Looooong post, Loooots of books!

Yes, I’m still alive.  Yes, I still read books.  Yes, I am utter fail at blogging them.  Sigh.  And there’s just too many to do them thorough justice here.  But I shall try in my cold medicine-induced haze.

Mumbo Jumbo – Ishmael Reed
It’s the 1920s and a dance infects America – no, literally infects Americans – like they can’t stop dancing the Jes Grew, and it’s taking over and has something to do with Black/African American aesthetic production and the various Black Power/anti-racist movements happening at the time Reed writes in the 1960’s/70’s.  I was expecting this to be dense and confusing, but as a narrative it flies by – you just never know whether to laugh or ponder, or both, and what “matters” since it all seems so pointed.  Reed plays a fun game with history – Warren G. Harding’s black ancestry is my favorite – and leaves it all very unclear.  Also, where are the women?  Ah yes, they’re all whores and vessels for loa.  Well played, Reed, well played.

A Gentleman of Fortune Or, The Suspicions of Miss Dido Kent – Anna Dean
Charming mystery set during the time of Jane Austen with lots of letters and Miss Dido Kent looking into the strange death of a rich woman.  Very fun, albeit a bit convoluted in a Agatha Christie way, but I loved the style and I loved Dido’s complicated relationship with her gentleman caller – he can’t ask for her hand yet because he lacks the funds, he wants to protect her, she refuses to be protected and wonders if he can handle a woman that will disagree with his advice.  ❤

The Baker Street Letters – Michael Robertson
The gimmick?  Lawyer brothers (barristers?) take over the digs at 221B Baker Street where the fictional Sherlock Holmes lived.  The idealistic troubled brother reads one of the many letters to Holmes and it catapults both into a mystery that involves deaths in London and across the pond in California and lots of completely preposterous shenanigans.  Very outrageous and preposterous – but I loved the sibling rivalry/love, the woman that loves both, and the weird Tarantino-esque dialogue that seems unrealistic but evokes Conan Doyle’s own writing.

Caressed by Ice – Nalini Singh
I really think I like these better if I inhale them whilst traveling (this was a trip home) because otherwise I realize that Singh really likes exposition.  Still, hot sex, hot match, interesting mystery, and general fun.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
I know, I’m late to this party, and yes, I read all 600+ pages in a day.  After all the hubbub I was interested to realize that Larrson’s novel is really just a country house murder dressed up with serial killer trappings and lots of pedantic discussions of the mistreatment of women.  Larsson has a fetish for excessive description – often two to three pages for each new setting (I could do with out square footage) – and he loves to give lots of backstory for characters.  He also has a hard-on for Apple products – at times he seems to have been paid to include all their ins and outs in his prose.  Really though, the mystery is what crackles here, and Lisbeth Salander, the insanely intelligent computer hacker and crazy woman that blasts through the book and takes no prisoners.  Mikael Blomqvist is the liberal magazine editor and writer shamed by a libel case and hired to uncover a truth far more disturbing than the simple disappearance of a girl 40 years ago.  Now I want to read the second one.

Dawn – Octavia Butler
The first in Butler’s trilogy Lilith’s Brood tells the tale of Lilith, a woman who awakens 200+ years in the future, saved from nuclear destruction on Earth by aliens that want to use her as a way to repopulate our decimated planet.  Lilith must train other humans to survive on Earth without creature comforts and to accept their strange relationships to the aliens that merge with their genetic material and give pleasure in a strange act that transcends bodies and genders.  Bizarre and fascinating.

“Desire and the Black Masseur,” and other stories by Tennessee Williams from One Arm
Chilling stories that led me to watch Suddenly, Last Summer since there are clear parallels with both “Desire and the Black Masseur” and “The Poet” and poor Sebastian’s fate.

Original Sin – Beth McMullen
“Wife. Mother. Spy” says the really pink cover of this book and that’s pretty much all you need to know – Lucy used to be Sally Sin, an agent for a fake government agency.  Now she takes yoga, attends to her adorable toddler and keeps house for her husband who manages a successful green business.  Of course, her past catches up to her – she has to face off with lots of old nemeses and most of this is actual flashback to explain how she got where she is.  Fun but also exasperating in the obviousness of its plotting and Sally’s own denseness – I knew within ten pages some of the “revelations” that would come later.  Mindless.

The Salt-Eaters – Toni Cade Bambara
Dense and layered novel that requires close reading because of its fragmented form that seems to reflect the ways in which trauma pierces narrative.  At the center of the book is Velma Henry, an activist and computer whiz caught between life and death after attempting suicide.  Surrounded by friends and family in a hospital room, Velma attempts to return to the land of the living through the spiritual guidance of Minnie Ransom, a local conjure woman.  From this central story spins off a dozen strands about the lives of Black men and women in the South attempting to navigate the hazards of racism, ecological threats, poverty, love and loss, and more.  Evocative, poetic, and difficult.  I loved it.

Secret Historian: The Life and times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade – Justin Spring
Spring’s biography of Samuel Steward is stunning, gossipy and a hot read. Samuel Steward’s many lives included English professor, friend to Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, tattoo artist, and pornographic author.  Over the course of his life Steward maintained a Stud File that catalogued his 4000 plus sexual liaisons as he explored the varieties of male-male sexual experience and along the way managed to bed Rock Hudson, Rudolph Valentino, and Thornton Wilder – to name just a few.  Spring positions Steward in the context of the changing tides of sentiment around homosexuality from his childhood in the 1910’s to his work with Kinsey in the 1950s and beyond.  I recommend this to anyone that wants a fascinating read.

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Mysteries!

Fish, Blood and Bone  – Leslie Forbes
So, I ended up buying this for a dollar a Half Price on an expedition to find school books – since they had none the obvious second best was to buy this, a spy novel, a John Legend cd and a Kelis cd.  I keep wanting to say this book is by Leslie Feinberg but that’s just my own guilt over never having read Stone Butch Blues (I know, I know, bad former Women’s Studies major).  Anyways, this book is all about mood, place and details – it’s one of those books that presents a mystery but isn’t a mystery proper and so the solution is less important than getting there.  Our heroine is Claire Fleetwood, an American forensic photographer who inherits an estate in Britain filled with a colorful cast of tenants.  The violent death of a teenager living on the estate catapults Claire into several interlocking mysteries that involve her family history, the horrors of Jack the Ripper, a strange world of phantasmagorical botany, and the disturbing colonial history of the British opium/poppy trade in India.  Claire sets out on an expedition in mountains of India and Tibet along with scientists and businessmen searching for a mythical green poppy.  Parallel to her journey is that of her ancestor Magda, who undertook a similar journey a century earlier and entered into a forbidden love affair with a complicated fallout that still reverberates.  As I said initially, this isn’t really a book concerned as much with answers as asking questions – there’s a lot going on here – history lessons, complicated (sometimes too complicated) family trees, lots of strange science, and some annoying shifts in narrative voice (is it really necessary to shift from first to third person halfway through the novel?  I didn’t really see the point).  Forbes crafts an unsettling mood and weaves history and mystery together in compelling ways, alongside what becomes an adventure story amidst the elements and the uncertain political climate of India and Tibet in the late 1980s.  There’s an interesting subplot about the death of Claire’s brother as an early victim of AIDS.  This book was compulsively readable but towards the end a lot of action seemed to happen all at once, along with a lot of revelations, after a beginning that was a bit more talky and concerned with setup and mood.

The Vows of Silence – Susan Hill
I read this book in a sprint because I LOVE Susan Hill’s mysteries starring Simon Serrailer and the citizens of Lafferton, her rural British community.  Simon’s family and friends matter as much as the unfolding mystery – in this installment, Simon and his team must find a gunman targeting young women and creating a reign of terror in Lafferton.  As usual, Hill writes really well about the complexities of family, the pain of loss, and the struggle to overcome one’s own limitations.  I was a little disappointed with the central mystery – I am never a big fan of seemingly random culprits in mystery novels that could not be sussed out by dint of clues (yes, I know, in the real world crime is so often random, but that’s why I read fiction) and the gunman is of this school of baddie (we get extended descriptions of his interior life and know the why of his murders but they remain randomly chosen) – still the conclusion made sense and was a shocker.  I also dislike characters who seem to function purely as an annoyance and antagonist but with no interiority – one of the cops in this book serves this purpose until the end when Hill redeems them a bit.  In spite of these qualms, I loved this and devoured and yay for a romantic potential in the cinematic final pages!

Published in: on August 15, 2011 at 11:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Shadow and Light – Jonathan Rabb

Sometimes I choose books based purely on pretty covers and this brilliant noir set in Weimar Germany did not disappoint.  Nikolai Hoffner is the police detective called to investigate a suicide at Ufa, the home of a foundering German cinema.  While everyone would like to look the other way, Hoffner believes that the suicide of the executive is actually murder and his investigation takes him into the dark underbelly of 1920s Berlin – into a world of backroom smut films, gay night clubs, underworld dealings, and the rise of a nascent Socialist movement that will birth the Nazi regime.  Rabb weaves a dense tapestry of history with Fritz Lang, director of Metropolis, his troubled wife, Joseph Goebbels, and other real life figures mixed in with Hoffner and his fictional investigation.  This is a dark, complex mystery with a strong sense of place and mood that conjures up 1930s noir without flinching at the horrors of gay bashing or snuff films.  Hoffner’s tortured relationships with his own sons become central to the investigation, along with his new lover, a talent agent from Hollywood who has secrets.  Shadow and Light was a fascinating read – especially its evocation of Weimar Berlin and of the ways in which bringing sound to the silver screen changes the way we watch movies.  I was a bit disappointed that one key plot surprise was rather obvious to readers of the noir genre and a scene of Hoffner watching a gay bashing was particularly unnerving to read because of his place as observer who never intercedes, and because of the way that Rabb describes the scene in a beautiful poetic tone that makes it all the more perverse.

Published in: on August 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Abandoned books and one-night stands

Okay, so they aren’t really abandoned books.  They’re still here.  In the apartment.  Sometimes with an old bill marking the place where I, for whatever reason, left off and promised, “I just need to go pee” and never came back.  “I’ve got an early morning.”  “It’s not you it’s me.” I might come back to them.  It wasn’t that they were bad, it was just the wrong day, the wrong night, the wrong genre, the wrong book for a 45 minute bus write, the wrong alcohol (beer books, wine books, let’s be honest, people).  Right now, in this apartment, the following books are waiting for me to come back:

(within reach of my desk) The Imperfectionists – Tom Rachman (spring break book club that never materialized) , All About Love: New Visions – bell hooks (I mean, I’ve taken notes in the book), The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman – Ernest J. Gaines

(in the living room) Memoirs of Hadrian – Marguerite Yourcenar, The Promise of Happiness – Sara Ahmed (only like twenty pages left in the conclusion, seriously!), Philosophy in the Boudoir – Marquis de Sade (cool cover, not as cool class politics although I dig the sexual politics), Beginner’s Greek – James Collins (M’s glowing review made me get it from the library but then I got distracted by something shiney, but the first chapter was lovely)

(in the bedroom) The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by Pop Culture (on Anne’s recommendation, and I was into it and then I met Kimberle Crenshaw [no seriously, we rode in the same shuttle to her lecture] and then for some reason, I stopped), Caressed by Ice – Nalini Singh (I wasn’t gripped and was honestly annoyed and realized I need to pace my Singh or I will be too aware of her penchant for exposition), The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things – JT LeRoy (99 cents because he/she/ze is just too fascinating, but the prose was meh).

I’ll call you later this week.
Or maybe text.
Or an e-mail.
I promise, guys, it’s just I just started this really good mystery and well . . . oh, whoops, dinner time, gotta go.

 

ps the pic is what came up when i googled “books one night stands”

Published in: on August 5, 2011 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Baldwin, Powell, Morrison! Oh my!

Go Tell It on the Mountain – James Baldwin
Baldwin’s debut novel is a beautiful subtle autobiographical tale of a black teen growing up in New York City and coming to grips with the tensions between sexuality, family history and religion.  The bulk of the novel is framed around an evening prayer session at the storefront church where John, the protagonist, and his family have come to worship and reflect on their complicated pasts.  The stories of John’s mean father Gabriel, his independent yet broken aunt Florence and his timid mother Elizabeth all unfold over the course of a transformative evening for John.  I couldn’t help reading John as a queer character – partly, I’m sure, because of my knowledge of Baldwin’s own biography and because I came to his works through the equally beautiful but markedly different Giovanni’s Room – and the novel does not cure him of his non-normative masculinity, one directly at odds with the cruel pride of his father, a man of faith with a complex past.  Go Tell It on the Mountain is a novel of people with pasts layers deep, usually divided between their lives in the South, and their new lives in the North, and laced with the vicissitudes of a creeping whiteness that usually lurks offstage.  At times the maze of names and liaisons in the past is confusing – and seriously, these people have had busy lives with all their former lovers.  Baldwin’s subtlety can become convoluted and the narrative felt unnecessarily closed off at times leaving me wondering what I should be seeing that was missing.  I was a bit disappointed with the ending because it seemed to run against the grain of the ongoing loving critique of faith built into the rest of the narrative.  And also, I wanted more resolution (I know, I know, life has no resolutions.  but seriously).

A Question of Upbringing – Anthony Powell
This brief novel is really part of the broader tapestry of Powell’s mammoth twelve volume series A Dance to the Music of Time.  Our narrator is Jenkins, a young man mixing with British high society and academics as he moves through college in post World War I England.  Not a lot happens – it’s a series of friendships lost and found, tea parties attended, social mishaps and a summer in France.  Jenkins observes the shifting tides of a group of friends and discovers what love or lust feels like.  It was a bit breezy and felt as if it was going nowhere but was enjoyable on the way.  On to the next one!

Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison
I was reading this on the bus at work as we headed to a field trip and one of the kids asked if she could read my book.  I told her in ten years she should read it.  When I relayed this to a co-worker, he had no idea who Toni Morrison was and assumed I was reading a steamy romance novel.  Not quite.  I’ve read Song of Solomon before and re-reading it just reminded me how much I love the way that Morrison writes prose.  I often read novels quickly, gutting details for plot, but Morrison’s vivid scenes and images are too rich to avoid, too rich to leave behind.  The scene where Hagar is caught in the rain with all her beauty products is one of the saddest and most vivid here, but there are many.  No one can write like this.  Milkman Dead’s life is marked by flight and his attempts to escape the shadows of his parents who oppress him in different ways.  His search for lost family treasure becomes his own American Odyssey, but Song of Solomon is also the story of his sisters, his parents, and his friend Guitar Bains who becomes immersed in the radical black politics of the 1960s.  Morrison writes conversations that feel true and are beautiful at the same time – and I never realized how much this book was about the ways in which love and death are flip sides of a coin, or maybe roads that lead to each other.  Lovely.

Rimbaud, (ex) Nuns and Fadeaway Girls

Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel – Edmund White
This brief biography of French poet Arthur Rimbaud by gay writer extraordinaire White starts with White’s own tale of being a young gay boy sneaking off to read Rimbaud’s erotically charged, sexually explicit poems in the bathroom.  From here White moves to a more straightforward bio of the troubled poet who changed the face of poetry in the earl 19th century and then stopped writing at 20.  Rimbaud was a complicated character born from a dramatic family, entranced by language, and not easily pigeon-holed as “gay” since his sole public same-sex affair was his toxic and productive union with older poet Paul Verlaine who helped shepherd his younger lover . . . when he wasn’t quarreling with him or sharing the absinthe.  White’s bio is quick and at times lacks some breadth, but the examination of Rimbaud’s poetry left me hungry to read the originals, and I appreciated White’s efforts to write against a neat boxing of Rimbaud as a “gay” writer.

Force of Habit – Alice Loweecey
This first mystery introduces ex-nun Giulia Falcone – 29, newly divested of her habit (get the title’s pun!?!) and working as as assistant  for dreamy private investigator Frank Driscoll.  Conveniently their current case involves a businessman and his fiance who are searching for the crazy ex-girlfriend responsible for sending them unnerving gifts that quote the Bible.  Giulia is incredibly likable and much about this mystery is breezily delightful – lots of witty flirty banter between the leads and some romantic comedy moments.  At the same time, this is balanced by Giulia’s ongoing battle with her own demons – she questions leaving the convent, her faith, and things get worse after she is the victim of sexual assault.  For me the chief misstep in Force of Habit is the way in which Frank responds to the sexual assault . . . not to legislate reactions but it seems rather . . . forgotten by him in the light of damning evidence against Giulia.  It all felt a bit too quick or out of character.  Loweecey has some pacing issues as well, and the certifiable insanity of the doer here seems a bit too melodramatic, but still a fun read.

Fadeaway Girl – Martha Grimes
I haven’t read a Martha Grimes for a long time – her Richard Jury series has never really done it for me.  This book is apparently the fourth mystery set at the post World War II Maryland resort where 12 year old Emma Graham helps her mother cook and serve wealthy visitors and kooky regulars.  Emma reminds me of Harriet M. Welsch of wonderful Harriet the Spy in her approach to a world of bizarre adults – Grimes restrains herself from some of the twee-cuteness that at times put me off Alan Bradley’s similar series starring Flavia de Luce.  This book directly follows Belle Ruin and I felt like I was way behind the curve because of it – the mystery here concerns a twenty year old kidnapping that is intricately linked with the twisted family at the center of Belle Ruin and Grimes isn’t entirely concerned with keeping readers in the loop.  While I enjoyed this book – especially the evocative images of Cole Phillips’ fadeaway girls and the To Kill A Mockingbird-esque picture of Emma’s town – I was constantly confused by the dense mystery at its center.  I loved Emma, but I couldn’t always follow the incredibly talky mystery and where it was going.

Dear Loyal Reader,

Dear Loyal Reader,
I promise I’ve been reading these last two weeks.  I just haven’t blogged ’em.  So here you go.  Eat up!

My Fair Succubi – Jill Myles
Apparently this is the last in the series?  I guess.  I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t like Jackie’s choice at the end – our favorite neurotic succubus finally makes a choice between her bad boy vampire lover and her knight in shining armor angel paramour.  I prefer the polyamorous route – or at least her ongoing shenanigans with both.  Anyways, there’s a plot here – or rather several plots that seem mostly designed for her to have to save both men – honestly it all felt a bit forced, with some plot points merely dropped as a way to isolate Jackie with each man and force her hand in the final act.  As usual the sex was hot and there were some inspired moments of screwball comedy.  The rough sex scene between Jackie and Noah is uncomfortable because Myles exploits Jackie’s succubic (is that even a word) duty to follow all of his orders in a way that walks a line between power play/BDSM and a lack of consent.  This is tempered by the series’ overall conceit that succubi only pursue sex for their own physical needs but still . . . and I’m still pissed about the ending.

The Snowman – Jo Nesbø
I haven’t read Nesbø before but now I want to find more in his Harry Hole series.  Nesbø’s Sweden is a cold dark place where women are going missing on the day of the first snow, snowmen are built on their front lawn and children sense an evil that others cannot see.  Harry Hole is the type of damaged police detective that pines for his lost love, flirts with the possibility of relapsing into alcoholism and works by intuition.  The Snowman is all about atmosphere, dread and the heebie jeebies in a wonderfully real and organic way.  Nesbø crafts a delightful cat and mouse game between Hole and a serial killer that constantly eludes his grasp.  The Snowman doesn’t answer all its questions and doesn’t play nice and I loved it.  There’s something addictive about this book and part of its allure is that it times Nesbø slows the pace down and metes out action in an agonizing manner.  I loved it.  Also, the cover is amazing.  I made the mistake of reading it at work.  “Mr Brendan, is that blood?”

Visions of Heat – Nalini Singh
So I loved the first in the Psy/Changeling series Slave to SensationI was less impressed with this second one – don’t me wrong, the couple is hot – Faith NightStar, a Psy who can see the future and thus is a valuable asset that must be contained (and as with Sascha, has been denied emotion) and Vaughn D’Angelo, the hot jaguar changeling dude that’s a loner just waiting for that special someone. Again, there’s a serial killer about.  Again, there’s a lot of emotionless woman/super erotic longing for animalistic dude, but can we please have some sex a little sooner?  Okay a lot sooner.  This series seems incredibly talky/expository thusfar – I am all for the conceit but can we get some action?  I guess part of it is that Singh has a lot of action that occurs mentally and that’s difficult to make move.  Hmmm.  I have the third on my nightstand.

Middle Passage – Charles Johnson
I read this for a reading group I’m doing this summer in a bid to kick start my apparent career turn as an African American literature scholar.  Johnson’s 1990 National Book Award winner tells the tale of Rutherford Calhoun, a freed former slave and womanizer who hops a ship to Africa as a way to escape a forced marriage and the clutches of the New Orleans underworld.  Middle Passage apes/satirizes/emulates the style of sea-faring narratives of the 19th century as Calhoun encounters the Napoleon-like captain, a crew of comic characters, and the mythical slaves brought onboard in Africa.  Johnson’s tone is incredibly hard to read – is this satire?  Am I laughing?  Is this critique?  Is this pointed?  He layers allusions to contemporary theory and ideas, but also seems unable to figure out how to make this jive with the horrors of slavery.  The philosophical musings ring as both truth and buffoonery and overall I wasn’t sure where we were going.  Also, the ending is a cop-out of monumental proportions.  Still, Middle Passage is compelling, intriguing and Johnson’s command of language is fantastic.

The Prophet Murders/Drita, My Homegirl/The Man in the Grey Flannel Skirt

The Prophet Murders  – Mehmet Murat Somer
There’s a quote on both of the books I’ve read in this series by Val McDermid about how the books are like cappucino – frothy but dark underneath. And I think that’s an incredibly fair assessment.  These “Hop-Ciki-Yaya” thrillers follow our unnamed narrator as he/she (pronouns are tricky) manages a transvestite night club while also working as a successful computer hacker and security analyst . . . and of course investigating murders.  In this, the first in the series, our narrator discovers a serial killer targeting transvestites with the names of Islamic prophets and staging their murders to mimic the deaths of these holy figures.  Somer weaves together religious discussion, the rich culture of Istanbul (where the series is set), a look at a distinctly queer nightlife, and the hilarious pronouncements of the narrator.  Our narrator is a complicated figure – dressing at times as a woman, at times as a man, but always attractive and always able to find a hot man for a good time.  Equally intriguing in this book is the computer hacker that matches wits the narrator – a man who trolls trans chat rooms spewing homophobic diatribes laced with Islamic scripture.  The narrator reveals him as a young man confined to a wheelchair and sexually excited by the violence his vitriolic rants.

Drita, My Homegirl – Jenny Lombard
I panicked at work yesterday and needed something for the little kids to do during their half hour of reading with me so we had a silent reading time and this was on the book cart.  It’s a chapter book about Drita, a refugee from Kosova, who finds a new friend in Maxie, a black girl at her new school in the Big Apple.  Alternating chapters written in first person show the unfolding story as Drita deals with her mother’s PTSD/depression and Maxie comes to terms with her mother’s death and her father’s new girlfriend.  Of course, there’s some bonding, some lessons on Kosova, and such.  Drita’s slightly stilted English and Maxie’s “go girl” voice ring a bit forced, but overall, cute and educational and heartwarming.  Yay!

The Man in the Grey Flannel Skirt – Jon-Jon Goulian
I was reading this on the bus home from work yesterday and a guy informed me that he “really liked that movie with Steve Martin.”  This is actually NOT the inspiration for “Dead Men Wear Plaid,” but instead Goulian’s memoir of being a neurotic, self-obsessed boy/man who wears women’s clothes, seeks sex with women who take the dominant position, and has a law degree he never used.  He was also a speechwriter for Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an assistant to the legendary editor of The New York Review of Books, and grandson to philosopher Sidney Hook.  His memoir pinballs around his life with each chapter beginning in a vivid scene and then exploring the layers of experience that were brought to fruition and best illustrated by that moment. Goulian’s is a life lived all over the place – one that never alights anywhere and is fraught with his stack of neuroses that leave eating, sex, and all other daily tasks as complicated endeavors filled with peril.  Goulian makes clear that his sartorial choices are not about being gay or even trans, but rather just are the way he feels most comfortable (his mother did allow him to get a nose job at 16, I do wonder if that might not be a bit much).  And while he explains many of his neuroses in a cause-and-effect style that shows a clear line, the clothing one along with his sexual feelings towards women that look like men are left without a clear explanation . . . which is both frustrating and refreshing because really the “Why” is less compelling, at least for me, then the “how” of living in a world that cannot allow for such things.  Goulian has a highly readable and intelligent voice and this was fun, even if he didn’t “grow” or “change” as one expects in a memoir.  But than again progress narratives are rather passe.  And forced.

Santa Fe Weekend Reading!

Apparently these days all I can manage is blogging in chunks – to be fair, these books were all read on planes, in airports, and in hotel rooms whilst traveling to/hanging in/traveling back from beautiful Santa Fe last weekend.

Day for Night – Frederick Reiken
What’s this book about?  Oh you know – the Holocaust, Jewish mysticism, out of body experiences, sixties radicals, cancer, music, memory, Borges, sex with teachers, 1984.  There seems to be a trend in recent “literature” of interlocking narratives that come together as something more than short stories, and yet can stand alone, yet together form a kind of tapestry – A Visit from the Goon Squad aka one of my favorite books ever by one of my favorite authors ever, does this quite well.  Day for Night was a good read and quite compelling although it took me a while to realize it was set in the 1980s – I guess I just always assume recently published are contemporary unless made explicitly clear – but Reiken’s narrative springs in part from the experiences of those living in the Holocaust, and those haunted by these memories, and thus cannot take place now.  Also the section on reading 1984 in 1984 obviously wouldn’t make sense now 🙂  Overall I quite enjoyed this, although I wish some stories were extended, some characters followed through and others left behind.

Slave to Sensation  – Nalini Singh
So, M recommended this to me slash wrote about it in her brilliant Master’s thesis and I loved it.  A paranormal romance about the Psy, a race of people that feel no emotion and changeling, a race of people that are both human and animal, Slave to Sensation is also a mystery and a Romeo and Juliet story.  Sascha is the Psy that feels when she shouldn’t and Lucas Hunter (get it?) is the changeling that is drawn to her even while he is using her to find the Psy serial killer preying on changelings.  Yes, it’s complicatedly fantasy/sci fi, but that’s in many ways just an excuse to talk about emotions and passion and have really good sex dream sequences.  Seriously.  Yum.  I want Lucas Hunter.  The mystery element hooked me cuz I do love mysteries, in case you missed it, and the racial diversity is refreshingly matter of fact.  I could have done without the rather fuzzy feel-good way that things are resolved in the end, but I want to read the next in the series.

PS – Lucas has long hair.  Get it together cover art!

Based Upon Availability – Alix Strauss
I picked this book up on a whim at the library because I am a sucker for a pretty cover.  The title is kind of annoying in a Katherine Heigl vehicle sort of way, and the book itself is just odd.  It’s about eight different women whose lives intersect at the Four Seasons in New York.  It was engaging but Strauss clearly thinks she’s a jazzier writer than she is and must all eight women have deep bodily neuroses?  There’s a woman with OCD, a hysterical pregnancy, a bulimic, a woman haunted by her dead sister, a drug addict, a woman who beats up her sister, and so on.  Eesh.  I know people deal with issues but there’s a particularly bleak view here that seems at odds with the seemingly cheery setting and style.  I was most intrigued by Morgan, the hotel manager whose narrative bookends the entire novel.  Haunted by her dead sister, she finds herself unable to breath until she starts working an S&M harness stolen from a guest at the hotel.  The matter of fact way that S&M works here was really interesting especially with its twinning in the story of the woman who takes vengeance on her sister by tying her up in a scene that evokes that of a bondage scenario.  Based on Availability seems to be saying something about women and the ways that society forces their bodies and minds into neurotic compulsions.  Maybe.  It’s all a bit muddled and the various voices (1st, 2nd and 3rd all appear here) feels forced and not necessary.

A Caribbean Mystery – Agatha Christie
Miss Marple goes to the Caribbean for a vacation.  Murders happen at the resort she stays at.  Luckily, Miss Marple is adept at solving them.  I won’t say if you’ve read one Miss Marple, you’ve read them all because Christie does employ different styles, but there is some comforting about this series in its coziness and also in its rather sterile views on death.  This is death as puzzle.  Downsides to this one – rampant racism about the island “natives” – of course the serving girl has shiny white teeth, can easily hide in the dark, and talks to her lover in poor English instead of a native patois/creole.  Upsides – it’s fun.

Four More!

Ah!  Another binge of blogging after reading sooo many books!  And this weekend I’ll be in Santa Fe so expect more mammoth blogging on the horizon!

Specials – Scott Westerfeld
This is the final in Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy – and what a mess.  Seriously.  As I blogged before, my favorite part of this series is the conceit – a future where everyone is surgically made into mindless Pretties at the age of 16 in an effort to end unrest spurred by physical difference – and I also enjoy the darkness that Westerfeld exposes in the adolescent experience – obviously things get a lot more real when you’re a teenager on the lam, or in the case of this book, when you inadvertently start a war between rival cities.  Tally, the heroine of the series, is now a Special, programmed to fight and sense with superhuman skill, made into the ultimate weapon by unleashing pent up rage and ceding to animal instincts.  Her frenemy Shay is now her commander, and there are boys and intrigue and, surprise surprise, a nagging sense that all is not as is it should be in spite of her super cool physical enhancements.  Honestly, Shay annoys me as does the Tally-Shay girlmance/queer girl ‘ship.  Like, I get that teenage girls (and boys) are often locked in false/fraught relationships that are toxic yet compelling, but seriously, Shay annoys me (maybe that’s the point).  Like LEAVE HER ALONE, Tally.  And for God sakes stop following her advice, haven’t you read the first two books in this series?  They were about your life.  Also, the overriding conceit of this series and Westerfeld’s rather heavy-handed moralizing about the THEMES of his series becomes a bit much here and ends with a rather muddled conclusion.  Yeah, I enjoyed the action and the boy drama, but this was a bit of a letdown after two books.  Points for a manifesto though-  how very late 2nd wave/early 3rd wave of Tally!

A Lesson in Secrets – Jacqueline Winspear
I LOVE Winspear’s series about Maisie Dobbs, a former scullery maid turned private investigator working in the years after World War I in London.  Dobbs investigates cases in the long shadow of the Great War using the proto-psychological techniques taught to her by her aged mentor while also confronting her own demons and searching for a love that can replace the man she lost on the battlefields.  Okay, so it sounds a bit romance-y, but I promise it’s a lot more about Maisie and her development as a woman coming into her own independence and, in this installment, sudden wealth.  A Lesson in Secrets takes the series in a new direction with Maisie hired by the British Secret Service to go undercover at a small college in a Cambridge as a philosophy professor. I’ll admit, this book gets extra points because I want to be a professor and I love the idea of going off on an adventure at a small British college.  Maisie is soon embroiled in a murder investigation and untangling threads that link to pacifist movements during World War I and the growing presence of the Nazi Party in Germany and in Britain.  Winspear is always good at grounding Maisie in the world of London and surrounding her with a colorful cast of regulars that rely on her insights as a means of finding solid footing in an uncertain modern world.  Another lovely book in the series!

The Fall of Rome – Martha Southgate
Last month I read Southgate’s Third Girl from the Left and really liked it.  This is her first adult novel and it’s a brief (at times to brief) study of the intersecting lives of three characters – Jerome Washington – the only black teacher at a private boarding school in Connecticut and a staunch supporter of a classics approach to education that does not give special treatment to those disadvantaged by race or class, Jana Hansen – a middle-aged white woman who comes to the school from the inner-city of Cleveland, and Rashid Bryson – a bright black student trying to prove himself in the shadow of his scholarly brother’s death.  These three intersect in passionate and complicated ways that speak to the state of racial politics in the US and call into question worth, the weight of the past, and the value of embracing the future.  Southgate paints a fascinating picture that feels real and true.  I wish it were not quite so brief – both here and in Third Girl from the Left she has a tendency towards pacing that jumps between extended scenes and quick recital – at times it’s an effective tool and it times it feels like depth is sacrificed when it would have helped.  I appreciated the intellectual debate at the center of this book – should our background’s be the basis for special treatment?  Is this treatment actually special?  Does race ever go away?  I was disappointed though in the conclusion – while it was better than I had assumed (the dust jacket led me to expect a violent ending that would have been a major failure by Southgate) it was still far too brief and seemed rather pat and dismissive of viewpoints that had been so lovingly developed. Still, I highly recommend this as a gripping read and a start for difficult conversations.

What You See in the Dark  – Manuel Muñoz
I came to this quasi-mystery novel by way of Maureen Corrigan’s blog at NPR (I ❤ her!) and I was intrigued by the premise – a murder sent against the backdrop of the filming of Hitchcock’s classic Psycho.  Well, the actual book is a bit more complicated than all that – it’s about cinematic dreams, the dream of escape and the differences between love and companionship.  Muñoz unrolls multiple stories of women – a middle-aged waitress that cannot escape her ex-husband’s name or the town she grew up in, a young woman finding her voice as a singer, a jealous co-worker and Janet Leigh coming to the town to find the motel where she will be killed on screen.  What You See in the Dark is not about the mystery of the young woman’s death – or rather, it’s about the world where this murder takes place, about women in a town in the dessert that’s unable to adapt to the future and instead turns toward the big screen for a glamor found just miles away in LA.  The opening fifty pages is stunning – a second person account of going to the drive-in and experiencing the joys and agonies of love and not-love in our twenties.  And the mystery of the dead woman that haunts this book.  As a Hitchcock fan I loved the stuff about the making of Psycho but it’s ties to the rest of the stories here seemed tenuous at times and ultimately the ending left me scratching my head – like literally, I am not sure WHAT happens in that last chapter and if you wanna explain it to me that’d be great 🙂  I enjoyed this and it’s languid pace and beautiful prose but in the end it seemed a bit underdeveloped. I’m sure part of it was me coming to this expecting a generic mystery and getting a mysterious novel instead, but it also seemed as if Muñoz didn’t quite pull all the strands together in the end.