Adult Novels I read in August 2018 – Reading Wrap up

Last but not least! This was a SUPER weird reading month for me for my adult novels too – I picked up two nonfiction books back-to-back and really really enjoyed them, while I ranged from ambivalent to downright hostile on the fiction I picked up. You’ll see what I mean as we go along.

  • The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
    • Rating: 3.5/5
    • Thoughts: Frankly this book made me MAD. This had all the good makings of an absolutely stellar Poirot mystery, but it spent AGES in the set up. I think I got 35 percent of the way through the book before Poirot showed up, and that 35 percent is just not interesting enough without him. It just… dragged. Which is something that really kills any suspense of fun you’re going to have with a mystery.
    • ALL OF THAT BEING SAID, once Poirot showed up, Christie definitely turned up her skills up to eleven. It ended up being another fantastic mystery with a ton of curious clues and an absolute knock-out of a finale. The characters in this are all pretty dang interesting and have some cool machinations that you can kind of pick up on as the story goes. It’s pretty solid.
    • I think if you can forgive a slower start to your mystery novels and a lot of really annoying rich people, this is a solid Poirot novel that goes a lot of interesting places.
    • Also just have to reiterate that Christie is absolutely terrible at writing romance and I still wish she would just…..stop doing it thanks.
  • Inferno by Dan Brown
    • Rating: 1.5/5
    • Content Warning for: Straight up Eugenics I’m not fucking sugarcoating that shit LIKE THE BOOK DOES
    • Thoughts: HOOOOO BOOOOOY I almost feel bad for trashing on the newest Dan Brown books at this point since I feel like its an easy target but THIS BOOK IS BAD. It’s really REALLY BAD.
    • I don’t. I don’t go into Robert Langdon books with a ton of expectations. But I do go into these expecting to have some mindless fun. And while this is better than the Lost Symbol (which honestly is not… that hard), this is still. really uh. bad.
    • First off, Dante/The Inferno are just… not as interesting concepts to build a fun mystery off of as Angel and Demons and the original Da Vinci Code. There’s not as much fun ridiculous BS to pull from it. They’re fine? But not great.
    • Second, I know this is kind of a spoiler, but the plot of this book is literally trying to justify eugenics. And like. The book presents probably the absolute worst eugenics argument in the world as like a total viable option which it absolutely just. Abhorrent. It’s done so poorly though that I’m not 100% sure if Brown actually really thought about what he was saying at all. It’s still just harmful as fuck.
    • The only props I can give is that the twist, while not…. great, was definitely not what I expected at all. It was interesting for a bit.
    • PS Dan Brown how are you even WEIRDER with women in this book than you are with literally any of the other ones books I’ve read of yours. How is that possible? How have you reached this Straight White Male Zenith? Incredible? I can’t even really get into it because it’d take like 3 days but just know like…. it’s not great.
    • Why are any of us reading Dan Brown anymore. Just read Angels and Demons and call it a day. That’s his best one and the most patently so dumb its good work, so don’t bother reading anymore (though honestly give me a couple years and I’ll probably read Origin because what can I say I love pain)

  • The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
    • Rating: 2.75/5
    • Thoughts: *cracks knuckles* Alright time to get into Zen’s once a month fun patently unpopular opinions y’all. I’m a bit sad about it though since I’ve read both The Invisible Man and The Time Machine in the past and loved them, but unfortunately….
    • This is…. fine. It’s fine! I see why it’s a classic – a lot of the structure and ideas for later alien invasion fiction I feel like is directly tied to this book. But’s it just… couldn’t hold my attention. The first part of the book which was about the main invasion was pretty good, but once you got past that I felt like the book DRAGGED. The prose is pretty damn Victorian too – like distractingly so. I guess it’s been awhile since I’ve read classics, sure, but parts of this were an absolute pain to read.
    • This story and concepts are what keep this going, as the main character and the other characters you meet are pretty much reduced to plot points/ideas, and I just could not get into the story of this at all. I do think the concepts were pretty solid, but I just… couldn’t really connect. Maybe check this out when you’re younger and haven’t been inundated with invasion fiction. Of if you really like Victorian era literature, this might be more for you.
  • The Promise of the Grand Canyon: John Wesley Powell’s Perilous Journey and His Vision for the American West by John F. Ross
    • Rating: 4.25/5
    • Thoughts:Because I am the absolute dorkiest person alive I wanted to read a book about the area I was going to for my vacation AKA the American Southwest and this was a brand new audiobook in my library so clearly I had to pick it up. I really enjoyed this! It’s got everything I love – History of the American West, History of science, and some absolutely bonkers historical facts.
    • This title of this book is a bit of a misnomer I feel like – it’s more a biography than a general history, but that still really really worked for me. John Wesley Powell was an interesting character, and Ross did a good job writing his exploits in a super engaging way. Ross also is really good at using Powell as a springboard to learn and be introduced to other relevant parts of history. I learned SO much about American science and its politics while listening to this book, and I really enjoyed all of it. The narrator is great for the audiobook as well.
    • I think the biggest problem I had with the book was the clear bias Ross had towards Powell. There were definitely a couple times were it was really clear that Powell was in the wrong, and it felt like the author kind of handwaved a lot of those away. There’s even one time where Powell perpetrates some racist shit, which the author makes a note of then quickly points out that he was “progressive for the time period”. Which while that’s true like…. it’s okay if he was a shitty white dude. I’m reading his biography, its okay to know and learn that he’s done and said awful shit y’know? Ross never truly jumped down the path of full hero-worship though – it was at most a handful of moments.
    • I’d give this a listen or a read if you’re interested at all in American History and Historical Nonfiction in general. This was a solid read!
  • An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
    • Rating: 4.75/5
    • Thoughts: When I get on my scientific nonfiction kick I stick on those like a tick, so of course this was my next read after finishing the Promise of the Grand Canyon and this was SUCH a delight. Hadfield has some incredible wit and humor in this. I don’t think I stopped smiling while reading this (well except when he discussed shit like the challenger and columbia disaster. Woof those are still rough).
    • This  is an excellent balance of memoir, information on astronauts & NASA/CSA, and general life advice. And it’s all just SO easy to read. I really do enjoy picking up these more light-hearted memoirs every once in awhile – This and As You Wish will stick in my mind just of because how positive and loving they are, while still learning a ton of cool shit. I felt my anxiety creep a lot during some of the tenser space scenes, but Hadfield always comes out okay, and feels really patient and understanding.
    • Honestly, this book is just pure joy. If you’re the same as me and just. Like space and science and learning things a bunch, I would absolutely pick this up.
  • Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
    • Rating: 2.75/5
    • Content Warning for: Body Horror, Murder, Homophobia, Discussions sexual assault, rape, and slavery
    • Thoughts: I waffled back and forth on whether or not I was going to write a full review on this book or not because I have INCREDIBLY complex feelings about the whole enterprise. There are things that this book did really well and there are things that this book….. did not. To say the least.
    • Alright some pros: the concepts in this book are absolutely fascinating. I don’t think I’ve read another book with such nuanced criticism and exploration of science under capitalism – especially concerning AI, human independence, ownership, big pharma, and the control of necessary medication patents going to mainly said big pharma. Several of the characters I was introduced to in this I absolutely loved as well – it was really interesting seeing these different view points and ideas play off of each other pretty organically through the set up of these characters. I thought a LOT while reading this novel, which is something I always really enjoy when picking up scifi. And I don’t think any scifi book I’ve picked up made me think more than this book did minus maybe The Left Hand of Darkness
    • There are a fair number of setbacks though. I’m going to be blunt about this – this book won a Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ SF/F. I do not think it deserved that award full stop. For one, it’s guilty of some pretty graphic Bury Your Gays in this, (even if there are other LGBT characters in this novel that don’t get killed, it’s still really just unpleasant and unsettling). And one of the storylines has SUCH a poorly handled discussion of gender and homophobia. To give the book credit it really tries to have a conversation about this with this story line. I don’t want to spoil it, but it has to do with a robot struggling through autonomy and how human emotions and ideas influence them, especially when said humans are in a position of power. There are direct questions brought up that I was really happy to see. BUT they are still not resolved or handled well!  This thread of thinking gets dropped WAY too soon without any resolution, but the ending your presented with is just kind of like “its fine we’ve already hashed this all out!!!” It’s not!!!! good!!!! It made me super uncomfortable on a ton of levels!!!! And it also sucks to have issues of gender and identity primarily being discussed ONLY by robot characters!  It is a huge pet peeve of mine to have ideas of gender and sexuality ONLY being discussed with non-human characters in scifi & fantasy – I think it contributes greatly to the othering of non-cis and non-straight identities and is just… super fucking lazy. Read this person’s review on Goodreads for a more in depth spoiler discussion of just…. how much this book really drops the ball.
    • Also dude this book tries to get you to emphathize with one character that FOR SURE did not deserve it. It’s only one or two scenes but it definitely was just kind of like cool cool cool I don’t care about these fucking horrible shit people.
    • You see why I have complicated feelings about this book???? Don’t read it if your hoping for some good LGBTIA content. But it has some other interesting ideas and discussions about a lot of other? Just like…. read this at your own risk. Or don’t read it at all. I’m honestly still debating if the interesting concepts it brought up were worth the shoddy “”representation””
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
    • Rating: 4/5
    • Content Warning for: Slavery, Murder, Sexual Assault and Rape, Racism (This is a book about adult book about antebellum America
    • Thoughts: Yet another book I have complicated feelings on! Though for the most part I have pretty positive things to say about this book. Whitehead’s got great prose, and the characters in these novels are compelling as fuck.  This book absolutely excels in just the raw emotion and pain that courses through it. This is a fucking ROUGH read folks (I honestly regret picking this up after Dread Nation – they’re both incredibly draining reads emotionally).
    • BUT I had some real issues with the magical realism elements and story construction. Between each of the big set pieces, Whitehead would have these shorter pieces from the point of view of the more minor characters that worked… some of the time? I either felt like they were unnecessary, or that they should have been a bit longer – they ended up feeling more intrusive than anything. The overall pacing of the novel was also just…. all over the place. I either felt like I was being rushed through or it dragged on. And while some of the parts of the book this start and stop pacing made a ton of sense, other times it just felt stifling. And this is going to be weird to say, but I’d wish I’d gone into this book knowing more about what Whitehead was trying to accomplish with his magical realism. At the time I found it a bit distracting, but after reading up on it and listening to Overdue Podcast’s episode on it, I have to say hearing discussions on this book really helped me appreciate this book more. But I end up in this weird conundrum where my experience while reading the book was hindered by this analysis not being super clear to me. I waffled a bit on whether or not I should maybe rate it up a bit, but I think my issues with the pacing and the story construction kind of.
    • This is a book that is meant to be discussed honestly, and I think reading it on my own hampered my enjoyment a bit. This is still by NO MEANS a bad book. I absolutely recommend you pick this book up. It’s an incredibly moving, important novel. I just also think if you’re going to read it, read it with a buddy, or a book club, or read and listen to some of Whitehead’s interviews beforehand. I think you’ll end up in a much better place going into the novel that way.

Whew okay now that I’ve alienated anyone who could ever read my stuff ever again…. I’ll be back next month! Or hopefully sooner! Probably not though!

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