The last monthly shelved post was made back in March 2016. I can’t seem to stick to a routine, but that’s fine, I suppose. Life is kind of hectic right now, so I’m surprised I’ve got this much done. Can’t say that I’ll be able to do it next month, but, again, it’s not the end of the world
George Orwell: Keep The Aspidistra Flying – I listened to this about a year ago and I don’t remember how it ends. Though I thought the main, Gordon Comstock, was ridiculous. Some principles are not worth holding onto.
John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath – This was also read this time last year. I’ve had the print on my shelf for ages, but never got around to it. Finally engaging in it and it was like one long depressing tale just so the author could write about a grown man sucking on a woman’s breast. I feel like I should reread the books of his that I read years ago and see how they feel, because I can’t remember.
Octavia E. Butler: Fledgling – Creeped out early on in the story. The girl and the guy were a bit too intimate for him to think she looked like she was 11. Wright, the guy, was bothered by it. Well he was, but it continued to go in that direction. I had to drop it.
Cixin Liu: The Three-Body Problem – Interesting. The story within this story uses a similar concept that I had planned for my story, The Book of Eons. I liked the way it went back and forth in time telling different stories and picking up where some stories had left off earlier. Really good with the mutli-pov approach. The story was both hopeless and hopeful. Now I’m in the mood for The Red Violin.
Yangsze Choo: The Ghost Bride – Very good. Not at all how I thought it would go, but at a certain point I knew what would happen at the end, but I remained interested in how the story would arrive there.
Neil Gaiman: American Gods – Very good. Clever. I know I should have a lot to say about this. And I do. But, it’s more of a conversation I’d like to have. I am looking forward to marathoning the show.
Kristin Cashore: Graceling – This was a good story. The full cast recording was a little stiff, but the story still came through. A girl who grew up being used, trusting no one and being trusted by no one. Learning how to trust people and trust herself in a different way, but at no point on her journey did she compromise what her heart truly wanted. She grew, but did not change. Also this seems to be a series, so I’ll check out the continuation later.
Neil Gaiman: The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Sometimes I just pick a title and go with it. I generally have very little interest in stories about children, but I liked the cover and the author. I didn’t bother to read the synopsis and was well into the story before I really registered that it was about a kid. A seven year old at that.
It was a very interesting story and very sad. Sad in the same way you might feel when you know the burden someone has to bear, but there’s no way around it and there’s really nothing you can do. Especially since you could never fully understand it, so you say nothing and standby impotent and small and guiltily relieved that it isn’t you.
I can’t remember the kid’s name even though I’ve only finished the story not an hour ago. Did he have one? I can’t be certain. And that makes me think about the characters whose names I do remember and how they were–within the story–different from the ones I don’t. And that just makes it all the more interesting.
Diane Ackerman: The Zookeeper’s Wife – My mother mentioned this–well, the film–to me, specifically the part about Antonina’s habit of playing music when Nazi sympathizers or mixed company came calling to warn the people in the underground to cease activity and “practice the silence of the tomb.” It popped up when I was looking for my next title, so I went with it. I was only half paying attention to my mother when she told me about it, so I didn’t really know what I was getting into.
In addition to human accounts, the book is filled with well-timed and well-told information about animals and plants and how a lot of the attention paid to them at the time correlated with the many experiments and ideologies of the Nazis. The story’s telling is clever and rather bizarre and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a method for relaying historical information. You kind of fall in love with some of the “characters” but a line or two later you’re reminded–in such a matter of fact and oddly pleasant way–that they are not characters but people who lived in horrible times.
Suzanne Toren was a great reader. Her conversational tone was engaging and the way she slipped in and out of accented dialogue was a great addition to the reading.
Madeline Miller: The Song of Achilles – The complex and heartbreaking love of Patroclus and Achilles.
The pace! Such a perfect build for their friendship, the growth of their relationship, their individual maturation, the war campaign… The evolution and fruition of every event, every appraisal, every expression, every reckoning was perfect.
Also, it’s been a while since I’ve had to pause in my progress because one of those moments were about to happen in a story. When that chill or hollowness descends upon you, you know it’s really about to fall apart.
When there was just over an hour left that moment approached and I was not brave. At all.
I endured Patroclus’ seemingly never ending humiliation at the beginning; I suffered through his loneliness; I made it through the awkwardness of his and Achilles’ budding acquaintance, the fear brought on by their first kiss, the return of his loneliness and new desperation when they were separated the first time for Achilles’ training with Chiron, and the second when Achilles’ mother, Thetis, secreted her son away to Skyros. I stood by him in his fear each time he faced the unabashed disdain and contempt of Thetis. Sighed and considered biting my nails when he allowed himself to be led by Deidamia–because I thought this might be one of those moments, but it quickly passed. I even sided with him when he went to Agamemnon for the sake of Briseis and Achilles’ increasingly doubtful legacy. But when he went blind with misguided passion and hubris and could not scale the wall… I just couldn’t. My stomach flipped, like I had been called to receive my (deserved) punishment, but was made to wait while my mother finished some menial task to purposefully stall the inevitable.
I took a breather retold the story to myself and when I returned, I sat tensed with my bottom lip between my teeth and I endured once again. I felt Achilles’ despair before it really hit, but was quickly freed from it when Briseis spoke her peace. She was right. But again I was with Patroclus as he continued narrating. It was rather surreal and so very sad.
Neoptolemus, Achilles’ son, called Pyrrhus due to his flaming red hair came on the scene and it soured things for me. The story remained as engaging as ever, but the story took a sour turn. My heart broke when it reached the encounter between Pyrrhus and Briseis. And further when he–this son of Achilles who was called the next aristos Achaion by Thetis, this boy, just a boy in a man’s body with enough arrogance to spare–was addressed and counseled by an Odysseus who was urged by guilt. Something inside me screamed at his dismissal and cried for Patroclus and cried for all he endured because he never really learned to be spiteful and never developed a heart or body that could safely house or artfully wield the kind of antipathy that his contemporaries did.
I am such a fan of this retelling. It was cruel and tender and full of so many kinds of love and yearning and I need more stories that tell of relationships by telling of the people and less of the other way around.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Another book I didn’t really know what I was getting into with. But I’m so glad I did. Teenage boys of color. Mexican-American boys who are meeting each other and themselves for what seems like the first time. Mexican-American boys wondering how Mexican they really are. Mexican-American boys being boys growing and learning not how to be a man, but how to be themselves as people who are men. Mexican-American families being families with their love and their pain and their secrets and their openness and the spaces they close off to keep the pain at bay until the pain that was already inside becomes too much to contain.
This story was as much about Aristotle and Dante and their relationship as it was about Soledad and Sam and Jaime and Lily and their relationships with their children and each other. There is no one way to be a good parent, but the best way to be a good parent is to be a parent to the person that the child you have is and not to the idea of what a child should be.
Dante, the child of Soledad and Sam, was a speaker of his mind and his heart, always sans encryption. Even when there was a possibility that he or another could be hurt, he’d work his way to saying what needed to be said. And partly because of that, this was also a story about words and how important they are and how knowing and thinking them isn’t always enough; some things really need to be said out loud. And not just in passing. Some things require time and intention and space. Dante gave them that, he couldn’t help but to. I wouldn’t call Dante brave, exactly, but his nature was such that he wouldn’t be at peace if he felt like he was deceiving someone. And that’s thanks to his parents. Soledad, who was somewhat reserved and observant and very straightforward and Sam, an open and casual and very easy to be around kind of guy. They, let Dante be whoever he was going to be and encouraged him to embrace the specific form it took.
On the other hand, Aristotle, who was raised by Lily, ambitious and protective and willing and Jaime, reticent and steadfast, was not comfortable with himself or the way people saw him. He was not comfortable with the thoughts in his head or the words on his tongue or the body that housed it all. When he said that he didn’t think he let himself know everything he was thinking, I immediately understood. The truth, even the personal kind, can be hard to bear and difficult to ignore once you know. Lily and Jaime weren’t bad parents, but in trying to protect everything, in trying not to go down old paths, they ended up doing more damage than good. But in between the secrets and the silence and the taboos, they tried to guide and love Aristotle the way he needed to be. Even better is that they were able to see when their ways, misguided as they were, had out-lived their purpose and were able to admit they were wrong–and apologize for it–and chart a new path for the family to walk down.
The boys. I wanted to hug Dante because he was bright and beautiful and he cared. I wanted to hold Ari because he was bright and beautiful and he cared, but also because he needed to be held and told that he was and be made to understand that the words and thoughts and feelings he was trying to free himself from wouldn’t let go until he faced them, tried to understand them, and then let go first.
I loved the way they got each other and didn’t. I loved the way they fought. I loved the way they missed each other and the way they struggled to maintain a certain distance because they thought that it was necessary to keep everything from spiraling out of control. I loved that they were friends and that they never took their friendship for granted. They thought about each other and their friendship and never in a fleeting way. I loved how their ethnicity was part of their connection and a topic of conversation between them. Because it is. For people of color, it always is. The degree of our -ness does matter. And it should, although it really shouldn’t matter as much as it does, but that is what you get with hyphens that are bookended by the past and the present–both progressive–and saddled with all the time and meanings in between.
I actually only wanted to write a paragraph or two about this and the last two books as well. Not because they weren’t worth more words, but because even at this length, I still have things I want to say, like even just my thoughts about the author, but I don’t have the headspace to do the rest justice. So, I’m quitting while I’m ahead, but not before sharing one more thing.
I have listened to Hamilton countless times and I would know his voice even half asleep. It reads it right on the cover, but I really did not know that Lin-Manuel Miranda would be reading this. We see what we want to see. Anyway, I could not decide if it was really him or not because having grown up in Philly amongst the Baskin Robins equivalent of Hispanic and Latin and Asian identities, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was okay for Lin, a Puerto Rican (-American), to read the Mendozas and the Quintanas, who are Mexican (-American).
At some point I gave up because I started to question whether it was even my right to question the casting at all. I have this conversation with myself a lot, though this time, with circumstances as they were, in lieu of an actual answer, I just decided that both the author and the reader were in a position to decline the appointment, and since the thing exists, it is probably more than okay. With the debate faded, I was able to resume engaging 100% with LMM and Dante and Ari and I’m ever so thankful for being able to do so.
Gabriel García Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude – Some parts were a bit confusing because several characters had the same or similar names, but it was always quickly cleared up via context. Sometimes it was funny and sometimes it was ridiculous, but it was always interesting. We are taken through one hundred years of a secluded city called Macando and the lives of the members of its most well known family, the Buendías, whose women endure and whose men live lives punctuated by multiple deaths. Events are told and retold, each time focusing on a different Buendía’s involvement. Family and friends and strangers alike come and go amidst prosperity and wars and marital unions and shifting politics and the rise and fall of industry and bananas and someone fathered 17 children.
Part of me is in awe of the intricacy of the story and part of me is simply amazed that it was in someone’s head and they were of a sound enough mind to get it on a page. It was a wild ride that was perfectly read by John Lee–truly, his matter-of-fact and arrogant tone was the perfect vehicle for the bare-faced absurdity of this epic tale.
Becky Albertalli: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Aghhh! I hate cute stories! My friend did tell me it was kind of cutesy, but I borrowed it anyway. I fought so hard against every grin, giggle, sigh, gasp. It was such a struggle and I lost most of the time and even now my face is doing things against my will.
In exchange for Simon giving him an in with his friend, Abby, a classmate named Martin has promised not to spread around the screenshot he took of an informative email between Simon and Blue.
All the while, chaos is slowly ensuing.
I tend to stay away from books that can be considered YA because for one reason or another, I find them hard to relate to. But as with most things, there are exceptions.
Simon and his friends were interesting and read like believable teenagers and their relationships with each other were fleshed out pretty well. I liked his relationship with his family mostly because his parents read like parents who would be only a few years older than me and I could get behind their parenting style. The development of his relationship with Blue seemed very organic and, as was implied above, was very cute. There was a nice balance of random topics, developing inside jokes, flirtation, and personal exposure going on in their emails. I knew who Blue was going to be as soon as he was introduced, but the story was so engaging that there was more than just their meeting that I looked forward to.
It wasn’t all fluffy, though; Simon had a lot to deal with. Email crush and blackmail aside, there was being gay, not being out, friendship politics, family politics, and simply being 16/17. All the threads wove together pretty nicely and nothing seemed too wedged into the plot like with so many stories these days with their writers trying to incorporate all the hashtags for the hashtag’s sake. So, I was grateful for that.
Now, though, I am somewhat at a loss. I don’t really do cute, but I want more cute (with a solid plot) to follow this up with, but I have no idea where to go to get it.
Oh, and there’s going to be a film!
Alex Sanchez: Rainbow Boys [Book 1 of the Rainbow Trilogy] – Crazy how people grow up with a perception of something they really know nothing about and when confronted with it, they feel like there’s only two ways to deal with it: denial or outright condemnation. Rarely do people ever want to actually know. And for some reason, they find comfort in mimicking the attitudes and actions of the negative rather than questioning so that they can understand why.
Jason, Nelson, and Kyle couldn’t be anymore different than each other. Nelson was out and proud, but had a terrible habit of trying to force others to be that way, too. Sadly, though, a lot of it was an act to mask his insecurities. Kyle was getting comfortable with his sexuality and was a live and let live kind of guy, but he was so, so, so dense. Naive, too. And Jason, poor Jason. He didn’t know and didn’t want to know and couldn’t find the words to explain his feelings, even to himself. Nelson and Kyle annoyed me at almost every turn, but I couldn’t feel anything except sorry for Jason. Their paths looked kind of hopeless at times; however, through dealing with social and internalized homophobia and finding their place in themselves, their families, and their community, they eventually found their way to a promising equilibrium.
It was a good story, but the narrator was mediocre, at best. So, while I’d like to see what happens in the next book, if it’s the same reader, my curiosity will have to hold until I can sit down with the book and read it myself.
Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell: Strong Signal [Book 1 of the Cyberlove Series] – I already gushed about the story back when I read it, so I won’t get into it; this is just about my experience with the audiobook.
I mentioned that I loved this when I read it, but that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear the hot sex. Well, I needn’t have worried because it was not sexy at all. I laughed so much and I just couldn’t take the story seriously. Why? Well…
Garrett is supposed to have a rough gravelly voice, but the guy who read his parts sounded like Dirty Harry and I can’t get anywhere imagining Clint Eastwood having Skype sex.
The guy reading for Kai was not perfect either, but soooooo much better than Garrett. He knew he was reading first-person and gave it the attitude needed to convey changes in mood. There were also subtle differences in the way he narrated and the way he spoke dialogue. Can’t say the same for Garrett.
I don’t know if they recorded at the same time, but I’d put money on no. I think it would have made a big difference… unless they were uncomfortable with performing the content in front of someone other than production staff… and that’d be a whole other issue.
Pronunciation. The first offense was pronouncing .gif like the peanut butter brand instead of like gift without the t. Then… And I would die a little inside every time they pronounced Boricua. bore-RICK-q-ah. bore-rih-Q-ah. I wanted to cry. At first it was funny, but then it was just like, why? Seriously, they couldn’t ask someone? There are no shortage of Puerto Ricans. It especially pissed me off because what I got from the story was that Kai is supposed to be from Philly–and not even Rittenhouse Square or Society Hill–and there really is no shortage of Puerto Ricans in Philly, so there’s no way he wouldn’t know how to pronounce it. Also, like, Big Pun’s “Still Not a Player” and N.O.R.E.’s “Oye Mi Canto” are well known enough and they both feature Boricua as part of a refrain, so there really is no excuse! The closest I can get to the pronunciation in common phonetics is BOA-ree-kwah because there’s this open vowel sound between the o and the r and the r is almost rolled to where it could take on the d sound, but doesn’t. Anyway, I had a fit and, as you can see, I’m still not over it.
Lastly, the book really wasn’t suited to be an audiobook. The Cyberlove series’ theme is people connecting through digital means and to that extent, the text includes a significant amount of texting and IMing. Which is fine for the e/book, but “Garrett (short pause) something he typed (short pause) Kai (short pause) something he typed (short pause) Garrett (short pause)…” gets annoying. And there were periods of time between some IM conversations that was just indicated by line breaks in the text, but didn’t translate in the audio. So it all just started sounding like noise after a while.
The story was still the story, but I’m glad I read it first. I’m going to torture myself a little more by borrowing Fast Connection (book 2) next. I hope it’s better, but more than anything, I hope they have a different guy reading for Costigan, because… it wasn’t so much that his Staten Island accent was bad, but it just sounded like someone trying to do a Staten Island accent and forgetting that they were supposed to on occasion.
Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell: Fast Connection [Book 2 in the Cyberlove Series] – Soooooooooo…. This wasn’t as torturous as Strong Signal, but it was not without its issues. My excitement for the book was written back when I read it, so this post is just about my experience with the audiobook.
Like Strong Signal, Fast Connection was also narrated by Guy Locke and Eric London, but I still don’t know who is who.
What else…? The acoustics changed noticeably throughout the recording and the Luke reader had a cold or was suffering from allergies starting around chapter 7.
As with book 1, I had a mild coniption when it came to pronunciation. They were still mispronouncing Boricua which is just… But the biggest issue I had with this one was the pronunciation of Luke’s son’s name.
The kid’s name is Micah, which I would pronounce MY-kuh. But what do I know? The recording pronounced Santino’s last name as HA-sul (rhymes with castle), but it’s always been huh-SELL in my head. I’m willing to go with the recording on that, but I just can’t go with them pronouncing the kid’s name as MEE-Kah. But really, it’s not my book or character, so again, what do I know? EXCEPT! It’s only the bad narrator/Luke reader that’s pronouncing it that way! When the Dominic reader said it, he pronounced it as MY-kuh! Like, how is that even possible? What is up with the QC on this production?. Am I to expect this level of disregard for all of Tantor Audio’s releases, or is this just how they treat MLM works? I just don’t know.
Overall, the story was still the story and I enjoyed it to some degree, but… Another thing I don’t know is whether I couldn’t take the smut seriously because the delivery was so bad or if it’s just an aspect of my general disinterest in such things, but either way, I don’t think I’m going to be picking up any more explicit audiobooks.
Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch – I needed a palate cleanser after the Cyberlove recordings and I only had one borrow left this month on hoopla, so I had to make it good. So I went for Good Omens. I love this kind of what-if story. What if Armageddon was on its way and you couldn’t find the Antichrist? It was funny and interesting and superbly read.
Vanessa North: Roller Girl – This was a nice, quick read. I don’t usually read WLW, but since I had the opportunity to, I did. It’s about a divorced trans woman trying to find her footing and managing to find herself, love, passion, and new friends along the way. I prefer more development to the relationships I read, but this was short–only took me a few hours to read–so, I can kinda let it slide for that. I didn’t realize until I was looking for the cover that this is part of a series… the last part… But it stands fine alone, so I may check out the rest of the series at some point.
Kay Simone: The Game Changer – Straight quarterback realizes he’s bi when he starts falling for his physical therapist-turned-friend. Due to a misunderstanding about a name, LGBTQ rights and acceptance are brought up and kind of become another character in the story.
Speaking of other characters, there was a side character named Barrett that was really cool and I’d love to read his story. Simone’s sort of connected some of her stories, so it’s not completely out of the question, but I won’t hold my breath.
Overall, it wasn’t bad, pretty decent actually, but I didn’t really get the desperate feeling I like to read her work for. It’s a different kind of desperation in each story, but, regardless of kind, it wasn’t really coming across in this. What was present and familiar from her other works, though, is that everyone’s at fault and or has some fault and there’s no just one person saving the other. I love about Simone’s stories.
I believe I said this before, but she has a formula–down to the pacing–and it really works for her and I don’t mind that she continues to use it because it never seems like she’s telling the same story over and over.
S. Davidson: Resurrection – I first read this about a year ago and I loved it. Reading it also made me realize that I appreciate post-military/PTSD stories. They do a number on my emotions, but I need something to remind me that I have them because I’m so often detached from things in my life and it’s a relief to feel something other than tired.
This story is actually three stories in one. I just reread Part Three, partly because I was in the mood for it and partly because writing about the book makes me feel productive.
Anyway, three-in-one. There’s Jamie’s story and Chris’s story and, finally, Jamie and Chris’ story. You could argue that their individual stories are incomplete with out their shared story, but I think that might only be the case if you were one who required happy or definitive endings. Even then, Part Three might not satisfy those people either.
They lived, loved, cried, and died before they ever set their eyes on each other. Their stories take us from their adolescence to their adult lives, all of which were radically different from each other. When they do meet, they’re barely doing what you might call living. Outside looking in, they both seem kind of lonely, but that barely nicks the surface as a take on what’s really going on with them. And the true shape of things screams for them to steer clear of each other. Not that they would clash or guarantee a volatile situation, but their minds aren’t really in the right place to work out adding someone else’s mess to their own.
But goodness are they ever great for each other.
They struggle every step of the way. To the last page, but you believe it. You believe in them and their easy love and complicated lives. Sometimes I felt like crying, but something in me that wanted to be strong for them stayed the tears.
It can’t be healthy to keep reading stories like this, but these are the ones that carve a place in me and do something for me that I can’t articulate to my own satisfaction. So, despite the danger, I only want more.
Eli Easton: Falling Down – I’ve had this sitting on my tablet since December. I’m trying to clear out my various pending/draft lists so here we are.
This story is about the relationship between Josh, a homeless vegan, and mark, an ex-Marine. Not great and not terrible and not all that memorable, but alright, I suppose. Though some things got a reaction out of me.
Things like… How hard it must be to be a homeless vegan. But honestly, when the kid said he was vegan, I laughed and ask how that was working out for him. I’m not really one to care about what restrictions and principles people sustain themselves by, but the writing was such that I knew him being a vegan was going to annoy me at some point, so I was preemptively snarky.
Things like… Who the heck puts bread in the fridge? And it wasn’t gluten-free either. I’m sure the author would have mentioned it. Blatantly wedged it in there somehow.
Things like… 28 Tall for men’s jeans? Having worked in apparel retail and having been a buyer of men’s jeans at one time, I know men’s jeans–and bottoms in general–are sized waist x inseam. Meaning, affixed somewhere on the garment is something that reads like 34×36 (probably the 2nd or 3rd most sold size at the GAPs I worked at way back when) or 42×30 and so on. Average, Tall, Petite. These are women’s lengths–I’m not going to get into how unfair that is. Admittedly I am not up on the most recent goings on in the apparel industry, but I kind of think something like that would have crossed my path. Not that somewhere 28 Tall for men isn’t a thing–it might be–but Easton is from the same state I’m from and the story is set on my coast and the jeans were Levi’s, so this is not my ameri-centric assumption.
Things like… Mark telling Josh to try on pants in a store because he isn’t sure of his size. I just don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know if Mark just stupid or did the author forget that Josh is filthy, reeking even? He should not be trying on clothes. Besides, I’ve never met a guy who didn’t know which size he wore–their cuts don’t vary nearly as much as women’s cuts do. It’s a rare occasion when a guy tries on clothes in general a jeans specifically.
Things like… Mark being surprised or thinking it’s weird that Josh being the way he is, sort of tortured… it doesn’t make him like him any less. Which is just weird in itself because usually, from my experience, you almost come to “like” someone more when they are tortured. There is this sort of empathy or sympathy filling in that gap that would usually be filled in with the practice of interaction and actually getting to know someone that develops your sense of whether you like someone or not.
Things like… The way Mark keeps telling people about Josh’s situation. There’s no way he can’t see how Josh is uncomfortable with his situation. Yet Mark just keeps spilling it to everyone he knows and I don’t get why he thinks it’s okay to put Josh at a disadvantage when he eventually meets these people. People do that a lot, though. In trying to help someone, they often end up exposing them. Not exactly on par, but you know the whole part in Pretty Woman when Richard Gere tells Jason Alexander that Julia Roberts is a sex worker? And then her reaction? So, yeah. People have the right to prepare themselves to face things that make them feel vulnerable. Exposing people like that, without their knowledge/permission, should be avoided at all costs.
The above aside, it was a decent story. Well, plot. Perhaps the execution needs work and so do some of the analogies and some of the references and the fact that some of the characterizations and narrations made me wonder if she’d ever met real people before and that their chemistry was debatable, but it was readable. However, my snark was not in vain because the book ended on a high note with some good old fashion vegan conversion and proselytizing.