Hi5: Werewolves, Rude Swedes, Bad Mothers, Addicts, and Seattleites

Since I seem to not be great at posting blogs lately, here’s my new venture. Quick and dirty reviews of five books at a time. It just so happens I’ve read five books this year so far. Fortuitous!

  1. Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones (May 2016)
Judge a book by its cover: Washed out grainy yellow background, silhouettes, the only other color on the wolf. Or werewolf?

The Blurb: Coming of age werewolf story. Puberty? It’s bloody, hairy, awkward, and generally disastrous.

The Lauds: Jones takes two tired-ass genres and manages something original and fun. The werewolves in this story may be tough and bullet-resistant, but they are nowhere near immortal. Silver still hurts. So do the barreling grills of semis threatening to turn them into road toothpaste. The werewolves in this world are poor, fringe-of-society transients, hunted far more than hunters.

The Lame: No complaints. Ok, not none; there is one dangling storyline that never resolves.

Woof Out: Werewolves hate dogs. The dogs mostly lose. So, not a great bedtime story for our canine companions.

2. I am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist (June 2016)

Judge a book by its cover: Is it the upside down!?!

The Blurb: A group of campers wake up in an empty field with nothing but grass and sky. No trees. No sun. No end. EVERYBODY HAS SECRETS.

The Laud: Lindqvist opens with an original, fascinating premise and populates it with characters who are predictably awful and noble and every combo in between. As an avid camper myself with a very real fear of being lost, this is instant terror. As Lindqvist clears away the fog surrounding the characters’ pasts, an insidious web of years long connections chart the inevitable path to this very odd place in what may or may not be the world.

The Lame: It gets a little convoluted towards the end, as most interesting single-sentence premises usually do. I tend to be very forgiving of Lindqvist, since he released Let the Right One In into the ether for us.

Woof Out: Benny the bemused beagle. Regardless of what’s happening with those crazy humans, Benny and Cat are settling an ancient grudge and banding together.

3. To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder by Nancy Rommelmann (Juy 2018)

Judge a book by its cover: Yep, it’s a bridge

The Blurb: It’s hard to resist a true story about a mother who drops her two children off a bridge in the middle of the night in Oregon.

The Laud: Well, the story gets told.  Again, and again, and again.

The Lame: The timeline jumps around with no sense of meaning or purpose. Because the author never actually speaks to any of the major actors in the story (i.e. the mother and father), every minor character is dragged in for their two cents and fifteen minutes. Everything becomes repetitive with no real insight or revelation. Bad, sad people, drugs, money issues, domestic disputes. It’s an old story and the book offers no substantive contribution to our understanding of this tragic tale.

In addition, I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, which should NOT have been read by the author. Farm that shit out!

Woof Out: No dogs. Just damaged children exploited to the advantage of amoral adults.

4. Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp (1996)

Judge a book by its cover: On point. The woman in the background looks peaceful. Hiding in plain sight. 

The Blurb: A frank, unblinking memoir of addiction.

The Laud: Before every major, minor, and non-celebrity began barfing their life all over our bookshelves, Caroline Knapp wrote a memoir detailing her battle with alcoholism. The truths are both universal and particular, her honesty devastating. To those battling addiction, it is pages upon pages of all too familiar themes: hiding, loneliness, hopelessness, caught between the inevitability and the need of that drink, the seduction of numbness. For anyone who has walled themselves in with that demon, her story is both painful and redemptive. We are never as alone as we think we are.

I was devastated to learn after reading the book that Caroline Knapp died from lung cancer only six years after its publication. I had wanted the best for her. She was getting out. But there it is, the possibility of hope, of surviving whatever ails us.

Woof Out: Knapp is also the author of Pack of Two, a story of how she found redemption and new purpose in life through the lens of her relationship with a dog.

Where’d you go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (August 2012)

Judge a book by its cover: Seems appropriate and cute. Some mountains in the distance. 

The Blurb: A daughter attempts to find her mother by reconstructing the weeks before her disappearance via emails, texts, and faxes. How retro!

The Laud: Though somewhat dated only seven years later (I mean, Amazon is the new Microsoft, am I right?), Bernadette sends up Seattle culture with an aromatic, ethically sourced, sustainable cast of hipster-techie-progressive-snowflake-Montessoring-basic-bitch characters. Living near Seattle for almost four years now, I laughed and laughed and am now chronically self-conscious every time I utter the phrase “No worries” (which really means “You suck but I’ll get over it.”)

Semple really gets Seattle from blackberry vines, touching on the incongruity of affluent families living toe-to-toe with a highly visible homeless population. The best parts of the book highlight the ridiculous and petty concerns of people with too much money and too little to do, their priorities as wonky as five-way intersections.

p.s.. The audiobook is a MUST.

The Lame: The book journeys from the traffic-clogged streets of urban Seattle to a place about as opposite as one can get, Antarctica, and while Semple makes Antarctica sound endlessly cool and wonderfully people-free, the momentum flags. Also, Bernadette seems to have won a MacArthur genius grant solely on the basis of her abject quirkiness. Wear large glasses, build funky houses, fall asleep in pharmacies on busy Seattle streets, become a GENIUS!

The message is simple: get your house in order (e.g. be who you were meant to be) or be subject to a lifetime of leaky roofs and blackberry vines poking up through your floorboards.

Woof Our: There is a dog. His name is Ice Cream, and he DEMANDS to ride shotgun.

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