Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

51iwerac8nl-_sy346_

So, I enjoyed this book immensely. It was so, so good. Its critique of society was subtle, but apparent, its heroine was super likable. Man, I love when a book is this enjoyable.

I think my favorite part was how Frankie grew and learned while the novel progressed. I also think it was great how she clearly struggled with wanting to be a part of something and wanting to create her own path and do her own thing.

Anyway.

This book is the story of Frankie Landau-Banks who, at the outset of the novel, confesses to conceiving of a series of pranks/vandalism that took place at her elite boarding school and were carried out by The Loyal Order of the Bassett Hounds, a secret society at said institution. From there, they go back to the beginning and lay out exactly what happened to bring her to this confession. The pranks are fun and the way she goes about getting them accomplished is pretty genius. Or, if not genius, is pretty clever.

I enjoyed this so much, and if you like reading about high school shenanigans and social commentary, I think you’ll like this one, too.

Review: Scowler by Daniel Kraus

51ckhll866l-_sy346_

In the novel Scowler by Daniel Kraus, meteorites hit Iowa farm country and all hell breaks loose. Except, that’s not what the book is about. The book is about how Ry Burke comes to terms with the trauma his abusive father inflicted on his family prior to being sent to prison. The entire book takes place in the hours immediately before a meteorite impacts the Burke family farm and also the subsequent day. It’s a pretty intense day, as it involves both a meteorite and facing Ry’s escaped-convict father, Marvin.

This book is so intense. So, so, very intense. Now I know why Beth said, “I really hope you don’t hate me after this.” So intense. So, some content warnings: This book involves some pretty detailed descriptions of violence and abuse. It was so, so brutal. The book spiraled into insanity that was both useful and hellish.

I liked Ry and Jo Beth. I thought their characterizations presented them as full people. The writing would veer into the thoughtful and touching before winding its way back into horror. Sarah, Ry’s younger sister, is also pretty great. Marvin Burke is even presented as a full person. He has moments of humanity that make the violence seem even worse.

This book, man. It was good, but it was also very horrifying.

This was such a bummer to end the Pop Culture Homework Assignment on. But, true the assignment, it was horrific.

Review: Ripper by Isabel Allende

img_5098

 

This novel started off well. Amanda, a high schooler, is sure her mother has been kidnapped by a serial killer who has been stalking the streets of San Francisco for the past few months. Then, the story flashes back to before the first of the murders and you get to meet Amanda (who is a little bratty, but lovable), her grandfather (who is awesome), her mom, Indiana (who is flighty) and Amanda’s online friends who all play an online role-playing game called Ripper. Indiana is a healer at a clinic (she does massage, magnets, and aromatherapy) and some of her patients, her ex-husband and his secretary, her former in-laws, and her boyfriend figure into the tale as well.

 

This novel had a huge cast. Maybe its the Summer of Novels with Huge Casts?

 

I liked this well enough at the beginning. But, the more of it I got through, the more there was about it to dislike. I wasn’t really sure what was going on with the online role-playing game. Also, Indiana was a little grating. Finally, there is a twist at the end that was soapy, stereotypical and garbage-like and then another twist that was telegraphed and obvious. Meh. On the positive side, Edoardro Ballerini who read the audiobook did an excellent job of

 

I wanted to like this book, because I’ve liked other Isabel Allende books in the past, but it wasn’t for me. For everything that was good about it, there was at least one thing that was equally bad or worse about it. I was not a fan.

Review: Head On by John Scalzi

413zbbfydbl-_sx324_bo1204203200_

This book was so good! SO GOOD! In a near future, folks with Haden’s disease are locked into their bodies and interact with the outside world via androids, Chris Shane is an FBI agent and a Haden who has to solve a crime involving a Haden-related sport.

The sport, called Hilketa, is a game in which one player is the goat and the other players have either try to rip their head off and use it as a ball to score points or to defend their teammate and help them keep their head on. At an exhibition game, player Duane Chapman gets his head ripped off and never recovers. This leads Chris and his partner down a rabbit hole of league politics, national politics, and Haden affairs.

This book was so interesting. There is politics, conspiracy, bad business practices, betrayals, characters you love and cheer for, characters you loathe. There is mystery and intrigue. I ripped through this novel. I couldn’t put it down.

Head On is billed as a standalone novel, but it is related to Scalzi’s novel Lock In, which I now feel like I have to look for at the library. And, to think, I wouldn’t have picked it up if the library hadn’t made it seem so enticing with its “no reserves, no renewals, 10-day check outs only) sticker.

This Month in Reality: I stumble through a review of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

img_5085

I finished listening to this read-by-the-author audio book well over a week ago and I’ve been trying to decide what exactly I wanted to say about it. On the one hand, it was a touching memoir about surviving with grit, perseverance and the support of your family (or, at least, the pieces of your family who had gotten themselves together enough to provide support). On the other hand, the wider cultural moment that this book was released into has kind of positioned it in this place where people can trot it out to say, “Look! White people suffer, too!” whenever a person of color points to some systemic issue that is causing a lot of suffering. And, while it does make some good points about the wider culture and how people are struggling and the systems we have in place aren’t adequate to support us, they were points that I had read elsewhere. Drug abuse, incarceration, broken families, and intergenerational trauma are things that have definitely been subjects of discussion for awhile, just maybe not in the mainstream.

But, that’s maybe not a problem of the book itself but its reception?

So, on the one hand, I shouldn’t blame a book for its reception and its use or misuse by its readership. On the other hand, if we’re not going to have these conversations now about how, “yes, there are class issues in America, but no they are not entirely independent of race and ethnicity and engaging with one without engaging with the others doesn’t paint the full picture”, then when are we going to have them?

So, I’m in this weird place where I was really touched by the narrative, and happy to have been given an example of another American life (because J.D. Vance’s childhood is pretty far away from my Suburban middle class upbringing). But, I still see this book in a wider context in which, if we addressed some of the race-related structural issues scholars, activists and politicians have highlighted over the years (for example, here, in Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow), people like Vance would also benefit. I mean, if we decriminalized drug addiction and made more money available for treatment and support, maybe Vance’s story would be a little different.

So, I don’t know. It was a really touching story and it has given me a lot to think about. This is a worthy result for any book, but especially a book of non-fiction. And, its not that I don’t recommend it, it’s probably more that there are other things that I’d recommend about class, family and culture in America before I recommended this.