Tuesday, March 7, 2017

CBR9 #3: Missing Wives, Missing Lives by JJ Slate

There's a lot of discussion these days about things that are dangerous to women--is it heart disease? Is it stress? Car accidents? Drugs? Serial killers? Trans women in bathrooms?--but it seems like one of the biggest hazards to women are the men in their lives.

This book details the cases of thirty women who vanished. Stretching back to 1976, and with cases as recent as 2007, the women featured in this book seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth, never to be seen again. For some, the legal system was able to prove a case against the men in their lives, but for others, the search for justice may never be resolved.

The amazing thing to me was the stories that the husbands gave upon their wives' disappearances. "So, you had a fight, and she just left the house--at 3am. In her pajamas. Barefoot. Without her purse, or her glasses, or her car, or her TEETH? Leaving her small dependent children behind. And you decided to say nothing for three weeks? And while she was gone you replaced your mattress and moved your girlfriend into the house?" It boggles the mind that many of them managed to get away with most likely murdering their significant others, despite there being a mountain of circumstantial evidence pointing right at them like a neon sign.

Could some of these women have run away to start new lives away from their ostensibly abusive spouses? Could some of them have been snatched off the street by a predatory stranger? Perhaps. Is it likely? No.

I'm not sure I'd recommend this book--it's not exactly a fun read. However, it is important to remember these women, and know that these are only thirty cases among thousands. According to this report from CNN (http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/06/us/dome...) an average of THREE women are murdered EVERY DAY in the United States by their intimate partners. The story this book tells is merely the tip of a terrifying iceberg.

ETA: Sorry about the weird formatting. I don't know what's even happening here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

CBR9 #2 - Southern Gods

I've had Southern Gods on my TBR list for so long I no longer remember why I put it there. Was it a recommendation from Amazon? From Goodreads? Did someone I know recommend it? Did it cross my path as a "If you liked __________ then you'll like this too!"

Maybe I heard it through the grapevine?

I only know that recently, I happened to come across it on my wishlist and decided to go ahead and splurge on it.

I'm glad I did.

In 1951 Memphis, war veteran and leg-breaker-for-hire Bull Ingraham gets a new assignment: a record company has lost one of their employees somewhere. Early Freeman set off to deliver new records to radio stations, and has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. His boss at Helios Records is anxious to find him...and also anxious to find a mysterious blues musician whose music can do terrible things to the living -- and to the dead.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Sarah Rheinhart leaves her abusive husband and returns to her family home, where she hopes to recover, surrounded by her young daughter, her invalid mother, and her Uncle Gregor's books.

Both of these characters find themselves caught up in something that will shake their entire lives to the core, and rewrite everything they thought they knew about the world, drawing them together in the face of an ancient and immortal evil.

I liked this book a lot -- the plot was tightly wound, bouncing back and forth between Bull and Sarah's perspectives. While I preferred Bull, Sarah was a smart woman, though not particularly tough. Bull more reminded me of Russell Crowe's character in LA Confidential -- a tough guy who spends the majority of his time solving problems with his brawn, but isn't incapable of  using his brain, too. The story itself is, as some have said, a bit Lovecraft-meets-Faulkner, though it manages to mostly avoid the pitfalls of both. The descriptions are lush, and I found I really enjoyed the writing style.

On the whole, I'd recommend this to other horror fans -- it's pretty graphically gory in some places, so it's not for the faint-of-heart. Still, it's a good story written well.

Well, here goes nothing: CBR9 #1 - Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Another year, another attempt to complete a Cannonball Read. Last year I signed up and then didn't do a single review, which was pretty sad. Luckily, it's a new year, and I have a new chance to read and review and say "Fuck Cancer!"

So here we go!

Finders Keepers is the second book in King's Mr. Mercedes series, and is again more of a dectective thriller than the typical supernatural fare that you'd expect from a Stephen King novel. In this book, our heroes--former police detective Bill Hodges, anxiety-sufferer and super hacker Holly, and college student Jerome Richardson--are called in on a case by one of Jerome's sister's friends. They find themselves in a race against time, facing a dangerous and single-minded murder.

I liked the book a lot--the events unfurled in such a way that I spent much of the novel on the edge of my seat, watching as multiple groups of people converged in a suspense-filled climax. However, I wish we could have spent more time with Bill, Holly, and Jerome, whom I grew really fond of during their adventures in Mr. Mercedes. The new characters were pretty good, though, especially Pete, the teenage boy on whom the action hinges.

This is a great book for those who enjoy detective thrillers, though it definitely needs to be read after Mr. Mercedes, and is clearly setting up a final showdown in the third book of the trilogy, End of Watch. There's also a certain amount to be said about King's thoughts on literature and literary obsession, which he weaves into the story with a deft hand.

On the whole, thumbs up!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Greetings, 2016!

I did not get a lot of blogging done in 2015. It's not so much that I had nothing to say, and more that it didn't seem all that important to say it. But now here we are, in a new year! Let's review 2015, eulogize it, lay it to rest, and put out some goals for 2016, shall we?

I have always believed--without a shred of evidence, mind you--that New Year's Eve sets the tone for your whole year. Whatever happens on that night will be reflected throughout the next 365 days, for better or for worse. Last year was...not great. I found myself home alone, crying to my cat while basically everyone I knew went to a party at Captain No-Fun's--a party that no one had the guts to tell me about, and let me figure it out via Facebook. I thought that meant that this would be a year of lonliness and desertion, just me and the cat, by ourselves, dealing with a world that didn't give a shit.

Weirdly, though, it turned out that it WAS an indicator of the year...I'd just interpreted it wrong. Yes, this did turn out to be a year of me and Briscoe going it alone...but that was okay! I realized that I don't actually NEED more than that. Do I like other people? Absolutely! But do I need them to be happy? Nope! I also learned that the people I had considered my closest friends couldn't be relied on. When it comes down to it, they're actually Captain No-Fun's friends. Do they like me? Sure. Will they invite me to things? Sure. But will they invite me to things when it means not inviting him? Nope. Will they make the effort to hang out with me outside of that? Nope. It was a very hard lesson, and it hurt. A lot. It still does, frankly.

But in the course of the year, I met NEW people! My roommates have turned out to be--for the most part--completely awesome. Ms. Neuroart and Bone Girl are a constant joy, even though I spend a lot of my time with them wondering just what the hell is going on. It's wonderful to come home every day and feel like you live in a place with friends, not just a boarding house with random strangers

 The Boston Dyke March committee turned out to be a life saver for me. The people I met there have become some of my closest and dearest friends. If I hadn't said yes to that, I don't know what my year would have looked like. Aside from putting on a frankly unbelievable event--we managed to raise our entire budget from the ground up, and create something that drew between 1500 and 2000 people to join together and march through the streets of Boston--I met people who have literally changed my life. They are kind, supportive, funny, and interesting. They've taken me into their lives and their social circles and made me so welcome. In fact, this year I spent Christmas with The Nanny and this NYE was spent with Krav MaGoddess, The Patriarchy, and their friends. It was a turnaround from last year, but it also wouldn't have been possible without my resolution to say yes to things.

Dating was still just a big no. I have issues. I will get to them one of these days. In the meantime, I am reasonably content on my own. As a FB meme from the other day said, "I am not searching for my other half because I'm not a half." If I should happen to meet someone who interests me, that would be nice. However, it's not on my priority list.

What IS on my priority list for 2016?

1. Continue to make new friends and nurture those friendships I've started. I don't think it's possible to have too many friends.

2. Therapy harder. I've frankly got complacent with Valerie, in that I mostly use my time with her for venting and validation. I need to start actually doing some WORK. Probably dealing with my relationship fears, figuring out how to deal with my terror regarding failure, and also maybe figuring out how to be a functional adult without giving up who I am.

3. Creative pursuits. I need to actually DO things, as opposed to just strongly considering doing things.

4. Be more open. This is a carry-over from last year, but the process continues. Now I need to manage to be open, but not be a drunken feelingsbomb. When you're telling people deep dark secrets that you haven't even told your therapist at a NYE party, maybe you need to work on wrangling in the openness just a smidge.

5. Clean better. I know I'm a slob. I will probably always be a slob. Accepting this about myself does not mean that living in squalor is acceptable. Take out your fucking trash, Johnson.

6. Continue to learn, listen, check my privilege, and question my reactions. Accept that I have anxiety, and even with medication some days are going to be a struggle. Know that there will be the occasional anxiety attack for no reason, and that taking an Ativan and going to bed with the cat to watch cartoons is a reasonable response to that.

7. Watch my drinking -- I LOVE to drink, and I think it often loosens me up and brings out the best parts of my personality. Then again, my parents are heavy drinkers/alcoholics, so I should probably keep an eye on that. Drunk once a month or so is fun...drunk every week and you start to turn into a hot mess.

Anyway, I've been working on this entry for two days (as you might be able to guess from the complete disjointed rambling nature of it) and I figure it's time to put down the keyboard as it were and let it go.

Happy New Year!

Friday, February 20, 2015

CBR7 #2: Ramona's Home by Lawrence Bassett

The first thing I have to admit up front is that this book was written by my all-time favorite high school English teacher, so I am a little bit biased. The man was (and still is, I assume) wonderful, smart, hilarious, and also completely insane. I totally adored him.

Ramona's Home is the story of Ramona Schuyler, a woman in her fifties who has returned to her small hometown to serve as the chief of police. Ramona had left town as soon as she could, and spent most of her life in the miliary an MP or as a state trooper. She hasn't been back in town all that long when the father of her childhood best friend kills himself. As she investigates, Ramona discovers that the town has been keeping some awful secrets, and she tries to decide if it's worth shining a light on them. She also tries to figure out where her place in this is, and whether she even has one.

There were a lot of things I really liked about the book, most importantly Ramona herself. As a character, she's tough, self-mocking, cynical, and very smart. I liked her very much, and was interested in her actions and motivations.  I was also interested in the mystery itself, trying to follow along and recognize the clues at the same time Ramona did.

On the other hand, there were a few things that bothered me. First off, it felt like the book rushed to an ending. A promising mystery was tied up fairly quickly, and with hardly any raised stakes for Ramona. There was a sudden reveal of a new character, some fisticuffs, a little gunplay, and everything was tied up neatly. I didn't feel like I necessarily got the pay-off for my invested time and emotions. I also felt like some of the secondary characters could have been fleshed out a little better. I wanted to know them and care about them, but for the most part, they were just background players who stepped in, said their lines, and then stepped out again.

Overall, I liked this, and would recommend it. However, I do think it wouldn't have suffered from the addition of another 100 pages to fill in the holes and ratchet up the tension.

For more book reviews, be sure to check out The Cannonball Read Blog!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

CBR7 #1: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Cannonball Read #7 has BEGUN!

My first book is Joe Hill's NOS4A2, which was received as a gift in the CBR Book Exchange this year. I was extremely excited, because I've been hearing really good things about this book, and I really enjoyed Hill's Heart Shaped Box.

The main character in the story is Victoria McQueen, called Vic by some, and The Brat to her father. She discovers one day that she has the ability to slip through space to find things, driven to wherever she wants to go by crossing over an old wooden bridge. Usually, she uses it to find items people have lost, but one day when she's a teenager, she uses it to go looking for trouble. As it always has, the bridge takes her to exactly what she asked for. What she finds on the other side is another person who also has a way to slip in and out of the world, but his activities are not as benign as Vic's. Although she manages to escape from Charlie Manx when she's seventeen, the rest of her life will turn on what happened that day.

Thus begins a tale that spans more than a decade and criss-crosses the country. I was very caught up in Vic's life, and really liked and identified with the character. She had a tough but vulnerable voice, and I was anxious to find out what would happen to her. I also liked the supporting cast quite a bit--her boyfriend Lou was a wonderful, gentle giant of a character, about whom I was constantly worried. Her son Wayne was also interesting in a quiet, self-contained sort of way. Maggie Leigh was wonderful, and I was sorry she didn't get more time.The villain and his henchman were both deeply creepy, though I would have liked just a bit more back-story about Manx.

The plot moved along pretty quickly, and at no point did I find the book dragging. It was quite a page-turner, and I was happy to be along for the ride.

Hill is obviously deeply influenced by his father's work (his father being Stephen King), but he has his own unique voice, and has managed to take a lot of the things I love about King (his relatable characters, clever use of language, creative ideas) and put his own spin on them. He has also managed to come up with a solid ending, for which I was grateful.

On the whole, I liked this a lot, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys creepy stories.

A note: read to the end. Don't forget the note on the typeface...I know they're usually boring, but this one isn't.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Big Brother is Counting Your Steps

So my work has given us all FitBits.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this yet. On the one hand, it's nice that they're concerned about our health and willing to shell out for this not-cheap device. On the other hand, there is a departmental "challenge" aspect to this that I did not actively agree to, and also a certain amount of implied weight policing I'm not sure I'm comfortable with.

If I want to go home and lie on the floor all evening and not move, that's no one's business but mine, and to have my activity levels broadcasted to the people I work with feels somewhat invasive. But I'm not sure this is a situation in which refusing to participate would be acceptable. No one wants to be the whiner, after all.

For those who don't know me personally, I work in healthcare. I'm not a doctor or nurse or anything like that, mind you -- I'm an admin. I'm also a fat person, who has worked hard at accepting herself and her body as it is. I think I've mentioned my stance on dieting here before, and I continue to believe that my life is not even the slightest bit improved by torturing myself over every bite of food I consume. My body is what it is, and even though I might not be considered asthetically pleasing by society at large, I have perfect blood pressure and cholesterol, not a hint of the dreaded diabeetus.

But even if I DID have any of those ailments, is it any of my employer's business? I pay for my insurance just like everyone else, and frankly I probably am much cheaper to them than the people who have a bunch of kids or hereditary issues or weird food allergies. I am under no obligation to anyone to be a "good fatty". If recent events have given me nothing else, I've gotten the freedom to be whomever the fuck I want, without having to justify my life, my choices, or my behavior to anyone. If I want to eat quinoa and kale and sweat to the oldies, that is okay. But if I want to eat chips for dinner and spend the weekend watching CSI reruns, that's okay too, because it's no one's business but mine.

I appreciate the idea that they are trying to motivate us to integrate more activity into our lives, but the onus is on us to do this outside of work, since my work by definition requires that I sit at a desk all day. Also, the FitBit requires entering a weight before you can even set it up. Is that going to be made public? Is this campaign focused on activity or weight loss? And will I be shamed by my coworkers if I don't measure up?

I guess I'll try it out and see how it goes.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

New Year, Innit? (Intensive Navel-Gazing Ahead: Proceed With Caution)

So 2014 was a pretty eventful year.

The main thing that happened is that after nearly eleven years together, The Boyfriend and I split up. I will not pretend that this was "mutual" -- he was the one who decided to call it quits -- but I will say that I am coming to believe that this was the right move for everyone involved.

Of course, this meant that as of August 28, I kind of had to reboot my entire life. I had to find a new place to live and decide what kind of life I was going to make for myself. I managed, with an efficiency that frankly surprised me a bit, to find an apartment, pack, and move within three weeks. My cat and I headed back to our old neighborhood, and so far it's working out really well. I have four new roommates whom I really enjoy, and I've had a great time organizing and decorating my own space. Although I sometimes miss my old life, I'm quickly coming to realize that my old life actually had very little to do with me. It had a lot more to do with a person I was trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to be, and I don't especially miss her. We tried to handle the break-up as maturely and civilly as possible, and for the most part we've succeeded. While the feelings involved may not be nearly as amicable as we pretend, behavior has on the whole been polite. This has denied me the opportunity to get all Miranda Lambert about things, but has allowed me to keep in contact with The Boyfriend's sister, aunt, and grandmother, all of whom I like very much.

Anyone who knows me knows that there are few things I hate more than change, so this has been a real struggle for me. I've been lucky that my new roommates are fun, interesting people who have been open to forming friendships and sharing their social circles. They are also great with boundaries--if I want to hang out, there's usually someone to talk to, and if I would rather hole up in my room with Netflix, no one is offended. And everyone cleans up after themselves -- no crackmonkeys here!

I miss my old friends sometimes--while we are still friendly, they mostly belonged to The Boyfriend--but that will pass. I'll admit there were a few that I was mistaken about, thinking that we'd remain closer than we are. That was a painful lesson, one that never gets easier. However, on the other hand, I've probably been out more in the past two months than I had during the previous year, and to places I would never have expected to go. I've been to several parties where I only (slightly) knew a few people, and surprisingly (to me, anyway) I met new people and formed acquaintances that led to further invitations. When people have asked me to do things (cookie swap, Halloween for Christmas, icing 300 cookies) I've agreed with a smile and ended up having a good time. My philosophy this year is that unless I have a rational reason for refusing, when someone asks me to do something, I'm going to just say yes. Knit blankets for shelter cats? Yes! Pot-luck dinner? Yes! Boston Dyke March Organizational meeting? ...You know I'm not a lesbian, right? And that's okay? then yes!

I'm still working on initiating things, and that's obviously tough. Inside me will always be the middle-schooler who is terrified to throw a party and have no one show up. However, what's the worst thing that can happen in that circumstance? No one comes and I eat the dip myself? Yeah, okay, I might drink too much and cry myself to sleep, but pretty soon I'll have plenty of other friends. I've been reconnecting with people I let slide out of my life and making an effort to socialize with those who were previously on the periphery of my set.

The idea of dating again is still really too scary to contemplate. I feel like maybe I need to follow the advice of her Majesty Queen RuPaul, "If you can't love yourself, how the hell you gon' love anybody else?" I need to make sure I like me before I try to convince dudes to do so. I also need to make sure I have a firm personality, so this time around I don't find myself years down the road trying to force my round personality into a square hole again. Maybe there's someone out there who doesn't think all the things I like are lame, stupid, or a waste of time. Someone who isn't going to be disappointed that I find all the things he thinks are fun completely torturous. But I need to be sure I know what I'm all about before I go looking for someone who is going to love me for me.

To sum up ("Finally!" you say, "If there is a point to this, could you please, please get to it?") I would like to lay out a few goals for the new year. The focus of this year will be on self-care and improvement at my own pace.

1. Say yes. Continue to make a concerted effort to accept opportunities as they present themselves. Saying yes leads to new experiences and new people, and new people lead to new friendships. Saying yes makes all that possible.

2. Celebrate the small victories. Did I hang a curtain rod by myself? Did I successfully cook a new recipe? Did I do something that scared me? Did I manage some mundane adult task that I've never had to do on my own before? Yay! I will not expect others to celebrate these tiny steps, but I will allow myself to take pride in my accomplishments, no matter how small or inconsequential.

3. Forgive myself. This shit is not easy. There are going to be days when merely getting out of bed, putting on clothes, and facing the world is the ultimate test of will power. I give myself permission to let the little things go on those days. If the socks are not in the hamper, there are soda cans on my desk, and all I managed to do after work was crawl into bed and watch old episodes of CSI, that's okay. Some days are going to be like that. The next day, I'll try to do better. There will be things I don't know that seemingly everyone else in the world does (What are storm windows for? I have to cut a butternut squash in half before I cook it? How do I work this goddamn corkscrew?) and that's okay. I'm still learning.

4. Accept myself. There are things I like and things I don't like, and I don't need to justify those things to anyone. I am under no obligation to make myself palatable to anyone. I, like Frank Sinatra, shall do it it my way, and those who don't like it don't have to participate. In the words of a great tweet I saw the other day, "Be vinegar. Be vinegar with no shame. Flies are terrible and they don't deserve you."

5. Read. Write. Draw. Sculpt. Go places. Visit museums. Try new restaurants. Cook things. Try new styles. Be shiny, glittery, and/or sparkly. Get involved in something. Read blogs by people from different walks of life. Check my privilege. Listen to different kinds of music. Speak up. Put on makeup. Decorate. Learn to walk in heels. Blog. Finish the Cannonball Read. Laugh. Remember that this, too, shall pass.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

CBR6 #16: Dead Sea by Tim Curran

I really wanted to like this book. It seems like it should be right up my alley: maritime disaster? Check. Horror? Check. Survival on the high seas and the idea that the other survivors are the real danger? Check and check.

And yet...

The premise was great -- a ship taking a construction crew to South American travels into a thick, mysterious fog and emerges in a place that is very clearly not right. The fog seems almost alive -- and very unfriendly. Plus, it's full of creatures that shouldn't exist, and ships that aren't where they belong.

There were some great characters, too. The first mate, the cook, the undercover corporate spy -- all smart, interesting characters with solid voices. There was a good, love-to-hate human antagonist as well as the unknown fog monster. There was even a tough, capable female character. I liked the parts where characters discovered the history of some of the ships that had ended up in this place. All that was great.

The problem was that the story dragged significantly in the middle. Although I understood the desire to ratchet up the tension by leaving the characters adrift, I got awfully frustrated after a while watching the same situation play out repeatedly in each lifeboat. Something scary would happen, but then it would just go back to waiting and watching, and I would pray again that the separate groups would finally find one another so that something of interest could happen. Once they did combine, the ending rocketed on to a somewhat satisfying conclusion, but by then I was barely managing to keep interested.

I think this book might have benefitted from some solid editing. The story was rich and interesting, the characters had real potential, and there were some genuine scares that kept me up a night or two. There was just too MUCH of everything.

CBR6 #15: Joyland by Stephen King

Although I love his massive epics like IT and The Stand, I think where Stephen King shines the most is in his shorter fiction. At 283 pages, Joyland is comparatively short, but it allows the story to unfold in a more focused way, and avoids some of the bloated tangents that--though I love them--can make the longer works drag a little.

Devon Jones gets his heart broken, and on a whim decides to leave Maine spend the summer of his 21st year working at a small amusement park in the south called Joyland. As he learns the ways of the carnies--figuring how how to speak their lingo, keep the "rubes" in their places, "wear the fur," and "sell fun"--he also discovers the dark secret of the park--the unsolved murder of a young woman in the haunted house years before, who rumors say haunts the ride. Devon spends the summer saving lives and waiting for the predictions of the park's local psychic to come true. When fall comes, a chill will fall across Joyland, and Devon will be lucky if can survive it.

This was a first person story, and the character of Devon had a wonderful, clear voice. He was wry, self-deprecating, and interesting, and his narration moved the plot along. The side characters were interesting and fairly well fleshed-out, and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen to them. The ending was also much better than I expected, it being a King book and all ;)

I'd recommend this to any King fan, and even those who may think they don't like his work should try it. It's more murder mystery/coming-of-age tale than a horror book, despite the occasional ghostly visit or psychic flash.

If you enjoyed this review, be sure to check out www.cannonballread.com for more great book reviews.