I don’t know if other people line up their reading material thematically or order their TBR shelves with the conscientiousness of a college semester syllabus, but I definitely…do not. My next book just comes to me by way of my own emotional oujia board, which means sometimes it’s very similar books in a row and other times there’s intense tone and subject whiplash. So, take my last handful of reads going back to around Thanksgiving. This is a rambly catchup post, so you should probably know that before reading on.
And this is entirely reconstructed from my Goodreads updates. The Swarm check-ins of my reading life, truly.
In November, I began and finished both Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement and Chanel Miller’s Know My Name: A Memoir. The former is an excellent read on journalistic integrity, investigative grit, women’s bravery and trust, and the silent exploitative system of non-disclosure agreements that let Harvey Weinstein and powerful men like him lead empires of ruined lives. I don’t think you can read that book and not come away with an enormous amount of respect for the journalists who pursued the story and the Weinstein victims who broke their NDA terms to speak to them. (It was a good day to be a woman on Twitter the other day when he was convicted of first degree sexual assault and third degree rape in Manhattan.)
The latter is the powerful memoir of the victim in the Stanford swimmer rape case that made headlines after the convicted rapist, Brock Turner, was given a walk in the park as his sentence by the judge. (The judge who was later removed in the next election.) I had known the broad strokes of the story, but Miller reclaims her voice and her story in a way I couldn’t have imagined before starting this book; it felt like the whole idea of what a memoir could be was turning the soil under my feet. When I learned that she’d done spoken word poetry before, I realized how far that went in explaining in how she knows just how to hit when she writes. Her being half Chinese also struck a note in me I wasn’t expecting on many levels, and it was just an extremely emotional, soul-bearing read, it feels reductive to talk about in a paragraph in a catchup blog post. But I suppose I’ll end the thought by recommending the audiobook that Miller narrated herself; her delivery kind of shouldn’t have worked (bit flat, bit soft) but it absolutely did.
After Thanksgiving, I read some palate cleanser YA books, starting with Rick Riordon’s The Lightning Thief in January. I don’t think I’ll be picking up the rest of the Percy Jackson books anytime soon, but I think that might just be a conversation I’ve got to have with particularly young YA as a genre sometime. I mean, just in line with my apparent prejudices, another book’s that gone back to my DNF list this month was Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, which I had renewed from the library fully three times and never did finish reading. I did finish the HBO series and I’d watched the movie more than a decade back, but it seems whenever I try to read that book, it’s ridiculously hard for me to pick it back up. I kind of don’t…like…Lyra? I certainly don’t love her or anyone else in the series enough to merit falling in love with the book. The worldbuilding is wonderful but there’s otherwise not enough there to keep me there, and I’ve tried reading this book a few different times at this point. I really thought I was going to finish at least the first book but I ran out of momentum and then had to return the book. So, you know, when people say your mileage may vary…mine did. Mine couldn’t get to the end of the road of that one.
The entirety of the Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black took me through January and early February. This is older YA fantasy series about a human girl who lives in the world of the fae and tries to negotiate a place for herself in its high court. To be honest, the first book didn’t grab me that much and I wondered if I should just put it down. I would’ve undoubtedly lapped it up if I were a young kid with an intense hunger for all things faerie and fae magic, but that’s just never been me. And yet, as the first book wound down to what I suspected might become, in the end, a romance…it led me out of curiosity to the second book, which had no need to re-tread the lore grounds of faerie beauty and faerie ways that littered the first book, and that helped quite a bit. (It reminded me of the way people complain about George R.R. Martin’s writing of feasts, if that makes sense.) And I quite devoured the second and third books’ twists and turns in search of more uncovering of the relationship between Jude and Cardan, although I felt all the while I was rather unfortunately and sheepishly ship-focused (and yet the books rewarded me for doing so!). And I also considered whether the same kid who picked up The Cruel Prince to read more about the coldly beautiful fae and their intricate lore would be as interested in the romance plot unfolding in The Wicked King and The Queen of Nothing, to be honest.
And I nearly forgot to include this one, but right in the row with the fae trilogy, I also read A Darker Shade of Magic, the first of V.E. Schwab’s books in the Shades of Magic trilogy. I mainly forgot this one because I’m paused in the first act of the second book still, but I enjoyed this one, even though I didn’t quite get “adult” fantasy vibes from this series. I found Lila to be a good character but I still grappled with the fact that I still wanted to stay with Kell’s POV most of the time. Is that misogyny my brain’s been steeping in for almost four decades or something else? More I wanted with Kell’s relationship with Rhy…? Anyway, looking forward to getting the plot moving forward in the second book, which I should be returning to shortly. But diversions first:
A super quick but lovely read I e-checked out from the library: The Boy, The Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. Brief tweet thread on my feelings on this book can be found here, so I won’t recap that in full here except to say: it’s lovely. And such a quick read that you really should search it out. It’s also perfect fodder for prints to put in a child’s bedroom.
This month, I went back to true crime in the form of Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. There isn’t a word I know of that encompasses how impressed and sad I was because of this book, because this was McNamara’s first book, it went unfinished in her lifetime, she died so damn young at 46, and she was such a good writer. She had a voice and an instinct for reflection. It was her own justice-obsessed compassion that guided her (compelled her) through unsolved crimes, and it turns out that makes for the kind of reading that makes a mountain of facts and brutal details interrupted by biographical details super compelling.
Which all brings me to my most recent true crime read, which is the book tie-in to the Netflix show by the same name, Unbelievable. (Before the Netflix show, it was previously published as A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America.) After the above reads, I almost didn’t realize that a crime book like this could have…no voice? A disembodied narrator? But I am four chapters in and not impressed. Maybe it’s the fact that the article on this same subject is deservedly Pulitzer Prize-winning and a fantastic read. Maybe it’s that I’d read the article in 2015 and watched the limited run series when it came on Netflix last year and thought it was very possibly the best property Netflix had in its originals lineup. But the book has so far fallen far far short of both the series and article.
So, I went searching for a reason to take a break, and there was this book, requested and then borrowed from the library earlier in the month: Crashing the A-List by Summer Heacock. It is incredibly hard for me to review this book without wanting to scream in fangirl, because in many many ways it feels like a book written by us for us, if you get what I mean. It is very much a fever-dream-turned-romcom, self-insert RPF with a thinly veiled Benedict Cumberbatch, and I LOVED it. It’s a hilarious and quick read, with all the tags I wish were much more ubiquitous in my fiction than they are: hate-to-love, fake relationship, sassy best friends, happily ever after. I’ve already requested Heacock’s first book from the library and plan to purchase Crashing to bring to my next Sherlock convention to spread the good cheer.
So, while I was in an excellent mood reading-wise, I thought I’d make a catchup post. It’s mostly been some really excellent reads in the 4/4.5/5 star range, and then a couple that I haven’t really clicked with as hard. Which is to be expected, I suppose, for some fairly personal reasons. I’m not prepared to say the reads I liked least were poor quality, but certainly shone less for the things I wound up comparing them to. Should I have made separate posts for these books? Possibly. But then I feel like I might never have actually said anything at all.
Next up is to continue with the Shades of Magic series.