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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-09-05 02:42
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life (Audiobook)
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life - Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Warning:

Death and grief

(spoiler show)

 

I loved Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and was worried that nothing else would measure up to it. 

 

As with that book, this one is centered around a young high school boy trying to figure out life while detailing in his relationships with those around him. Here, we have Salvador, his gay dad Vicente and his best friends Sam, who is more of a sister to him, and Fito, who is also gay. Sam's and Fito's lives are not as easy as Salvie's but he has his own issues to. His grandmother is sick again, and he's feeling an anger that he can't place where it came from. The ghost of his mother is always there, nearby, and his unknown bio dad is a big question mark. As Salvie, Sam and Fito go through their last year of high school, they face trials, joys and life-changing events. 

 

I didn't really click with the narrator. He did a great job but for some reason his voice just never sounded like what I thought Salvie's voice should sound like. Then Saenz started tugging at the heart strings as first Sam, then Fito, then Salvie and Vicente experienced significant losses in their lives. All the characters are great, flaws and all, and Vicente is a terrific father. But Mima. Mima got me.

 

I lost my nana at the beginning of the year, a few weeks after New Year's. She had been sick a long time and waiting for death, but that didn't make it any easier when we got the call late one night to hurry and come before it was too late to say our goodbyes. I wasn't as close to her as Salvie is to Mima. My nana only spoke Spanish and I only speak English, so we couldn't talk without a translator. But I never needed a translator to know how much she loved me. She had God in her heart, and she loved her family with all her heart. If I was sick or not feeling well when we were visiting, she'd whip up some lemon tea with her special blend of spices and I'd feel better. She made the best tamales and her house and yard always smelled like guavas. Ten months have passed and I still sometimes forget she's not just a couple hours down the highway, and this'll be the first Christmas where we don't all gather at her house, sing carols and eat tamales until we can't move. 

(spoiler show)

 

I saw my nana in Mima, and myself and all my cousins in Salvie, and the special bond that they shared. It's no surprise those were my favorite parts of the book, and that pulled this up from a 3-star to a 4-star read for me.

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review 2018-09-01 07:26
Anger Is a Gift
Anger Is a Gift - Mark Oshiro

Warnings: Institutionalized racism, racism, policy brutality, police shootings, death 

 

I'm going to steal this line from Elena, because it perfectly sums up how I feel about this book:

"The more potential a book shows the less I’m inclined to be generous when it doesn’t live up to it." 

Not that this book didn't always live up to its potential. I think it met that potential and messed it in equal measure.

 

I've followed Mark Does Stuff off and on over the years, and discovered a lot of great shows and books I otherwise wouldn't have tried because of him. I often find his commentary interesting, insightful and funny. I don't always agree with him and the conclusions he makes, but he always explains those conclusions in ways I can understand and respect.

 

Still, I was hesitant to read this book. I was concerned that knowing so much about the author might impact the way I read this book, and I did keep picking out things he'd mentioned about himself or his life experiences being reflected in the characters and the plot, which was distracting to say the least. More than that though, given some of the things I've disagreed with him about over the years, I was worried this wouldn't be for me. And perhaps, in the end, it isn't. So I went into this with certain expectations I wouldn't have had if there was just any other author, and I honestly can't say how much of that influenced my reading.

 

There was a lot here to like, and a lot to not like. After thinking over this review for the last few days (more like a week-and-half as I'm editing this review yet again), I'm still not sure how to write one. So I'm doing a list!

 

 

Some positives:

~Moss's relationship with his mother Wanda was pretty great. Wanda supported her son, and she realized that by trying to protect him he was doubting himself.

~Likewise Javier and his mother have a pretty tight relationship too. I wish there would've been more focus on Javier's mom, given what happens, but she's kind of forgotten.

~Moss's love for his city and his community. He takes pride in being from Oakland, and it's presented in a positive light. Knowing Mark lived there for years, I can imagine he walked the same streets and road the same trains. He really brings the city alive.

~Moss and Javier's friendship was sweet and cute. I adored them and how they just sort of clicked. It was easy to see why Moss would have such deep affection for him over so short a time.

~Moss's ways of coping with his anxiety and how he remembers his father were well done also. As someone with anxiety, I could sympathize with Moss's spiraling self-doubts. The rolodex of memories he keeps of his father shows that had a great relationship, and it was clear how much his father's absence still effects him. 

~The action sequences were very well-written and felt like something you'd see in the movies. Or on the news. =/ The action just exploded off the page and was a big part of why I felt the second half was more solidly written than the first half. These are the parts that flowed the best for me.

~There's no closure. There can't be. 

 

Some negatives:

~The dialogue was often exposition-heavy and felt more like I was being continually hit over the head with an anvil as the world of West Oakland High was being established. Maybe that was by design, but I thought it would've been more effective if more subtly handled. Show, don't tell.

~On that same note, there's also a lot of info-dumping. Moss is walking through his neighborhood early in the story, thinking about who lives where and what they're like, but we don't meet most of these people. By the time we do eventually meet some of them, I'd forgotten everything that was info-dumped about them.

~The same thing happens when we first meet Moss's school friends. Each one is introduced with two or three facts about them, and that's pretty much all the development most of them get. I also had trouble getting a sense of their personalities since they all talked and acted the same. 

~White people jokes are racist jokes too.

~The treatment of Esperanza was abysmal. Moss gets angry at her because she doesn't 100% immediately understand his personal life experience. He doesn't have to make any effort to understand her life, but she's just supposed to magically understand his life and when she doesn't she's a bad friend. The resolution with this character was total fubar. Moss was a jerk towards her for most of the book. (Other reviewers have gone into detail about this.)

~The metal detectors: They don't work that way. I even did some research after that scene because it pulled me out of the book so much. The info that the vice principal gives them later somewhat explains it but it's never explained how a broke, inner-city school could afford any of this stuff, much less how the police could afford it in these days of budget cuts. Even at bargain basement discount prices, military equipment isn't cheap.

~The info the vice principal gives them was never mentioned again, even when Moss had that reporter's attention. 

 

We all know race relations suck in this country, and we've all seen the various stories about police shootings and brutality, and campus cops manhandling students. It's also been disclosed that the military have experimented on our own citizens, so the idea of something like this happening in a school isn't entirely implausible. In a near-dystopian future, this could be all too real. We also have a long history in this country of the police and military coming in to break up peaceful protests with excessive force. Situations like the ones described in this book do happen, and this book doesn't pull any punches. This is an important discussion, and there needs to be more books that focus on these issues. I just feel this story could have been told with more nuance and less hammering. Instead, we get a book were all the good guys are super good, and all the bad guys are super bad. And white. Because ALL white people are the enemy, doncha know. (No, they're not.)

 

I'm still not sure how to rate this. I want to give it four stars for the spotlight it shines on some serious issues and because some of the writing was really solid. The execution of its message often fell into the two-star range though, but splitting it for a three-star rating doesn't seem right either, so I'm leaving this unrated.

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review 2018-08-26 15:04
A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock #1) (Audiobook)
A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock Series, Book 1) - Sherry Thomas

After the train wreck that BBC's Sherlock has become, and since RDJ's too busy being Tony Stark to return to the role, there hasn't been much in the way of good Sherlock adaptations lately. Elementary is actually a lot better than I thought it'd be, but it's still only something I watch when there's nothing else to watch.

 

I was hoping that this reimagining of the Holmes-verse would fill the void. Unfortunately, when you get a gender-swapped Sherlock Holmes - here named Charolette Holmes - you get a protag who is into froo-froo fashion, closely monitors the size of her double chin, and has a love interest despite having no interest in love or marriage. But she doesn't mind the idea of being some guy's mistress some day, as long as it's the right guy. Because girls need love interests, dontcha know! *sigh*

 

We also get a big long familial drama llama to give Charolette an origin story which gets her out the trappings of marriage

by becoming a big ho. *gasp* Or the Victorian England version of a big ho. Which means she gets one married guy to boink her once. She figures that way, she can blackmail her dad into living up to his promise to see her educated or she'll tell everyone about said boinking. Unfortunately, that cat got out of the bag before she could put her nefarious scheme to good use. And now she's sloppy seconds with loose morals that no one respectable will be seen dead with. ... Unless they are dead and she's solving their murder.

(spoiler show)

She couldn't just have one of those cool, forward-thinking dads who realizes his daughter's not suited for marriage. Nope, no education for his inquisitive genius. That'd be too simple.

 

So it's not until a good half of the book passes before we even get to the new Watson (who's pretty cool but not a doctor, or even a midwife or a healer) and the duo start to get down to the business of solving small little mysteries.

 

Meantime, Inspector Treadles is corresponding with who he thinks is Sherlock via his friend Lord Ingraham to get help solving a case. "I sure wish A.C. Doyle had written a story from the POV of Lestrade," said nobody ever, but we get that here anyway. Treadles is a nice bloke and all, and very sharp, doing much of the legwork himself and getting the job done just fine with just a couple of letters from Sherlock. He doesn't even meet Charolette face to face until the second half of the book.

And then Charolette has to go through this whole ruse of pretending Sherlock is sick in the room next door and hearing everything they say, because she's smart enough to know no man will listen to her on her own. Of course, there's only so long this ruse can last before it's discovered, so I'm glad the story ends with Treadles in the know.

(spoiler show)

 

Livia, Charlotte's sister, is sweet enough but not too prominent a character in this first book.

She will fill the role of chronicler, though, and she'll rewrite the real mysteries into fictionalized versions of them, so that this becomes the original A Study in Scarlet.

(spoiler show)

All the interconnections of the various lords and ladies and high society is pretty bland. And the killer

gets away scot free. Which really is fine with me, considering the killer did society a huge, huge favor, but still! There was no confrontation with the killer. Charlotte gets a note from the killer that explains everything. The end!

(spoiler show)

 

This story read more like bad Jane Austen fanfic than like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, and that expectation clash meant it took me awhile to get on board with what the story was doing and with the large cast of regular characters and the POV switches. I'm hoping that now that the ridiculous origin story is out of the way, the next book might see some improvement and a better focus on the mystery aspect. I'm not necessarily in a rush to get to the next one though.

 

Kate Reading did a good job with her performance. She's clear and concise, does a reasonable job varying the voices enough for all the characters and gives the story a sense of life. No complaints there.

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review 2018-08-21 03:54
The Three Musketeers (d'Artagnan Romance Series #1) (Audiobook)
The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

This was fun! I've been slowly but surely trying to get around to all the old classics I avoided when I was a kid. I saw a couple of the Musketeer movies, neither of them very good, and I recently saw a few episodes of the Musketeer show on Hulu, but I never read the book, and after the enjoyable but somewhat rambling The Count of Monte Cristo, I wasn't sure what to expect from this book.

 

It's still enjoyable and still somewhat rambling, lol. The book lost some momentum after the race for the diamond studs and doesn't really recover, pace-wise, until the introduction of Milady, who gives whole new meaning to the word diabolical. This was often silly, and often fast-paced. I can see how this was originally published as a serial, and I can just imagine the people reading this in real time impatiently waiting for the next installment. The three Musketeers are great friends and have varied backgrounds and personalities, and they adopt d'Artagnan into their group despite some awkward and hostile beginnings. I adored their friendships and how they looked out for each other - which is why it felt so disjointed that d'Artagnan then had to wait to be told to go look for his friends who may or may not have given up their lives to he could go fetch the queen's diamond studs. Like, bro, WTF? 

 

Simon Vance knocked this out of the park and his impression especially of Porthos was a hoot and a half. I think my love for Porthos is about 110% due to Vance's reading of his lines. So over the top. So adorably obtuse. Planchet was pretty adorable too. Though as great as Vance was, these are the most British-sounding French dudes ever. :D I guess French narrators just refuse to read this in English? After a lifetime of hearing British accents for French characters, it didn't bother me at all, just added to the fun. 

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review 2018-07-26 02:05
A Tale of Two Cities - DNF @ 40%.
A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

"You have been the last dream of my soul."

 

And this has been the end of my tether. I've run out of can for this book. Third time was not a charm.

 

When Dickens actually bothers to write characters living a story, the writing is tolerable. But then he goes into these long allegorical chapters that are pompous and overblown and I lose all track of what's going on or why I should care about any of this.

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