Books I read this week: January week 2 and 3

Aaaaah! I get behind a week and all of the sudden there’s a million books to post about. Ok, so just 8. But still. I’ve been reading really good stuff.

Come Hell or Highball: A Mystery (Discreet Retrieval Agency Mysteries) by Maia Chance is a quick, clever mystery. Lola Woodby’s husband dies and she finds herself with a pile of debt and kicked out of the ancestral manor by her husband’s brother. With only her cook for company (who insists on staying with her until she can get paid), she hides out from the creditors and her family at her husband’s love nest. Together they get swept into a hunt for a stolen film reel, a murder, and all sorts of madness.

(I got this one from the library and I’ve already returned it, so I have no quotation from it.)

Slade House by David Mitchell is weird and creepy and awesome. Every nine years, on the same day, a doorway appears in Slade Alley that opens into a grand mansion. The people who go in, don’t come out. As the book moves through time and through unfortunate visitors, the reader discovers more about what happens in the house and why. I can’t really say more than that without ruining things, but it’s definitely worth a read. It apparently ties in to his book The Bone Clocks, though I think you’re supposed to read The Bone Clocks first, as I think this probably spoils elements of it. But I haven’t read The Bone Clocks and this stood up perfectly well on its own.

There’s a small black iron door, set into the brick wall. It’s small all right. I’m four feet eleven inches, and it’s only up to my eyes. A fat person’d need to squeeze hard to get through. It has no handle, keyhole, or gaps around the edges. It’s black, nothing-black, like the gaps between stars.

The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato is SO GOOD. SO GOOD. A pop star (with major Lady Gaga vibes) disappears without a trace. A little while later, a woman who has been investigating her disappearance vanishes in a boating accident. The mystery of their joint obsessions lies at the crux of this book, which is written in the form of an academic piece. There’s an abstraction from the story that gives the same effect (or the wanted effect) of found footage films, and the inclusion of real life references and context make the lines between fiction and non-fiction even more blurry. There are secret organizations, real life historical persons, the real history of the Chicago train line,  conspiracies, and so much more. It’s like Disabato took all of the things she knows and carefully researched about all of the things she loves and put them all together in this book. You can tell because none of it feels forced, it all just flows gorgeously together. I came away from this book with a list of things I want to learn more about.

They were at war with the whole world, but lightheartedly.

Molly’s Ghost Network is a strange piece; it catalogues not only a hypothetical transit system, but also one that would be nearly impossible to build and ridiculous to implement.  … The Ghost Network exists in a world without decisions, where every proposal is adopted, where construction isn’t based on the realities of the city.

The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper by Carlie St. George is short, only about 40 pages, but it’s so good. It’s a retelling of the Cinderella story, in a noir setting. That could be super hokey, but the tone and the flow of this work perfectly. There are two more stories set in this world and I can’t wait to read them.

It was half past eleven when I saw her. She was standing at the top of the staircase, with restless fingers and defiant eyes, wrapped in blue silk that clung to her hips. Her legs went on, and on, and on.

The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of “Joe” Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water by Kate Summerscale is the story of Joe Carstairs, a seriously fascinating woman. She lived from 1900-1993, and lived much of her life dressing and carrying herself as a man. She raced speedboats, bought her own Caribbean island which she ruled as its Queen, and generally just did whatever she wanted. She had a relationship with Marlene Dietrich, Dolly Wilde (Oscar’s niece), and a string of other women. It’s a fascinating read.

Dolly was known for her sparkling conversation. Yet Dolly’s words, unlike those of her uncle, were evanescent, careless, utterly resistant to repetition or transcription.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is a mindblower. I finished it and immediately had to round up other people to read it because I HAD to talk about it. It’s one of those books that has so much in it that you have to talk it through and even then you won’t get to everything. The characters are so complex, so full of depth. Nothing that they do seems out of character, but you don’t necessarily understand why they do what they do. It’s just so thought provoking and excellent. And the writing is gorgeous. Beautiful, beautiful sentences.

Lotto is a golden boy, popular, lucky, rich. A talented actor, he has the world at his feet in college, and when he meets Mathilde and she agrees to marry him, he has everything he could want. They have struggles, as his mother cuts him off financially and acting jobs become harder to come by, but Mathilde works, and their love keeps them happy and content. The first section of the book is Lotto’s story, his perspective on their life. The second half is Mathilde’s, and let’s just say that there are some discrepancies. And my goodness is it gorgeous as you begin to realize how little we really know anyone, how much our perception of the world is influenced by our assumptions, how far from the truth we might be.

I remember coming out of watching the movie Identity (totally spooky movie, if you haven’t watched it, you maybe should) and feeling completely shaken about the world- was everyone else a figment of my imagination? Was I just in someone’s mind? It totally upheaved my sense of reality. This book did the same thing, as I started looking at everyone around me in terms of what I might not know about them.

There’s a decent amount of sex and some swearing, but if you’re comfortable with that, I highly recommend this one.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood is odd and strange and disconcerting, and everything I expect from Margaret Atwood. In the slight future, the economy has collapsed and most people are living out of their cars, prey to roving bands of thieves. Not quite Mad Max style; there are still laundromats and convenience stores and hotels, but most people are pretty hard up. Stan and Charmaine are a married couple hard on their luck, until they see an ad for the Positron Project. If accepted, they will move into the city of Consilience, where they will be given a lovely home to live in, a job, and a safe life. In order for the city to work, however, every other month they will be inmates in the city’s prison, while an alternate couple takes a turn in their home. When the month is up, they trade places, going back to their life while the alternates serve their time in prison. With the prison as the pivot on which the society turns (you either live there or work there) the economy and society flow easily and well. Life in the prison is pleasant, and everyone is happy. But when Charmaine begins a relationship with the man who lives in her house on the alternate months, the cracks begin to show and things take a very Atwood-y turn.

It’s a fascinating, weird book. I’m still thinking about it- some of the places Atwood goes are chilling in their potential. There’s a lot of sex in this one, slightly more than I would say is necessary, but it is in service of the plot.

Oblivion is increasingly attractive to the young, and even to the middle-aged, since why retain your brain when no amount of thinking can even begin to solve the problem?

Everything in this town is retro, which accounts for the large supply of black vintage items in Accessories. The past is so much safer, because whatever’s in it has already happened, It can’t be changed; so in a way, there’s nothing to dread.

I got The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George out of the library, and 5 pages in I realized that I had to just buy it because I wanted to mark passages on every page. So it has the distinction of the first book I’ve bought this year. I HAD to. I felt the same way reading it as I did when reading The Night Circus- that someone had written down my heart’s delight. It’s the story of Monsieur Perdu, owner and purveyor of The Literary Apothecary (which really should have been the title of the book. Why don’t people run these things by me?), a bookshop on a boat. Perdu is my kind of bookseller, the kind who won’t sell a book to someone if it’s the wrong book for them. He gives prescriptions for books that will heal the heart, fix the soul, make you cry if that’s what you need, give you courage, give a measure of grace. When a woman in need of all of those things moves into his apartment building, his own inner walls begin to crumble, and he finds himself (literally) on a journey to face his own past.

The story itself is fairly straightforward, but the prose is absolutely delectable. I just checked, and I marked 40 different passages, most of them because they were just so very pretty. This book falls solidly into my own personal set of scriptural texts, those books that bear witness to gospel of the power of stories. It’s one of those books that if you don’t like it, I don’t want to know, because it speaks so purely to my soul and to the things that I know to be true that someone not liking it would be a rejection of the parts of myself I hold dear.

But it’s well known that reading makes people impudent, and tomorrow’s world is going to need some people who aren’t shy to speak their minds, don’t you think?

He calls books freedoms. And homes too. They preserve all the good words that we so seldom use. Leniency. Kindness. Contradiction. Forbearance.

“Here you go, my dear. Novels for willpower, nonfiction for rethinking one’s life, poems for dignity.” Books about dreaming, about dying, about love and life as a woman artist. He laid out mystical ballads, hard-edged old stories about chasms, falls, peril and betrayal at her feet. Soon Anna was surrounded by piles of books as a woman in a shoe shop might be surrounded by boxes. Pedu wanted Anna to feel that she was in a nest. He wanted her to sense the boundless possibilities offered by books. They would always be enough. They would never stop loving their readers. They were a fixed point in an otherwise unpredictable world. In life. In love. In death.

I’m currently reading The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale, which I should finish today.  Then I’ve got a stack of books from the library. I’m trying to alternate between library books and my library on the Haunted Kindle. I have a long list of books to get through, which is pretty much heaven.

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