interesting one and I would like to see a direct sequel to it. From what I understand, the actual sequel, The Lost World, doesn’t follow-up the first entirely. In Jurassic Park, once the dinosaurs start attacking, a lot changes. I didn’t mind the changes at all, because it was still some great dinosaur attacking humans action. There was a lot more about the dinos breeding than in the movie, which was really interesting. The most surprising part of the book was how technologically advanced it was for the time. Written in the late 80s and published in 1990, Crichton included so much more about computers, DNA, genetic engineering, etc than I was expecting. My jaw dropped when he mentioned a touch screen computer. He really did an amazing job researching this book, which impressed me so much.

I wasn’t necessarily looking to read this book, and without the book challenge, I probably never would have read it, but I ended up loving it. It’s different enough from the movie to keep you reading (big changes in the ending. BIG…) and I kept marveling at how well thought out it was. Excellent book.