A first novel


TFW you’re writing about a book, and the best description you can come up with is: perfectly adequate. The Sherlockian was perfectly adequate. There are two mysteries, one solved by a fictional Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There’s an eccentric main character. There’s even a romance.

It’s… fine? It’s especially fine considering it’s a first novel, and it’s got some of the oddities that first novels often do. (I like first novels – I’m clearly not a great writer, and it’s heartening as a reader and amateur writer to see even professionals get better with more practice. [You will probably never see any fiction I have written. You don’t want to.])

If you’re into Sherlock Holmes, read it, but it’s not something I’d recommend going out of your way for.

A real unreliable narrator

Oh the glory of it all

What’s it about?
Oh, The Glory of It All is a memoir about growing up in one of San Francisco’s elite families. There is a headline-grabbing messy divorce, a possibly narcissistic mother, a father who cares far too much about his position in society, a step-mother who may or may not be evil, and the son (the author) who fell through the parenting cracks. He does not hide how messed up he was, and a good chunk of the book is him figuring out how to become a normal person. How much blame to put on everyone… that’s an open question.

Why should you read it?
I read it because I have an idea for a character for a NaNoWriMo book, and she needs to be both a) messed up and b) from an elite San Francisco family. So this was great research for that.

You should read it if you like Vanity Fair articles about society people and their weird, weird lives. Or if you enjoy books like Crazy Rich Asians, which poke fun at Society and show how money can distort otherwise normal people. It’s also a portrait of San Francisco before the tech boom of the late 1990s started to change the entire SF Bay Area. If you’re interested in any of those things? This is the book for you.

We need more female superheroes

girl who would be king

What’s it about?
There are two teenaged girls.

Bonnie is the good one. Her parents died young, leaving her to grow up in group homes. One night, she discovers she has extraordinary strength. She uses it to rescue a necklace that a bully has stolen and thrown away from another girl; later, she takes care of the bully. She wants to and practices using her strength to help people.

Lola is the bad one, killing her mother, feeling like the world owes her something all the time. She takes whatever she wants – jewelry, clothes, people – not caring about anyone else.

They both have super-powers and are basically unkillable. You know how the story goes from here.

Why should you read it?
Well, that’s a hard question to answer. The story of The Girl who Would be King is good. It has lots of action and moves along at a decent clip. The settings are ok – there are a few that are rich, but many are just kind of there. The characters are the same way: a handful of them feel like people, the rest are one-dimensional.

The big problem is the writing – the actual words on the page. The sentences are clunky. It’s distracting. (Not that I have much to talk about here – my own writing’s not that great. I’m working on it.)

So, should you read it? Eh? Maybe? I can’t really recommend it, but I never did want to put it down.

Nostalgia is overrated

Going Vintage

What’s it about?
Going Vintage is about a young lady, Mallory, who’s adopted her boyfriend’s life as her own. Which is fine as far as it goes – she was new to the area and met and fell in love with him before she made a lot of other friends. It’s realistic if not particularly feminist. But then he cheats on her online. So she dumps him and goes fully retro: everything must be from the mid-60s. Mallory starts a pep club and hosts a dinner party and only wears her grandmother’s vintage outfits. Her helpful sister takes all of her technology away – she’s not allowed her phone or anything that wouldn’t have existed in the mid-1960’s. She rides her bike to get places and has to buy a fully corded phone. But it’s never portrayed as better – in fact, much of the time, it’s about how inconvenient life used to be.

Why should you read it?
The idea of comparing and contrasting life in the past with now is one that warms my heart. What was better before the internet? What was worse? I like that the author doesn’t sugar-coat the nostalgia, but I wish she hadn’t been quite so pessimistic. None of Mallory’s friends can figure out her phone number and call her? It’s like it was an excuse for the author to not flesh out any of those side characters.

That aside, it’s a cute story for anyone who likes a dose of YA, but you won’t remember it in two months.

Time travel as a hook

river of no return


What’s it about?
The River of No Return is a novel about a lovesick time-traveler. Nick was a minor English lord who went off to fight against the Spanish. Just as he was about to be killed, he leapt forward in time to the present day. He encounters a group of people called The Guild who help people like Nick. He establishes himself as a landlord in Vermont, when the Guild asks him to go back in time to England. He re-falls in love with his neighbor Julia, who, it turns out, may be able to help forestall the end of the world.

Why should you read it?
If it hadn’t been my book for book club this month, I’m not sure I would have. It was a fine book, but nothing to write home about.  It does set up a sequel, so I have my usual issues with it not being a complete story. Otherwise, eh?

Girl Power!

Not That Kind of Girl


What’s it about?
Not That Kind of Girl is about Lena Dunham’s life. I’d say it was a memoir, but it wasn’t. It was a series of essays, grouped by themes like “Love & Sex” or “Work.” She’s entertaining and kind of messed up in a punk-ish way. But she’s also clearly got a serious work ethic, and I suspect is less messed up than she portrays herself as.

Why should you read it?
Maybe if I watched Girls I’d’ve like it more. Not That Kind of Girl is a fine book, it just didn’t grab me in the way I thought it would. I like that it’s supportive of women and girl culture. I like that she shows herself and her flaws and that that’s ok. I like that she is ambitious as hell. I hate that she feels the need to downplay that ambition. But I don’t identify with her – that’s what I was missing. I’m not as punk or trendy or young, and I didn’t grow up with hippy parents in NYC. But I do think that Lena Dunham is a pretty good role model, and I’m happy she’s out there for people to look up to.

Beach read, brain candy


What’s it about?
The Vacationers is a beach read. It’s about a dysfunctional family full of people you may or may not like all heading to a small Spanish island for a two-week vacation. Will the wife forgive the husband’s affair? Will the daughter have sex for the first time? Will the son ever grow up? Will the gay couple (friends of the family tagging along) manage to adopt a child? The Vacationers will address those questions.

Why should you read it?
It’s fun, harmless brain candy. It’s not a great work of fiction, but it was entertaining. Sometimes that’s all you can ask for; sometimes, that’s all you want.

Towards glamour

Night Circus

What’s it about?
The Night Circus is kind of a romance, kind of a fantasy novel, and it’s a lot about glamour. There are two magicians older than we can know, who are in constant competition. Every so often, they each choose a student to compete against the other until one can no longer stand it. The remaining magician is the winner. For this particular competition Celia and Marco are both constructing a fabulous circus. It has amazing things – a tent that is only ice, a fire that never goes out – and its performers never age. Celia and Marco, of course, fall in love. So how will the competition end? Who wins? It’s worth the read to find out.

Why should you read it?
I mentioned glamour above. Glamour is an idealization. Glamour is beauty – these are both very lovely people. The circus, to its visitors, is graceful and mysterious. But what makes it not glamorous to the readers is that we see how it works. We see what it does to Marco and Celia to create this circus and keep it running. They do not lead rich, full lives. And glamour is also about sprezzatura, the art of making an idealization (the circus) appear easy. The circus is work and it wears on our heroes and it is not hidden. You should read The Night Circus because it can make you think about what goes into amazing creations, be they books or movies or buildings. It can be worth asking: what’s edited out? Why? What does the circus’ audience see? What do we see?