Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn | Mini book review

I first put the Sharp Objects audiobook on hold on Sept. 3. But because adaptations are the bane of my existence, I didn’t get it until this year. /endrant

If you’ve lived under a rock and somehow missed the synopsis, this book follows a reporter Camille who goes back to her hometown to investigate the case of a murdered girl and a newly missing girl. Family drama and small town antics ensue.

So, to start with the positive, this book was compulsively readable. I’ve read the rest of Gillian Flynn’s bibliography, so I knew I got along well with her style, but this was her first book, so you never know. It’s no surprise at all that someone read this book and thought “This has to be a TV show.”

But, saying that, there were times in here where the made-for-TV dramatic scenes came with a side of “well that’s crazy and intense, but why is it happening? How did we get here?” Looking back at the all the twisty dark scenes after finishing the book, I realize several of them seem to serve no purpose other than to elicit a “WTF?” response. They didn’t serve the plot or even character development. We already knew our characters were deeply flawed.

Overall, I think I’ve seen a season (*cough* or 13) too many of crime procedurals to be shocked by anything in here. On top of that the annoying AF bad journalist tropes had me eye rolling so much they almost got stuck. I’d still recommend reading it for a “fun” thriller, if only to compare it to the TV show.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Best Cook in the World by Rick Bragg | Mini review + GIVEAWAY

  • Title: The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table
  • Author: Rick Bragg
  • Publication Year: 2018
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Rating: 4.5 stars
  • Synopsis: Margaret Bragg does not own a single cookbook. She measures in “dabs” and “smidgens” and “tads” and “you know, hon, just some.” She cannot be pinned down on how long to bake corn bread (“about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the mysteries of your oven”). Her notion of farm-to-table is a flatbed truck. But she can tell you the secrets to perfect mashed potatoes, corn pudding, redeye gravy, pinto beans and hambone, stewed cabbage, short ribs, chicken and dressing, biscuits and butter rolls. Many of her recipes, recorded here for the first time, pre-date the Civil War, handed down skillet by skillet, from one generation of Braggs to the next. In The Best Cook in the World,Rick Bragg finally preserves his heritage by telling the stories that framed his mother’s cooking and education, from childhood into old age. Because good food always has a good story, and a recipe, writes Bragg, is a story like anything else.

I like to say “I was born in the South, but I’m not a product of the South.” So I know good food but I am also at a distance where I can easily detach and see its flaws. So when I read books like this that viscerally remind me of my roots and of my family, there’s a tendency to feel conflicted. But thankfully, this book was full of the good food and family and left the white supremacy in the freezer to unpack another day.

I’ve enjoyed Rick Bragg’s books since they were assigned in my journalism program. So when I saw he was writing a memoir/cookbook about his family, I knew I’d eventually read it. (If only because after a year in DC I’ve yet to find any mac n’ cheese or biscuits that are worth a damn.)

What I got when listening was major deja vu. I had so many moments of “are you sure you’re not talkin’ about my own grandma?” in the first 3 chapters that I stopped keeping track. He captures the personality of the matriarchs in his family with such skill that it’s like I knew them in the end. You can hear his momma piping up when he asks “dumb” questions about the recipes she never wrote down for herself. Even the recipes themselves are infused with their voices.

With the recipes comes a memoir of a poor white family living and cooking their way through the 1900s. Bragg details a little of the wider world, with snippets of “the black diner on the other side of the tracks was also serving up the same food,” but his focus is what he knows: the stories of his family, in a sort of time capsule.

This is a memoir of his family, and without meaning, to it’s a memoir of the South. But only the good parts. The hospitality and the unpretentious charm. There’s this feeling of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” which sounds quaint – but only if you don’t look too hard.

All of that to say is I’ll be putting it in the hands of my mother and aunts as soon as I can. And I need to bake some biscuits – stat!

Libro.FM Giveaway

Do you love audiobooks or want to give them a try in the new year? I’m helping a local bookstore give away a 3-month subscription to Libro.FM over on my Instagram.

Libro.FM is an audiobook platform that, for the same cost as Audible, lets you support your local bookstore when you buy audiobooks. In this Year of Indies, why wouldn’t you want to support your own indie? So whether you’re an audio novice looking to try something new in 2019 or an audiobook obsessive like me, this would give you 3 months to potentially find a new favorite book!

HOW TO ENTER! 📚
• Follow me on Instagram ⭐️
• Like this post ⭐️
• Comment with a favorite audiobook or an anticipated read for the year ⭐️

EXTRA ENTRIES (up to 2)
• Tag a bookish friend in your comment ⭐️
• Share my post to your Instagram stories and tag me. ⭐️

RULES! 📚
• Must be a public account
• Must live in the U.S. or Canada (Libro.fm rules not mine)
• No giveaway accounts
• Giveaway will close at 12 midnight on Friday, Jan. 18.

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden | Mini review

WTF did I just read? 3.5 Stars ⭐️, rounding up.

The first description that comes to mind with this book is fever dream, but given the hallucinogenic drugs in here I’ll change that to acid trip. This is one hell of an acid trip of a book.

The Prey of Gods is a sci-fi/fantasy story set in a future South Africa. You follow a bunch of different characters from a young girl coming into new abilities, a delightfully ruthless demi goddess trying to reclaim power, and several characters who experience a new hallucinogen sweeping the country.

To start with what I love is how much humor and different tricks to the tropes that Nicky Drayden accomplished. Her characters and her mix of storylines were some of the most original I’ve ever read.

That being said, it sometimes reads like 6 separate short stories that the author just set in the same place and time. When she starts to combine them, things get a bit messy. Several times in the second half I found myself thinking “wait, what? What’s happening? Did I miss something??” I think this could’ve easily been longer or split into separate books to try to sort everything out.

All that being said, I loved all the disparate parts of this mix of science fiction and fantasy. I just wish the execution was a bit more polished. And I’m eager to see what the author does next.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas | Book Review

2018 has been the year of feminist dystopians, and I’ve finally read the last one that was on my physical TBR for the year (that I had been meaning to get to since February!)

Red Clocks follows three women and one teen girl in the near future after a “personhood amendment” is passed in the US, barring everything from abortion, artificial insemination and single-parent adoption. We follow The Biographer, The Mender, The Wife and The Daughter as they all deal with life under this change and slowly the connections they all have to each other is revealed.

I’ll say at the top that this book won’t be for everyone. The style especially takes a while to get used to and even then it’s still strange in its combination of lyrical language and stark/choppy structure. But for me, that style brought such a power to book that, once I got the swing of things, I was completely hooked.

You could feel the desperation, you could feel the contempt and the anger. In the end these “placeholders” (naming the point of view chapters after the women’s role in society) were fully realized people. I could relate to the wife who’s life I’ve never lived; I could relate to the mender even though I’ve never been called a witch.

And unlike some of the other books in this same vein I’ve read this year, it’s a dystopian that is explained in a way that you could easily see happening. Some say modern comparisons to the Handmaid’s Tale are exaggerations — but this book? This is a couple of short steps away from reality.

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface with my feminist dystopian reads of the year (Future Home of the Living God; The Power; Vox; The Handmaid’s Tale; The Book of Joan; The End We Start From; Red Clocks), and I already have more on my list for next year. But what are your recommendations?

Severance by Ling Ma | Book Review

When was the last time you read a book and it just stuck with you for days afterward?

I finished Severance Wednesday night and despite my attempts to get into my next book, I keep going back to Severance.

This was a surprise. When I picked it as my Book of the Month, I only knew the briefest of synopses and wasn’t expecting much out of it. And now, three days later and I hadn’t posted my review because I was still ruminating. . 
Severance is a strange little book that manages to be several books at once successfully. It’s an anti capitalist satire. It’s a Chinese-American immigrant story. And it’s an apocalyptic zombie story.

You follow Candace Chen in a split timeline, in the past as she rides out the civilization-ending pandemic in her corporate office building in NYC and in the present as she travels with a small band of fellow survivors.

Author Ling Ma’s examination of capitalistic culture is biting, but what really hooked me was how she explored modern “stuck in a rut” lives and the pitfalls in nostalgia. She’s not the first to make the zombie/office worker comparison but her iteration was so bleak and discomforting (especially for someone like me who experiences deja vu almost daily and finds “comfort” in predictability). And I found Candace to be one of the most relatable unlikable characters I’ve read in a long time.

I’ll spare you all many more details than that because I highly recommend going in mostly blind like I did. I’ll definitely be picking up more from Ling Ma in the future and will move this to the “to be reread” stack.

The end of the year approaches | WWW Wednesday reading wrap-up (Dec. 5)

It’s WWW Wednesday, a tag hosted on Taking on a World of Words It’s easy to do, just answer the three questions below! 

What are you currently reading?

So, from last week I’m still reading The Terrible, the poetry/prose memoir by Yrsa Daley-Ward. I’m still enjoying it (things got even darker/bleaker/more “terrible” of course), just taking a while because it’s a physical read I don’t make time for.

I started Rosewater by Tade Thompson, a science-fiction book set in Nigeria after an alien biome pops up and started displaying healing powers and people developed new abilities. I really loved the chunk I listened to, but I’m listening on Scribd (so no due date) so I needed to switch to some library checkouts….

Which leads me to The Likeness by Tana French. It is the second in her Dublin Murder Squad series. I’m enjoying it, just not as much as I was at this point in the first book. It’s giving me The Secret History vibes (even though I haven’t read that). The audio expires in a few days, so that’s my priority for the rest of the week.

What did you recently finish reading?

At the end of last week I was striving to finish off Nonfiction November strong, so I powered through finishing 3 books in one night…

Becoming by Michelle Obama (★★★★☆)

I finished up Becoming by Michelle Obama first. I really enjoyed this. The parts before Barack became president were my favorite, especially when she talked about her family and her starting a family with Barack. The story started to drag a bit for the White House years, but mostly because Barack’s life understandably overshadowed her own. I did like the little behind the scenes snippets she added to these sections however, like her interactions with Queen Elizabeth etc. A great memoir that for the most part avoided the political memoir tropes. 

I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya (★★★★★) 

This essay collection/little book packs a punch. Vivek detailed her struggles coming out as trans and tackled the gender biases she saw perpetuated by both those in power and the implicit biases some don’t realize they’re perpetuating. The choice to tell some sections through second person point of view I think was especially impactful, so it could be that she was addressing anyone about their harmful behavior, not just the person in her life. 

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (★★★★★)

I’m super late to the game of this classic essay collection. It was incredibly powerful and has unfortunately stood the test of time with its messages. I look forward to reading The Fire This Time collection to see how black writers today adapt Baldwin’s message.

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames (★★★★☆)

I’d heard mostly good things about this book before picking it up for myself, and thankfully agree with the good parts (and fell of the good side of some pro-con reviews). This was a really fun and imaginative fantasy quest story, with crotchety old mercenaries getting the band back together one last time to save one of their daughters. The humor in this will definitely turn some people off, but I enjoyed it. My only gripe with this story is the lack of stakes. Every time our crew came up against something that should be incredibly dangerous or hindering, they manage to make it through. Oh you’re diseased? Here’s a cure. Oh you’re wounded? You’ll sleep it off. By the end, all tension from the final battle was gone for me. I’ll still be continuing with the series, as I’m especially eager to see the women take over the story in the sequel.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi (★★★★★)

This was one of my 5-star predictions and it didn’t disappoint! I’m not that big into contemporary anymore, but this is the kind of YA contemporary story I can get behind. A powerful look at xenophobia and checking your bias mixed with a realistic but also lovely first-love story AND a girl finding her passion. Pick this up!

Planetfall by Emma Newman (★★★☆☆)

And to round out the week, I get to a very underwhelming read. I think I should blame the marketing team for selling me a story that the book didn’t deliver on. What it sold me on was an epic mystery set on an alien planet when a stranger shows up to dig up old secrets. What I got was a slow burn character study with a rushed ending. I could not find myself interested in continuing for the first 70% of this book. After that the character study actually got really interesting, but then the plot started forcing itself on the story again, so the examination of anxiety and mental health got pushed aside by explosions and survival. It all came together to be a completely frenetic story for me. I won’t be continuing this series.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I most want to continue listening to Rosewater, but because I’m me, I have a ton of books out from the library I should probably get to, next up being The Sun Does Shine, a nonfiction by a man who got off Death Row after serving 30 years for a crime he didn’t commit. And my next buddy read is my next in the Wheel of Time series, which I won’t enjoy but I’m so close to finishing the series now (and so close to when Brandon Sanderson takes over)!

Bonus Round

What I’ve acquired: I’m thinking about canceling my Book of the Month subscription after I’m out of credits (I haven’t been liking the selection recently), so I picked Severance as my December book, which is supposed to be a good satire, and went through the backlist to use up another credit. I read and liked Hunger last month so I decided to pick up a physical copy so I could mark my favorite passages.

And that’s a wrap! What was your favorite read of the week? Are you feeling the end-of-year pressure to get to all the books?

What I’ve read so far in November | Weekly Reading Wrap Up

Hello, everyone! As I’ve said in the last few posts, my job had been crazy dealing with the election (I worked from 5 am to 1 am Tuesday, then back to work again at 6), so I missed WWW Wednesday. But I’ve still been reading a ton so I didn’t think it was a good idea to just combine weeks, so here’s what I’ve read so far in November. Continue reading “What I’ve read so far in November | Weekly Reading Wrap Up”