60 Books in 2019 #56: Underworld: An Abandon Novel By Meg Cabot

I blame this one on the completely brilliant Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe. If you’re not reading Lore Olympus get on it, it’s completely brilliant and lovely, retelling the story of Persephone and Hades in a hilarious romantic and beautifully illustrated way. (Psyche and Eros are also there.) Anyway, while I was searching for books to finish out the year, I remembered that hey! Didn’t Meg Cabot take on Persephone and Hades too? I love Meg Cabot!

I’d read the first book a while back, and I think it’s important to note that while I really like Abandon, I was disappointed in Cabot and her publisher’s choice to extend the story and the similarly timed Airhead over Jinx. All three books came out within around a year and were clearly cashing in on the new pop culture environment where genre stories about teen girls were a hot commodity. Of the three Jinx (about the most powerful witch born to a line in 100 years) was my favorite, I didn’t care for Airhead at all and while I like Abandon, I just never picked up the sequels.

I mention the moment it came out because it’s very hard to remove Abandon and thus Underworld from the behemoth shadow it came out under. I’m talking of course about Twilight. Like Twilight, the Abandon series features a teenage girl clearly destined to a great love in a supernatural context. The male half is vaguely stalkery but totally sexy in a broody Byronian mode. Cabot, of course, can write circles around Stephanie Meyer, and Pierce Oliviera is way more active than Bella Swann, but the paralells are hard to ignore.

At the end of Abandon Pierce finds herself transported by sexy underworld demi-god John Hayden (who she is very in love with and who has been watching over her since she was a child. See, kinda weird.) Pierce is none too thrilled about this, but John insists it’s for her own good. They have breakfast and they realize that means Pierce has repeated Persophone’s mistake. She can never leave the Underworld now. Of course they leave anyway, when they need to save Pierce’s cousin Alex from himself.

Underworld is a middle chapter and so I guess I’m just going to have pick up Awaken soon and see how this all shakes out. It’s a fun take on the myth and I’ve always loved Cabot’s voice. Up next is The Book Of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman. I’m excited to return to Lyra’s world and see her grown up. (Which I think is the deal here?? Dunno, we’ll see.)

60 Books in 2019 #55: Sorcerer To The Crown by Zen Cho

Sorcerer To The Crown has a lot in common with Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrell, at least superficially. It’s about magic as a science and field of study in mid 1800s England, it’s about a reluctant practicitioner getting in over his head with Fairy kind (in this case dragons) and it’s about the way the British Empire steamrolled history and people who weren’t upper middle class white men. (In this case the two main sorcerers are African children transported to England as babies.)

The book examines colonialism through magic, which is cool, and has dragons, which is cooler, and a sort of Jane Austen style slow burn romance between said sorcerer Zachariah Wythe, and his young student Prunella Gentleman.

You’d think I’d have liked it more, but for some reason the book just didn’t absorb me. I don’t know why, but I had a lot of trouble reading more than 20 pages at a time for this one, which made for slow going. (Which is why I haven’t read anything else in a bit.) It’s well written but it just didn’t grab me.

Anyway, we’re nearing the end here. Up next, I’m not sure, actually, I am, but it’s rereading, which doesn’t count towards this goal. (But it’s been 3 weeks and I’ve been staring at Watchmen…I need to read it again, folks. I just need to. Also, His Dark Materials.) 

60 Books in 2019 #55: Doctor Sleep By Stephen King

Like just about every Stephen King book I’ve read. (I think we’re up to 11 now? 5 Dark Towers plus The Wind In The Keyhole, The Stand, Different Seasons, On Writing, The Shining, It, Needful Things, and Doctor Sleep, so yes, 11!) Doctor Sleep has a lot going on.

In addition to being a sequel to The Shining (Danny Torrance is all grown up!) it’s a love letter to Alcoholics Anonymous, and about psychic kids and the things in this world and others. (GUYS! REMEMBER THAT TIME THAT I READ THE SHINING  AND I COMPARED DANNY TO JAKE CHAMBERS? IN DOCTOR SLEEP HE TURNS TO SOMEONE AND SAYS “THERE ARE OTHER WORLDS THAN THESE” AND I LITERALLY BURST INTO TEARS BECAUSE I LOVE JAKE SO MUCH. Danny, or Dan as he’s known as a grownup is cool too.)

Dan Torrance inherited a lot of things from his Dad, his temper and alcoholism paramount, but also the ghosts. The metaphorical ghosts of that most traumatic winter at The Overlook, but also the literal ghosts of The Overlook which followed Danny and Wendy around for a few years until Dick Halloran taught Danny to lock them away in a Shining constructed lock box.

The True Knot are a nomadic band of energy vampires who drive around the US in RV’s hunting kids who shine, though they call it “the steam.” They’re immortal and nasty and great. I’m sure on a different level of the Tower they’d have found good work with The Sombra Corporation. Their leader, Rose The Hat is ancient, powerful and terrible.

Abra Stone is the most powerful Shining kid ever, and The True want her. When Dan crosses her path by coincidence (or is it?) they become entwined on an adventure. Danny and Abra’s parallells are obvious. Her father is also a writer attempting to finish a book. (He’s not a violent drunk, however…so that’s different) They’re both gifted, affable, kind and empathetic.

In his adulthood, Danny finds a talent for helping people cross over from life to death, which is where the name Doctor Sleep comes from.

Anyway, Dan and Abra fight Rose and The True Knot, and also, Dan goes to a lot of AA meetings. Also Danny releases all his ghosts. Both the metaphorical trauma of his past, and also you know the literal ghosts that tried to kill him when he was five.

Like I said, there’s a lot going on. There’s stuff about 9/11 (which again, in The Song Of Susannah I think? There are advertisements letting the Tahine know that they should be in New York that day. I’m sure The True are related, like It and The Dandelo.) (LOOK, I JUST WANT TO TALK ABOUT THE DARK TOWER ALL THE TIME OK?)

Book’s good. Looking forward to the movie.

Up next is Sorcerer To The Crown by Zen Cho, which was actually recommended to be way back last year when I was asking friends for non white, non male writers who’s work I might like.


60 Books In 2019 #51: Hotel On the Corner Of Bitter And Sweet By Jamie Ford

This is a book that I remembered seeing in Barnes and Noble and Borders a lot when it first came out. I never quite knew why we never picked it up. I think it was on the “I’ll get around to it,” list for a while.

Anyway, I’m glad I got around to it. Much like The Stationary Shop last weekend, this is another story of first love disrupted by reality intruding on the sweet bubble of teenagerdom, and the way life goes it’s own way, growing in around those cracks.

As I said last week. This is a theme that I’m very very fond of. This time, the world that’s disrupted is the Asian community of Seattle, Washington in the 1940s.

Henry Lee is the child of Chinese immigrants, who are strongly nationalist Chinese, but they want their son to be as American as possible, without forgetting who he is and where he came from. Such a delicate balance for immigrants. Henry is the only Asian kid at his school, until one day, Keiko Okanabe, a seceond generation Japanese American girl joins his class.

Keiko and Henry bond over art, and their outsider status and jazz. It’s touching and innocent and lovely and then of course everything falls apart. Henry’s father doesn’t approve of his friendship with a Japanese girl. And then of course, Keiko and her family are interred.

If you don’t know about Japanese internment, I really don’t know what to say to you. I’ve been darkly fascinated by this very dark chapter of our national history since I was twelve and it’s well worth researching if only so you can know how easy it is for people to turn against their neighbors. (BTW, Disband ICE, close the camps, ETC.)

In the 80’s the Panama Hotel, where Keiko and her family stored their valuables during internment is reopened and Henry goes looking for a gift, a secret, and in turn comes to understand himself, his past and his son.

Seriously, I love this sort of book and this was a very good version of it. I suggest picking it up.

Up next is Cavedon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford, I picked this up before Downton Abbey was a dud, but I’ll still disappear into the fading glamour of the between wars era in Britain. I’ll always go there. Every time.

60 Books in 2019 #49: The Stationary Shop By Marjan Kamali

The Stationary Shop is the kind of book that is exactly what I would describe as my favorite kind. A historical fiction novel about a culture different from my own, about young people and lost love, and the way lives curve turn and intersect.

The Stationary Shop is the story of Roya, a sixteen year old high school student in Tehran in 1953, who falls in love with Bahman, a politically minded 18 year old of a slightly higher social class. They get engaged, the difficult politics of Iran and his mother’s disapproval eventually split them apart and Roya goes to America, lives a full life, always haunted by the lost love of her youth.

It’s a beautiful book and quick to read and consume, which is for the best with this kind of thing. It needs to either be fully epic, or readable in an afternoon. Also, Iran before the Islamic revolution is one of my favorite topics for explorations. (Thanks, Reading Lolita In Tehran!) Marjan Kamali invokes her Tehran beautifully, and Roya is a wonderful lead.

Like all of these kinds of books, there are generational secrets and abuse at play, manipulation and tragedy and life lived unfulfilled, but still lived. I don’t quite know what it is about these kinds of stories that really entrance me, but I do love them. The stories of those shining, glorious romantic moments that just can’t last, for what ever reason. (If you want a pure American example, I suggest Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Little Altars Everywhere) so I heartily recommend The Stationary Shop.

Up next is This One Summer by Jillian & Mariko Tamaki. It’s Comic Con week, so y’all are going to start seeing more and more graphic work creeping into things.

60 Books in 2019 #48: Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope By Karamo Brown

Man I flew through this book, and man is it garbage.

I’ve read a lot of memoirs and many of them by “celebrities.” Some are better than others, but when you find a true turd, like Karamo it’s worth celebrating. I was expecting to at least enjoy reading the book, since I’d liked Karamo since his Real World stint and love what he does on Queer Eye. 

But Karamo is a third memoir, a third essay collection and a third self help book and it all kind of sucks. Which is too bad. Karamo has an interesting story to tell. He’s a gay black man in America, for one thing. He’s a father, husband and television personality. He was a reality TV pioneer. But there’s a weird sort of self sanctifying at work here, Karamo believes he was born to save the world with feelings or whatever and it’s kind of a lot.

Most infuriating of this tendency is his rant about Tan France and his name. Karamo starts the book with the story of his own name, and the power he’s derived from it (His full name is Karama Kerego which means “Educated Rebel” in Swahili which is AWESOME.) which is a great and valid story to tell. Names are powerful signifierers of identity. He then talks about how he and Tan discussed Tan using a shortened Anglicized version of his Pakistani name. Karamo disapproves of this.

BUT IT’S NOT HIS FUCKING NAME OR HIS FUCKING CALL. This is one example of just an overall sense of the book’s preachy tones. I do like his exploration of being a queer Christian though. It’s something I’m still negotiating myself, so I’m open to reading ALL THOSE STORIES I can get my hands on.

Anyway, this one was not what I wanted it to be. Too bad.

Up next is The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali. This was literally a “judge a book by it’s cover” situation. It has a very pretty cover.

60 Books In 2019 #47: The Kitchen by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle

Oh boy, I was disappointed when the reviews for the film, The Kitchen were tepid. But now that I’ve read the graphic novel that the movie is based on, I completely understand why.

The Kitchen has a hell of a hook, a trio of wives of mid level mob guys who head to prison decide to take over their husband’s territory. It goes well until it doesn’t.

The art in the book is good, I want to make that clear. I like Ming Doyle, and kind of always have. It really sells the Scorcese-esque 70’s New York world of the book, it’s gritty and angular and never overly sexy (which is a nice change for this kind of story). I wish it were in service to something more interesting than this book. The characters are shallow and everything’s a little bit too scattered in the story, I kept feeling like I missed something, some point of convergence.

I hadn’t, it’s just not a particularly well written book. I’ve read some only OK comics, that’s kind of the deal when you get into it, but I’m stunned  by how just meh, this one was, when it’s got such a juicy premise to go off from, but it’s just not particularly well executed.


Up next is Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing And Hope by Karamo Brown, because I haven’t read many fluffy D-list Celeb Memoirs lately (Although I guess Queer Eye And Dancing With The Stars pushes him to C, but still.)

60 Books In 2019 #46: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

I don’t know what I liked best about Alex, Approximately, the way it played out like the kind of mid 90’s indie film, which I love, or if it’s about kids who love movies and vintage crap, like I did, or if it used The Shop Around The Corner as it’s rom-com pattern, which I think can be used infinitely (and largely has)

As for plot, teenager Bailey Rydell has just moved to Northern California to live with her dad, after her mother’s second marriage hits the rocks. There’s hints here and there that something really traumatic happened to Bailey early on and the reveal is definitely worth it, so I won’t spoil it. Also, somewhat coincidentally, she has an internet pen pal, a boy named Alex., a fellow film buff who lives in the same beach town as her dad. Bailey hasn’t told him she moved but has decided she’s going to find him, based on their vague conversations.

Once she starts her summer job at a local curiosity museum, Bailey immediately finds herself on the wrong side of hottie surfer dude/security guard Porter Roth. OF COURSE once they get to know one another, Bailey and Porter fall in love their odd mix of teen nerdiness and traumatic background fitting together.

Since I mentioned The Shop Around The Corner (and You’ve Got Mail coming right from there…) you can probably guess that Porter is Alex. It’s all terribly sweet.

It took a little while for me to get into the headspace for this book, coming off of IT afterall…I even took a brief break and reread some Percy Jackson books, which needed to be done anyway, with the fourth Trials Of Apollo out this week. (I have to get to 50 before I’m letting myself read it. I do make the rules on this one. It’s arbitrary, but still…)

Up next is The Kitchen by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle. I was hoping to read this before seeing the movie, and I did, but the movie is also now long gone from theaters…so…yeah…

60 Books In 2019 #45: It By Stephen King

Bill Denbrough is a gunslinger. I thought quietly as the Loser’s Club came together in two timelines throughout the first 500 pages of the epic It. Maybe Beverly Marsh and Mike Hanlon too. Maybe all of them, but definitely, definitely Bill. 

It is a funny book. Even for King, it rambles and fails to cohere in places. It’s brilliant and beautiful and odd and unfathomably strange. It’s  both obsessed with sex and chaste as a nun. It’s about memory and childhood and forgetting and magic and fear, and somehow, not very scary at all?

I can tell you one thing, as all things serve the beam (which gets a shout out as King describes one of the Losers Club’s better summer afternoons), I hate that fucking Turtle a whole lot.

What a godamned useless cosmic entity it is. Spitting up universes with terrible monsters, that infect small Maine towns and eat children my manifesting evil murder clowns and giant birds and what not.

But I love Bill Denbrough. I’ve fallen in love with one character in each of King’s stories that I’ve hit, that I never wanted to let go of, and for It, it’s Bill. (One would think Richie, given my allegiance to second Bananas, but no.) What a great kid! And grownup. And leader. Seriously. I love this character.

The book’s playing with memory is outstanding writing and It, and Pennywise The Dancing Clown are scary monsters. (Though, having read it practically back to back with The Shining, I find the Overlook’s ghosts much creepier.) The Losers Club are a tight band of heroes, a ka-tet worthy of the name.

But man, fuck that fucking Turtle.

Up next is Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett.

60 Books In 2019 #44: With The Fire On High By Elizabeth Acevedo

When I was in grade school one month out of the year we would be told that our book report had to be a “multi cultural book.” This vaguely racist category basically meant we had to read a book that wasn’t about white people. That’s it. The main character couldn’t be white.

As I read With The Fire On High which is fun, compelling and interesting I thought this was the perfect book for such an assignment. The main character, Emoni, is an Afro-Puerto Rican girl living in Philadelphia. She had a baby at fourteen and wants to be a chef and the book is about her senior year.

It’s a great slice of life story, and Emoni is a really compelling protagonist. Her dreams are small but still in her mind out of reach. She loves her daughter but wonders if her life would be easier without her. She resents her absent father. She’s falling in love after years of hiding from boys because of her kid. She’s worried about her grandmother, who raised her. She loves her friends, has petty feuds with her classmates.

As I’m trying to teach myself to cook and write about food, I find books about food all the more compelling. Emoni’s story is punctuated by recipes, all of which sound delicious. (If I’d been home while reading this I would have absolutely given a few of them a whirl.) And as I try to expand my YA palate, I was happy to find Aceveda. (I’m planning on picking up her other book, Poet X as well.)

Up next is IT because CAN’T SLEEP CLOWN WILL EAT ME!