The story: As the first black detective in the Colorado Springs PD, Ron Stallworth never imagined he would join the KKK, but he did just that. When he saw a KKK recruitment ad in the local paper, he sent a response, expecting to receive some pre-printed brochures. Instead, he was invited to join. To pull off this ruse, he recruited a white coworker to play him at personal meetings, while he managed phone conversations with everyone from low level Klan members to David Duke himself.
My review: You know how your grandpa has a story he's told a million times, and the experience itself is pretty interesting, but the way he tells it is boring as fuck? Unfortunately, that's this book. Stallworth has an interesting story, but he is not a gifted writer, and the story lacks any of the emotional punch to engage the reader. Although the mechanics of undercover work are interesting, the actual results of the investigation are not. This is one case where the movie might be better than the book.
Trigger warnings: Suicidal ideation, drug abuse, animal harm
The story: Lucy is thirty-eight and her life is falling apart. Her dissertation is stalled, she dumps her boyfriend, then becomes obsessed with him and falls into a low-key suicidal fugue. After running into some trouble with the law, she spends the summer house sitting for her wealthy sister in California. This is where she falls in love with a merman who fulfills her deepest fantasies, but she's not 100% sure that he's real...or that he has her best interest in mind.
My review: I'm just gonna be honest and admit I have no idea WTF to say about this book. I read it because the premise was too bizarre to pass up, and also I was curious about mermaid sex. And, uh, I read the book? The main character is really kind of a train wreck, and it's horrifying how she's so unsympathetic yet also exactly like us, and somehow I never managed to actually put the book down until I was finished. Do I love it? Do I hate it? I really don't know.
I saw the Solo movie this weekend, and I was surprised by how much I liked it (although that isn't saying a lot, since my expectations were very low). It felt like fan fic to me, but in a good way, like someone really wanted a heist movie about these characters and got to make one. The actor who plays Han is bland and kind of awkward, but I am a sucker for lost people looking for family in all the wrong places, so it worked for me.
The story: What happens to children who fall through magical doorways into fantastic realms and then return to our earth? Many of them don't know how to adapt, and most long to return to what they consider their real home. Eleanor, a woman who fell through a doorway and returned to Earth long ago, operates a boarding school for her fellow survivors. Nancy, the protagonist, recently returned from the underworld and immediately falls under suspicion for the murder of one of her classmates.
My review: Cool world building, but not actually a good book. The author is so focused on exploring her premise that the characters mostly feel like puppets moving through the plot. 160 pages isn't really enough for a murder mystery, and there is a lot of random extraneous material about the protagonist's asexuality. If it had connected to the plot, it would have been fine; since it didn't, it felt like a public service announcement about what asexuality is. It was reasonably entertaining while I read it, but I wasn't very satisfied by the end.
Title: I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
Genre: True Crime
The story: The Golden State Killer, who was recently captured with the help of a DNA website, was among the most prolific serial killers in America. Michelle McNamara, Patton Oswalt's late wife, was an amateur detective drawn into the case by an internet message board. Over the course of several years, she became an unofficial partner in the investigation and began writing a book about her quest before the killer. She died of an accidental overdose before the book could be completed, and Oswalt hired another writer to finish it for her.
My review: This book hooked me from the first sentence: That summer I stalked the killer from my daughter's playroom. While the lurid details of the Golden State Killer's crimes are riveting, what sets this book apart is McNamara's beautiful prose and her empathy for the victims. There's a story within a story within a story -- the investigation, McNamara's obsession with it, and the book's life after her death. Notes tell you which sections were reconstructed by the writer Oswalt hired, and some chapters are transcripts of interviews she conducted by never got to write up. The whole book is suffused with poignancy because you know the investigation killed her. McNamara was so disturbed by what she learned that, unbeknownst to her husband, she began self-medicating with a cocktail of prescription drugs. This combination ultimately killed her. The book is an odd yet beautiful tribute to her life, and the lives of the Golden State Killer's victims.
Title: Finding Samuel Lowe by Paula Williams Madison
The story: Paula Williams Madison's mother was half-Jamaican and half-Chinese. Her grandfather, the Samuel Lowe referenced in the title, was a Hakka Chinese man who owned a general store in Jamaica in the early 20th century. Eventually, he began a relationship and had a baby -- Paula's mother -- with a Jamaican woman. This happy family idyll shattered when Samuel's family sent him a Chinese bride. Infuriated, his common law Jamaican wife took their child and hid her in the countryside to ensure that she would have no contact with her father again. More than sixty years later, Paula Williams Madison set out to trace her mysterious Chinese grandfather and locate her aunts, uncles, and cousins still living in China.
My Review: I love books that transport me to new and different places, and this book delivered in a big way. The author's meticulous research transported me into the life of an immigrant shopkeeper in Jamaica in the early 20th century. It taught me about Jamaican history, Hakka Chinese culture, how slavery affected concepts of family in Afro-Caribbean communities, and even what it was like to grow up poor in Harlem during the Civil Rights Movement. The book flags a little when the author tries to fit the entire history of 20th century China into a couple chapters, but that one flaw is easy to overlook. This is a complex story with a happy ending, and very enjoyable to read.
The story: Esch is a 15-year-old African-American girl who lives in desperate poverty in the deep south. Each of her family members is on a desperate quest for hope and escape, whether by breeding prize-winning pit bulls, winning the love of a neighborhood boy, or hanging onto the memories of a dead mother. Each of the characters tries to go on living a normal life with Hurricane Katrina on the horizon, ready to shatter everything they know.
My review: My enjoyment of the book suffered because the jacket copy set me up for a different story from what I got. I expected it to be an entire novel about preparing for and surviving a hurricane, with each character trying to hold onto whatever gives them hope. It is actually about 75% about the characters' day-to-day lives with a hurricane at the end. The writing is gorgeous, and the main character is achingly human, so I think I would have liked the book if the story line hadn't been misrepresented. As it was, I kept getting impatient for the hurricane and the suspense it promised. Read the book if you want to witness a slice of life that's probably very different from your own. Do not read it if you want to read a daring tale of surviving a natural disaster.
I started my second eight-week swimming course tonight, and they put me in the advanced class this time. Eek! I mean, I was getting frustrated in the beginner's class last time, but I thought I might go in the intermediate group? I am in over my head. Literally. We are practicing in the deep end of the pool.
The thing I like about swimming is that I am good at figuring it out. I've never felt like I was good at anything physical before -- and objectively, I'm still not a good swimmer, but I am good at figuring out what I'm doing wrong and how to improve. Tonight I wasn't getting my left arm to rotate correctly, so I started practicing with only that arm. Then I made up a drill where I passed a kick board back and forth between my hands, and by the end of the night I was using both my arms much better. Usually, when I try physical things I can't improve like that.
Anyway, it's fortunate that I took swimming lessons before the big Panama snorkeling trip (which I will make a separate post about this weekend). It was not drifting lazily around near a boat. It was stuff like, "jump out of the boat here, then swim between these two islands and come around the rocks. The boat will pick you up on the other side. PS the current is really strong." I would have been in real trouble without the lessons, but I made it! Sometimes I was even ahead of the rest of the group!