mini-review · stuff I read

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

34964868Summary from Goodreads:
Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife. . . But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less.

A woman who sleeps among garbage she has not put out for forty years. A man who bled quietly to death in his living room. A woman who lives with rats, random debris and terrified delusion. The still life of a home vacated by accidental overdose.

Sarah Krasnostein has watched the extraordinary Sandra Pankhurst bring order and care to these, the living and the dead—and the book she has written is equally extraordinary. Not just the compelling story of a fascinating life among lives of desperation, but an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together.

I first heard about The Trauma Cleaner from Liberty on the All the Books podcast in a round-up of anticipated 2018 releases. Lib has never steered me wrong, so I pulled up the galley on Edelweiss and devoured it.

The Trauma Cleaner is an absolutely fascinating book that twines three stories into one: the surface-level business of trauma cleaning (the cleaning done after a person has died or is in a hoarding situation, etc), the heart-rending biography of the woman who owns the business and how she has managed to survive with such compassion for others still intact, and the thread of the author’s own story with her own history of trauma. The story of Sandra Pankhurst is also the story of the struggle of LGBT+ persons in Australia against discrimination and for trans-men and -women to live as men and women with the same legal rights as everyone else. This is a rough, rough book to read though.  Pankhurst endured a lot of physical abuse from her parents and sexual assault as an adult. All the trigger warnings. Be prepared to step back and take a breath.

As one of Sandra Pankhurst’s doctors said, it is astounding to think how much she has accomplished given that she is physically ailing and how much more she could accomplish given better health or opportunities earlier in life.

The Trauma Cleaner is out today in the US.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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mini-review · Reading Diversely · Reading Women · stuff I read

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

35297351Summary from Goodreads:
Calling to mind the best works of Paul Beatty and Junot Díaz, this collection of moving, timely, and darkly funny stories examines the concept of black identity in this so-called post-racial era.

A stunning new talent in literary fiction, Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes.

Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide—while others are devastatingly poignant—a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture.

Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Her stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, and captivating in turn, engaging in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body. Boldly resisting categorization and easy answers, Nafissa Thompson-Spires is an original and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.

Another outstanding short story collection for 2018. Thompson-Spires has bookended darkly comic and satirical stories about being black in America, including one about two feuding mothers who communicate through notes in their daughters’ schoolbags and another about an able-bodied woman who develops a fixation on men with physical disabilities – I found this to be ingenious commentary about white men who fetishize/objectify women of color), with two moving pieces about the violence perpetrated on young black men by law enforcement. The writing and form are superb.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy for my nook because the digital galley file wouldn’t open.

mini-review · stuff I read

Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution by Menno Schilthuizen

34930832Summary from Goodreads:
From evolutionary biologist Menno Schilthuizen, a book that will make you see yourself and the world around you in an entirely new way.

For a long time, biologists thought evolution was a necessarily slow process, too incremental to be observed in a lifetime. In Darwin Comes to Town, evolutionary biologist Menno Schilthuizen shows that evolution can in fact happen extremely quickly, and in the strangest of places: the heart of the city.

Menno Schilthuizen is one of a growing number of “urban ecologists” studying how our manmade environments are accelerating the evolution of the animals and plants around us. Cities are extreme environments and, in a world of adapt or die, the wildlife sharing these spaces with us is being forced to adopt fascinating new ways of surviving, and often thriving.

–Carrion crows in the Japanese city of Sendai have learned to use passing traffic to crack nuts.
–Spiders in Vienna are adapting to build their webs near moth-attracting streetlights, while moths in some cities are developing a resistance to the lure of light bulbs.
–Certain Puerto Rican city lizards are evolving feet that better grip surfaces like concrete.
–Europe’s urban blackbirds sing at a higher pitch than their rural cousins, to be heard over the din of traffic, while many pigeons have eschewed traveling “as the crow flies” in favor of following manmade roads.

Darwin Comes to Town draws on these and other eye-popping examples to share a stunning vision of urban evolution in which humans and wildlife co-exist in a unique harmony. It reveals that evolution can happen far more rapidly than Darwin dreamed, while providing a glimmer of hope that our race toward overpopulation might not take the rest of nature down with us.

Darwin Comes to Town is surprisingly fun – and chatty – book about urban biodiversity and evolution. As the world changes, and more and more people migrate around the world and into cities, animals will do the same. There will be more “rural” animal species that move into the city and become “urban” species. At this point we also can’t get away from the reality that humans have contributed to these changes as we have helped transport species from their native niches all over the globe. A very interesting book.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

library · mini-review · stuff I read

Death of a Hollow Man by Caroline Graham (Chief Inspector Barnaby #2)

454571Summary from Goodreads:
Actors do love their dramas, and the members of the Causton Amateur Dramatic Society are no exception. Passionate love scenes, jealous rages? they?re better than a paycheck (not that anyone one in this production of Amadeus is getting one). But even the most theatrically minded must admit that murdering the leading man in full view of the audience is a bit over the top. Luckily, Inspector Tom Barnaby ? first seen in The Killings at Badger’s Drift — is in that audience, and he’s just the man to find the killer. With so many dramas playing out, there’s no shortage of suspects, including secret lovers and jealous understudies galore. Ms. Graham tweaks her collection of community-theater artistes and small-town drama queens with merciless delight until the curtain falls on the final page.

Now that I finished all the seasons of Midsomer Murders on Netflix, I decided to go back and read the original books.  I had to start with book two Death of a Hollow Man, since someone else had book one (The Killings at Badger’s Drift) out from the library. Tom Barnaby is the original dad detective, he is a delight. And Caroline Graham does write in a very witty, almost Agatha Christie way. For being written in 1989, the book doesn’t feel that dated. However, I don’t like Sgt Troy’s character here, he’s much better in the TV adaptation.

The adaptation from book to screen – which I think was done by Graham herself – is very different in that the show adds in a connected murder to start the episode and lend motivation for the events leading up to Esslyn’s murder. I think it was a good choice for TV. All the extra stuff about Amadeus and the characters’ sniping at one another works on the page, but would have been really boring on screen.

This edition of Death of a Hollow Man, that I read, is very cheaply and poorly typeset. Words are misspelled, copy editing mistakes abound. I can’t decide if the use of “Persued” in the chapter heading “Exit, Persued by a Bear” instead of “Pursued” was meant to be a joke, since that was a spelling possible in Shakespeare’s time, or just another example of sloppiness. Won’t deter me from reading more though. It was fun. So if you’re looking for a mystery series that is fun and interesting without being gory, misogynistic, or too “cozy”, this might a good choice.

Dear FTC: I borrowed this book from the library.

audiobooks · mini-review · stuff I read

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

35180979Summary from Goodreads:
For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark —the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a completely absorbing and terrifying (especially in the first third or so) work of true crime reporting/memoir/Google sleuthing about the search for the Golden State Killer (who was not named that until McNamara gave it to him, which was a thing I did not know). The writing is compelling, kudos to McNamara’s research assistant and team who organized and completed the book after her death. They were very careful to note which parts of the book were finished by McNamara herself and which were finished by her team. Although, there’s a weird Epilogue addressed to the killer placed AFTER Patton Oswalt wrote a lovely Afterword to his wife and the timing is just NO. That Epilogue should have come before the Afterword.

I do have to warn you that you absolutely do NOT want to read or listen to this book at night.  Alone.  By yourself.  Unless you want to wind up getting absolutely no sleep and finding out that the cat managed to open the door to the garage in the middle of the night so you spend an hour checking in all the closets of the house to make sure no psychos are lying in wait for you.

Dear FTC: I listened to an audiobook recording that I borrowed from the library.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · Reading Women · stuff I read

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi (Tangled Axon #1)

18214164Summary from Goodreads:
Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually-advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego . . . and Alana can’t keep her eyes off her. But there’s little time for romance: Nova’s in danger and someone will do anything—even destroying planets—to get their hands on her!

Jenn at Get Booked also has recommended Ascension multiple times. So when I had a hankering for a space opera, I remembered that I had this on my nook.

Koyanagi created an intriguing world both inside and outside the transport ship Tangled Axon. Ascension itself as a book is somewhere between a three and a four star read. Primarily, it could use a bit of editing since the plot is a little poky and unnecessarily convoluted in places. But, damn, I really enjoyed what the author was getting at with found families, faith, chronic illness, and metaphysics. Alana is such a wonderful character, very complex, and she plays against Tev so very well.  I’d love to read more in this world, with these characters (uh, one of the characters is a humanoid male who either is also a dog or has a dog spirit or something and I have questions because this is interesting), so I really hope that Koyanagi writes more.

Dear FTC: I read the copy on my nook.

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Bound to Be a Groom by Megan Mulry (Regency Reimagined #1)

20418278Summary from Goodreads:
Sometimes our wildest dreams come true.

In the tumultuous summer of 1808, Spain and England are close to war and four young lovers are close to ecstasy.

To carve out an independent life with the woman she loves, Anna knows she must leave her quiet Spanish convent to become a courtesan. To gain experience, she sets her sights on . . .

Sebastian, whose powerful, aristocratic confidence suits Anna’s mercenary goals. But his arrogance masks a craving for submission that Anna instinctively satisfies. Sebastian soon begs for her hand in marriage, even if it means sharing her with . . .

Pia, who trusts Anna completely—with her body and her future—until she learns of Anna’s hasty marriage. Pia questions their commitment to each other as they leave for London to meet . . .

Farleigh, the seemingly feckless duke who thinks he’s over Sebastian, the potent Spanish soldier he bedded two years ago.

What begins as a series of erotic escapades soon evolves into a deep, unbreakable bond. Two men and two women who yearn to explore are about to make their wildest dreams come true.

So Jenn on Get Booked recommended Bound to be a Groom in response to a listener who wanted to expand their romance sub-genre reading and I was like, “huh, well, I will check this out” (plus it’s only like $3 on ebook, so even if it was a dud it was fine). This is a pretty ok book, though I found the story a bit too thin in places for my taste and the characters flat outside of their bedroom activities. So it falls more on the erotica side (plot serves the sex scenes) verses romance (sex scenes serve the plot). I think ménage romances/erotica are not for me? There are too many moving parts (haha, #sorrynotsorry) to keep track of, especially once three expanded to four. Not ruling the whole sub-genre out completely, but probably not moving up the preference ladder. Mulry does write the sex scenes well, so that is a plus if this is your thing.

Dear FTC: I read the copy I bought for my nook.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

28209634Summary from Goodreads:
Autonomous features a rakish female pharmaceutical pirate named Jack who traverses the world in her own submarine. A notorious anti-patent scientist who has styled herself as a Robin Hood heroine fighting to bring cheap drugs to the poor, Jack’s latest drug is leaving a trail of lethal overdoses across what used to be North America—a drug that compels people to become addicted to their work.

On Jack’s trail are an unlikely pair: an emotionally shut-down military agent and his partner, Paladin, a young military robot, who fall in love against all expectations. Autonomous alternates between the activities of Jack and her co-conspirators, and Elias and Paladin, as they all race to stop a bizarre drug epidemic that is tearing apart lives, causing trains to crash, and flooding New York City.

I had a galley, then it expired, and then I had to get in the holds line for the library’s Libby copy (this is the lyfe, I tell you). But I finally finished Autonomous and it is completely bonkers. I did not know that I needed a post-cyberpunk, futurist, anti-Big Pharma, gender-and-desire-exploring sci-fi novel but once I started reading, Autonomous was totally the book I needed. The beginning is a bit slow but once it picked up I just kept turning pages. Newitz has a background as a science journalist (Newitz co-founded i09 with her partner Charlie Jane Anders) and it really showed in how she pushed the science into the future, kept it within the bounds of believability, and also made it easy to understand.

I also really enjoyed the exploration of gender constructs and desire using a bio-bot. Paladin is one of the point-of-view characters and Newitz just cracked the world of Autonomous open using Paladin’s thoughts and opinions. So damn good.

Trigger warning for sexual abuse/slavery and homophobia (because if we haven’t fixed poverty 200 years in the future, we sure as hell haven’t fixed homophobia).

Dear FTC: I started reading a digital galley from Edelweiss, then had to finish with the library copy.  I’ll probably buy a copy.