I’ve actually been meaning to read this for a long time. I’m fascinated by tiny living, nomadic or otherwise, and the cover alone would have attracted my attention. But then it was always out at the library and I sort of forgotten about it until it got turned into a movie, now an award winning movie, that refreshed my memory and reignited my interest. So now I’ve read it and I’m profoundly depressed and going to need happy books (my version of, probably dark psychological thrillers) to balance this out. But also…and maybe I should have led with this…wow, what a book. What a terrific timely important book.
It took the author three years to compile the stories that comprise this book, to follow around the main character and meet all the side characters, to actually live or at least sample the lifestyle from van living to getting seasonal jobs the people in this book survive on. It’s a humongous undertaking, a really stunning work of investigative journalism. Bravo.
Like many true stories, the ones featured here are very sad. Not merely on a personal level for featuring people beaten down by circumstances, thrown off the conventional trajectory of the American dream, people who’ve done all or most of the right things and still got waylaid by the vagaries of life, but also because these people and their lives signify a much larger fault within the society itself. These people epitomize the failure of the American dream, the ugly reality of the most economically divided country in the developed world. They are the ones the wealthiest nation in the world left behind and if you believe (as you should) that a society should be judged by how it takes care of its neediest citizens, it represents a really bleak picture indeed.
The overwhelming majority of the tiny living videos I watch on youtube kind of feature the same motif…a millennial or a couple of millennials get fed up with the 9 to 5, trick out a van or an RV and hit the road, to travel and have fun and become Instafamous. Or a single older person mostly for financial reasons chooses to go small and wheely. But mainly it seems these decisions were made by choice more so than dire necessity and the motivations are mainly to travel and thread lightly upon the world. Seldom if ever (or maybe I’m not watching the right kinds of videos) do they feature people like in this book. People with no choices, displaced, discarded. People who have been economically destroyed by 2008, who have no place to live, who became unemployed with no means of regaining employment that suits their experience and education levels and would allow them to be financially solvent, etc. And yet apparently there’s a large number of these individuals, all or mostly all older, forced to go on the road, live on the road and work short contract gigs to get by, because, of course, Social Security alone doesn’t even come close to providing for them in their old age. It’s absolutely harrowing to read about people in their 60s and 70s, forced (with often no other options) to work in Amazon warehouses in the notoriously brutal conditions and, of course, Amazon gets a generous credit for providing jobs for older folks and the entire system is just so f*cked. It’s equally harrowing to read about them trying to survive in the tiny cramped mobile quarters often not built or suited for all weather and often featuring no basic conveniences like showers. In fact, it makes you rethink conveniences, rerate them based on the levels of sheer necessity, and when it boils down to it, it’s amazing what people can learn to live without.
This isn’t quaint, this isn’t optional, this isn’t minimalism for the sake of the trend, this isn’t only having the things that spark joy, this is basic desperation driven survival. And the fact that it’s so prevalent is an absolute disgrace, in fact the entire book is a well researched and well written opprobrium of a society that has bought into its glowing self image and became all too good at ignoring its faults.
To be fair, while the stories within this book and the lifestyle it depicts are emotionally devastating, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Americans are, after all, a nation so obsessed with being happy, they find cheer and optimism against all reason if needs be. And these Americans, though more dragged down by life, still rally, alone and together, find friendships and support, create communities, etc. It’s difficult to impossible to hope for a happy ending, considering the facts and the ages of them, but there’s something to be said for the older generations’ sheer get up and go determination. The thing is, though, it shouldn’t have to be subject of the conversation because people in general and specially senior citizens of a first world country shouldn’t have to live like that. Which is why it’s great that this book exists and especially great that it’s been made into a well received movie, which will reach many more people than a book, even a popular and famous one, would ever be able to in this day and age. I, for one, can’t wait to watch it. The thing is, though, movies tend to not go quite as dark as books and this story needs to be known it its original form, so whether you watch a movie or not, do read this book. It’s a socioeconomic nightmare that deserves attention. Just prepare yourself for an emotional wallop. Recommended.
Every single thing you never knew you always wanted to know about seashells. And mollusks. A book that took the author six years to write and me an uncharacteristic several days to finish. There’s a chance I might have overestimated my interest in the subject, went in expecting a shorter book, GR’s page count is wrong, but the book actually proved to be surpassingly compelling, engaging, erudite and exceptionally informative.
Not just a quaint beach souvenir, seashells have a fascinating and storied past as art and currency and building materials and food and collectors’ items. From abundantly present to alarmingly endangered, it turns out that seashells are so much more intricate, complex and interesting than just those things Sally sells by the seashore.
The author traveled the world in creating this book, meaning it also serves as a travelogue for all you armchair travelers. But of course, she wasn’t the first one to go to great lengths (geographically and otherwise) for seashells, it’s been done for centuries by intrepid scientists and obsessive collectors, all featured within this book. Strange what people will go crazy for. Even stranger than the author will still eat the seafood nestled within the seashells that so fascinate her. It’s like…oh magical, but also delicious.
But, while their innards don’t at all seem appetizing to me, the shells themselves do have a certain magical appeal, the precise intricate beauty of design alone…lovely. So, it wasn’t that difficult to understand the attraction of the subject and the book makes you appreciate it all the more, from a more informed position. I now know the difference between conchology and malacology, among many other things. The story of seashells and their inhabitants is, as it turns out, absolutely worth a 400some page book. Complete with a potent environmental message. Long read but worth it. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
The Great Gatsby A Graphic Novel Adaptation by K. Woodman-Maynard, F. Scott Fitzgerald
I love The Great Gatsby. For my money it’s one of the few classics that really lives up to its designation, through the timeless themes of the class distinctions, unmet romantic expectations and the failure of the American dream and the sheer beauty of the language. The story has been adapted in many different formats over the years, graphically and cinematically, to different degrees of success and this graphic adaptation is definitely on the higher end of that spectrum.
The watercolor drawings, the forgoing of the traditional panel structure, the clever use of space and gravity and equally clever allocation of text amid the scenery and tailored to it added up to a lovely sum total that manages to convey the very soul of the novel and to do so astoundingly in just 60 minutes of reading time. Granted, Gatsby isn’t a huge book, but you got to appreciate that level of conciseness.
It wasn’t exactly my favorite sort of art personally, but it worked really well here, the author made a number of interesting and smart choices that really paid off, utilizing the very best aspects of the book, right down to that legendary ending.
On a side note, having recently read Farris’ Nick, almost managed to forget what a sh*te Nick actually is in the original. A spineless milquetoast of an observer who professes his nonjudgemental values and then proceeds to judge the living daylights out of everyone around him, especially Gatsby himself. Makes Nick a very different version of the traditional unreliable narrator. Which is to say he tells the truth, but colors it very heavily with his own perspective. But at any rate, Gatsby still shines and the careless people are still every so brutally caress.
Anyway…this was lovely. A very enjoyable revisit for a beloved book. Maybe it’ll manage to bring new readership to the story. If you ever wanted to read a book, but were put off by the lack of pictures or amount of words, here’s your chance. If you already love the book, you’ll enjoy this on an entirely different level. Recommended.
Night Train by David Quantick
You know how Veep is crazy funny and might be the best modern political satire, while Avenue 5 was an exercise in jokes landing flatly with alarming consistency despite or because of the artificial gravity? Well, probably much in the same way, this novel from the writer of both of those shows, among other things, will work differently for different readers. Despite the hugely positive acclaim from very respectable sources.
For me, it worked pretty well. Been waiting to read it, the combination of science fiction and literary thrills and scares just too irresistible. So much so I’ve not actually read the proper description and I’m kind of glad I didn’t, this was a fun book to go into knowing nothing. Because that’s how the characters on the eponymous night train awaken into their new bizarre reality…clueless. Like Saw, but then again not really. Also, reminded me of The Cube, but ok, that’s enough movie references. Night Train is very much an original creation, a locomotive nightmare of seemingly endless proportions and seemingly inexplicable purposes.
Those who find themselves aboard will have to be brave, resilient and tough to solve the mystery of their situation. And in the end, this solution will boggle their minds and quite possibly, dear readers, also yours.
Unlike the actual train, claustrophobic, terrifying and featuring nowhere near enough canned food variety…Night Train the book has a lot to offer, it’s dark, frightening, exciting, thrilling, loaded with suspense and various creep factors. It’s also just as fast paced, action and dialogue driven and quirkily funny as you might expect from a comedy writer.
It’s definitely something of an oddball of a story, it flirts with many genres without settling on any and because of its tv comedy timing might seem insubstantial, but for me it proved to be sufficiently original and entertaining to merit the time. And the ending/grand reveal of this very dark version of a yellow brick road to Oz was pretty grand indeed. So yeah, a fun read, good worldbu…I mean trainbuilding. Overall a pretty wild ride. Recommended.
The Maid by Nita Prose
If you like your mysteries cozy and your reading material comforting, this book will suit you like a bespoke maid outfit. It’s a book written to be charming, it positively oozes with strategically dispersed charm and quick and follows a sitcom or a romcom trajectory where no matter how much of a pickle the character finds themselves in, it all works out in the end, quickly, neatly and unrealistically conveniently.
And Molly the Maid, the appropriately charming and quicky protagonist of this whipped cream concoction, finds herself in quite a pickle indeed. With her beloved grandmother, who has raised her and taught her all about life through a neverending series of embroidery ready aphorisms, gone Molly no longer has anyone to help her navigate life’s challenges and nuances and for Molly those are ever more prevalent since she is somewhere on the spectrum.
Mind you, this is never directly mentioned in the book (presumably not to bring down the cheery tone with something too lifelike), just like Molly’s OCD is never mentioned by name. She just obsessively cleans, has difficulty reading faces or social cues, etc.
She also has a peculiar as in very formal way of speaking instilled by her grandmother to compensate for having no former education. Just like Nell (remember that movie?) in a way, albeit considerably more coherent.
Molly, like her grandmother before her, is a maid and it is Molly’s dream job. She works in a very fancy establishment with names like Regency and Grand in it, but she is barely making ends meet, having squandered away hers and her grandma’s life savings on a wrong man. Wrong men seem to be her type, actually, because this is a romcom, there is, of course, a hunky bartender. There’s also a stock magical older man character who is always there for Molly. All in all, it’s a manageable and orderly life, until she finds a dead body of one of the guests. And then finds herself accused of murder.
Various comedies of error and numerous misunderstandings later all things get resolved, really in just a few days and tied up ever so neatly with a giant pink bow. Molly learns oodles of valuable lessons and gets a proper love interest and a makeshift family of her own. All nifty and strategically adorable.
Does t resemble real life in any way? No, not really. This is a book about what life ought to be like and how it ought to work out. This is a fantasy. Would I’ve preferred a book about a person with OCD and spectrum like mentality navigating a murder mystery? Absofreakinglutely. But that would be a different book altogether. The author definitely took the easy and commercially friendly way here (and being an editor for a major publisher she would know these things) and wrote what sells. The movie version can’t be too far off either.
And that’s fine, the book works, it’s an easy breezy read ideal for a beach or something like that and it reads very quickly. If light is what you’re in the mood for, float away with this, by all means. Thanks Netgalley.
A woman stands accused of murdering her spouse, a thoroughly unlikeable man by all accounts, but apparently still a crime. One she’s to be hanged for as the title suggests despite protesting her innocence, unless her friend Simon Gale miraculously can solve this crime and prove her right. Armed with good intentions and powers of deduction, Gale sets off sifting through the locals to find the guilty one. It’s like a locked village mystery in that way.
The villagers may be pitchfork free, but they have all kinds of secrets, enough for another dead body to turn up. But in the end everyone gathers around for a dramatic reveal, with a nice genuinely surprising plot twist to boot, and justice is served. Cute, pleasantly British, slightly dated murder mystery of a classic mystery genre variety, a first in the series. Random kindle freebie that read quickly and entertained sufficiently, which is all you can really ask for with these things.
Trivia time…women’s death penalty sentences in England in the 1900s had an approximately 90% reprieve rate. Maggie in the book definitely gets the wrong end of that stick. Also, not woman in England has been hanged since 1955. And then the death penalty itself was abolished in 1998. Very progressive, England. USA, of course, still has the death penalty and some states still permit hanging, though it hasn’t been done since 1996. The more you know…
Another trip into the bleak imagination of Oates. By now I’m used to it, having read a number of her books, especially short story collections. They don’t have an easy or immediate appeal and thus are somewhat difficult to recommend, but for me there’s something attractive about them.
The bleakness is some of the appeal, definitely, Oates is gifted enough of a stylist to make it look good. She understands the degrees with which it should be gradually unveiled. She uses all the fifty shades of dark and unleashes a sort of quiet devastation and brutality upon her characters that only a master sadist would. And like a master sadist she seems to be an expert at knowing just where and how to twist the knife to the maximum effect. Most of this is owning to her profound psychological grasp of the psyche and the nature of relationship dynamics. Specifically male/female dynamics which are the theme of this collection.
So by now you should have gathered this isn’t a fun and happy read and it isn’t going to have any love stories or any stories for this matter than don’t end in tragedy. But even if you might guess at their terrible destinations, these journeys into the darkness still make for an interesting read.
The thing is, though, this collection being ever so timely, it’s very much from the recent bandwagon of a very specific kind of feminism, the strikingly dividing kind that essentially categorizes all men as brutes and violators and all women as some type of their victims. Oates is smarter and subtler than most of these writers so her takes are less polarizingly drum beating, but it’s still there, very potent, very pervasive and, frankly, much too one noted of an approach from such a talented author. And it does get tiresome.
There are some excellent deviations from the look at all the ways this woman gets screwed over by men, which is a theme most perfectly epitomized in the final and longest of the stories here.
Not sure of the titles, since the advance reading version the publisher provided tended to omit the, but #2 and 3 were great, the Marilyn auction one was excellent. Might be more I’m not thinking of.
All in all, if you’re a fan of Oates’ writing as I am, you’ll probably enjoy this book. Or if you’re looking for that kind of male/female dichotomy in fiction it would work too. For me, it doesn’t so much, too simple, too reductive, too black and white. But if I must read about it, it should be Oates or someone of her caliber. Plus no one does bleak like she can. It’s her signature color. Thanks Netgalley.
Finally. Finally, Watchmen. A read years intended. Read well after watching the movie adaptation. After watching the tv show too. And boy was it worth the wait. Watchmen is widely considered to be not just one of the best graphic novels of all time, but one of the best novels. It’s that acclaimed. And it lives up to every single ounce of praise that’s ever been lavished upon it. And then some. It’s beyond good, it’s simply a masterwork. If read without any preconceptions or prior knowledge, without having watched the adaptations…minds would be blown. Actually, blown minds might not be optional here.
From the mad genius brain of Alan Moore and insanely talented artistry of Dave Gibbons comes ansuperhero story unlike any other. I love unconventional superheroes like (nondairy) milk and cookies, so I’ve something of a field of comparison and this is a definite standout. The costumed men and women here have onions worth of layers in emotional complexity, they are profoundly flawed individuals, who basically all fight for the same or similar ideals (justice, peace, etc.), but their difference color these ideals, morph them into unrecognizable, even dangerous things. It’s such a fascinating concept and the character development and writing here is absolutely superb, from comic panels to narrative inserts following each chapter. There characters come to life and being larger than life by design threaten jump right off the pages.
And threaten is just the word for it too, you wouldn’t want to meet some of them in the dark alley. Or a well lit alley for that matter. You wouldn’t want your life to depend on them. They are kind of like the boys… and girls of The Boys, but so much more out there.
The novel was written in the 80s and screams it thematically, red danger and all. And yet it doesn’t read dated somehow. Like it’s too good to age properly. Like a Sinatra song. Or Michelle Pfeifer. But it’s an alternate version 1980s USA with Nixon still in power and Project Manhattan personified, among other things. The first generation of superheroes came and went, now mostly retired, they never had any superpowers anyway, just a bunch of brave individuals with tight costumes and good intentions. Those who took their places operate on a different plane altogether. And now someone’s killing the old timers. And Rorschach, the uncompromisingly brutal moralist of an antihero, is determined to find out what’s going on. Revisiting old friends and colleagues, he’ll uncover a conspiracy much grander and much more terrifying that anyone might have imagined. That’s it for the plot, there’s too much otherwise to delve into, it’s a fascinatingly elaborate puzzle of a novel and the aha moment is an absolute doozy. A plot twist to slay all plot twists.
Anyway, how I loved Watchmen, lemme count the ways.
Silvia Moreno Garcia is branching out. Like many talented authors do. I’ve just read her high fantasy novella and now this, in her own words, a noir novel. Which made me reconsider my definition of noir. According to Wikipedia…in its modern form, noir has come to denote a marked darkness in theme and subject matter, generally featuring a disturbing mixture of sex and violence. But the thing is that pretty much describes a lot of novels and most crime fiction. And the author’s no stranger to straight up crime fiction, check out her excellent Untamed Shore. And, of course, dark fiction is her specialty, though traditionally in my much preferred blend of horrific/gothic themes her earlier books featured. Those were terrific, so good in fact that it takes a while to quit missing them and get into whatever the author dreams up next. Which in this case is a crime drama inspired by the real life political unrest in Mexico in the early 1970s.
I like historical fiction, especially given a chance to learn something new, so this book definitely worked for me on that front. Like most Latin American countries, Mexico went through some brutal regime changes which brought severe social limitations and a pervasive culture of paranoia. That provides that noir required darkness…a time of tragedy, time of spies, time of government agencies competing for control of an increasingly restless society. And on this stage the author plays out a sad and strange version of a boy meets girl story.
The girl is Maite, a lonely secretary about to turn 30, whose only excitement in life comes from the romantic comics she buys and collects and obsesses over. Now an especially likeable or nice character, especially not for a lead, but it works out.
The boy is Elvis, or so he calls himself. A gangster in the making working for a small organization with direct involvement in controlling the protests in universities, among other things. Elvis is a much more charismatic lead, something of a self made man in progress, a criminal by profession more so than by nature. Like Maite he is a music lover and finds himself inexplicably drawn to her, though his job leads him to investigate and follow her.
All of this is over Maite’s gorgeous wealthy neighbor who disappears one day and turns out have a secret worth killing for. So this provides plenty of suspense and some mystery for the thriller fans. Though really it’s just as much if not more of a crime drama.
The thing is, no matter the genre, I love More Garcia’s writing too much not to check it out. Even if the genre really doesn’t work for me, like with her high fantasy venture. She’s just so talented and her books come to life when you read them and play out just like the best of movies, vividly, excitingly. Admittedly, this one wasn’t a personal favorite, admittedly I still miss her supernatural scarier stories. But this was still a very good read. It’s worth reading just for how spectacular of a job she did representing the time and place, the creeping claustrophobia of it all, the desperation of people trying to make a difference and devastation of the naïve (like Maite who spends her time avoiding news) when the real world hits them.
In the end though Maite gets more of an adventure than she might have ever expected or hoped for outside of her comic book pages, awakening to the real world. Which somewhat redeems an initially unlikeable character. And Elvis…well, he’s got his own road to redemption to travel. And irrespective of however much you don’t or do like them, both of their journeys are still compelling enough to draw you in. So yeah, all in all, definitely good. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
I’ve read both John Sanford novels back to back in one day and now reviewing them I don’t want to be repetitive, suffice it to say the author’s style is very much of its time, very recognizable and very tough. Tough as in jerky, old leathery jerky, that would be the texture of Sanford’s Warrensburg books and their characters. Stretched and beaten down by life’s vagaries, used as target practices for the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes and all that.
And here the main character, Aaron Platt, a man who has survived an abusive past and has labored himself to the bone ever since to eke out a living out of his land, finds another man on is property and lets him die. Not kills him, mind you, lets him die. Whether that is or isn’t a criminal offense is a a subject of a trial, which is one aspect of the narrative. The other two belong to the men themselves, a chronological autobiographical line from Aaron and a stream of consciousness ramblings from a dying man.
And then…there’s the verse. That was Sanford beginning to politicize his work and utilizing more of his historical interest to demonstrate the way America’s violent and tragic past echoes into the present (at the time) day. And he decides to do that in verse, more or less mid book, out of nowhere. Which didn’t work for me and didn’t work for great many publishers here and abroad at the time either. Sanford stuck to his guns and insisted that verse remains, which probably explains to some extent the fact that he has never really found commercial success as an author was spent his life supported by his wife, a popular screenwriter at the time.
For me, it doesn’t have so much to do with his ideology, so much as it does with a messed up storyline. It didn’t work within the novel, it didn’t fit, it screwed up the dramatic narrative and so on.
The delirious ramblings were tough enough, but verse…no, just no.
Mind you, Jack Mearns, Sanford’s biographer who provides a very good introduction (for book one) and afterword here to Brash’s Sanford’s rereleases absolutely loved it, but he seems to be a superfan, the likes of which Sanford might not have had too many of, judging, among many other things, by the scarcity of readers’ book reviews out there. I’m the first to rate and review this edition and there were only a few for his gloriously campier covered early publication under the title seventy Times Seven (for some reason Mearns didn’t go into).
Anyway…there’s a good story here, a genuinely potent tale of crime and punishment within two strikingly juxtaposing lifestyles. The main theme, I’d say, is justice, be it legal or moral variant. So it’s compelling in a way, but it isn’t an easy or an easily enjoyable read. And it screams of an author beginning to spiral into deliberate obscurity through experimentation. Which is to say I don’t regret reading Sanford and I don’t think I need to read any more of him. Warrensburg is, after all, too bleak, even conventionally fictionalized. Thanks Brash publishers.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.