Review: The Waiter

The book begins, takes place, and ends in one place: The Hills. The Hills is a decades old highly esteemed restaurant. From its walls to its tablecloths, The Hills is steeped in old world decadence, tradition, and society.

The titular character, our waiter, leads us through his life…which, more or less, exists only within the dining room of The Hills. His clients, his regulars, and the new diners are the center of the universe. As he observes and comments on the windows, the actors, the boozers, and the glamorous we are along with him for the ride.

The book, which, until this point, seems like any other day, radically changes course when Mr Graham, the most demanding of them all, impatiently awaits a special guest. When at last she arrives – young, beautiful, mysterious who never shows (at least not at first).

This book is quite episodic. It is sectioned into five different parts but the parts only show one thing: The Waiter’s increased involvement with his patrons. Each chapter within these parts can be read as a little tableau. This makes the book perfect for reading on the metro, in quick bursts to shake up a reading slump, or on a lazy day by the water. This is not a book one tears through or binges. You savor it, like a good glass of wine.

Now, that being said this episodic nature made it hard to connect the characters at first. You’re so focused on trying to get to know the Hills that the Waiter’s slow unraveling and intimacy with his patrons almost sneaks up on you. I’d say Pt I is very engaging and atmospheric, but Pt II-III fell a bit flat for me. However, the growing intimacy and engagement between the Waiter and the guests and rest of the staff of the Hills really pulls you back in Pt. IV-V.

I quite liked the interaction between the Waiter and the guests and the fact that as his intimacy with them grows, he moves from neurotic to psychotic and becomes more and more untethered from the job he has had for over a decade. I think this is an interesting commentary on what happens to one pysche when they go from the observer to the observed.

Overall, though this book had a bit of a slow start when it came to connecting to the characters and a dip in activity in the middle of the narrative I found The Waiter an interesting read.

 

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Review: Killers of the Flower Moon

Despite growing up in the USA, attending countless history classes, and reading deeply about history on my own time, I never came across the fascinating history of the Osage Indians.

In case you didn’t know either, in 1920s Oklahoma the Osage Indians were not only some of the richest people in Texas, but in the entire United States. This is because, when forced to move to a reservation, it was discovered that a huge amount of oil was under their deeded land.

During the boom, the Osage enjoyed all the grandeur we associate with the 1920s gilded age – luxury cars, huge mansions, and all the entertainment life has to give. However, at the peak of their success prominent Osage Indians began to die in mysterious, murderous ways.

As the death toll grows to unimaginable numbers, especially for Mollie Burkhart’s family, the newly created FBI take up the case after local efforts failed. Enter several fascinating characters: Tom White, his team, and Edgar Hoover. We learn about the families and history of the Osage alongside this team as they infiltrate Osage country and work to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.

So much more than a typical true crime novel, Killers of the Flower Moon uncovers uncomfortable truths about America’s past, an important aspect of Native American history, the beginning of the FBI, and a thrilling case with threads more tangled than anything I’ve come across before.

One of the strongest points of this story is the strong narrative through-line. This book presents a sprawling history, case, and criminals quite succinctly (under 400 pages) and fairly chronologically. I think sometimes true crime novels suffer an issue of controlling the narrative and important details can get lost in the shuffle. However, I found Grann’s way of telling the story fantastic. This is made even more incredible by the pure fact that all sides of the story (the Osage side, the FBI side, the personal story of Mollie Burkhart, etc) have likely never been told in a narrative before.

I will say, this book does come from a more academic angle than many popular non-fiction books. I think this helps the novel push forward and tell a story that needs to be told without any question or room for interpretation about the horrendous action of many of those involved with the investigation and the Osage at large. However, I think this academic style accounts for some of the mixed reviews regarding this book. While interesting and informative, this book is not fast-paced or always wholly gripping. But, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, I think it would be a mistake to rush through this book or get too caught up in the story instead of being introspective and thinking critically about what you are reading.

Grann also masterfully presents us a dark spot on American history without pretension or judgement. At its core, this story focuses on the abuse and arrogant behavior white Americans felt for Native Americans. This is the reason behind the crime, the lack of interest in the early stages of investigation, and even why the story itself has remained largely out of the history books. I felt that just by reading this book, learning about this horrible history, and discussing it with my friends mattered. I hope, in the coming years, to read more fascinating stories about the Native Americans and how they helped shape (and continue to shape) American history.

Review: Dead Girls

Dead Girls focuses on Thera Wilde’s life, the disappearance of her best friend, and the events that throw her small town into chaos. Dead Girls is a thriller with a side of paranormal and a dash of coming-of-age angst.

When her best friend goes missing and the adults won’t tell her anything, she does what many young people might do in the event of such a large loss: she decides to take matters into her own hands. The book is told in first-person through Thera and offers a stream-of-consciousness look inside her mind as it jumps from murder to wonder bras to what toy she’ll play with next. Thera’s naivety is equally frustrating and charming. In some ways, the child within me relates deeply to her, as I was once a curious child. However, it is easy to get frustrated with such a young narrator…but the frustration isn’t directed towards Thera and instead pushes the reader to think critically about issues in our society that directly affect children and daily life, but aren’t really discussed. This book pushes tough discussions of rape, murder, desire, growing up, sexual abuse, crime, and the justice system to the forefront and, by using Thera, it doesn’t feel like the narrative is hitting you over the head with these themes but rather encouraging you and guiding you to think critically about these issues.

While Dead Girls isn’t a typical thriller as Thera is a child that can’t adequately question, investigate, and follow leads (although she does all 3 in her own way). The pace would usually lag, however this is where the fabulous introduction of ouija board and automatic writing is introduced. I believe these elements help push the pace and the plot forward and also keep you guessing. You get snippets of automatic writing from different dead girls, including Bille. This element helps give clues, connect the dots, and add an additional level of intrigue to the book.

As you get closer to the end there are SO many twists. In fact, the number of twists and the complexity of several of the characters really surprised me, as I thought it would difficult to do this with such a young narrator.

The ending is easily one of the must surprising and intense endings I’ve read in 2018. Do not read the last 50 pages if you do not have time to read them all in one sitting – it is THAT gripping! I do not want to spoil anything, but it really have you reevaluating the entire novel (in a good way!).

This book is disturbing, but…somehow disturbing in a relatable sense. When I grew up – I had similar questions that the adults around me weren’t ever comfortable discussing for what I now understand are complicated reasons. It made me think critically about how adults see and treat kids, and how much is too much information to give a child. However, Tarttelin knows exactly what conversation and discussion her book will put forth. I encourage people who are reading with or without a book club to check out the questions at the end of the book. I think these questions really help put the important themes and discussion this book contains…not to mention, it helps you process that INSANE ending!

 

Thanks to Abigail Tarttelin and Pan Macmillan for giving me an advanced copy of this book!

5 Books I’ve Loved this Year…but Haven’t Written a Review For

This is sort of a strange post for a blog that is 90% reviews, however I’m hoping that writing this post will inspire me to finish up these reviews. A big part of why these reviews don’t exist yet is because I took most of 2018 off from bookstagramming, blogging, etc. But, that doesn’t mean I didn’t read a bunch of books during that time! Although many of these were library books and the covers are long gone and not possible to re-take a picture of, I still want to share my thoughts on them…even if there aren’t any pictures. For now, though, I’m just sharing my quick goodreads reviews of each of these:

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay:  Overall, I think this was a timely, tightly written book. It was interesting to see how a contemporary exorcism/potential possession case would be handled today. I especially liked the tie-in to the reality show and how it played such a crucial role in the breakdown of the family while, at the same time, offering them an important lifeline. I also liked the storytelling style that it was 1) in the past, 2) present, and 3) the blog. It was quite powerful and really allowed for some interesting things to be done within the narrative. I thought the characters were well written and several scenes involving Marjorie truly freaked me out. I thought the ending fell a little flat, not because of the mystery – I loved that that aspect of the book is ‘up for the reader’ to decide…but because of how flatly it was written compared to how visceral the best of the book was written. In fact, my only reason for a 4-star rating is the last 10-15 pages just fell so flat and it went from the tense, gripping narrative to a shrug-your-shoulders kind of ending.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins:  I had a quiet Friday night planned and was looking to get lost in a book, and boy did this one fit the bill! I read it all in one night – completely enamored by the plot, the complicated characters, the structure, and how all the moving parts continually came apart and back together again. I highly suggest this for anyone interested in literary fantasy. It is one of the most gripping books I’ve read in a while. If you want to dive in a world that feels both familiar yet unwildly exotic, I highly suggest this book.

The Hike by Drew Magary: Strange stories abut average guys are some of my favorite around…and this is definitely strange, and Ben definitely begins his journey on the path as fairly normal. One of the most incredible things about this book is the ability to write the incredible and unbelievable as totally expected. The realistic surrealism (I know that’s a contradiction) balances the book and allows you to read, learn, and understand the story without being totally lost. It reminded me of half-remembered dreams and, speaking of dreams, he has dreams interludes in certain chapters that begin with confusion and edge into reality and then, upon waking, he corrects the niceties and irreality the dreams created in exchange for valuable tidbits about his real life. They were an interesting and engaging way to get at the deeper interiority of Ben without getting bored.

Oh, and the twist at the end was unlike anything I’d ever read.

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch: I haven’t even reviewed this on Goodreads yet – whoops!

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters: This might just be my favorite read of the year so far! I found Little Strangers to be darkly entrancing and each time I opened the book, I felt completely transported and immersed within the world. Despite its length, I found by the end of the book I wanted even MORE! I feel like I could spend another couple hundred pages within the Hundreds Estate – walking it’s “queer halls”, passageways, and examining the remains of generations left behind. I found the characters entrancing – although I wish Roderick was more involved at the end of the novel. *SPOILER* I also enjoyed the little epilogue of the ending, as at the end of the book and Dr. F’s madness over Caroline, I was beginning to suspect him quite a bit. However, after the 3 year jump, I still find him suspect but the whole thing more mired in mystery (which I prefer).

Books & You & Self Care

While the idea of self care is not a new one, the importance and celebration of it has certainly been elevated in the last year or so. Before we get into how books can be part of your self care regimen, let’s talk a little bit about what self care is.

Life in the contemporary world can kind of send us into a panic-filled stress storm. Between work, commutes, remembering to have fun, running errands, and remembering to clean your apartment it isn’t always easy to find moments in our day that are purely for ourselves, without any other motivation.

To combat living in a constant stress storm, it is important to take time out of each day, even if it is 30 minutes or an hour…or even just 15 minutes before bed.

Reading is one of my favorite ways to practice self care. Why? Reading has always been a way to both escape and enrich my world. At the same time I am able to unplug from electronics, the stress of daily life, and responsibility…but also become introspective, think about my own life and choices, and usually learn something (even if it is just a fun fact to whip out at next week’s bar trivia).

But, self care has also been tied to skin care, bubble baths, and other ways to treat our bodies, right? Well, reading can be worked into that kind of self care routine as well!

One of my favorite ways to practice self care alongside a book is to throw on a facemask (current favorites are from Nature Repbublic, a fantastic korean skincare brand). Not only does it feel like a simple ‘treat yourself moment’, taking care of your skin is always a great addition to your self care routine. It helps you feel refreshed, less stressed (there are even stress-relief facemasks!), and like you are taking care of yourself. Pairing all those good feelings with a good book is a win-win situation.

So, next time you’re feeling out of control…pick up a book! Or, next time to you throw on your thirty-minute facemask, pick up a book instead of heading to the computer or your phone…you might get double the self care benefits and come out feeling even more refreshed and rejuvenated.

Review: Sleeping Beauties

This gigantic page-turner begins in some very-distant-maybe-now future in which something is happening to the women. But, before we find out what is happening we learn all about the folks – from the sheriff to the dog catcher, from the girl next door to the drug-addled doctor – of Dooling, a small town in coal country.

But, back to what’s happening to the women: when they go to sleep, they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze and are unable to be awoken. And…you really don’t want to wake them up. Why? Well, because they kill the closest thing near to them if awoken in this world while they are trying to figure out the world they inhabit on the other-side of sleep.

Back in our world as almost all the women succumb to sleep, they are left to their increasingly primal devices. War, destruction, suicide and more swirl around their heads. But…there is one woman: the mysterious Evie, who is not only immune to sleeping, she seems to have started this whole mess.

As half the town of Dooling fights to destroy Evie and those who protect her, there are people within the prison fighting to keep her alive as the fate of all women rests in the women of Dooling and of Evie staying alive.

Sounds like a lot? Well, that’s why it demands 700 pages to tell the full story. The ensemble cast of characters, which includes normal townsfolk, a rat queen, a fox, inmates, and more, seems daunting at first but before long you settle in, thanks to Stephen and Owen King’s supreme ability to give a quality of normality to the bizarre.

It is this ability to give a quality of normality to the bizarre and supernatural that helps make the characters and events in this book relatable. Now, I know it might sound a little strange to relate to a book with an alternate time-jump reality, perma-sleep women, and a demon/goddess who enjoys playing Dooling’s version of Candy Crush…but here I am, relating. The supernatural elements of this book, it seems, actually makes the humans…more human. These weird elements don’t suddenly allow people to work together, to be better, to take the high road…rather the uncertainty and terror drives them deeper into their animal responses –  anger, greed, fear, which creates a high-tension narrative despite the number of pages.

The book has been critiqued for being sexist – I mean, aren’t the women put to sleep, metaphorically, in many large tomes crafted by men? However, I can understand what the Kings meant with this. The horror/supernatural genre is a place to play out humanity’s greatest fears – lack of control, loneliness, and loss. The focus on the men’s reactions isn’t putting the men above women (or even vice versa) but putting male fear on the forefront. I also think it was a stage to play out the current state of women thanks to our horrible political system in the USA right now. Women are being silenced, forced to retreat, and mistreated…but we can’t go exist in another world that is better…we have to help make our world a world worth living in.

Review: Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere was *the* book club book of 2017 (and early 2018)! And, although I tend to shy away from certain books with similar plot lines, I’m so thrilled it was chosen by my book club and that I gave it a chance. Although I read this in 2017, the book and its complicated themes have remained with me for much longer.

The suburban story takes place in Shaker Heights – a planned community in a suburb of Cleveland. There, we follow the very different lives of two families that live there: the Warrens and the Richardsons. As the enigmatic Warrens, artist Mia and her teenager daughter Pearl, get to know their straight-laced landlords and neighbors the Richardsons, the complex issues of this small community are soon revealed. The main controversy of the book, outside of both main families, is an attempted adoption. The Richardsons friends adopt a Chinese-american baby that was abandoned…but the mother didn’t mean to abandon her daughter. As the Warrens and Richards grow more and more embroiled with this issue tensions flare, secret are exposed, and the perfect façade of Shaker Heights begins to crack.

Although some people have complained the story was a bit of a ‘slow burn’, I couldn’t disagree more. We begin with arson and the story weaves through the perfectly imperfect lives and daily thoughts of our large(ish) cast of characters. Once we are comfortable with the daily issues, strange tensions, and oddities of both the Richardsons and the Warrens we delve into the locus that radically changes the lives of all the characters – the adoption battle. If the adoption battle had been brought to the forefront earlier, I think it would have been less impactful because we wouldn’t have understood the complexities and reasoning for why the characters take certain sides in the debate. This novel, for me, was incredibly well-paced thanks to its deep and detailed characterization.

I also thought Ng’s ability to write about motherhood in a way that makes it relatable to non-mothers is quite incredible. Everyone in my book club, including myself, is childless and has no plans for having children in the near future, at least. To read a book that focuses so completely on motherhood and different types of motherhood, I thought it would be a little difficult to relate. However, Ng shows us that mothers are, like in reality, so much more than mothers and that who they were before and how they were irrevocably changed by children impacts their decision making and motivations. I think having a whole host of different mothers and being able to relate to all of them, even if only in a small way, is a pretty incredible feat.

Another favorite aspect of the story was how you slipped in and out of different characters’ minds in such an easy, flowing way. It almost reminds me of Austen’s free-indirect speech, which was a wonderful thing to see in such a mainstream book.

My overall thoughts? Ng is a seriously talented author! I tore through the book in less than 24 hours and think it is well worth the hype it received.