Last Words From Montmartre

I saw Qiu Miaojin’s Last Words From Montmartre at the Strand Bookstore down in the city on one of their tables. I think it was pre-owned because it was super cheap ($6-ish) and I bought it because the back read like it was going to be an exciting psychological thriller.

This book also satisfied a requirement on the list I lost last year, but I really thought it was going to be super exciting from the blurb on the back cover:

When the pioneering Taiwanese novelist Qiu Miaojin committed suicide in 1995 at age twenty-six, she left behind her unpublished masterpiece, Last Words from Montmartre. Unfolding through a series of letters written by an unnamed narrator, Last Words tells the story of a passionate relationship between two young women—their sexual awakening, their gradual breakup, and the devastating aftermath of their broken love. In a style that veers between extremes, from self-deprecation to pathos, compulsive repetition to rhapsodic musings, reticence to vulnerability, Qiu’s genre-bending novel is at once a psychological thriller, a sublime romance, and the author’s own suicide note.

The letters (which, Qiu tells us, can be read in any order) leap between Paris, Taipei, and Tokyo. They display wrenching insights into what it means to live between cultures, languages, and genders—until the genderless character Zoë appears, and the narrator’s spiritual and physical identity is transformed. As powerfully raw and transcendent as Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, and Theresa Cha’s Dictée, to name but a few, Last Words from Montmartre proves Qiu Miaojin to be one of the finest experimentalists and modernist Chinese-language writers of our generation.

It wasn’t sublime. It wasn’t thrilling. It was 176 pages of a woman feeling sorry for herself and being pathetic. I hated it.

I was excited about all aspects of it – a genre and gender bending queer romantic thriller taking place in far away, exotic cities? Am I tall enough to get on the ride? Sign me up.

And when I got off the ride, I got the distinct impression that I was misled on purpose. I found the unnamed narrator (another aspect of the story I liked, as it was reminiscent of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, another romantic thriller with an unnamed narrator) whiny, self-indulgent, and as I said earlier, pathetic.

Maybe it’s because of who I am personally, but I have never liked self-pitying wallowers. I understand being depressed after a passionate relationship ends. Eventually, though, pull it together and get over it. Go on living. I always respected myself too much to let my relationship to a significant other define me. I never gave him that kind of power and I have trouble respecting women who do give their significant others, male of female, that kind of power. The relationship in the story, from what I remember now, wasn’t an abusive relationship of any kind, so it’s not that kind of inequality that would trigger someone being unable to leave or be truly damaged by abusive behavior. It was just some woman who couldn’t/wouldn’t get over a breakup.

I had no problem with the translation. Ari Larissa Heinrich did a great job. I can’t comment on the original language, but I thought it was beautifully written and therefore must have been beautifully translated.

My distinct reaction of dislike may be a defect of me personally because a lot of people love this book and comment endlessly on the genius of the author. She has other projects people rave about (though I have no inclination to discover them). Qiu Miaojin committed suicide, which, although I loathe admitting it, darkly fascinates me and is one of the reasons I thought this book would be good. It can be read as her suicide note? What does that mean? How interesting! Let’s find out.

I FOUND OUT. I HATED IT. I WAS GLAD THE NARRATOR WAS SETTING OFF TO KILL HERSELF.

Obviously I feel bad about the author because she was a real person, but the narrator? Nah.

This isn’t the first “great book” where my reaction was one of intense dislike to what I considered to be a whiny, pathetic narrator. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley really rubbed me the wrong way too, and I was only a 16 year old high school sophomore when I read that. But it was the same kind of thing. The narrator went on ENDLESSLY, wallowing in self-indulgent nonsense and oooooh poor him.

I can’t remember for sure 13 years later but I think that narrator commits suicide at the end too and I think my reaction was the same. “Good riddance.”

I would be more specific and look up more details of this book for this post, but I gave it to a friend and she never gave it back, which was fine. I haven’t asked for it back. I don’t want it back. It was $6ish, 176 pages, and 3 or 4 hours I’ll never get back.

It was disappointing enough without remembering all the specific details.

The War That Ended Peace: The Road To 1914

For the most part, I had a pretty good public school education. I did pretty well at most of my subjects and excelled in English and history.

HOWEVER.

There was (is?) one giant gaping hole in my history education. And that giant, gaping hole was European history from the French Revolution through the start of World War I.

No joke. I have no idea what happened. I barely remember them even mentioning it. Considering that World War I is still referred to as “The Great War” in Europe – or at least in Britain – I felt like this was a gaping hole I should start trying to fill, and this was a good opportunity to expand my understanding from “alliances! assassination of Archduke Ferdinand! powder keg!”

Seriously, that’s the extent of what I knew about World War I before listening to this book. Sooo, this book.

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan required a lot more listening time than most books I listen to; in page length it was 784 pages, and it required listening in the car as well as at the gym and at work, and I think I actually drove around listening to it at some point.

Anyway, the book introduced me to some of the players – characters – that led to the most destructive war the world has ever seen (yes, even more so than World War II). MacMillan painstakingly chronicles the cultures and leaders of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Britain, France, Bulgaria, Serbia, the United States, etc…in the years leading up to the start of the war.

Using quotes and correspondence, this book is thoroughly researched, and while I’ve seen a complaint that it could be repetitious, the repetition really helped me, because it’s hard to keep track of names you’re not familiar with.

I think what horrified me most as I got through this book was how easy World War I would have been to avoid if the personalities involved had just applied common sense and good judgement rather than ridiculous nationalism and a desire to have the biggest dick on the continent. Honestly, I could NOT believe how easy World War I could just have not happened. The entire 20th century would have been totally different.

This was an amazing book – well researched, informative, really laid the groundwork for me in understanding what caused the first World War. It was long, but worth the effort. I still don’t know much about 19th century Europe outside of this, but my public school education taught me that working backwards is a reliable method of problem solving. This book laid a really great foundation for further study of European history.

One Summer: America, 1927

My physics teacher in high school forced us to read a history book. That was the first time I’d heard of Bill Bryson. One of the books on the list was A Short History of Nearly Everything. That was not the book I read that year. I read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Because it was the shortest. I probably would have enjoyed Bryson’s book more, looking back on it, but I was 17 and an idiot.

Bill Bryson kept popping up though – in college classes and bookstore tables. Given that history books are some of my favorites to listen to at work (where I can learn a lot, not hear EVERY detail, and not lose track of the story), I decided to finally give Bryson a try and went with One Summer: America, 1927. I have been fascinated with the 1920s for a long time, and it’s the loose theme for my upcoming nuptials. Hemingway and Fitzgerald are two of my favorite authors and two of my favorites of their books take place in the 20s, so this book as my introduction to Bryson was a natural choice.

I didn’t know anything about the book or Bryson (except that he kept popping up) going in, so the book, read by Bryson for the audio version, was surprisingly funny due to both content and Bryson himself.

Bryson uses several major events of the summer of 1927 as a lens through which to view American life, what it was and what it was going to become, while focusing on pop culture and the daily life of Americans during that time.

The major events focused on included:

+ Babe Ruth & the 1927 New York Yankees
+ Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight
+ the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 (the one event in the book I’d never heard of)
+ Henry Ford and the transition from the Model T to the Model A
+ Calvin Coolidge’s presidency the ascendance of Herbert Hoover
+ the trial and executions of Sacco & Vanzetti
+ the release of talking pictures with ‘The Jazz Singer’

…these were not the only topics touched, but they were a major focus.

I was pleasantly surprised with this book. It was a lot more interesting than I had thought it would be, and it was a lot funnier than I thought it would be. Bryson grew up in both the US and Great Britain, and his dry sense of humor was quite appealing to me.

These were topics we’d barely touched in school (Sacco and Vanzetti, Lindbergh’s flight), and in some cases not at all (they skipped over Mississippi Flood entirely, as well as anything about Henry Ford that wasn’t “hey the assembly line…”) and I found the detailed dive into these topics, and their impact on American life, a fascinating alternative high school history class.

The book also explored the contrast between the 1920s Jazz Age and the 1930s Great Depression that was looming not far down the road. Bryson also doesn’t just speak to an American audience. Babe Ruth and baseball are huge parts of the book, and so Bryson takes time to explain why Americans are so obsessed with Babe Ruth (even 90 years later) and at least the basics of baseball.

My next Bryson book will be A Walk In The WoodsOne Summer: America, 1927 convinced me that I should definitely read/listen to another Bryson book.

a few thoughts on Tolkien

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JRR Tolkien was born 125 years ago today, on January 3, 1892 (for the arithmatic-ly challenged).

My mother dragged me to see the Fellowship of the Ring in 2001. I was 13. She really did have to drag me, using the sound reasoning that she’d gone to every damn stupid god forsaken terrible film I’d ever want to go to as a kid, and I was going to come whether I liked it or not.

At the start I was outraged I was being dragged to a three hour film I knew nothing about and had no interest in.

By the end I was outraged I’d sat through a three hour film and they hadn’t answered any questions.

My mom wouldn’t tell me what happened next and said I’d have to read it or wait til the next film. I was outraged further.

But I started The Hobbit on December 21, 2001 and finished The Return of the King on August 22, 2002. I was a slow reader as a kid.

And man, those books and films changed my life.

Not in a “I’m a new person” kind of way, although I did adopt the “not all those who wander are lost” quote as a philosophy of life. I don’t think it changed my outlook on life. It did change my outlook on stories. I compare every epic saga to that of the Fellowship’s. I don’t even do it on purpose. But that’s the standard – from the personal, inner conflicts of the characters to the epic consequences of the struggle, other stories I’ve read lack the world building, the scope and the depth of Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson’s adaptations are also possibly the greatest films I’ve ever watched in terms of grandeur and scale and faithfulness to the source material.

I’m not so devoted I’ve done things like read The Simarillion or The Children of Hurin. Or The Appendices. DEAR GOD, THE APPENDICES. But I like that they’re there if I ever want to read them.

And I do recognize greatness when I read it, and Tolkien may be the greatest.

So happy birthday to an all time great and one of my all time favorites. Thanks for a story that has given me something to bond with my mom over. And my friends. And my teachers. And the rest of the world. It’s been the best gift.

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The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

Of the books I read in 2016, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Rob Edsel (with Bret Witter) was one of my two favorites, and definitely my favorite non-fiction book.

The Monuments Men deals with the story of the newly created Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) section of the military. Early on, the group was comprised of a handful of men, led by Lt. Commander George L. Stout. As their role expanded and members grew, most of these men and women with art expertise were to protect as much European culture as possible during the war – art, architecture, rare & valuable texts, etc…

One major thing that worked in their favor is that the Nazis didn’t destroy art/culture/etc.. They hoarded it. There was some kind of twisted logic in why these artifacts belonged to the Reich even though they were French, Italian, etc…in origin. But the size of the hoard was status. Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring had a particularly expansive collection of stolen property (which wasn’t QUITE looted). Göring always left some small payment or promise there of, and even though he was never officially connected with Nazi looting organizations, he ended up with a lot of loot.

While it sounds very dull, this was actually a great challenge, particularly early on. Many people didn’t believe that art was something worth saving when faced with defeating an enemy like the Third Reich. Many of the Monuments Men assigned to units had trouble getting the resources they needed to do their jobs. It frequently took mandates from President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower to get the Monuments Men what they needed.

But it wasn’t just men, it was women too. The book particularly highlights the efforts of French art historian and museum curator Rose Valland. Being a French woman, the Nazis mistook her for a harmless not-quite-idiot. As a member of the French Resistance who understood German, she secretly and painstakingly kept track of the art the Nazis plundered from both the French national collection at places like The Louvre, and private (many Jewish) collections. She documented meticulously what was taken, where it was taken, to which Nazi officer it had been sent and reported back to Jacques Juajard, Director of the French National Museums, on the status of the ongoing Nazi looting. She and Cpt. James Rorimer, who slowly gained her trust and with whom she became friends, were instrumental in recovering over 20,000 stolen works from Neuschwanstein Castle.

With all the history and lore surrounding World War II, the fact that a lot of European culture and architecture was at risk of being destroyed is very easy to forget. With intercontinental travel easier than ever, it isn’t hard to take for granted the fact that the magnificent works of art from the Middle Ages and Renaissance eras is there every day in museums and that centuries old churches and palaces and architectural wonders are still standing.

But there was a time when this wasn’t necessarily going to be the case. And a lot of people, who frequently haven’t gotten the credit they deserve, worked very hard to make sure it was.

This was a fascinating, well written, satisfying non-fiction book, and like I said, definitely one of my favorites of 2016.

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History is an autobiographical memoir by Tony Mendez and Matt Baglio, and was adapted by Ben Affleck into an Academy Award winning film of the same name. It was originally an article for Wired magazine, and was expanded after declassification of documents into a much more detailed story.

I go through phases periodically where I watch a bunch of movies and read their source material. In this case, it was was the other way around, where I audiobooked the source material first and then watched the film.

Mendez was a CIA technical operations officer in the 1970s, decorated and widely recognized for his work in evacuating 6 American diplomats during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Called “The Canadian Caper,” the effort took the cooperation of the CIA, the Canadian government, and several Hollywood professionals, including makeup artists John Chambers and Robert Sidell, and Sidell’s wife, Joan.

Spoiler alert: they get the stranded Americans out of Iran. That wasn’t the most interesting part of this story.

The most interesting part of this memoir was finding out 1. how the CIA operated at the time and 2. how the whole thing sounded like amateur hour.

IIRC, Mendez was hired into the CIA as an artist. He copied stuff, did forgeries, etc… if the CIA had any kind of super advanced tech it wasn’t in this book, or it’s so dated to 2016 that I didn’t realize it was considered advanced tech at the time.

Originally an artist, it was clear Mendez’s role grew by the time the Iranian Hostage Crisis took place. Mendez’s main job was getting the American hostages to believe their cover stories enough to get them out of Iran, which was no easy feat. The key to being a convincing liar was believing the lie, and it was difficult to get the scared Americans to believe what they were saying about themselves, which was total BS.

It was an incredibly dangerous operation, because if they had been discovered there was a good chance they’d be executed. But again, what was really fascinating to me was how incredibly low tech it was. It was drawing up passports that passed inspection and coming up with a solid cover story – the cover story being they were Canadians scouting film locations in Iran for a science fiction film, called “Argo.” (Duh, right?)

The film that came from Mendez’s memoir is a very good film but it didn’t do a good job with 2 things. It took a loooot of dramatic license. There were a lot fewer imminent danger scenarios than depicted in the film, however, this was a film and you have to keep an audience engaged.

The other thing was the film seriously downplayed the role of the Canadian government in the rescue of the hostages. The Canadian Ambassador and Embassy played crucial roles in rescuing the Americans. Mendez gives this credit, the film doesn’t. The film also makes it look as the British and New Zealand embassies turned the American hostages away – this isn’t what happened. The British, in particular, took a great risk taking in the hostages, only moving them because it was deemed too dangerous for them to stay there. The British Embassy, IIRC, was the target of attacks itself. New Zealand had organized a place for the Americans to stay if they needed to change locations and drove the Americans to the airport when it was time to leave Tehran.

It’s understandable why a lot of this was changed for film purposes – it would have been a 4 hour film – but it was hurtful to these countries anyway. Affleck tried to smooth things over but it wasn’t much help. President Carter even commented (paraphrasing), “This was mostly a Canadian achievement. Ken Taylor (the Canadian ambassador) is the real hero of the story.”

Anyway, flawed film aside, Argo was a really interesting “inner workings of the CIA” book, which I highly recommend if you’re interested in contemporary world history.

America’s Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Founding Fathers Who Shaped A Nation

Earlier this year, my former officemate told me about Overdrive.

Overdrive is a wonderful app that allows you to listen to audiobooks from your local library for free as long as you are a member of that library system. This was a huge deal for me, because while I had tried to get my hands on free audiobooks before, I always ended up only being able to obtain popular books, and so my selection was rather limited. I like to listen to books at work or at the gym, because I frequently don’t have the chance to actually read at home.

Sooooo I got Overdrive ASAP. I think it’s weird that more the one person can’t listen to a book at a time, but what do I know?

I started with history books, because in the end, I am a nerd, and a sucker for a good story.

The first book I listened to on Overdrive was called America’s Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Founding Fathers Who Shaped A Nation by Kenneth C. Davis.

There were six, loosely connected individual stories in this book, and while they were a bit anecdotal, I really enjoyed them and learned a lot. They cover about 300 years, from Columbus’s voyages to the Americas in the 1490s through to the Shays Rebellion in 1786 & 1787.

“Isabella’s Pigs” covered Columbus’s voyages to the Americas and what was going on with the Spaniards in the New World, particularly some of their activity in what we now know as Florida (spoiler alert: they were fucking miserable). There was also, IIRC, some good stuff about French Huguenots in there. They made wine (surprise!), and got here before the Pilgrims.

“Hannah’s Escape” tells the story of Hannah Duston, famous in New England but nearly unknown everywhere else, who was taken captive by Native Americans who killed her family and 27 colonists. She, in return, killed 10 Native Americans holding her and her daughter hostage and scalped them. Badass. It also goes into the stories of other “uppity” women of the period – Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson. Dyer and Hutchinson lived in Massachusetts at the same time, both were considered too outspoken for women, both were tried, both had significant childbirth issues. Hutchinson miscarried a strange mass of tissue believed now to be a molar pregnancy, while Dyer gave birth to a stillborn infant that probably had anencephaly (as in, the brain never developed). Dyer was later executed in Boston for being a Quaker and just refusing to leave permanently, and Hutchinson, after surviving what would have been a similar fate, was massacred by Native Americans along with her entire family in a dispute that really didn’t have much to do with them but the governor was a turd and antagonized the native people.

“Washington’s Confession” was a detailed account of Washington during the French and Indian War where he may have committed a war crime, and how it later affected his leadership during the American Revolutionary War.

“Warren’s Toga” was probably my favorite of the stories. It goes into detail about a much forgotten American patriot named Joseph Warren, a physician, the president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and a secret rebel leader in Massachusetts. It was Warren who enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes to ride to Concord and alert Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British were coming to arrest them. Warren fought at Lexington and Concord, and died fighting as a Major General at Bunker Hill. His body was treated brutally by the British, but was recovered by his brothers and Paul Revere ten months later, and forensically identified by Revere, who had done some dental work on Warren and had put an artificial tooth in his mouth. His death galvanized American colonists, who saw him as a martyr.

“Arnold’s Boot” was an in depth look at Benedict Arnold, who if he had died at Saratoga like he was supposed to, would be remembered as a great American hero instead of a great American traitor. And for some reason, the general public seems to think Arnold was hanged as a traitor. He wasn’t. He died in poverty and relative obscurity in London in the early 1800s. Arnold had a rough upbringing, but did well in the military after overcoming his discipline issues. One of the reasons for his defection to the British cause was that, in spite of his excellent military leadership, credit he deserved was often given to other guys – including Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain boys. Allen and Arnold had this sort of bizarre rivalry for George Washington’s approval and Arnold eventually lost his shit after not getting enough accolades or something to that effect. Arnold was also pessimistic about the rebels winning the war – a fair point, actually, considering the rebels didn’t win the war as much as they didn’t lose it. But the whole thing is Arnold’s life and why he did what he did. It was a fascinating story. I actually felt a bit sorry for the guy. Stop. It’s 250 years later, we can feel a bit sorry for Benedict Arnold.

“Lafayette’s Sword” was the story of Daniel Shays, a Revolutionary War veteran who got a very raw deal  – fought for the Continental army, wasn’t paid, was discharged after injury, and still in a lot of debt but had trouble working due to injury – and decided to revolt again over taxes and unfair hardships. It ended rather poorly but he wasn’t executed. I think most of the rebels were given amnesty in exchange for acknowledgement they participated in the rebellion. The leaders, including Shays, were sentenced to hang but most of these sentences were overturned or commuted. I had a vague understanding of this already from AP American History in high school and a book I read on the train from Boston to New York called The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss, which actually chronicled the events leading up to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, but also went into some of the details of Shays Rebellion. The reason it was called Lafayette’s sword is that Shays actually received a sword from Glibert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette for his service, which he had to sell to pay some of his debt. This was frowned upon by his peers. For those who don’t know, General Lafayette was a Frenchman who joined the Continental army during the Revolution after France entered the fray and lobbied for increased French support (which the Americans would have been lost without).

So in case you couldn’t tell by the sheer amount of information I retained, I really enjoyed this book. It was interesting, and fun, and if you want to learn some cool stuff about people who don’t always get the credit they deserve and isn’t overwhelmingly long, America’s Hidden History is for you.

Off Season

The first book I read in 2016 was over the weekend we had a blizzard, and that book was Off Season by Jack Ketchum.

It was part of a challenge I was going to do, but in the course of my life between New Year’s and now, lost the list, so I just ended up reading this terrifying book.

Basically, a group of friends from New York City go to Maine where they have a cute cabin, in the resort town’s off season (hence, the name of the book). They end up in a cabin that hasn’t been inhabited in quite some time, and it’s near a group of inbred, cannibalistic savages (who, IIRC, were originally normal people who disappeared in what everybody thought were just legends and who, over the generations of inbreeding, became these monster people).

This is the story that movie The Hills Have Eyes was based on. Really, it’s the old American urban legend of cannibal savages that attack strangers for fun.

It was a good, scary book, but it was really, really violent. This wasn’t a terror story, where you never actually “see” anything – this was a horror story, violence, gore, the works.

It wasn’t the kind of book I normally read when I go for scares, because I prefer terror, which I find more effective. That said, this book was very effective in that it was scary and not JUST gory. The whole idea of inbred cannibals is revolting in and of itself. The fact that they were extra violent just added to the revulsion.

There is no shortage of vivid description in this book, and the story is quick paced, which keeps you interested. I’d say there’s 50 pages or less before the action really picks up. I can’t say for certain that this is the case, as I read the kindle version. There were some clear typos in the kindle version, but it wasn’t too bad. Definitely not a deal breaker…especially since I’m not sure the book is still in print.

I suggest reading this book if you want a gruesome thriller. But not in Maine. Or in the woods. Or the dark. Or anywhere alone. Pleasant nightmares!

Career of Evil

Well, I’m back. My family life took a sad turn in June, and since then I haven’t been doing very much of anything productive, but I’m trying to change that now.

And so we’ve arrived at Career of Evil, the last book I read in 2015. This is the third Cormoran Strike novel by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) and I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Silkworm, but just as much as The Cuckoo’s Calling.

A lunatic sends Cormoran’s spunky sidekick (and growing love interest), Robin, a human leg. Just a leg. No body attached, like she had ordered a turkey drumstick. This was the first of several body parts delivered to Robin. Blue Oyster Cult lyrics also arrive with these body parts and feature heavily throughout the book. Strike figures out he knows the killer partially because the killer sends BOC lyrics his mom had as a tattooed on her.

This was a pretty weird mystery that took some pretty wild turns, where the suspect is one of three very shady blokes Cormoran knows from his past including an one of his old boxing adversaries from the army, a pedophile and some other really lousy human being.

They get the right guy at the end, but not before Robin breaks off her wedding, then un-breaks off her wedding, and gets herself fired for disobeying direct orders from her boss, who can barely manage without her because she takes care of all the detailed things he can’t be bothered to think about (like, the mail).

Anyway, after their big blowout, Strike finds himself being driven by one of his childhood friends in low places to Robin’s wedding, where he shows up just in time to see Robin get married, and knock over a big vase of flowers, drawing the attention of the whole church congregation, which makes Robin laugh.

We also find out during the book that Robin was raped in college, which is why she never completed it, and that Matthew, her boyfriend now fiance/husband, had a fling with a friend of his.

At the end of this story, Robin and Strike, while no longer actively arguing and rather glad to see each other, are not actually reconciled and Robin is still fired, so hopefully this is rectified in the next book, because Robin is my favorite character, and I prefer she not be absent for any long length of time.

Now that Robin is married it is also less clear in Robin and Strike are endgame, which is less important but still kind of what I’d like to see happen because Matthew is a douche. Robin needs to get rid of him at the very least.

As I said, I enjoyed this every bit as much as the first Galbraith book, not quite as much as the second, but definitely a lot.

I don’t know how many of these books Rowling Galbraith plans to write, but as long as they remain this good, I’ll keep reading them. She’s released one book a year 2013, 2014, and 2015 in the Strike series so far, but considering it’s nearly September and there’s no release date for the next one yet, it probably won’t be out until 2017 at the earliest, which isn’t the end of the world, but I’d still have liked to have gotten my hands on it this fall.

I’m going to try to update this more frequently again. I haven’t even started writing about my 2016 books yet and it’s getting on 2017. JEEZ.

Horrorstör: A Novel

I read the majority of Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstör at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon National Park is awesome, but I was much younger than the rest of the people in my party by 30-40 years, and even though I descended down the Navajo Loop Trail and the others went off somewhere else on a less strenuous path, I still got back to the meeting point way faster than anyone else.

Usually I bring books with me but due to the nature of the trip – hiking around Utah – I didn’t want to bring anything with me that wasn’t my camera, food, or water. SOOO the books stayed at the hotel. I parked myself on a bench under a tram stop – stretched out, because it was rainy and not many people were there – and, in addition to listening to middle aged people compare quality of life in Texas vs. California, downloaded and read Horrorstör on my phone.

Like Hallowe’en Party, this was read in the spirit of Halloween, which greatly influenced the choice. I’m not sure how I came about it – it may have been an Amazon monthly deal – but it fit the Halloween theme of October, and since it was relatively short, I figured it was a good book to read on my phone (which I hate doing).

Horrorstör takes place in a large IKEA like boxstore of home furniture, called Orsk. This Orsk store is a relatively new location, where protagonist Amy is living paycheck to paycheck, and regretting most of her life choices. Some strange incidents have started happening in the store, such as vandalism to merchandise overnight when nobody is there without evidence of a break in, and a number of characters experience the feeling of getting helplessly and hopelessly lost in a store where things that shouldn’t be moving around (such as entire departments shifting locations) are moving around. Amy is asked to do an overnight shift by her nemesis, manager Basil, along with a number of other “loyal” employees to help catch the perpetrator.

This story, in spite of being a horror story, can be wildly funny. Everything about it, from the idiot teenagers who want the night to be a paranormal activity film, to Ruth Anne, who has no family and has made her Orsk coworkers her family is, in some way another, funny.

The explanation of the mysterious happenings is something we’ve all heard before, and for me, that isn’t surprising even if it is a little disappointing. Horror story motifs are motifs for a reason.

Some of the reviews on Amazon mention that the physical book is laid out like an Orsk catalog. I can’t swear to this, as I read the digital book on my phone, but I’ve read uniquely formatted books before an the formatting typically ads to the experience.

So! In spite of the cliche explanation for such happenings, this story was inventive, funny, and a pretty creepy story, that I really enjoyed and would recommend if horror stories are your thing.

 

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