2017 Reading Roundup #51-55

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens | Eddie Izzard

9780399175831I adore Eddie Izzard and everything he stands for, but I have to warn you, if you listen to the audiobook of this to get the full experience, it becomes significantly more difficult to follow. He’s aggressively ADD and the tangents can be a lot. But apart from that detail, I have nothing but praise for these memoirs. If you’re a fan of his comedy, have admired his marathoning, or are interested in his political ambitions, this book is satisfying peek inside a one-of-a-kind brain. Like with his stand up, he never loses his positive outlook and centered earnestness, which makes for a genuinely inspirational read. (I don’t normally do well with motivational advice that amounts to “don’t take no for an answer, but Izzard’s version is about believing in yourself as opposed to indiscriminately taking down people in your way.) He has made peace with the challenging parts of his life, like losing his mother at a young age, and he writes about them in a way I found heartbreaking. Without meaning to, he raises the age old question of whether a creative person’s pain is ‘worth’ the work it inspires. He’s so lovable (though a little distant), that it’s hard to answer anything but “no”. A-

The Night Circus | Erin Morgenstern

a08b6ec4f622e1440ae4b39267c5094f--canvas-tent-the-nightsNight Circus appealed to me because it seemed like the perfect premise for great (and consummated) foe-yay. Two brilliant young magicians pitted against one another all their lives, not knowing why, finally meeting each other and going toe-to-toe. And it does deliver that, along with some very pretty prose and an expansive fantastical world with plenty of tragic characters and complicated relationships. But while it was an enjoyable read, it felt somewhat insubstantial. People who love a romantic steampunk tale filled to gills with dreamlike spectacle will definitely find enough to love, but I didn’t find the protagonists’ romance compelling and the stakes didn’t quite matter enough. However, some of the characters in the expansive world building were fascinating and kept me engaged through the parts that lagged. B

On Tyranny | Timothy Snyder

on tyranny So many non-fiction authors could learn from Timothy Snyder. If your thesis and supporting evidence can be said in 126 pages, do it, because On Tyranny is very effective. As a liberal, I try to be vigilant about hyperbolic rhetoric on the left about fascism and as an internet veteran I took a while to accept Hitler/Nazi comparisons as anything other than an argument non-starter. But Snyder doesn’t stray into “that guy vaping in his dorm room” territory. He lays out symptoms of latent fascism with very clear examples, and parallels to Trumpism were eye-opening. It is fair to say the book has alarmist overtones, after all, our institutions aren’t all falling down around us. But we also live in times where even if the press isn’t forced into being Trump’s Official Propaganda Arm, norms that protect democracy are being violated both in government and outside of it, which will change political dramatically. It’s useful to have a primer that lays out one of the (worst) directions this could all go. A

Rich People Problems | Kevin Kwan

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I was so hesitant to compare this series to Austen when I first pitched it to my more Austen-literate friends, but knowing that professional reviewers have done the same, I am calling myself acquitted. Unbeknownst to me, I sang the praises of the first book in this trilogy, Crazy Rich Asians, to so many people that at least four of them started the books. Installment number three is just as engrossing. Better yet, it ups the ante on the ridiculous wealth by bringing in mainland Chinese. As always, I ate up all the glamorous fashion, food, and high society maneuvering. All your faves are back, and I remain deeply invested to Astrid and was surprised by her arc. The humor and satire are still on point, while a more serious subplot about the history of Tyersall Park sets up the final resolution of inheritances and legacies well. A

Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Feynman! | Richard Feynman

surely you're jokingMy dad has had this book on our shelf since I was a kid. He’d narrate anecdotes from it often, and I’ve been wanting to read it as long as I can remember. I was intimidated, thinking there would be complicated physics and history to wade through, but instead it’s a very light-hearted memoir of one of the wackier figures in scientific history. There are some blowhard elements, and a fair amount of chauvinism and occasional awkward racial comments. Looking past those, Feynman’s adventures and approach to life are valuable examples of thinking for oneself and keeping an open mind about experiences and ideas. And, of course, bucking the rules at every given opportunity. B+

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2017 Reading Roundup #46-50

The Scarlet Pimpernel | Emmuska Orczy

scarlet pimpernelI read this book purely because it is the first example of Batman-type hero: a rich aristocrat who pretends to be a stupid fop as a cover for his heroic alter ego. I’m a huge sucker for characters who appear self-absorbed but are heroic underneath, so I was surprised to find that this theme wasn’t even close to the main reason I love this book. To preserve the mystery for the reader, the point of view character is actually the hero’s wife. She’s a capable, intelligent woman with strong convictions and complex motivations. Despite not knowing about his secret identity, she is drawn to the scarlet pimpernel and once she learns of his heroism she immediately throws herself into the action to protect him and uphold his mission. I found myself daydreaming constantly of a modern adaptation as I was reading, and how fresh a female protagonist like this would still be. The only element of the novel I’d have dropped is heroes mission being about protecting the bourgeoisie from the French revolution, and all the classism that implies. A

Faithful Place | Tana French

Faithful-Place

As of this writing, I’ve read all the Dublin Murder Squad books so far, and Faithful Place is the strongest. It feels like a dark episode of Shameless, where one of the siblings finally gets out of the poor, hopeless part of town and all the rest of the family can do is resent them for it. Plus there’s a murder. That’s the case for the detective who has to return to the grimy town he came from, where his high school sweetheart disappeared and his brutal family still live. As someone who had to do a lot of code switching in my life, I enjoy books where one gets to watch a protagonist slip between different versions of himself, which Frank must do to investigate while juggling (mildly predictable) his promises to his ex wife and young daughter. Defying convention, his young new recruit is actually smart and capable, and a good emotional foil to Frank. The resolution to the mystery itself felt inevitable, but satisfying. A

Crown of Shadows | C. S. Friedman

crown of shadows

The final installment in this nonsensical fantasy/sci-fi trilogy has marginally less repetitive conversation between the two leads, which is a mercy. To very briefly touch more seriously on the series, the author’s incredibly convoluted world and plot, designed entirely to generate layers of irony between the two leads, really does not pay off in a satisfying way. They live on a planet where humans have adapted to an alien energy that manifests will. So they invented religion, god, and ironic retribution, but no spaceship to take them home because something about the fickleness of belief. (It makes very little sense.) But despite this being the ultimate goal of our pious priest and the founder of his religion (turned devil), the series ends with no palpable progress despite all the baddies being defeated. Luckily, the homoeroticism is still going in full force. D+

Going Postal | Terry Pratchett

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So I finally got around to reading Pratchett. I had some difficulty working out where to start with Discworld but Going Postal turned out to be solid choice. You don’t need me to tell you that the writing is witty and clever and charming and that the satire is pitch perfect. But the really glorious thing about Pratchett (and Adams) is that the world building and character arcs are as good as any Very Serious Speculative Fiction, if not better. And honestly, big-alternate-universe-afterlife ideas work a lot better with some ironic distance and playfulness. The story follows a con-man (fave trope alert) who is forced to use his savvy to get an outrageously disorganized post office back on its feet while competing with an evil business, while falling for a golem-rights activist. What more could you want? A

American War | Omar El Akkad

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American War is among the rare few grimdark novels that I feel have earned their grim-dark-ness. It tells the story of the second American civil war, which takes place in the not-so-distant future, through the eyes of one young girl. Sarat grows up in a Louisiana ravaged by climate change, and through a series of tragedies she is drawn into the war herself. Through her eyes, the author is able to demonstrate (without the preachiness some sci-fi is prone to) the inescapability of tribalism, the intimate carnage of a war for resources, and the dangers of brinksmanship. During one of my favorite sequences, it becomes clear that foreign nations are fueling both sides of the war and have staked interest in either side winning, which feels all too relevant, now. A

2017 Reading Roundup #41-45

Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring | Bassem Youssef

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I’ve had a comedian-crush on Bassem Youssef ever since he first showed up on the Daily Show. Turns out, he’s a hell of a lot more badass than I realized. I take a lot of inspiration from his righteous sass. And to top it off, the guy writes with humility and clarity on his political influence. The parallels between the ideological and social forces at play in the politics of Egypt and Trump’s United States is reminiscent of heavy handed science fiction. I read this book to research Egyptian revolutionary politics for a writing project, and I got one of the clearest insights into the Arab Spring that you’ll ever find. A

The Palace of Illusions | Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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Bless Divakaruni for publishing a novel-length rarepair fanfic for Hindu mythology. I’m not being facetious, by the way. This book fully brought me around to a new interpretation of one of the most fiery, badass women in Hindu mythology, Draupadi, without sacrificing the integrity of the Mahabharat. There were a few choices she made with which I found lacking, particularly in relationship to the spiritual or supernatural elements. .But on the whole, she tells poignant story, something which I aspire to do with my own interpretations of Hindu myths in the future. Her main departures from the original epic bring depth and coherence where it was often lacking. I also appreciate her interpretation of one of the characters as trans, before it was ‘in vogue’ to do so, while also not making that his defining characteristic. B+

I Know I Am But What Are You? | Samantha Bee
iknowiam

Samantha Bee’s backstory is not exactly what I would have expected, but once I read it, it made total sense. I’ve read a lot of comic memoirs, and Bee has some of the stranger (and more fun) stories of the lot. I felt, because of this, that I was really getting to know a place and a time, not just a person. Bee is sometimes criticized for her tone of outrage on her show, and I felt this memoir really captured where that comes from. She’s not gibbering, she’s a tightly controlled explosion of righteousness, for better or worse. Because above all, her writing comes from a place of having completely processed and come to terms with her sometimes dark childhood experiences, which is what allows her to be so wildly funny and charming about it all. B+

Naked | David Sedaris

naked

If you’re planning to read Sedaris’s work, you don’t need my thoughts on it to make up your mind. He’s extremely popular, and I get a kick out of his style for the same reasons everybody else does. I do so appreciate someone who can take the sheer agony of a childhood anxiety disorder and expertly communicate it with intensity but also humor. And on the other side of the coin, I found the part about his mother’s death reminiscent of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, where the darkness fuses with the humor so it’s not recognizably either. The most interesting moments in Naked are when his younger self comes to terms with his sexuality, step by step, which wasn’t something I hadn’t yet read in his work. Those parts brought out the best combination of his weird observations and the raw visceral experience. A

Shards of Honor: A Vorkosigan Adventure | Lois McMaster Bujold

shards of honor

Quality sci-fi with a romance at the center? Is it possible? In the hands of Lois McMaster Bujold it is. Kind of Romeo and Juliet-ing your main couple is the perfect avenue to contrast the cultures or politics of different science fiction factions, but ultimately reconcile them and provide a footing for an optimistic series about defying the odds and collaborating for the greater good. The character building, particularly of the female protagonist, is well rounded and stands out among sci-fi characters, regardless of gender. Unfortunately, I wasn’t especially drawn in to the greater plot of the series, despite having endless good things about the Vorkosigan Saga. A-

2017 Reading Roundup #36-40

The Turn of The Screw | Henry James

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I love a good ghost story, but unfortunately Turn of the Screw is just too old timey for me to get into. Like a lot of women in period books, our heroine, a nanny, has unbelievably outsized emotional reactions to trivial things (someone just being at a window) for about a hundred pages, and then a kid dies from having too many feelings but maybe also ghosts. There is some fun eerie stuff toward the beginning, but when she starts to uncover what the malicious ghosts that are influencing the children are, the source of corruption and evil is just an affair. Apparently, the Big Literary Debate about this is whether our protagonist is mentally ill and whether or not there was anything supernatural going on. Unfortunately, I didn’t really care enough to even come down on a side; it was written ambiguously, that is all. D

The Dispossessed | Ursula K. Le Guin

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Science fiction books that are statement pieces about philosophy, to the detriment of character and even plot, are difficult for me. The Dispossessed was not the most memorable of Le Guin’s works for me, not because her observations on this very polarized world of Liberterian Science Anarchists in space versus Hedonistic Capitalists on Earth are without merit, it just feels like a very labored narrative with a lot of unnecessary physics discoveries to deliver the point. I will give Le Guin this: the plot progresses in a way that demonstrates her thesis about these two philosophies in a very organized progression. I find it puzzling that the book is considered a feminist utopia, as it doesn’t depict a particularly ideal society for anyone, much less women. Were I to judge the book on what it was trying to do rather than whether it entertained me, I’d set aside the boringness and give it a B.

You Will Know Me | Megan Abbott

you-will-know-me- Marley’s praise for this book was that the author knows how to write tension. Other reviews of the book are rhapsodic about how much creepier it is to feel like you don’t know those closest to you than it is to be menaced by a stranger. These are both absolutely the greatest strengths of this murder mystery centered around a family and their high achieving gymnast daughter. And yet while the book was well-written and I remained engaged in the unfolding mystery, I did not find the narrative as compelling as others. I give major props to the author for building a world and characters which I found inescapably believable while maintaining tremendous ambiguity about what really happened. B+

When True Night Falls | C. S. Friedman

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Book two of this utterly ridiculous trilogy was even more extra than the last. It also contains the most weirdly petty line from a noble priest protagonist I’ve ever encountered. It is almost certainly a “you had to be there” to understand why Ibba and I just completely lost it laughing for fifteen minutes, but I’ll quote it anyway, “The food consisted of the kind of thing noncampers might purchase for a camping expedition– mostly sugared snacks and mixes for dried soups– but there was some dried meat and cheese and a flat, hard bread that promised to travel well…. Could have been worsecould have been much worse.” Mind you, this isn’t G-Mart. We’re never treated with descriptions of food and this character has never observed any level of detail excepting the beautiful curve of his deadly enemy/friend/crush’s mouth. As for my recommendation: if you’ve read the first one and wonder if book two is gayer, it is.  D

Dune | Frank Herbert

dune The fact that Dune is basically about an annoyingly Gary Stu child who becomes Prince of Everything by being Wiser and Better than everyone should be more off-putting than it is. Smarter folks than I have probably analyzed the racial undertones of its world building, but despite some eyebrow raising vibes, I found myself invested in the progression of the plot. The book does what books like Stranger in a Strange Land do, where the protagonist goes from ignorant child to magic philosopher king very quickly. So as a seasoned genre reader I know to let the boring bits wash over me to set up for what will probably an interesting series now that we’ve epically “powered up” our protagonist. Unfortunately, its pacing and datedness limits my eagerness to continue. A-

2017 Reading Roundup #31-35

Letters to a Young Muslim | Omar Saif Ghobash

letterstoayoungmuslim I went into this with major hesitation, given the politics (this is authored by the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Russia), but I am so grateful I took the time to read it. The vast majority of discussion I’m exposed to surrounding Muslims, Islam, and international terrorism takes place between white Americans, and occasionally Muslim-Americans. The perspective of someone who considers himself to be a dedicated Muslim, but not coming from a place of defending himself in the American political conversation, is invaluable. He’s writing to his son about what his religion means to him, how lame anti-western radicals will approach him and why. He articulates a compelling alternative worldview that doesn’t simply cater to western ideas, and most importantly, encourages his son to interrogate his own opinions and those of others, even outside of issues of religion. Interestingly, he remarks that American left wing rhetoric about terrorists who operate in the name of Islam aren’t “true Muslims” is the “no true Scotsman” fallacy and that he feels a responsibility to denounce radical groups and their actions. This isn’t a surprise given his position as a diplomat, but was nevertheless heartfelt and valuable. A-

The Grownup | Gillian Flynn

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Does Gillian Flynn need more praise? I guess so, because this story was dark and snarky and fun as heck. I read her work infrequently enough that her wicked prose is always an unexpected delight. Our protagonist, who reads auras (read: is a fraud), meets the perfect client, a rich sucker who believes her creepy old Victorian house is haunted. But when our faux-psychic actually enters the building, things begin to get genuinely creepy. In true Flynn style, the twist is surprising but, in retrospect, perfectly seeded. And upon realizing what’s really going on, our girl is cornered into some shady decisions. The Grownup is an entertaining and satisfying journey, and a quick read to boot. A

Double Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China | Eddie Huang

doublecuplove

For all his foibles, I don’t have one word to say against Eddie Huang. Much like Fresh Off the Boat, Double Cup Love is raw, engaging, and bursting with ideas and points of view I have only dreamt of seeing represented in the books, TV, and movies I consume. I found myself once again deeply invested in his relationships both with his brothers and his girlfriend. Above all, his insights into being both an insider and outsider in his parents’ homeland were infinitely relatable. It isn’t possible to overstate the authenticity of these vignettes, which repeatedly hit home despite my radically different experiences and relationship with the motherland. As I cheered him on through his various enterprises in this book, I look forward to reading whatever comes next for Huang. A

Etiquette & Espionage | Gail Carriger

etiquetteVictorian frills usually send me running in the opposite direction when it comes to fiction, but my love of secret schools for assassin girls and the Pimpernel-trope of the secret badass persuaded me to give Etiquette & Espionage a try. I wasn’t bowled over by the originality of a boisterous young girl who didn’t fit her restrictive society’s standards for femininity being summoned to a greater purpose, but the novel picks up sharply in fun ideas from there. I wasn’t expecting a couple of the twists any diversity, and was pleasantly surprised by both. While too YA for me, it’s a charming story and a credit to its genre. B

 

Abhorsen | Garth Nix

abhorsenI wish I had reviewed Lirael and Abhorsen together. They are, in truth, two acts of the same story: Lirael’s. Taken together, both books are stronger, because Abhorsen eases up on Lirael’s uncertainty and identity struggles as she steps into her role as Abhorsen (high necromancer) in waiting. I deeply felt her story– a girl who wished desperately her whole life to simply belong with the women she grew up around, only to learn that she had a magnificent destiny completely separate from theirs. She embraces her role steadfastly and it brings her the fulfillment she needs, but it doesn’t totally erase the pain of being excluded from the one thing she valued for so long. Unfortunately, the identity crisis faced by the other protagonist, Sameth, isn’t quite so satisfyingly resolved. His destiny seems like an afterthought, and given the rich world building, didn’t have to be. Mogget and the Disreputable Dog are fun, though sometimes fall into that annoying type of kids’ book comedy that becomes repetitive and tiresome. But, it is a kids’ book and a satisfying conclusion to one of the best young adult series around, so it still gets an A-.

2017 Reading Roundup #26-30

Disclaimer | Renee Knight

Disclaimer

The premise of this book actually felt fresh among all the “best of” mystery lists. It starts like a Black Mirror episode: a woman moves house and finds among her things a novel she doesn’t remember buying. She quickly realizes it’s about her and her deepest, darkest secret, about which only one other person knew, and he’s dead. Bonus: it comes with a menacing note that the author knows who she is and what she did. Her family slowly gets torn apart by this stranger and his creepy revenge plot, leading to the reveal of the horrible events in the  fake novel. The chapter where we learn the whole story gripping, raw, and so emotionally truthful. The protagonist’s reaction to her husband’s arc, in particular, will always stay with me. Unlike many stories that are building to a twist, this book took its time with the fallout from the reveal and managed to use it to build further tension when her son reads the book and is manipulated by its author. There was some weak characterization of the antagonist, though he certainly wasn’t underdeveloped, he makes at least one decision which seems fairly out of character to serve the plot. Despite this, I’m giving Disclaimer an A.

Codex | Lev Grossman

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Hoo boy did I want to love this book. It’s about a hotshot investment banker who ends up noodling around the library of a wealthy and important client in search of a mysterious and priceless medieval codex with the help of a prickly medievalist. The characters in Grossman’s The Magicians, to me, are the closest anyone has ever come to depicting many of my friends as I know them: self-aware nerds shaped deeply by their mental illness, sexuality, minority status, high expectations set by precocious childhoods, and that unceasing hope that their Hogwarts letter may yet come. Codex fell very far short of those characters and the potential of its premise. There were some charming, witty, and compelling moments, but the plot did not quite come together. You can almost always keep me interested if there’s a mysterious ancient tome involved, but the videogame subplot was too Orson Scott Card and unsatisfying. Grossman’s writing style is easy to plow through, so it wasn’t painful so much as meh. C

Station Eleven | Emily St. John Mandel

Station 11One of the best novels I’ve read this year, and one of the easiest to recommend broadly. So much so that it’s a downright tragedy it hasn’t been adapted for television because it has incredible potential to be expanded in that medium. We open in a familiar time, where a fatal mishap during a stage play winds up being the early moments of a plague that wipes out a good portion of humanity. The story jumps back and forth between the life of the deceased actor, once a young Hollywood star, and fifteen years in the future, with a wandering theater troupe called The Travelling Symphony. There are so many pieces of fiction these days playing to a meta-love for the world of books and storytelling and theater which, despite being the target audience, I find lacking in emotional punch. Meanwhile, Station Eleven delivers on every front. The science fiction plot is imaginative, the arcs across timelines are coordinated delightfully, each vignette is tight and sometimes feels mythic, but the characters still feel so tangible. I want to throw it at every TV exec looking for the next high-concept-prestige-genre-character-driven-drama. A

The Truth and Other Lies | Sascha Arango

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Oh, this book was written for middle-school me. (And grown-up me.) But it takes me back to my tween fascination with psychopathic villainy and books like Talented Mr. Ripley, about how far one can go without a conscience. The outrageous premise is this: famous and charismatic author, Henry Hayden, doesn’t actually write his books, his quiet, reclusive wife does, and they’re the only ones who know. Everything is going well until Henry’s mistress becomes pregnant, throwing everything out of balance. What follows is a darkly funny house of cards, lies built upon lies, which had me rooting for our good-for-nothing protagonist the whole time. It’s the appeal of Frank Underwood, but with actual stakes. I find characters who have to be so many people that they doesn’t feel there is a ‘real’ self underneath incredibly relatable, rather than sinister. Given the fun rollercoaster plot, I’m unsurprised to learn the author is a TV writer. All in all, it’s entertaining, but doesn’t really say anything. A-

Thinking, Fast and Slow | Daniel Kahneman

Thinking,_Fast_and_SlowThanks to Freakonomics, I find myself thinking about Daniel Kahneman’s research all the time. The limitations of people’s ability to assess the word around them (in terms of probability) is laced into almost every conversation you have, beyond but sometimes including the trivial. So it was difficult not to bring up ‘cognitive bias’ in every conversation at work, or throw down with free market types online about how humans don’t actually act rationally with money, or chew my friends’ ears off with the data-driven version of friend-who-has-gotten-too-into-that-one-self-help-book-syndrome. I have since chilled out and keep my “so here’s how this applies to Trump/politics/literally anything in the news” to myself, but not enough not to low key want everyone to read it also and validate my armchair theories. By which I mean be entertained and intellectually enthralled by these landmark changes in how we understand the human mind. A

2017 Reading Roundup #21-25

The Man Who Wasn’t There | Anil Ananthaswamy

man who wasn't there I love reading about the brain, especially case studies that can teach us about human nature. And though I’ve been spoiled by Oliver Sacks, Ananthaswamy acquits himself fairly well. I found the author’s insights about each of the specific cases more compelling than his philosophical conclusions about the self. The section on schizophrenia and how it might be a result of the brain not recognizing thoughts as its own, for example, reminded me of the theory that it could also be the result of the brain processing certain thoughts out of sync with when they occur, causing them to feel like they are coming from outside the self as orders. As someone who has had more than my share of discussion of eastern philosophical ideas about the self and perception, I didn’t find what he had to relate on that subject as compared to what various disorders indicate especially insightful. B+

Born A Crime | Trevor Noah

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I have such mad respect for Trevor Noah after reading this. Learning where he came from, made me see his entire comedic point of view and persona in a new light. From the story referenced in the title, about how being the product of a black mother and white father was illegal, to the struggle of watching his mother struggle with an abusive and violent partner, Noah has been through some rough shit. But the fact that his attitude is still playfully inquisitive is a huge testament to the power of not letting life turn you into an angry, resentful person. I can see why Jon Stewart chose him to lead the Daily Show. Over the coming decades, we’ll need someone capable of thinking globally: speaking about racial issues here and abroad, and someone who won’t be ground down by even the most devastating political and social news. Above all, though, it’s a very funny read and shrewdly structured.  A+

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone | Stefan Kiesbye

your house is on fireThis book is like reading a coherent nightmare in the best way. It’s about five children growing up in a quaint German village, full of intrigue, horror, superstition, and betrayal. The interwoven anecdotes from their childhood are framed as reminiscences from the future, where they return to their town for a funeral. I always appreciate an author who isn’t afraid to delve into the amorality of childhood psychology, and this collection of stories fully sinks its teeth into that while maintaining a deliciously detached narrative voice. There were a few moments that dragged, for me, but only because it was so hypnotic I didn’t take enough brakes while reading. I could have done with a bit more of the supernatural element as well, but enjoyed how it was subtly laced in without much mythological explanation. A

Think of a Number | John Verdon

thinkofanumberThis book showed up on a list of exciting mysteries, and I was looking to read something tightly plotted and surprising. So when I read the premise, people getting letters that say “Think of a number” from an unknown person, only to find the letter-writer guesses their random choice, I felt like it was very Holmesian, and I was sold. The reveal just didn’t quite deliver. I didn’t care about the characters; the lead is a typical combo of “I’m retired and too old for this shit” and “I’m too cool/smart/competent to cooperate with the rules”. Some of the plot was genuinely clever, but it fell apart by the end with a lame resolution that was easy to see coming, but was dragged out for a cringey long bit. C

We Have Always Lived in the Castle | Shirley Jackson

We-Have-Always-Lived-in-the-Castle I just love it when I find a classic story that I can enjoy! The story is a very specific, and not for everyone, like Stoker or Crimson Peak. The narrator, despite being eighteen, is very childlike, and the main characters are literally the spooky shut-ins who live in the big house on the hill about whom the villagers gossip. This, of course, goes hand in hand with the unreliable narration and inevitable plot twist, which alone makes the story worth reading. Jackson’s writing is perfect for when you’re in the mood for something atmospheric and moody, rather than a typical scary story. A-