July Wrap-Up and August TBR

I didn’t get a ton of reading done toward the end of the month but was more prolific than I realized.

July Wrap-Up

Escape from Virtual Island by John Lutz

More of an audio drama but weird, fun, and funny. 4/5

Cold Cuts by Robert Payne Cabeen

I went into detail elsewhere how much I hated it. I generously gave it half a star for an interesting idea. 0.5/5

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Published in 2014, it occasionally felt like a piece of the era but is still very relevant. 4/5

AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller

A fun and interesting thru-hiking memoir. Compared to the vlogs I’m watching now, a lot has changed about gear and tech but a lot has stayed the same. Still disappointed he didn’t chose Corvette as a trail name. 4/5

Survive the Night by Riley Sager

A story that plays with the road trip from hell and unreliable narrator tropes. I liked the plot but felt it would have been better in more capable hands. 3/5

I made it 40% through The Plague Year: America in the Time of COVID by Lawrence Wright before getting too mad to continue. The gross mismanagement, the lives it cost, and the damage still being done enrages me. I need some distance.

I quit another audio memoir toward the end of the month. Podcasts were taking up a ton of space on my phone so I listened to those for the rest of the month.

2 weeks in August will be spent on vacation so I’m hoping to get more reading done then.

The spawn still loves being read to. We got him Spooky Pookie by Sandra Boynton. He loves any book where I get to shout “Boo!” at him. If I randomly yell “Boo!” and startle him, he grins right after he jumps.

August TBR

Upwards by Laurie Apgar Chandler

It’s another ‘person has adventure in nature’ memoir but this one is for the area we’re having our vacation in. I thought that would be a fun touch.

Worst Laid Plans edited by Samantha Kolesnik

An anthology of vacation horror. I discovered this on Bookstagram. It gives me summer vibes.

The Pants of Perspective by Anna McNuff

I’m about a quarter of the way through this memoir of a Brit running the length of New Zealand. I’d like to finish it but I worry about getting burnt out on adventure memoirs.

I think the reason I like adventure memoirs so much right now is a mix of COVID and the weather. We can’t travel or go most places due to COVID. While I may be on the edge of what’s considered The South, our summer is very southern. Above a certain few point, I don’t go outside unless it’s absolutely necessary.

It’s such a favorite genre that I don’t want to get burned out on it. I may need a break come September. Maybe a magical school book…

One Lie at a Time

I decided to listen to Delilah’s audiobook of One Heart at a Time. I’d listened to her radio show a handful of times and liked it well enough.

It quickly becomes abundantly clear she’s very into Jesus. I’m not a fan of organized religion but I decide to keep going.

I got to the part about her late son Zack. It’s sad and beautiful and heartbreaking until she said something that made me mad as hell. She said the anti-depressants were “poison” and the reason her son took his life.

I am spitting mad.

I’m on anti-depressants and they make my life so much better. They let me be myself. They let me be a better person, mother, and wife. Delilah blaming the meds will put people off them who could have benefitted from them. Other mothers may experience her pain because she wanted something to blame.

She said her son was over 18 so she wasn’t allowed to get involved in his treatment. Bull. If her son had spoken to his doctors and asked she be included, it would have happened. When you are unwell, you can’t always be your own best advocate. He knew he was unwell and did not ask his loving mother to help.

This was a failure of his doctors and her son to be his own advocate. Part of finding an anti-depressant is messing with different pills and dosages. Did anyone, especially Zack himself, tell his doctors her son’s personality fundamentally changed? That this drug wasn’t doing its job?

Was he in therapy? The triggers she mentions are major life events than can be worked out in therapy. How closely was he being monitored for averse reactions?

His illness killed him. It was not nor ever will be the damn pills. It’s tragic, it’s unfair, and stigmatizing treatment will only help it happen to other families. How dare you Delilah?

Casual Challenge Update

It’s the end of another quarter so it’s time to take stock of the various challenges I’m vaguely doing.

Personal Challenge

Author LGBTQ+ – Rolling in the Deep
Children’s Book – Goodnight Moon
Fiction – Wench
Nonfiction – Nomandland
Part of a series – In the Hall with a Knife

RITD is by Mira Grant. Grant is Seanan McGuire’s pseudonym and she’s a member of the alphabet mafia. Wench is definitely an interesting piece of fiction. I’ve gushed about Nomanland on here elsewhere. The hope for series was something in the middle of a series but I’m not sure that’s going to happen so here we are.

PopSugar Challenge

Author shares zodiac sign – There’s a Wocket in My Pocket
Locked room mystery – The Sanatorium
Genre hybrid – Ten
Set mostly outdoors – The Unlikely Thru-Hiker
Something broken on cover – Siri, Who Am I?
A book about fresh starts – Soulful Simplicity
Set in multiple countries – One Child
Somewhere I’d like to visit in 2021 – The 2020 Commission Report
Favorite prompt from past challenge (Passes Bechdel test) – Wench
Starts with Q, X, or Z – Zero Fail

Zodiac sign was arbitrary, annoying, and much harder to find out than I realized. I’ve realized I like the locked room mystery as a trope but not that particular work. Genre hybrid of YA and slasher horror. What’s more outdoors than a thru-hiking memoir? A broken phone screen is quite apt for this one. Fun fact, the one child policy in China caused an increase in interest in American surrogacy by Chinese nationals.

After not going anywhere in 2020, I’ll be happy to just go places in my area. An important aspect of Carver’s book is about starting over simply. Wench had a good bit of politics.

BookRiot Read Harder

Investigative nonfiction by a POC – One Child
Beloved pet where pet doesn’t die – Cold Cuts

Mei Fong being Malaysian-Chinese gave her a much more personal insight into the story of the one child policy. The main character in the godawful excuse of a book gets a pet wolf.

Reading Glasses

Attend a virtual book event – Red Widow
Get rid of books you’ll never read – April clean out

I attended a virtual book event for the spy thriller by Alam Katsu. She used to work in intelligence and I just got the book in from the library so I’m excited. I did a big April cleanout which was pretty liberating.

Professional Book Nerds

LGBTQ+ author – Rolling in the Deep
Nonfiction by a woman historian – One Child
Picture book – King Baby
Author from your city of state – Zero Fail

Whether Fong is a historian is debatable but she did a well researched book about an important piece of history so I’m counting it. King Baby is a fun children’s book by Kate Beaton. Since it has paper pages, I only read it to my son when he’s trapped in his crib. The law of grabity still applies at his age (he sees it, he grabs it). Being from the DC area has its perks sometimes. It’s not completely impossible to read a book from a fellow local without realizing.

52 Book Club

Set in a school – In the Hall with a Knife
Character with same name as male family member – Backcountry Lawman
Discussion questions – Clergyman’s Wife
Author has a 9 letter surname – Hench
Featuring the environment – The Unlikely Thru-Hiker
Featuring adoption – One Child
Rate 5 Stars – Nomadland
Published in 2021 – Zero Fail

Lawman is written by Bob Lee. My grandfather went by Bob. The 9 letter surname was arbitrary and annoying. A surprising number of Chinese adoptions were babies taken from unauthorized second pregnancies.

Books in the Freezer

Translation – Mexican Gothic
2021 Release – The Sanatorium
New to me author – Empire of Wild
BIPOC author – When No One Is Watching
YA – Ten
Less than 200 reviews on GoodReads – Cold Cuts

I didn’t realized Books in the Freezer was doing a challenge this year so I’m jumping on the bandwagon a little late. I know Garcia is fluent in English but Spanish is her native language. Should this count? IDK. I’ll swap it out if I manage to read a better fit for horror in translation. I’m going to try to do all spooky books for this. We’ll see what happens

Out in the Cold

It’s been a few years since I read a book I disliked so much my review was just a list of things wrong with the book. Cold Cuts by Robert Payne Cabeen now holds that dishonor.

It was given the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. It beat out Kill Creek by Scott Thomas. I now think less of the Bram Stoker Awards.

I’m not an expert on Antarctica but I know enough to see how many mistakes abound in Cabeen’s work. I was ready to jump onboard with mutant penguins but this is so much worse than a SyFy Channel movie.

Spoilers for a book I highly recommend you never read.

The Rant

You haven’t heard from your scientists in months and no one thought they might be in trouble? No one bothered to reach out to any other research stations to check on them?

Space is at a premium. No scientist who takes his work seriously would waste space on impractical blankets or an excess of action figures.

La-Z-Boy is moderately expensive. Why didn’t they buy a recliner from Costco and save $500? Yes, some of them are comfortable.

Antarctica is under multiple international protections so that you can’t even pee outside. Ozzy is not abandoning a chocolate cupcake wrapper in his vehicle that could escape into the wild.

No self-respecting scientist would disturb the wildlife there. It doesn’t matter if the animal will die. Multiple wildlife documentaries make this clear. You will lose your funding and status in the field unless you have all sorts of permission to tough the animal.

Any idiot who gets close enough to disturb the wildlife will see it’s a dangerous mutant that could kill them.

They are at the ass end of the world. How do they have better cable than half of rural America?

Either solar flares interrupt communication or they have cable. Pick one.

Speaking of cable, why is it all American? The nearest countries are part of South America or Australia.

All Ozzy has to eat is tofu and gummy vitamins. There is no way he put on ANY muscle mass. IDNGAF how much kickboxing he does.

How does a scientist not know increasing his metabolism in a starvation situation is dangerous?

The entire continent is too closely monitored for a white supremacist commando group to have any serious presence there.

The white supremacist commando group makes no fucking sense and adds nothing.

How does Ozzy go from being a fat slob to a badass action hero on a near starvation diet?

You can do all sorts of tae bo but hand to hand combat with trained military can’t be learned on TV. He would have gotten his ass whooped a dozen different ways.

Ozzy is not bringing a corpse inside to decompose with him. Antarctica is a desert. Let Ben mummify outside.

If a scientist with cancer couldn’t be taken home in the winter, Ozzy is not getting rescued until spring.

Giving Sayer a lisp after the plastic fork is tedious, annoying, and mildly confusing. If people with a tongue ring don’t lisp, neither does this guy.

The Brad and Chad penis debacle is barely funny and serves no purpose. I’d been skimming to make it through. I regret tuning back in for this.

The guy has been isolated for months. Nope. Let’s not get him a medic. He’s talking so he’s probably fine.

More impractical clothing. Glad to have more evidence Cabeen did no research whatsoever.

Sure. Let’s throw in a random sex scene. That making sense. It’s not like there’s a whole crew of people waiting for them or anything. 🙄

Wow. Cabeen has no idea how to write women.

Ozzy has been alone for months. I call BS on him lasting longer than 5 minutes

Did Cabeen forget Antarctica is a land mass? All research facilities would be on land.

Now Ozzy is Rambo? This is a fat loser fantasy story.

Apparently Cabeen can’t write dialogue for people from California either.

A woman with her intestines hanging out is making out with the medic trying to save her life. WTAF?

That’s not how icebergs work. At all.

In capable hands, all of this could have been fun. Instead, it’s profoundly terrible. I have absolutely no idea how it won an award. I will never read something because it has the Bram Stoker award label on it again.

June Wrap-Up and July TBR

June was more prolific than I expected it to be. Audiobooks definitely helped.

June Wrap-Up

Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service by Carol Leonning

This covers the entire history through the secret service through 2018. It was mostly factual and fascinating until the Clinton’s. Leonning eviscerated them, skipped the impeachment, and jumped to September 2001. Really? Nothing interesting happened during that election? I did enjoy hearing what a nightmare the Tr*mp family was. 4/5

In the Hall with the Knife by Diana Peterfreund

The first in a YA trilogy of Clue themed mysteries at a boarding school in a remote part of Maine. It switched perspectives so you know most of the characters are hiding something. Enough secrets are still uncovered so that I’m curious to tune in from the next installment 4/5

Backcountry Lawman by Bob H. Lee

I listened to the audiobook for this memoir. My biggest takeaway is to always pay attention to hunting a fishing laws and don’t piss off wildlife cops. 4/5

Nightfall by Marisela Treviño Orta

An audio drama from Audible that somehow got an ISBN. It was OK but the lead up vs payoff didn’t work for me 3/5

The Clergyman’s Wife by Molly Greeley

The tale of Charlotte’s life after she marries Mr. Collins. It’s a sweet and sad story that happened to so many women in the past. A good reminder of much things have changed in such a short time. 4/5

The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Inter-dimensional Insurance Agent by Larry Correia

Absurd and funny sci-fi adventure until Correia brought up politics just to shit on liberals. It wasn’t funny and added nothing to the story. Don’t waste your time. 2/5

My DNF was the second installment of the Tom Stranger series. It opened with Correia having a triggered snowflake rant about the negative reviews the first story got thinly disguised as story. It’s almost like shoehorning your bigoted beliefs into fiction was a bad idea but his ego can’t allow that. It sounded like Fucker Carlson wrote it.

I will never touch anything he does again. And this was before I found out he was the rectum behind the Sad Puppies debacle at several Hugo Awards.

July TBR

Red Widow by Alma Katsu

A spy thriller with whiffs of Aldrich Ames from someone who used to work in intelligence? Yes, please! I’m waiting for my hold to come up at the library.

Cold Cuts by Robert Payne Cabreen

I got Kindle Unlimited for Prime Day so I’m starting with a horror novel about scientists trapped at the South Pole and mutant zombie penguins. As ridiculous as it sounds, it won an award. We’re in the midst of an ugly heatwave so reading about subzero temperatures sounds awesome.

Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag

Best book I’ve read so far

Nomadland by Jessica Bruder

It’s a nonfiction book about the people who live in vans and trucks, many by the transient nature of their work. Incredibly well done.

Best sequel I’ve read so far

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

It’s the only sequel I’ve read this year. I can see why some people have some issues with this franchise but I enjoy it.

New release I haven’t read yet but want to

Red Widow by Alma Katsu – A spy thriller

The Plague Year by Lawrence Wright – Nonfiction about the mess that was last year

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

I love his stuff and the concept for this is fantastic.

Biggest Disappointment

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

Fantastic premise. I was so excited for this but it was a huge mess. So many characters making so many bad, unrealistic choices. The why if it all was so convoluted and ridiculous.

Biggest surprise

A Whole New World by Liz Braswell

A Disney novel that asks, what if Aladdin didn’t get the genie out of the lamp? It got so much darker than I expected. The quality of writing was just OK but that’s often the nature of franchise novels.

Favorite new author (debut of new to you)

Mira Grant. I reread Rolling in the Deep and started Into the Drowning Deep. I’m really enjoying her writing.

Newest fictional crush

Not really a thing I do but I guess I’d go with Vesper from Hench

Newest Favorite Character

The Auditor from Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots. Her character journey was absolutely fascinating.

Book that made you cry

Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller

Part memoir, part history, all beautiful nonfiction. Fascinating and heartbreaking. I loved it.

Book that made you happy

Devolution by Max Brooks

I listened to this on audiobook and it was phenomenal. It’s ultimately a lite horror book but it was so well done.

Most beautiful book you bought this year

My clothbound classics of Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll’s poetry

Books I need to read by the end of this year

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant – Started it, need to finish it

The Clergyman’s Wife by Molly Greeley – What happens to Charlotte after marrying Mr. Collins?

Zero Fail by Carol Leonning – A nonfiction about the history (and blunders) of the secret service

In the Hall with the Knife by Diana Peterfreund – A YA locked room mystery based on Clue

The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde – Humanoid rabbits in England face bigotry. Fforde is an auto-read since he’s fantastic.

These are all my library holds or books I’ve already started. I’m very much a mood reader so I don’t like doing strict TBRs. I’ll see what else I can get read this year.

What Is Dead Will Never Die

I just finished The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman. It is a fantastic premise about wronged women, ghosts, and the persistence of stories. All the nice things I have to say end there.

Chapman’s writing style reminds me of Josh Malerman. ICYMI, not a fan. He repeats the same words and phrases over and over again. This doesn’t make things deep or tense. It makes them tedious and boring.

Amber said ‘this movie should have died’ so many times. If I was a drinking woman, I’d make a drinking game out of it.

I’ve often wondered why so many stories have the same general structure. Tease the past, jump to present, then simultaneously build both narratives. It felt formulaic. Now I know why this narrative structure is everywhere. It makes the reader care more.

Going chronologically weakened Chapman’s narrative. There’s less at stake so I’m less invested. Going in reverse makes you care about the character as they are now. What got them there? Why happened? Why does it matter? You become invested in both timelines.

This book also does one of my least favorite things: telling the entire story on the back cover. Once I realized things were going chronologically, most of the mystery was gone. Movie, remake, podcast. I knew what was coming and I didn’t much care about getting there.

Making the podcaster black, when Chapman himself isn’t, felt very unnecessary. There were entirely too many ‘this character is black’ sort of moments for how briefly he’s there.

There was so much good material here. Wrongfully accused women, arrogant men insisting on telling their version of the story, history repeating itself over and over again. There’s so much to work with so the mediocre execution made it all the more depressing.

Who was Jessica’s father? Who hurt Ella Louise that night? We’re they witches before or did their burning give them their power? If telling their story is so goddamn important, how about some critical details!

I do not recommend this and I only finished it because I was looking for answers I didn’t get. 2/5

May Wrap-Up and June TBR

May Wrap-Up

This Is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey

I did a longer review here. I wanted more buildup before the big reveal but I very much enjoyed this YA thriller 4/5

Ten by Gretchen McNeil

Ten teens are invited to a house party that turns deadly. If the Agatha Christie classic was turned into a teen slasher. Some of the emotional arcs messed with my willing suspension of disbelief. Nothing groundbreaking but entertaining. 3/5

The Unlikely Thru-Hiker by Derick Lugo

I did a longer review here. It was good, not great, and avoid the audiobook at all costs. 3.5/5

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

It starts with a hench scraping by until she’s collateral damage to a hero. Broken and broke, Anna realizes how much damage heroes really do. From there, a funny, clever, and compelling story about how it’s not as black and white as it seems 5/5

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole

A thriller about a gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn. Cole touches on systematic racism, gentrification, and medical racism. The big reveal stretched my willing suspension of disbelief a bit but not nearly as much as it should have. 4/5

One Child by Mei Fong

What inspired China’s one child policy (hubris and bad math), the crimes against humanity if wrought, the current mess it has made, and the future mess yet to come. It was an intense ride. There were several moments so disturbing I had to stop. 4/5

I’m not finishing anything else this month so I’m posing it now. The Spawn has the short toddler attention span so he’s occasionally having trouble getting to the end of his favorite books. He still likes reading to himself. He’s figured out Optical Physics for Babies and Quantum Information for Babies have fun pictures.

June TBR

The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman

A horror novel loosely inspired by a true story. A dark history, a possible curse, and a true crime podcast? Sounds fun.

Zero Fail by Carol Leonning

Inside the secret service and the hot mess they’ve become. I’m on the hold list at my library.

I’ve started The Remaking and it’s not quite what I expected. I’m hoping I like it better as it goes but I’m not optimistic.

The Likely Thru-Reader

Despite my love of air conditioning and dislike of bugs, I’m a sucker for thru-hiking stories. I’m not sure what exactly about them draws me in. Getting back to nature, the simplicity of that life, pushing yourself physically. Pretty sure I’d hate thru-hiking but I do feel inspired to check out some local trails when spawn is bigger.

I loved the sound of Derick Lugo’s The Unlikely Thru-Hiker. A metrosexual NYC boy living in the woods for months at a time? Yes please!

Very little time is wasted on why Lugo is doing this and I hated that. There has to be some sort of reason or backstory to go from the biggest city in America to ‘hobo on a journey.’ I love the sound of getting back to nature but you couldn’t pay me to do it for 2,000 miles. Why dude?

No sane person goes from couch to thru-hiking so there was some planning involved. Did he start with weekend hikes? How did he choose his gear? What gear did he choose? How did it hold up? Was there a workout routine? So many details, no page limit, still no answers.

Despite the radical change in lifestyle, there were remarkably few ‘fish out of water’ moments. Lugo is a decent writer and managed to inject plenty of humor in his story. But there were no clueless city boy moments? Really? There’s some shenanigans he’s not telling us and I’m salty about it.

I listened to the audiobook instead of getting the ebook. Many memoirs are enhanced by the writer doing their own audiobook. This is not one of them.

While Lugo is a good writer, he’s a terrible narrator. He read the entire thing in a flat, expressionless monotone. No inflection, no excitement, no sadness, no voices to distinguish different people. I read my grocery list with more emotion.

I would regularly get sucked out of the story and think about how much better this would have been if a professional voice actor had done this. He described the emotional end of his AT journey with the same monotone he used to describe unpleasant trail privies.

Lugo is a decent writer but he’s a terrible performer. As a book, I’d say 3.75. As an audiobook, 3 since I’m feeling generous. The overall grade is a 3.5.

This Is the Jess Show

I am a Jess and it is my blog so it technically is The Jess Show. This TA thriller is described as Black Mirror plus My So Called Life with (IMHO) a hint of The Truman Show.

From reading the blurb alone, you get a sense of how this story is going to go. The big question is when and how the penny will drop. I wanted that tension to drag out a little longer, let it simmer a bit more. Once it happens, things change very quickly. That is my only real complaint about the book.

I’ve found a lot of Quirk books to be written at a very easy reading level. More USA Today than WSJ which makes them fun and fast to read. I have slightly mixed feelings about this trend overall but I don’t think it did a disservice to Jess Show in any way. Thrillers have a very fast pace so being able to easily digest the story helped things keep moving.

I suspected this would be a one-off but when I updated my GoodReads, I saw that there will be more. I’m very excited to keep exploring this world. I think the next installment will offer a deeper dive into our dependence on technology over human connection and desire for notoriety.

I’d give this 4.5/5 stars. The Black Mirror comparison is very apt and it’s definitely worth a read.