What We’re Actually Reading: February 2017

Yes, it is the middle of March. What better time to talk about what books we read in February?

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Why’d I Read This?

John Darnielle is the songwriter of my favorite band, The Mountain Goats, and the author of Wolf in White Van, which was just absurdly heartbreaking and beautiful for a debut novel, although probably unsurprising given how heartbreaking and beautiful his lyrics have been over the over a dozen albums he’s been behind. So obviously I was picking up his second novel the second it came out. And it’s a horror novel! And despite the creepy events happening, the real horror is the human condition? Fuck yes!

The story takes place in the rural United States where a young man working at a video rental store starts noticing that the tapes are starting to get strange homemade footage spliced into them, ranging from unusual, cult-like behaviors to disturbing violence.

Bad Book OR Good Time?

In the least spoilery way I can say so, that’s where the idea kinda stops? It’s a fascinating mystery, but very little of it actually happens and it never builds, and by the time we get to a nonlinear narrative and start abandoning main characters, it becomes clear we’re not going to get an answer beyond “the human condition, weird, huh?”

The writing is stark and stunning, and worth reading for that alone, but ultimately I felt like the story gave up on itself before it got started.

Can You Explain It In Terms of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

It kind of totally forgot it had a mystery to explore and used “because people are complicated” to wrap it up, so, sigh, I guess any House of Night novel.

-Matthew

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

truly madly guilty.jpg

Why’d I Read This?

It won the Goodreads Choice Award’s fiction category, and I was intrigued by the description “Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?”. The book really suffered from taking fucking ages to reveal what exactly went wrong at the damn BBQ. The parts that worked best were dealing with the aftermath from different characters’ points of view, but this could have been achieved without everyone having very vague conversations and thoughts for the first half of the book.

That being said, the characters are very well-imagined, and there was a lot of care given to give everyone layers and complexity. Erika and Oliver in particular were stand-outs to me, and I found myself invested in their relationship and character growth most of all.

Bad Book OR Good Time?

Average, leaning towards good because the writing was solid and I liked the second half of the book.

Can You Explain It In Terms of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

It needlessly withholds information from the reader for a looooong time, but it’s not as (truly madly) guilty as Beautiful Oblivion which withheld crucial information for no real reason until the last couple pages.

-Ariel

The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey

Why’d I Read This?

My friend told me to and it was on sale? I think we’ve not only hit the point where every time you recommend a zombie story, you have to preface it with “I’m so tired of zombie stories, but…”, but “I know every zombie story is not like other zombie stories, but…”. The Girl With The Gifts definitely does the most different stuff with that core idea that I’ve seen in a while. This story takes place after human civilization is pretty much on death’s door, with one last hope for a cure in an experiment studying zombie children who, for some reason, are still self-aware like normal people.

Bad Book OR Good Time?

If that description is kind of reminds you of I Am Legend… yep. While it’s a little on the predictable side, it never gets boring, moving along at a steady clip with great tension, action, and moral ambiguity. It does a great job creating characters all working towards the same thing yet with entirely different goals, all wrapped up in an enticing sense of dread.

Can You Explain It In Terms of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

Armada, if Armada were about zombies instead of aliens, if the children were the best characters, and if the story had a spine.

-Matthew

The Sister by Louise Jensen

the sister.jpg

Why’d I Read This?

I was in the mood for a psychological thriller, and I think it popped up as a recommendation after I read The Girl on the Train. Grace is struggling to cope after the death of her best friend Charlie. Grace and her boyfriend Dan, who was also friends with Charlie, try to track down Charlie’s father only to meet her sister Anna instead. In an incredibly stupid turn of events, Grace invites Anna to move in with them after having dinner twice.

“But something isn’t right. Things disappear, Dan’s acting strangely and Grace is sure that someone is following her. Is it all in Grace’s mind? Or as she gets closer to discovering the truth about both Charlie and Anna, is Grace in terrible danger?”

With a description like that it is very obvious Grace is in danger, and you have probably already predicted at least 60% of the plot by reading this description.

It kept me reading, and some of it was very entertaining, but overall I thought it was pretty dumb. A lot of plot points were forced, and Grace was so inexplicably dumb at times, and the ending was so stupid. 

Bad Book OR Good Time?

Bad, but at least it was fun-bad.

Can You Explain It In Terms of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

It’s like if the convoluted ending of Crossfire was the focus of an entire book instead.

-Ariel

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4 comments

  1. wordswithhannah

    I should tell Matt that I nominated One Bloody Thing After Another for the next book in our book club. Our meeting is next week and people are already flooding the event invitation with “OMGWTF” so it’s safe to say that I’ve lost nominating privileges for the foreseeable future.

    Worth it.

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