Snowstorms and Stalkers – A March Reading Wrap-up

I have been truly delighted with my reading selections for March, even if they haven’t all been 5-star reads. I read a variety of genres spanning fiction, nonfiction, novellas and a graphic novel. In order from highest to lowest rated, here are the 11 books I read in March and a few DNFs that didn’t make the cut:

Sounds Like TitanicSounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I won a Kindle copy of this memoir from a Goodreads giveaway and – wow – what a real unexpected gem. “Sounds Like Titanic” is the memoir of a classically trained violinist who goes on tour with an unnamed composer. She pretends to play against a backing soundtrack for sold-out concert venues, at craft fairs and in malls across middle America.

It is against this background that Hindman explores her life growing up in rural Appalachia, what it means to be your authentic self (particularly as a woman), dealing with anxiety and traveling through middle America post-9/11. Hindman also takes a lot of risks in the book by tackling so many different topics and using second person narration for different chapters. At first, it doesn’t feel like this would work well together but for me, it made all the sense in the world. She shares her observations with a lot of humor and accuracy. Despite her unique and bizarre circumstances, I could see a lot of my own feelings and experiences reflected in hers.

For example, here’s a passage where Hindman explains the perception of potential for young girls (the sky’s the limit!) versus the reality of growing up in a body that will be scrutinized for years to come:

Born into the first generation of girls whose political and civic equality was already assumed, you are told from the earliest age that you can become an astronaut, a doctor, the president of the United States (if you work hard enough). The potential for your life supposedly has no bounds. But by your twelfth birthday, you have a sinking feeling. You can’t do life in this body. Not this body, the one that is appearing slowly, then suddenly before you in the mirror. This body is a stranger; you don’t know it, you don’t like it. It’s certainly not the body you would have ordered from a catalog.

I ended up highlighting 32 more passages like these. This was one of my favorite books of the month!

CalypsoCalypso by David Sedaris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I always try to listen to David Sedaris audiobooks who does a fantastic job delivering punchlines or gut-punching observations. His stories about his family, his relationships and his random conversations with strangers never fail to make me chuckle. This collection is centered around a beach house specifically purchased for annual family vacations. In it, Sedaris covers things like serious topics like suicide and mental illness alongside flippant essays like business travel and diarrhea. He’s a true master at being bitingly funny in one moment and devastatingly poignant the next.

No ExitNo Exit by Taylor Adams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fact-paced thriller about a young woman stranded at a rest stop during a snowstorm really took me by surprise – I sped through it in one sitting. At first, the story took a few predictable turns but eventually snowballed (ha!) into an intense cat and mouse game.

I thought the author did a great job crafting comedic scenes during peak Tarantino-esque moments. This gory, fun, fast-paced book was precisely the kind of palette cleanser I needed to revitalize my reading.

Ghost WallGhost Wall by Sarah Moss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book with a deep sense of foreboding and dread. A mother and daughter, on a bizarre learning expedition in the woods, are quietly terrorized by an emotionally and physically abusing patriarch.

The dialogue written in this book took some getting used to. Without the traditional formatting, I’d often get confused by thoughts versus conversations between characters. After the small hurdle, I recovered quickly and found myself really enjoying the quiet delivery of this story. It’s hard to say more without ruining it and this book is so short, it’s best to just dive right in. The ending left me feeing invigorated!

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, #2)Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a love/hate relationship with novellas in general. Too often, I find them to be criminally short (I’m looking at you Binti!) but it’s also deeply satisfying to finish them in one sitting.

After a long break, I wanted to continue the Murderbot series about a sardonic, sentient combat robot who hacks its own module to free itself from programming. What does it say about me when I have so much in common with a social anxiety-ridden murderbot? This time, Murderbot forms an unlikely bond with a transit ship AI program and together, they work to uncover Murderbot’s mysterious past.

Funny and unencumbered by sci-fi mumbo-jumbo, this series is really hitting the spot for me. And, I’m trilled to learn that soon Murderbot is getting its own, bonafide, full-length novel. Finally.

Girl TownGirl Town by Carolyn Nowak

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Illustrator Carolyn Nowak drew such memorable and diverse characters in Lumberjanes, that it left me curious to check out her solo debut.

Not all of these short stories land for me. For example, I quickly abandoned, “The Big Burning House,” a story about two girls starting a podcast about a mysterious movie. Others, like “Radishes,” brought me to totally unexpected tears. Nowak’s illustrations are so fluid and fun, everyone in her world is different and a little weird and wild. But they’re also compelling, relatable and deeply endearing.

SadieSadie by Courtney Summers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The audiobook of “Sadie” is, in my opinion, the only way to experience this story. Between Sadie’s stutter and the podcast format of the chapters, the full narrating cast really brought this book to life.

As far as YAs go, this book feels firmly in the about-young-adults category as opposed to the tropey-romantic-fantasy category. “Sadie” is about a young woman who suffers from a debilitating stutter after years of physical and sexual abuse, and she’s hunting for the killer of her younger sister.

This book is dark and super twisty with an ending that took me aback. It left me thinking about it for days afterward. It’s not an easy read and honestly, there’s no respite. Occasionally, I felt like some of it was a bit gratuitous without a cathartic pay-off, but ain’t that just real life sometimes? “Sadie” is written so earnestly and realistically that I had a hard time remembering this was not about a real criminal case. For me, this was a standout book in a oversaturated YA market and one with solid audio performances.

Battle Angel AlitaBattle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read the first three volumes of Battle Angel Alita back in high school, and I hung on to my second volume for almost 2 decades. Now, with the release of the movie (which is actually OK!), I was inspired to re-read the first volume.

This was pretty much everything I remember it being – cyber punky, gorgeously illustrated and with a headstrong female character unafraid to fight spectacularly gross and violent cyborgs in the sewer.

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2)The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The Obelisk Gate” felt like a slog to get through but a necessary one. This one carefully set the foundation for what I imagine to be an epic conclusion. But, the slower pace and drawn out character development made this less enjoyable.

But, I’m not worried. Jemisin’s conclusion to this installment got my heart racing and eager to pick up the final book in this epic trilogy.

Looker: A NovelLooker: A Novel by Laura Sims

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I agree with reviewers on Goodreads who say this book is being incorrectly marketed as a thriller. It’s not a thriller in the traditional sense of fast-paced plot twists and a satisfying whodunnit. This one is a slow and unnerving character study of a woman slowly becoming undone.

After years of fertility treatments and trying for a family, the unnamed narrator, estranged from her husband, now lives alone with her ex’s cat. Soon, she becomes fixated on her seemingly perfect neighbor and obsessed about making a good impression at the neighborhood block party.

Occasionally funny but also profoundly unsettling, I really enjoyed this short and elegantly crafted book about a woman slowly and subtly unraveling at the seams. Like a car stuck on the train tracks, you might guess at the inevitable, catastrophic conclusion, but you also can’t look away.

The Silent PatientThe Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“The Silent Patient” is fast-paced and has an interesting premise. Why would a wife, seemingly head-over-heels in love with her husband, shoot him five times in the face? That’s what a curious psychotherapist decides to find out.

This book has more red herrings than you can shake a stick at which sometimes felt too gimmicky and annoying for its own good. There were lots of moments when a ton of emphasis was made on a particular person or memory so we could be like, ah, epiphany! That’s why this person is so screwed up! But I never really got the same ah-ha feeling or moment of clarity and understanding.

I enjoyed the reading experience but wasn’t quite as swept up in the drama as I thought I would be.

The Belles (The Belles #1)The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Based on what was served at court, everyone in this book should have diabetes. Like, everyone.

The audiobook of “The Belles” is truly a delightful experience. Narrator Rosie Jones does an amazing job infusing characters with accents and a lot of depth. I was on board for at least 20% of the book. After that? Well…

This book suffers from what a lot of YA books suffer from: endless amounts of unnecessary detail, often about the same things over and over and over again. I don’t need several chapters to remind me that the court offers a variety of pretty teacups and petite cakes. I get it, you set the scene plenty. I don’t need to be reminded – but here we are again in a chapter I felt like I already read. We also get exposition dumps from characters who provide back-stories that no one asked for. For example, in order to demonstrate that Camellia’s stoic bodyguard, Rémy, has a heart of gold, we have to suffer through a scene where a gaggle of his sisters tease and coo over him while Camellia conveniently overhears the exchange. He’s so tender!

Our main protagonist, Camellia is frustratingly incurious about the politics of the Belles (I’ll get to that in a second) unless she’s reminded by a secondary character to reconsider her and her sisters situation. She’s occasionally perturbed by events but not really enough to do anything about it. I guess I understand. If you’ve grown up with the insane-sounding “starvation box” as a form of punishment, then I suppose it’s all NBD.

The Belles is about a kingdom founded on and in service to the Goddess of Beauty and The Belles, whose magical powers allow them to bestow beauty upon its residents. But, crafting an entire political and cultural ecosystem on just beauty feels precarious. What the fuck do people actually do all day? How is the kingdom making money? Governing its people? How can their major export just be…beauty? With an entire community obsessed with just beauty (there’s a government position just for fashion, ffs), this whole concept felt unsustainable. I had to suspend the fuck out of my disbelief for a colorful world that felt weirdly empty and devoid of substance and texture.

The book slogs happily along with nothing really happening until the final 25 pages and it’s only thanks to Camellia’s quick-thinking entourage that moves the plot along. This felt like the prequel to the book I’d rather read and now that Everlasting Rose is out, I actually might give it a shot. There’s potential here, but there’s just not enough to sink my teeth into and too damn much of absolutely nothing.

Behold, my unrated DNFs for the month:

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files, #1)Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

In 2017, I started the hardcopy of this science-fiction book about giant, robotic body parts that mysteriously begin to appear all over the planet. I gave up about 30% of the way through. This year, after learning the audiobook had the benefit of a full cast of narrators, I thought I’d give it another shot.

Sure enough, I gave up at nearly the exact same spot. “Sleeping Giants” has a fascinating premise and I still kinda want to know what happens. But, the crew of characters tasked with researching the phenomenon are unlikable and boring, more preoccupied with their personal lives than with the fascinating discovery of alien structures. Also, there’s a weird sex scene with two annoying characters I did not want to imagine naked, let alone coupling.

The Widow Washington: The Life of Mary WashingtonThe Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington by Martha Saxton

I requested this Netgalley copy because I had the urge to read a nonfiction history book and who ever thinks about George Washington having a mom? Weirdly, it’s hard to imagine. Weirder still is learning that apparently Washington had a testy and difficult relationship with his mother. This oughtta be good, right?

Unfortunately, the book is dry and tepid. Mary Washington’s life is shrouded in mystery because there’s just not a lot of recorded information about her. So, the book is full of assumptions and conjectures all based on what we do know. Mary’s contemporaries at the time were dealing with this so she must have felt like that. Did she though?

My Netgalley copy was also full of repeated sentences that I couldn’t tell were actually errors in editing or just repetitive writing. I couldn’t get on with it, so I gave up.

Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth ElderMr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder by John Waters

I received a NetGalley copy and, unfortunately, DNF’d this about 15% of the way in. I read John Waters’ book Carsick, about his weird and wild hitchhiking journey across America. And, although I’m not really a fan of his work, there’s a part of me that can appreciate his counter-culture approach to life and art.

This book is a mish-mash of hyper-specific advice based on key moments in his career. They don’t feel particularly applicable and didn’t hold my interest. After a fairly fun and insane introduction, Mr. Know-It-All quickly peters out. I recommend this for die-hard fans of John Waters that want a little more insight into key moments in his career and history. For general readers, this book isn’t as palatable as Carsick and doesn’t really offer any good nuggets of applicable advice.


 

That’s a wrap for March! Come to Instagram and tell me if you’ve read any of these or plan to! Or stop by on Goodreads so we can be book besties.

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