Books Magazine

June’s Mixed Bag

By Whatsheread

The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen

The Lost Letters of William Woolf is a delightful little novel wherein not much happens, but you finish the story moved beyond expectations. The idea that there is an entire department devoted to uniting lost mail with its intended recipient, no matter how long the delay between shipment and final delivery, is charming and a story that occurs in such a department is equally so. I never considered the idea that people send letters to the post office with no intention of delivery, outside of letters to Santa Claus that is, but I now see the appeal. It is a bit of desperation and a whole lot of hope that would inspire someone to do that, and the letters that captivate William Woolf confirm this. It is these letters that are the true highlight of the story, especially as William learns more about the mysterious author and she becomes more than just some words on a page. The Lost Letters of William Woolf is more than a story about soulmates and lost loves; it is about the importance of living in the moment, of focusing on the present as well as anticipating the future. It is about not letting life pass you by. Charming and so very British.

The Good Sister by Gillian McAllister

There is not much I can say about The Good Sister because I cannot remember a single thing about it. I can reread the synopsis numerous times and recognize that I did read it. However, I cannot tell you whether I enjoyed it or not, and I cannot remember one detail of the story. I have no idea how it ends or whether I was satisfied with it. I don’t remember the sisters or my reactions to them. I can’t tell you whether I felt they were well-defined or flat. It is like a big blank in my memory where this book resides. I guess the fact that the novel is so totally forgettable is the most telling point about it.

Recursion by Blake Crouch

After finishing Recursion, my first thought was that Blake Crouch likes a good mindf*ck because that is what Recursion is. His previous novel, Dark Matter was confusing but at least I understood the science behind the story. Plus, I wasn’t confused for very long. I cannot say that about his latest one though. Every twist added a layer of complexity to the story so that by the time you finally got around to the ending, the story is too convoluted for rational thought. You are just there for the ride with no control of the reins.

The thing is that you don’t realize this at the time of reading it. It is only when you finish the story and think back over everything you read when you finally question what exactly happened. The more you think about it, the more you recognize the confusion until you can do nothing but question what exactly you read. Prior to that point, the story seems not just reasonable but thrilling and fast-paced. You don’t get the chance to sit and reflect on the action because Mr. Crouch doesn’t afford you the opportunity, keeping you and his characters at a frantic pace of discovery, action, and reaction, and you are perfectly fine with this while reading it. After your adrenaline levels drop and common sense once again reigns supreme in your brain, you begin to feel as if Mr. Crouch duped you into thinking his story has more substance and merit than it may actually have. The problem is that you have to wade through layer upon layer of plot twists in order to figure out what the basic plot is before you can determine if that feeling of duplicity towards Mr. Crouch is an accurate assessment. For my own part, I had no desire to wade through all that. I can’t say Recursion makes a lot of sense when viewing it in the light of day, but it certainly is a wacky ride while you are on it.

Storm and Fury by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Gargoyles, angels, and demons – it sounds like something from a Saturday morning cartoon back in the 90s. Except it is Jennifer L. Armentrout’s latest novel, set in current times with all the amenities the Internet has to offer. Not having read any of her previous novels, I had no idea what to expect when diving into Storm and Fury. I did not realize it was the continuation of a previous series until I was midway through the story. While this knowledge may have added a little extra something to my reading experience, I don’t feel I lost anything by not having any previous exposure to Trinity’s world. I tore through this story of demons and gargoyles, swooning at all the right moments and hoping the story would never end. I enjoyed Ms. Armentrout’s breezy writing style as well as the story. I adored Trinity and her vulnerabilities as well as her refusal to remain a damsel in distress. Strong women with even an even stronger code of ethics get me every time, and Trinity is a welcome addition to that list of heroines I admire and thoroughly support. I look forward to seeing what else Ms. Armentrout has in store for Trinity and Zayne.

The Ditch by Herman Koch

Herman Koch’s latest novel, The Ditch, is, in my opinion, one of the year’s biggest disappointments. Mr. Koch is capable of such great writing with compelling characters and fantastic stories. The Ditch is not any of those things. The writing is choppy; the story is nonexistent. As for the characters, they don’t drum enough interest for you to find them anything but flat and insipid. The whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth, and I might have to think twice about reading any of his future novels. I never thought I would say that about Mr. Koch.

The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey

The Grand Dark is another fairly black hole in my memory, but this time reading the synopsis does help bring some details and impressions to the surface. One of which is the idea that the story is a bit of a mess. Richard Kadrey goes to great lengths to emphasize the hedonism of this post-war society. I am not certain if his intent is to shock and awe or if he wants to force readers to understand the damages the war wrought on veterans and civilians alike. When Mr. Kadrey combines that with the politics occurring underneath the surface, all through the eyes of a narrator who knows nothing, the whole scene is jarring and confusing. It is a bit like experiencing the frenetic energy and assault on the senses of a rave while sober. Nothing makes sense, and the word overwhelming does not do justice to the chaos before you.

I always try to approach such novels with an attempt to understand what the author’s purpose was in writing it. What story is he trying to tell and why? Is it a warning? Is it purely for entertainment purposes? Is there a message in there we need to take to heart? In the case of The Grand Dark, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. Some of this is due to the fact that I don’t remember the story well enough to be able to answer them. Some of this is due to the fact that I do remember asking myself these questions while reading and remember not being able to formulate an answer even then. I doubt it is purely for entertainment purposes. It is way too dark a story to be solely for entertaining. I don’t know what story Mr. Kadrey is trying to tell or why, and the fact that I can barely remember the story itself indicates to me that I might be better off forgetting it entirely.

FKA USA by Reed King

I read some weird books in June, but none are quite as weird as FKA USA. Weird doesn’t mean bad though, and in this case, I really liked the weird. The story imagines that the United States splintered into different sections, and corporations run these sections as a pseudo-government. That isn’t even the strangest part. You have androids fighting for political rights and recognition as human, a religion that worships Elvis Presley, a world where there is no such thing as fresh food, virtual reality addicts, and, to top it off, a talking goat.

FKA USA is probably one of the more brilliant envisionings of the future I have ever read. Meant as satire, it takes no stretch of the imagination to believe such a future is possible. None of the crazy stuff Truckee and his little posse encounters as he attempts to make his way across the formerly united country is all that insane when you consider what is happening in our own country with naming rights, big corporations and government in bed together, and so forth. Even VR addiction doesn’t seem far-fetched if you have a child and have seen the way she or he will zone out to online gaming or YouTube videos. FKA USA is like your wacky uncle visiting; all you can do is observe what he does and says and learn from his mistakes so that you don’t end up like him. If your uncle visited with a talking goat.

The Body Lies by Jo Baker
I’ve been sitting here wondering what to say about Jo Baker’s The Body Lies. On the one hand, I adored the writing. She starts out each section with these pieces that are almost poetic in nature, no matter how brutal the scene they are describing. They are so beautiful in their descriptiveness and imagery. I found myself looking forward to each chapter break because I knew it would mean another one of those pieces. On the other hand, the story held no interest for me. Sure, I felt for the heroine and her struggles to be a single mother in a new environment with a new job. I don’t necessarily approve of the way she became so involved in her students’ lives, which is what directly leads to all the drama and suspense later in the story. I can recognize her growth as she learns to say no to an overbearing boss, but her initial inability to do so bothered me a lot. It never seemed to fit with her personality and what we know about her. So, there was a lot about the story that irked me and not a lot that made a positive impression. This reaction bothers me most of all because I like Jo Baker’s novels and wanted to like this one. Unfortunately, when the final reaction upon reading the last sentence is one of relief that the book is over, saying you like the novel is not an option, and that is where The Body Lies leaves me.

The Girl Who Could Move Shit with Her Mind by Jackson Ford

Sometimes, you just have to read a book based on the title alone. I mean, what’s not to love about a book titled The Girl Who Could Move Shit with Her Mind? The story is equally snarky, and I enjoyed every minute of it. There are moments of earnestness and true darkness, as well as the requisite danger one needs in a thriller. The thing is that it never takes itself too seriously as a novel, which makes it that much more entertaining a story. This is escapist reading at its finest, especially as it is unapologetic in serving that purpose. I don’t know who Jackson Ford really is, but I certainly hope he or she publishes more in this vein because it is so much fun.

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