What I Read: March 2019

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I can’t believe another reading month is behind us. Here are the seven books I read in March 2019:

Family Trust by Kathy Wang–Stanley Huang is dying. The question now is who is going to inherit his fortune? His second wife or his children from his first marriage? Complications ensue when Stanley’s family begins to suspect he doesn’t have any money at all. Good family saga, set in Silicon Valley, about a Chinese-American family coming to terms with their own mortality.

My Pitch: If your rich dad is dying, hurry up and visit. 

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The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman–I think Lolita is a masterpiece, but I’m conflicted about that opinion because it’s a book about a grown man who assaults a child. Can I love a book about something so horrific? I haven’t found a satisfactory answer yet, but I am glad I read this nonfiction book about Nabokov and the true story that inspired Lolita. Sally Horner deserves to be remembered in her own right.

My Pitch: Sally Horner deserves her own crime podcast.

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The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar–Jonah Hancock is an unhappy widower and merchant who has come into possession of a mermaid corpse. That coveted mermaid leads him to the lauded courtesan Angelica Neal, a woman he dearly wants to make his wife. Set in the late eighteenth century, this historical novel is excellent from beginning to end.

My Pitch: Mermaids are always bad luck.

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The Other Woman by Sandie Jones–Adam and Emily are the perfect couple, but Adam’s mother Pammie is the mother-in-law from hell. I guessed the twist ending–and it’s a bit contrived–but it’s still fun to read about all the ways Pammie inserts her monstrous self into her son’s marriage. I read this over Spring Break, and it was perfect for vacation. It didn’t tax my brain in the slightest–and that’s a compliment!

My Pitch: Don’t forget: You are marrying his mother too.

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The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump by Michiko Kakutani–I’ve read enough of Kakutani’s New York Times book reviews to know that she’s cranky. Rightfully so, given the era we’re living in. I agreed with almost everything she says here about truth (and the lack of it in civic discourse), but it felt more like reading a blog post that summarized the state of world affairs. The writing is elegant, and I do hope she writes more books.

My Pitch: The death of critical thinking is the death of reason is the death of truth. Good luck, us.

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As Long as We Both Shall Live by JoAnn Chaney–Matt and Marie are happily married with two grown daughters. While on a mountain hike, Marie falls off a cliff while taking a selfie. Matt looks increasingly suspicious, especially after police discover his first wife died under mysterious circumstances. I guessed the twist on this one too, and while the plot is pretty unrealistic, I appreciated the author’s attempt to make the characters believable. Enjoyable read.

My Pitch: Never marry a guy who is a sandwich shop salesman.

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Come With Me by Helen Schulman–Amy Reed works for a Bay Area start-up. Her boss is a Stanford whiz-kid who has figured out how to explore multiverses. With this software, Amy can finally see how her life would be different if she’d made different choices. I liked the book just fine, but I was deeply disappointed by how little of it is about the multiverses. It’s really just a book about a marriage on the rocks. I think it’s been pitched wrong.

My Pitch: You’ll mess your life up in every iteration of the multiverse, so just chill out. 

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My favorite book of March was The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar.

Happy reading in April!

What I Read: February 2019

February 2019

February was a good book month, but I’m at that point in the semester when I find it hard to concentrate for long. I read a lot in bits and pieces, which means I struggle to read anything that requires much brain work. That said, I did manage to read a couple of nonfiction books and a literary novel that engaged my melon. My total for the month was eight books.

Here’s what I read:

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender–Caroline is a 12-year-old Caribbean girl who has been abandoned by her mother. A perpetual outsider with no friends, Caroline’s life changes when a new girl comes to school. Together the girls search for Caroline’s mother and develop a friendship that begins to grow into something much more.

Euphoria by Lily King–This is a fascinating historical novel based very loosely on some aspects of Margaret Mead’s life. Set in 1933, it’s about three anthropologists in New Guinea. While they are gathering data, they find themselves entangled in a love triangle that threatens their work and their future relationships.

Lies You Wanted to Hear by James Whitfield Thomson–I picked up this book because I’d read that the author published it, his first novel, when he was in his sixties. I love the idea that anyone can become a writer at any age. The novel is about Lucy and Matt’s troubled marriage; any details beyond that give too much away, so I’ll just stop there. It’s definitely not a thriller (and I feel like the jacket copy sort of suggests it is). It’s more of a domestic slow-burn. My one complaint is that the author’s depiction of Lucy often feels like a man’s idea of what a woman would think or do. I thought Matt got a lot more authorial sympathy, but he was the far more flawed character in my opinion.

The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet–I have a weakness for psychological thrillers, and since I’m terrible at predicting plots, almost everything delights me. This one was particularly twisty and satisfying. Caroline and Francis do a house swap for a week of holidays. Once in the new house, Caroline figures out that whoever owns the house knows her…and knows her darkest secret. The plot here is meatier and more serious than a lot of thrillers. I also appreciated all the attention Fleet gives to character development.

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker–If you are afraid of everything, as I am, then I think this nonfiction book is worth reading. De Becker is a security expert who specializes in helping women avoid and respond to violent (or potentially violent) situations. In a world that still excuses violence against women, I found it helpful to have some specific strategies for recognizing violence and responding to it quickly and firmly. Trigger warning: This book does talk about sexual assault. De Becker is very careful to avoid victim blaming.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold–Mim is traveling on a bus to find her mother. She meets a cast of characters along the way in a thoughtful and action-packed road trip novel for young adult readers. I think the book is even more interesting once you realize it can be read as realistic fiction or magical realism.

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boyland–I picked this up because of the comparisons to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, one of my all-time favorites. Unfortunately, I think the book suffers from the comparison because outside of a death and some kids in college, they aren’t really similar at all. I thought the pacing was off in this one, but I still think it’s worth reading for a plot point that raises some really important questions (and shows representation that’s not often included in mainstream fiction). I’m being coy here, but you’ll see what I mean if you read it. I think it would have been a better book if it had just focused on that particular character and topic and left out the murder mystery. Still worth reading.

The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby–I could have an epic rant about this book, but I’ll keep it short. The first half is great. Jacoby makes a compelling case that American has lost its grip in rationalism, the very Enlightenment value the country was founded on. The second half of the book, though, reads like a crotchety old lady yelling at everyone to get off her lawn. And her anecdotes posing as data is exactly the thing she’s arguing against in the beginning! The rants about higher education were particularly annoying because so many of them were ill-informed about how higher ed actually works. Note that I read the older version, not the updated version, so it might have been better in the second edition.

My favorite of February was definitely Euphoria by Lily King.

Happy reading in March.

 

The Minnesota Murderess

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I’ve been working on an article about an arsenic murder trial in Minnesota in 1859. It’s finally published in The Atavist magazine. You can read it here.

It has everything: Murder, poison, illicit lovers, true crime journalism, misogyny, and Victorian sticks-in-the-mud.

Fun fact: One of the primary sources was a bound trial transcript so old and dirty that it gave me hives on my arm.