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review 2017-09-11 16:48
The Killer Inside Me / Jim Thompson
The Killer Inside Me - Jim Thompson

Everyone in the small town of Central City, Texas loves Lou Ford. A deputy sheriff, Lou's known to the small-time criminals, the real-estate entrepreneurs, and all of his coworkers--the low-lifes, the big-timers, and everyone in-between--as the nicest guy around. He may not be the brightest or the most interesting man in town, but nevertheless, he's the kind of officer you're happy to have keeping your streets safe. The sort of man you might even wish your daughter would end up with someday.

But behind the platitudes and glad-handing lurks a monster the likes of which few have seen. An urge that has already claimed multiple lives, and cost Lou his brother Mike, a self-sacrificing construction worker who fell to his death on the job in what was anything but an accident. A murder that Lou is determined to avenge--and if innocent people have to die in the process, well, that's perfectly all right with him.

 

Read to fill the “Serial/Spree Killer” square for 2107 Halloween Bingo.

 

This novel is considered a classic in the crime/noir genre and I think it certainly deserves its place there.  First published in 1952, it may be one of the earlier books that gives the reader a glimpse into the head of a serial killer.  Lou Ford, a deputy sheriff in small town Texas, thinks he can murder his way out of any problem.  He spends his time getting the towns folk to believe that he is just a good old boy who wouldn’t hurt a fly and probably isn’t all that bright—and committing sophisticated crimes which, as a member of law enforcement, he knows how to cover up.  In many ways, he is the predecessor of Dexter Morgan, the cheerful serial killer who works in Miami as a forensic blood spatter technician.  Maybe also to “true crime” books like In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

 

The writing is impressive.  If you’re female, you’re going to flinch at Lou’s casual attitude to mistreating and killing women, but it’s all part of his persona.  Not to mention that it is true to life—art imitating reality.  Crime and criminals have been with us forever, but this book helped in the process that brought the awareness of them into current popular culture.

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review 2017-09-05 19:13
King Solomon's Mines / H. Rider Haggard
King Solomon's Mines - H. Rider Haggard

The story begins when renowned safari hunter Allan Quartermain agrees to help Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good search for King Solomon’s legendary cache of diamonds. Eager to find out what is true, what is myth, and what is really buried in the darkness of the mines, the tireless adventurers delve into the Sahara’s treacherous Veil of Sand, where they stumble upon a mysterious lost tribe of African warriors. Finding themselves in deadly peril from that country’s cruel king and the evil sorceress who conspires behind his throne, the explorers escape, but what they seek could be the most savage trap of all—the forbidden, impenetrable, and spectacular King Solomon’s Mines.

 

***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

King Solomon’s Mines is very much a product of its Victorian, colonial times. Don’t go into this book expecting anything else. Allan Quartermain is an unlikely protagonist, an elephant hunter, something that would get him publically shamed on the internet nowadays. This is very much an adventure tale, set in deepest, darkest Africa. White men have no doubt that they are at the very tippy-top of the social hierarchy and have no compunctions about expressing that belief. They believe Africans to be primitive, superstitious, and prefer them subservient. An African may be king in his own lost-kingdom, but must still admit his unworthiness to equality with a ne’er-do-well hunter like Quartermain.

Not recommended for the overly politically correct, but providing many insights into the colonial mindset that still plagues us today. A fantastical adventure in the Victorian style.

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review 2017-08-28 00:37
The Night Guest, Fiona McFarlane
The Night Guest - Fiona McFarlane

The Night Guest opens with elderly Ruth fearing she can hear and smell a tiger in her house--in Australia. One of the great pleasures of this book is its unreliable narrator, unreliable not because she's deceptive but because her mind isn't what it used to be and may be getting worse. Yet the phantom of the tiger presages what may be a real danger: the arrival of a woman named Frida who claims to be a government carer. Is she, or is she fleecing Ruth?

 

Ruth's narration leaves just enough room for the reader to come to their own conclusions about her and Frida. Some things are left diaphanous, but not so hazy as to cause confusion. On top of that, the prose is terrific: distinctive but not overbearingly poetic. McFarlane capture fine states of feeling or consciousness with her language and imagery. I really delighted in reading it.

 

Not so delightful is the nature of what's going on, or even the suspicion of it. My grandmother, who died a few years ago, suffered from dementia. She had an excellent aide, but my parents eventually had to put her in a nursing home close to where they live. Even the best of those places upset me, and it was hard for me to see my grandmother--the smartest person in my family--lose herself. This recent experience made it difficult to continue at times.

 

I also found myself thinking about Frida's race and physicality--she's a brown-skinned and heavyset woman. Ruth is tiny and was fair-haired. What's being said about Frida and race? I searched reviews and finally found one that addresses the issue by referencing the author's own explanation (in the Sydney Review of Books, here). This explanation satisfied me, though I'm still wondering about Frida's size.

 

Finally, it was lovely to see a bit of romance between Ruth and her almost-love from the past, who's even older than she is. A delicately handled rarity in literary fiction.

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review 2017-07-14 03:51
A Room With a View (Audiobook) - DNF @ 38%
A Room with a View - E.M. Forster

This is partly my fault, and partly the book's fault.

 

My fault - For some reason I thought this was like Rear Window, and that the movie was an adaptation of this book??? The movie has a guy with view outside his room, okay! I've never seen it, I just know about it through pop culture and the last time I heard anything about it was years ago, so I forgot the title. So I saw this book, and went hey! I should read that and then I can watch the movie, or rewatch that episode of Castle at least. Hahahaha! Nope. There is a murder, but that's about the only thing these two have in common. So incorrect expectations are totes my fault.

 

Book's fault - Bored now. Women were repressed in ye olden times. Did you know that? This is complete news to me. *sigh* Just a bunch of talking heads, characters are self-important and annoying (well, I guess Lucy's alright) and NOTHING HAPPENS. Walk around the countryside and talk. Next day: walk around the countryside and talk. Next day: Drive around the countryside and talk. Talk talk talk talkety talk talk. This is a British romance so boring even Hugh Grant wasn't in the movie adaptation. It's that bad!

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review 2017-07-12 15:02
The Book of Dahlia, by Elisa Albert
The Book of Dahlia - Elisa Albert

Dahlia Finger is kind of an asshole. She's 29 and spends her days sprawled out on her couch, smoking weed and watching movies, funded by her well-off father. One night she has a seizure and learns that she has a brain tumor. Though no one will actually say it, she doesn't have long to live.

 

This is not one of those novels of illness where there's redemption ahead or that's supposed to make you hopeful and grateful for life (beyond not having a brain tumor). For that reason, I appreciated and responded to it. Unlike all the books on cancer Dahlia and her parents buy in bulk that say "you can beat this thing" if only you have the right attitude, in effect making you responsible (and to blame) for your own illness, The Book of Dahlia illustrates how we as a culture fail to deal with mortality. Though it's not addressed specifically in the novel, I personally wonder how much that American idea of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is at play, which easily translates into victim-blaming when one can't.

 

One of the platitudes often given regarding illness and healing is that a sufferer must let go of old resentments and anger, that these can make or keep one sick. As Dahlia considers and recounts her past, it's clear she has almost nothing but resentments, from a mother who essentially abandoned her family to the older brother, once close, who took out his own pain on her in the cruelest ways. Throughout her life she's plainly asked for help and been ignored. Maybe it says something about me that I couldn't blame her for her stubbornness in forgiving and forgetting. It feels like the only way she's able to have any agency during her illness.

 

If this sounds grim, it's not, or not only! Dahlia's voice is often funny, enough to make me laugh out loud while reading. Her humor may be bitter, but that suits me fine. At the end of the book there was a reading group guide that asked more than one question about whether one is able to sympathize with her; I absolutely could. I often like female characters in popular culture that others find abrasive, though I often wonder how much it's about gender.

 

The toughest and most affecting aspect of this book was the relationship between Dahlia and her older brother. As a younger sister myself, I'm always interested in and more sensitive to depictions of that dynamic. It broke my heart to read about the turn their relationship takes, how long Dahlia holds out and has faith in him, even insulting herself to get ahead of his insulting her. I both wanted and did not want Dahlia to forgive him. It made me want to call my own brother and thank him for not being a dick!

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