Quickie Book Reviews: Dead Girls

Title: Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession

Author: Alice Bolin

Published: 2018, William Morrow Paper Backs, eBook Edition

Length: 288 pages

Genre: Nonfiction, Essays, Memoir

Source: My Public Library

Stars: 3.5 Stars

Summary:

A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women.

In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, Bolin illuminates our widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster a man’s story.

From chronicling life in Los Angeles to dissecting the “Dead Girl Show” to analyzing literary witches and werewolves, this collection challenges the narratives we create and tell ourselves, delving into the hazards of toxic masculinity and those of white womanhood. Beginning with the problem of dead women in fiction, it expands to the larger problems of living women—both the persistent injustices they suffer and the oppression that white women help perpetrate.

Sharp, incisive, and revelatory, Dead Girls is a much-needed dialogue on women’s role in the media and in our culture.

Like:

There is nothing I love more than essays analyzing pop culture. And this summer the zeitgeist is full of dead girls in pop culture. The number of books and TV shows and movies which focus on violence against women seems to be coming to a head. And Alice Bolin has noticed this trend. She makes the connections between all the dead white girls of pop culture and her own life. I especially like the connections she makes between all the current dead girls and the OG dead girl of pop culture: Laura Palmer of Twin Peaks.

Not so much:

I wish she had spent more time unpacking the books, TV shows, movies and less time examining her own life. The personal memoir essay. I’m just not a fan of most memoirs. Even one that connects the author’s life to pop culture. And in theory this melding should be my jam. And yet…..no. It’s not.

What I’ll Remember:

I’m not sure. I’ve read so many think pieces this week about dead girls and violence perpetrated on women’s bodies and how that is now entertainment that I’m not sure what is from an article and what is from this book of essays. so I think that will be what I remember. It’s part of that zeitgeist moment in 2018.

What do you think? Have you read this book? Would you? What do you think about the way pop culture uses dead girls as entertainment? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Happy Reading, y’all!

Advertisements

Quickie Book Review: Bone Gap

Author: Laura Ruby

Published: March 2015 Harper Collins audio book read by Dan Bittner

Length: 345 pages (in paperback. No pages listed for the audio book.)

Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism, Young Adult

Source: Free audio book from audiobooksync.com. Click here for more information on how to participate in this program.

Stars: 5 Stars

 

Summary:

Bone Gap is the story of Roza, a beautiful girl who is taken from a quiet midwestern town and imprisoned by a mysterious man, and Finn, the only witness, who cannot forgive himself for being unable to identify her kidnapper. As we follow them through their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures, acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness–a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

I’ve had this audio book for a year or two and finally made myself listen to it. I’m not really a fan of audio books and have only listened to a few. But this story could make me listen to them more often. Bone Gap is a free giveaway by Audiobooksync. Click on the link above to get more information about the program and how you too can receive free audio books.

Before I start the review I must point out the cover. I’m a huge sucker for book covers. If I like it I’ll probably buy the book. Which means I’ve read some awful books with gorgeous covers. I love this cover. Love it! And happily I love this novel too.

Like:

I am a huge fan of the magical realism genre so there are many things that I like about this book. Many of my favorite books over the last few years are books from this genre. So it really isn’t a surprise to me that I really love this book. I love the rural farm town setting, and the hints that something is just, I don’t know, off in this place. And I love that the off-ness of the place isn’t inherently evil. I love all the symbolism hinting at the off-ness of this place, this gap. The whispering corn fields that talk to Finn, one of the main characters. And Finn’s struggles with a mysterious problem. Roza, the other main character, and her struggle to find her place in the world are so well done in this story, not to mention her struggle as kidnapping victim. And Laura Ruby is a beautiful writer. I just loved hearing the writing so much that I went to Goodreads to read some of quoted passages for myself. And I really like Dan Bittner’s narration of the lovely passages which is so well done. This story is like a wonderful re-telling of fairy tale that’s been long forgotten.

One more thing: I love the reference to the OG of Midwestern magical realism Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s done so delicately that if you blink you’ll miss it.

Not so much:

I’m not sure there is anything. But the resolution of the kidnapping is not my favorite part of the story. I want something more definitive to close that story line satisfactorily for me.

What I’ll remember:

Two things: First, Roza. She is a strong female protagonist. She doesn’t allow herself to be the victim of this story that must be saved by someone (aka male hero). She actively struggles against the man who has taken her captive, and in the end, makes a sacrifice to save herself and Finn. I like that young adult novels are making the heroines of the the stories more active in their own “saving.”

Second: The delicate use of magical realism in the story. It seeps into all the nooks and crannies, but doesn’t completely overwhelm and take over the story. If I had a friend (or a book club) that hadn’t read any magical realism but wanted to try it for the first time, this would be the book I will recommend. And really, if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Especially if you like magical realism and fairy tale re-tellings.

So let me know what you think in the comments below. Let me know if you have a favorite magical realism novel you would like to recommend. Or let me know what you think of listening to audio books.

Happy reading, y’all!

Quickie Book Review: The Long and Faraway Gone

Title: The Long and Faraway Gone

Author: Lou Berney

Published: 2015, William Morrow, Trade Paperback

Length: 456 pages

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Crime

Source: Quarterly Book Box that I purchased. #Lit06

Stars: 4.5 Stars

Synopsis:

Edgar Award-nominee Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone is a smart, fiercely compassionate crime story that explores the mysteries of memory and the impact of violence on survivors—and the lengths they will go to find the painful truth of the events that scarred their lives.

In the summer of 1986, two tragedies rocked Oklahoma City. Six movie-theater employees were killed in an armed robbery, while one inexplicably survived. Then, a teenage girl vanished from the annual State Fair. Neither crime was ever solved.

Twenty-five years later, the reverberations of those unsolved cases quietly echo through survivors’ lives. A private investigator in Vegas, Wyatt’s latest inquiry takes him back to a past he’s tried to escape—and drags him deeper into the harrowing mystery of the movie house robbery that left six of his friends dead.

Like Wyatt, Julianna struggles with the past—with the day her beautiful older sister Genevieve disappeared. When Julianna discovers that one of the original suspects has resurfaced, she’ll stop at nothing to find answers.

As Wyatt’s case becomes more complicated and dangerous, and Julianna seeks answers from a ghost, their obsessive quests not only stir memories of youth and first love, but also begin to illuminate dark secrets of the past. Even if they find the truth, will it help them understand what happened and why they were left behind that long and faraway gone summer? Will it set them free–or ultimately destroy them?

This is the most melancholy story I’ve read lately. The sadness just permeates this book. I put off this review in order let that sadness dissipate, but it really took a long time. The sadness of this book just settled hard into my bones. I think it does because I was a teen and I remember what it was like to be a working class kid during those years. It’s easy to have nostalgia for the flashy stuff (see Ready Player One for nostalgia for the glossy, fun ’80’s.) But instead this book cracks open and examines what it is like to survive the ’80’s and survive violent crimes that seemed to be emblematic of that decade. And ultimately the book really asks the question How do survivors of devastating violence survive the guilt of living? And does knowing why the crime happened really help the survivors survive?

What I liked: I think what I like most about this story is that it’s not a story of triumph over a tragedy. Wyatt and Julianna have suffered as a result of the crime and this story is about how they suffer and their desire to know why this all happened to them. and sadly, the answers they get are not necessarily the answers they want or need to help them make sense of the crimes they endured. By the end of the tale we know the truth and why of what happened in August of 1986, but it isn’t a neat and tidy ending like in a TV movie.

Each and every decision they have made in their lives has been driven by that crime. And while they both chose professions that help people , Wyatt is a private detective and Julianna is a nurse, their work and personal lives area mess. It feels right that their lives are such a mess even years after those violent crimes. I also like that Berney doesn’t try to force a relationship between Wyatt and Julianna. The do meet briefly, but neither really knows who the other is. In fact many of the characters in this story do have connections to one or the other crime, but this detail doesn’t seem to intrude and knock me out of the tale.

What I didn’t so much: I’m not as fond of the Julianna. She is much more reckless and unthinking in her pursuit of why her sister disappeared all those years ago. She puts herself in situations that make me want to crawl into the book and smack some sense into her. And I’m also not as fond of Wyatt’s subplot. It serves more as a distraction from his real purpose in the story which is to find out why he survived the mass shooting.

Would I recommend: Yes. Read it when you are in the need of a sad story. If you are looking for something to cheer you up and give you faith in humanity, well, avoid this book. That said, this book is one of the best I’ve read so far this year.

Click here for Friday 56

And here for It’s Monday, What are You Reading?

Have you read this book or any others by this author? If so, can you recommend any other of his books? Or any other books that seem to be similar to this one? Let me know in the comments below, and happy reading, y’all.

Quickie Book Review: The Masked City

Title: The Masked City

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Published: 2016 by ROC, Trade Paperback

Length: 372 pages

Genre: Fantasy

Source: A bookstore. I paid full price, too.

Stars: 4. 5 stars.

Summary:

Working in an alternate version of Victorian London, Librarian-spy Irene has settled into a routine, collecting important fiction for the mysterious Library and blending in nicely with the local culture. But when her apprentice, Kai, a dragon of royal descent, is kidnapped by the fae, her carefully crafted undercover operation begins to crumble.

Kai’s abduction could incite a conflict between the forces of chaos and order that would devastate all worlds and all dimensions. To keep humanity from getting caught in the crossfire, Irene will have to team up with a local fae leader to travel deep into a version of Venice filled with dark magic, strange coincidences, and a perpetual celebration of Carnival—and save her friend before he becomes the first casualty of a catastrophic war.

But navigating the tumultuous landscape of fae politics will take more than Irene’s book-smarts and fast-talking—to ward off Armageddon, she might have to sacrifice everything she holds dear…

Here is a link to my gushing review of the first book in the series.

What I Like:

Well. Everything. This book is a fast, fun adventure ride. All my favorite characters from the first book in series return: Irene, Vale, Lord Silver, and Kai. And this time we delve a bit deeper into the world of the dragons and the fae. Most of the adventure takes place in an alt world that is completely dominated by the Fae. And it’s a world of nothing but chaos. And reading about all that chaos is awfully fun. But I think the thing I really loved about this story is that it’s not just about the library, but about the creation of story and how chaotic it and the characters the writer is trying to wrangle them into a coherent story can be. I’m such a sucker for books about books.

Didn’t like as much:

I really can’t think of anything I didn’t like. But I will say that I would love to spend more time exploring the Library. I would read a book that just describes the library and everything it with Irene as a tour guide. Wouldn’t that be a fun read.

Would I recommend?:

Yes, yes, and yes. Read it right now. I’ll wait. When you come back we can gush about it together.

 

Let me know in the comments if you have read this series and recommend it. As always, Happy Reading, y’all.

Quickie Book Review: See What I Have Done

Author: Sarah Schmidt

Published: August 2017 by Atlantic Monthly Press eBook

Length: 328 pages

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Crime, Thriller

Source: Public Library

My rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Synopsis:

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one
I think this rhyme is familiar to almost every school kid in America. I skipped rope while chanting this as a child almost a full continent and 80 years away from Fall River, Massachusetts. The fascination with the murders lingers on for so many, including me. So much so that I had a long wait to re-check this book out of my local library.

 

What I Like:

I love a story based on infamous murders. And this one is a crazy tale. The writer, Sarah Schmidt, is an Australian and brings an outsider perspective to this story. She explores the Borden family and it’s dynamic through the senses. The overwhelming heat of that hot August day. The sweat and odor of unwashed bodies. The spoiled mutton broth that they were all forced to eat due to Andrew Borden’s stinginess. The sickness that pervades the house due to that rotten mutton broth. The rotting pears in the yard. So, yes, this family is sick and full of decay.

I also like that there are so many 1st person perspectives for the event. We have Lizzie’s, Emma’s and Bridget the maid’s. We also have Benjamin’s, a man hired by Lizzie and Emma’s Uncle John to kill Andrew Borden. Like any mystery, we need different perspectives to get to the truth of what happened that day.

What I don’t love:

Some of the same things I like about the story, I dislike too, if that makes sense. The descriptions of the decay and sickness and rot of the family become overwhelming. I’m also not a fan of the inclusion of Benjamin in this story. I’m not sure we need his point of view of the events. At the end he causes action, but again, not sure it needs to be him that causes that event?

Would I recommend?:

Yes. Especially if you enjoy true crime that we can’t solve 100 plus years later, then I think you will enjoy this story.

**Edited to add:   After I posted this review I listened to a podcast about Lizzie Borden. Click on this link to The History Chicks see the show notes and listen to the podcast.

Have you read See What I Have Done? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below.

Quickie Book Review: The Girls in the Picture

The Girls in the Picture

Author: Melanie Benjamin

Published: January 16, 2018 Delacourt Press, Kindle Edition

Length: 448 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction, fiction based on real people

Source: #GoodReadsGiveAway (Yes, I won it in a giveaway!)

My rating: 4 Stars

Synopsis from GoodReads:

It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home for the lure of Los Angeles, where she is determined to live independently as an artist. But the word on everyone’s lips these days is “flickers”—the silent moving pictures enthralling theatergoers. Turn any corner in this burgeoning town and you’ll find made-up actors running around, as a movie camera captures it all.

In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have given her the title of America’s Sweetheart. The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution.

But their ambitions are challenged both by the men around them and the limitations imposed on their gender—and their astronomical success could come at a price. As Mary, the world’s highest paid and most beloved actress, struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love, even with the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. As in any good Hollywood story, dramas will play out, personalities will clash, and even the deepest friendships might be shattered.

Well, this book came out at interesting time. Female friendships and the complications of them is a part of book conversations due to the success of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. And I’m sure completely by accident, the rise of the #MeToo movement after revelations of sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood. It makes me think. And one of the things I think about is the use of Girl in so many book titles lately. I hope this trend dies soon. It’s so common that I avoid books titled like this. Then why did you read this one, you may ask? Well, In this case, I didn’t buy the book I won it in a #GoodreadsGiveaway. And I’m so happy to have won and read it.

What I liked:
The setting. As you know if you read my last QBR, I love stories set in Old Hollywood. I also enjoy fiction based on real people. And this book has both. And both of the main characters are real: the famous Mary Pickford and not-so-famous Francis Marion. The book explores these two women’s long and fraught friendship over the decades. How the friendship changes with Mary’s meteoric fame and Francis’s power. How their very different marriages affected their friendship, and how Hollywood becoming a proper business changes everything for them both.

What I didn’t:
Hmm. This is a bit tougher for me to figure out. but I think I would like more in depth exploration of the friendship of the two women. sometimes it feels a bit superficial. But the story moves so quickly through the decades that sometimes it seems to be moving too quickly? There isn’t enough time to reflect on why the things that happen to the friendship happen? A term I see in movie and tv shows would work here. Things need time to breathe a bit before moving to the next part of the story.

Would I recommend: Yes! If you are a fan of silent movie era Hollywood and want to delve into how two women navigated their way together through a business that is rough on women, then read this book.

Click here to see the Friday 56 in which I featured this book.

**Edited to add:  Let me know what you think in the comments. Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Would you add this to your TBR?

QBR: The Girl Who Knew Too Much

Quickie Book Review

Author: Amanda Quick {AKA Jayne Ann Krentz}

Published: May 2017, Berkley eBook

Length: 368 pages

Genre: Fiction, Romance, Mystery

Source: Public Library

My rating: 2 1/2 Stars

Synopsis:

**When Hollywood moguls and stars want privacy, they head to an idyllic small town on the coast, where the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel caters to their every need. It’s where reporter Irene Glasson finds herself staring down at a beautiful actress at the bottom of a pool…

The dead woman had a red-hot secret about up-and-coming leading man Nick Tremayne, a scoop that Irene couldn’t resist—especially since she’s just a rookie at a third-rate gossip rag. But now Irene’s investigation into the drowning threatens to tear down the wall of illusion that is so deftly built around the famous actor, and there are powerful men willing to do anything to protect their investment.

Seeking the truth, Irene finds herself drawn to a master of deception. Oliver Ward was once a world-famous magician—until he was mysteriously injured during his last performance. Now the owner of the Burning Cove Hotel, he can’t let scandal threaten his livelihood, even if it means trusting Irene, a woman who seems to have appeared in Los Angeles out of nowhere four months ago…

With Oliver’s help, Irene soon learns that the glamorous paradise of Burning Cove hides dark and dangerous secrets. And that the past—always just out of sight—could drag them both under…

What I liked:  I loved the setting. The majority of the novel takes place at resort frequented by 1930’s Hollywood. And the main character is a gossip reporter. 1930’s Hollywood is my catnip. There just aren’t enough historical romances that are set in this time frame.

What I didn’t:  The title. This is such an obvious attempt to get fans of Gone Girl or Girl on the Train (both twisty thrillers) to pick up this book. Which is fine, I guess. And lately every book has Girl in the title if it is a thriller. Except this book isn’t what it implies in the title. It’s not a twisty thriller. At all. Also, not enough focus on the romance story line. I’m not sure I ever really felt the connection between Irene and Oliver.

Would I recommend to other readers:   I’m guessing that Quick intends this to be the first in a series of mystery/crime solving romantic duo similar to her Vanza series. In fact, I’ll bet this book becomes a part of that series or the Arcane Society series. So, if you are fan of either of those series, you will probably like and enjoy this book. But if you are looking for a twisty, turning thriller you may be disappointed.

I wanted  to love this book. I really did. But. Sigh.  It’s more of a reminder of why I quit reading Amanda Quick novels about ten years ago. I was a huge fan of the Regency romances she wrote under this nom de plume, but when she started the different series, I lost interest in her books. And now I want to go back and reread a few of the Regencies to see if they hold up 20+ years later.

Have you read any of Amanda Quick’s novels including this one? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below. Happy reading!

**edited to add synopsis.