Books Read in 2021: Three-Star.... Stuff. Also, boobs and worrying.

I had a mammogram last week and the imaging place has since called back and booked me for a repeat mammogram and ultrasound this Friday. Rationally I know this is not uncommon and odds are things are fine. Irrationally, I am spiraling a bit, bouncing from realizing there's no point worrying right now to a yawning, cavernous terror. The ill-advised internet research I've done made me feel a bit better - ten percent of women who have mammograms are called back for repeats, and only about .5 percent of those are cancer. Then it made me feel a bit worse - they said they want to look at the outer part of my left breast and (weirdly) breast cancer is more often found in the outer part of the breast and on the left side of the body. 

This is all in addition to the indignity of the actual procedure. It wasn't that bad, but I did make a comment about it being a little depressing how floppy they were, and the technician assured me that mine were by far not the floppiest she'd worked with. This was funny and kind, but not really convincing - I mean, presumably at some point someone DID present with the floppiest boobs she'd ever seen, but I assume she didn't say "yup, this is peak floppy". 

It's all wearying and dull and embarrassing - I keep thinking of a part in the book Garbo Laughs by Elizabeth Hay, where the main character is reading about someone finding a lump and she finds a lump. The passage goes something like "yes, so much tragedy and commotion in the world, but everyone look at me, I have a .00001 chance of having cancer!" I can't even feel a lump. There might not be one. Hannah (HI HANNAH) volunteered that I probably just have large, dense breasts, which is now my new band name, or my Tinder bio if I ever need one. Naturally, everything I'm reading right now is about dying people or the children of dying people and they're all so articulate and wonderful and I just feel like I would be the worst kind of dying person. Hopefully if I am cranky and unpleasant I will at least keep my wit, so people can quote my irascible brilliant words while they're complaining about how terrible I am to be around.

I know I'm getting ahead of myself - I really want to be the kind of person that keeps this to myself and only talks about it afterwards, exercising a modicum of courage and equanimity, but I am fifty-one and I am mostly through trying to be someone other than I am. This is how I process things. Don't feel compelled to comment on it. 

Last of the three-stars:

Disappointing Books by Authors Who Wrote Previous Books I Enjoyed, Therefore These Felt Faintly Traitorous

We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards: synopsis from Goodreads: Theo's always been impulsive. But telling Paige how he feels? He's obsessed over that decision. And it's time. Tonight. At the party on the riverbank, under the old walking bridge, site of so many tales of love and death. Paige has had a crush on Theo since they first met, but she knows her feelings are one-sided. She's trying to move on, to flirt. A party at the river is just what she needs. Except a fight breaks out, and when Paige tries to intervene--Theo's fist lands in her face. All Theo and Paige want to do is forget that fateful night. But strange events keep drawing them back to the bridge. Someone, something is determined to make them remember...and pay for what they each did.

Books I liked by this author: Six Months Later

It was kind of a cool concept, but I don't think it quite worked. Some things seemed to be accorded way more importance than they deserved, others less. 

That Weekend by Kara Thomas: synopsis from Goodreads: Three best friends, a lake house, a secret trip - what could go wrong? It was supposed to be the perfect prom weekend getaway. But it's clear something terrible happened when Claire wakes up alone and bloodied on a hiking trail with no memory of the past forty-eight hours. Three went up the mountain, but only one came back. Now everyone wants answers - most of all, Claire. She remembers Friday night, but after that... nothing. And now Kat and Jesse - her best friends - are missing. That weekend changes everythingWhat happened on the mountain? And where are Kat and Jesse? Claire knows the answers are buried somewhere in her memory, but as she's learning, everyone has secrets - even her best friends. And she's pretty sure she's not going to like what she remembers.

Books I liked by this author: Little Monsters, The Darkest Corners, The Cheerleaders

This author is usually a no-fail choice for a good, twisty, well-written YA mystery for me. This one fell short. The wheels really come off in the second half, but the characterization is weird throughout - no one seems to have a clear motivation or a solid personality, so when people act supposedly against their character it's not that surprising because we're not even sure they had one. It felt like maybe it was a good idea rushed in execution.

This Darkness Mine by Mindy McGinnis: Synopsis from Goodreads: Mindy McGinnis, award-winning author of The Female of the Species and A Madness So Discreet, returns with a new dark and twisted psychological thriller—perfect for fans of Gone Girl and Fight Club. Sasha Stone knows her place—first-chair clarinet, top of her class, and at the side of her Oxford-wearing boyfriend. She’s worked her entire life to ensure her path to Oberlin Conservatory as a star musician is perfectly paved. But suddenly there’s a fork in the road in the shape of Isaac Harver. Her body shifts toward him when he walks by, and her skin misses his touch even though she’s never known it. Why does he act like he knows her so well—too well—when she doesn’t know him at all? Sasha discovers that her by-the-book life began by ending the chapter of another: the twin sister she absorbed in the womb. But that doesn’t explain the gaps of missing time in her practice schedule, or the memories she has of things she certainly never did with Isaac. Armed with the knowledge that her heart might not be hers alone, Sasha must decide what she’s willing to do—and who she’s willing to hurt—to take it back.

Books by this author that I liked: The Initial Insult (four stars), The Female of the Species (five stars: gave a copy to Eve and she wrote an essay about it as part of her university application for McMaster).

This was just very, very weird. Very unlike the other books of hers that I'd read and yet demonstrably by the same author, although the characters, even when very flawed, are usually more redeemable. I admire that she was trying to do something different here - she usually is - but it didn't succeed for me the same way the others did, and not just because it was too dark - well, maybe it was a little too dark. I'm not the best with body horror, admittedly. Did I mention it was really freaking weird? I'll still follow this author anywhere, she is courageous and imaginative.

The Split by Sharon J. Bolton: synopsis from Goodreads:  Tense, gripping and with a twist you won't see coming, Sharon Bolton is back in an explosive new standalone thriller about a woman on the run in The SplitNo matter how far you run, some secrets will always catch up with you... The remote Antarctic island of South Georgia is about to send off its last boat of the summer – which signifies safety to resident glaciologist Felicity Lloyd. Felicity lives in fear – fear that her ex-husband Freddie will find her, even out here. She took a job on this isolated island to hide from him, but now that he's out of prison, having served a term for murder, she knows he won’t give up until he finds her. But a doctor delving into the background of Felicity and Freddie's relationship, back in Cambridge, learns that Felicity has been on the edge for a long time. Heading to South Georgia himself to try and get to her first is the only way he can think of to help her.

Books by this author that I liked: Sacrifice, Awakening, Dead Scared, Daisy in Chains, The Craftsmen.

I'm not mad, Sharon, I'm just disappointed. Ha ha, just kidding, clearly a lot of people loved this, but as a long-time fan and after being so excited to see that I had missed a book and that it was available to borrow as an ebook from the library this was a letdown. Bolton's strength admittedly usually lies in plotting and place, less so in characterization and relationships, but not usually to this extent. I loved the description of South Georgia, which ended all too soon. Felicity and Joe lacked any personality other than Felicity being beautiful and troubled and Joe being handsome and having a poor sense of boundaries where attractive female patients are involved (and perhaps a saviour complex). The thrilling twists described by others seemed screamingly obvious to me, which is rarely the case with this author. The only really great parts of this book were the descriptions of ice. I'm just going to consider this her pandemic book (not even sure if the date line up, whatever, don't care) and move on to the next.

Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Gamache #13) by Louise Penny: synopsis from Goodreads: When a mysterious figure appears in Three Pines one cold November day, Armand Gamache and the rest of the villagers are at first curious. Then wary. Through rain and sleet, the figure stands unmoving, staring ahead. From the moment the creature's shadow falls over the village, Gamache, now Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Quebec, suspects it has deep roots and a dark purpose. Yet he does nothing. What can he do? Only watch and wait. And hope his mounting fears are not realized. But when the figure vanishes overnight and a body is discovered, it falls to Gamache to discover if a debt has been paid or levied. Months later, on a steamy July day, as the trial for the accused begins in Montréal, Chief Superintendent Gamache continues to struggle with actions he set in motion that bitter November from which there is no going back. More than the accused is on trial. Gamache's own conscience is standing in judgment. In her latest utterly gripping book, number-one New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny shatters the conventions of the crime novel to explore what Gandhi called the court of conscience. A court that supersedes all others.

Books by this author that I liked: The first six books in the series

I might lose friends over this, but I'm on the verge of giving up on this series (or just grudge-reading forthcoming books). On rare occasions, an author can keep up the quality and inventiveness of a series for this many books. I just find that this one is getting somewhat repetitive and the qualities that I admired in Gamache early on have become almost caricature-like. 

Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Gamache Book #14) by Louise Penny: synopsis from Goodreads:  When a peculiar letter arrives inviting Armand Gamache to an abandoned farmhouse, the former head of the Sûreté du Québec discovers that a complete stranger has named him one of the executors of her will. Still on suspension, and frankly curious, Gamache accepts and soon learns that the other two executors are Myrna Landers, the bookseller from Three Pines, and a young builder. None of them had ever met the elderly woman. The will is so odd and includes bequests that are so wildly unlikely that Gamache and the others suspect the woman must have been delusional. But what if, Gamache begins to ask himself, she was perfectly sane? When a body is found, the terms of the bizarre suddenly seem less peculiar and far more menacing. But it isn't the only menace Gamache is facing. The investigation into what happened six months ago—the events that led to his suspension—has dragged on, into the dead of winter. And while most of the opioids he allowed to slip through his hands, in order to bring down the cartels, have been retrieved, there is one devastating exception. Enough narcotic to kill thousands has disappeared into inner-city Montréal. With the deadly drug about to hit the streets, Gamache races for answers. As he uses increasingly audacious, even desperate, measures to retrieve the drug, Armand Gamache begins to see his own blind spots. And the terrible things hiding there.

See above. Oh no, corrupt elements in the Quebec police force are conspiring against Armand Gamache yet again. Oh no, a police officer that Gamache has mentored is off the rails yet again. Louise Penny has actually written a political thriller with Hilary Clinton. Maybe I should try that one. At the very least it should give me something new to complain about.

Force of Nature (Aaron Falk #2) by Jane Harper): synopsis from Goodreads: Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along a muddy track. Only four come out on the other side. The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and encourage teamwork and resilience. At least, that's what the corporate retreat website advertises.  Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker, Alice Russell. Because Alice knew secrets, about the company she worked for and the people she worked with. The four returning women tell Falk a tale of fear, violence and fractured trust during their days in the remote Australian bushland. And as Falk delves into the disappearance of Alice, he begins to suspect some dangers ran far deeper than anyone knew.

Books by this author that I liked: The Dry, The Survivors.

It's entirely possible that the reason I didn't like this quite as much as the first in the series or the standalone I read is just my mood and current events. I still liked all the Falk stuff - I always love seeing character growth. The setting was flawless, as usual. The actual mystery didn't draw me in nearly as much. Weirdly, I felt like Harper was better at writing the male characters than the female ones; the women's personalities and dialogue just didn't ring true to me. But I've been distracted and it took me a long time to get through this, so I my judgment might be off. 

A Deadly Thaw (DC Connie Childs #2) by Sarah Ward: synopsis from Goodreads: A man whose killer—his wife—was convicted 15 years ago is discovered freshly murdered in this rivetingly suspenseful mystery from critically acclaimed author Sarah Ward. Lena Grey is found guilty of murdering her husband, who was found smothered in their bed. She offers no defense, and serves fourteen long years in prison. But within months of her release nearly two decades later, his body is found in a disused morgue, recently killed. Who was the man she killed before, and why did she lie about his identity? Detective Inspector Francis Sadler and his Derbyshire team try to discover how such a well-orchestrated deception could have occurred. DC Connie Childs is convinced that something greater than marital strife caused the murders, but before Lena can be questioned further, she vanishes. Back in Lena’s childhood home, her sister Kat, a therapist, is shocked by her sister’s duplicity. When she begins to receive mysterious packages from a young man claiming to know her sister’s location, Kat is drawn into her own investigation of her family’s well-hidden secrets. As her inquiries begin to collide with the murder investigation, a link to the sisters’ teenage lives emerges, and the line between victim and perpetrator becomes blurred in this tightly-plotted, compelling novel perfect for fans of Deborah Crombie and Sharon Bolton.

Books I liked by this author: In Bitter Chill

I had to check that this was the second in the series and not the first, because the first book seemed so much more assured. I'm a sucker for a far-fetched plot that is brought together convincingly, which the first book had amply, and this one less so. I do like Connie Childs as a character, although enough time is given to the characters involved in the mystery that I didn't even realize at first that she was the featured character of the series. I will still read further books in the series. 

Billy Summers by Stephen King: synopsis from Goodreads: Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He’s a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he’ll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. But first there is one last hit. Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong? How about everything.

Books by this author I liked: I was going to say "many others", but then decided to look at Goodreads to see which ones I actually four-starred. I haven't actually logged all the ones I've read. The ones I have are The Shining, 11/22/63, Mr Mercedes, The Outsider, The Dead Zone, The Institute, Joyland, End of Watch, Everything's Eventual, Elevation, and Later. The ones I haven't that I know I really liked are The Dark Tower series, Hearts in Atlantis, The Eyes of the Dragon, The Dark Half, Insomnia, The Stand, Pet Sematary, The Green Mile, and Different Seasons.

I really liked the first half of this. I was aware that I was being manipulated into being sympathetic towards a hit man, but the manipulation was masterful and I was okay with it. And then the second half. (Mild spoilers, I guess). Stephen King usually makes an attempt to write women well, with agency and awareness of male privilege. He often succeeds - Dolores Claiborne, The Stand, The Dark Tower series, all contain good strong female characters. In this case? Not so much. Billy Summers is suddenly positioned as a sort of rescuer to a sexually traumatized and injured young girl, and from then on things are rather a bloody mess. There are strong suggestions that the violence done to Alice somehow improves her - "He remembers how she looked when he carried her across Pearson Street through the pouring rain, her eyes dull marbles peeping out between slitted lids. This is not that girl. This is a better girl." Like, wtf? Also, "She knows where this is going, Billy thinks. A girl a little less intelligent might not, a girl who hadn't been recently raped might not, but this girl checks both boxes." I remember King in Bag of Bones writing disapprovingly about using a female character's hardships solely to advance the growth or redemption of a male character, and yet that seems to be exactly what happens here, and it was icky. There was a lot of good stuff in the book, but that really cast a pall for me. (Great cover, though).

Disappointing Books by Authors Who Wrote Previous Books I Didn't Like That Much, Therefore It Was Hopeful but Not Terribly Bright of Me to Try Again (In Some Cases I Just Have a Bad Memory For Authors' Names)

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig: synopsis from Goodreads: Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?

A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time.
Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

I wish I'd reviewed this sooner after reading it, because I know I had thoughts on why it didn't quite work for me but they're faded. The mechanism of the library just didn't work for me - it was just this side of cheesy. The way she landed in a life in progress wasn't convincing. It was all a little too Hallmark-pat, derivative of It's a Wonderful Life, and lacked anything fresh or surprising. It wasn't bad, but I wanted more.

We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen: synopsis from Goodreads: An extraordinary and emotional adventure about unlikely friends and the power of choosing who you want to be. Jamie woke up in an empty apartment with no memory and only a few clues to his identity, but with the ability to read and erase other people’s memories—a power he uses to hold up banks to buy coffee, cat food and books.Zoe is also searching for her past, and using her abilities of speed and strength…to deliver fast food. And she’ll occasionally put on a cool suit and beat up bad guys, if she feels like it. When the archrivals meet in a memory-loss support group, they realize the only way to reveal their hidden pasts might be through each other. As they uncover an ongoing threat, suddenly much more is at stake than their fragile friendship. With countless people at risk, Zoe and Jamie will have to recognize that sometimes being a hero starts with trusting someone else—and yourself. 

I didn't realize when I put this on hold at the library that I had read a previous book by this author. He writes solid books centered around fun sci-fi tropes that I like but wish were a little deeper and grittier. The 'super-powers' device was really cool, and I enjoyed how the relationship developed, but I found the story dragged a little once the basic story was established. Mostly I think I just couldn't recover from the fact that it wasn't quite what I was expecting.

Six Weeks to Live by Catherine McKenzie: synopsis from Goodreads: A gripping psychological suspense novel about a woman diagnosed with cancer who sets out to discover if someone poisoned her before her time is up.  Jennifer Barnes never expected the shocking news she received at a routine doctor’s appointment: she has a terminal brain tumor—and only six weeks left to live. While stunned by the diagnosis, the forty-eight-year-old mother decides to spend what little time she has left with her family—her adult triplets and twin grandsons—close by her side. But when she realizes she was possibly poisoned a year earlier, she’s determined to discover who might have tried to get rid of her before she’s gone for good. 

Separated from her husband and with a contentious divorce in progress, Jennifer focuses her suspicions on her soon-to-be ex. Meanwhile, her daughters are each processing the news differently. Calm medical student Emily is there for whatever Jennifer needs. Moody scientist Aline, who keeps her mother at arm’s length, nonetheless agrees to help with the investigation. Even imprudent Miranda, who has recently had to move back home, is being unusually solicitous.  But with her daughters doubting her campaign against their father, Jennifer can’t help but wonder if the poisoning is all in her head—or if there’s someone else who wanted her dead.

I got this as an ebook from the library - despite telling myself repeatedly I am not going to borrow random ebooks from the library, because of my ceiling-high pile of books I already need to read, what can I say, I am often not smart - started reading it, then went to Goodreads to enter it. Realized I had read and two-starred two other of the author's books and I should just chuck this one, but honestly, I was kind of hooked. And what do you know, this one was better. It was both a decent story of a fractured family and a decent mystery. I'm always interested to read about families with more kids than mine where competition and rivalry and personality conflicts are a thing - I have a boy and a girl and they are very different and rarely if ever trying to attain the same goal at the same time, so although there's the occasional you're-annoying-me-simply-because-you're-my-sibling-and-you-exist, that's as far as it goes. The ending wasn't entirely satisfying, but still pretty good. In summation, this experience has taught me no good lessons about how to choose books at all.


Swistle said…
My mom found that she got a callback every time she had her mammogram done by a particular tech, and not if she had it done by a different tech. Apparently "tech doesn't do a good job with the images" is a common reason for a callback. I don't know if that makes you feel any better. If I heard that after getting a callback, I'd be like "YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE IS A COMMON REASON FOR A CALLBACK?? HAVING CANCER. SO."
I have a friend who is always called back when she has a mammogram - dense boobs. I have to go yearly for mammograms due to my mom’s breast cancer diagnosis a couple years ago so I understand the awkwardness of the boob squish. The last time the tech stood there watching me take off my bra which made me feel weird and then I realized why does this matter when she’s going to be manhandling my boobs onto the squishing plates.

The only ones I’ve read on this list are The Midnight Library - which I found disappointing and became repetitive- and the Aaron Falk one that I remember rating high based solely on how creeped out I was by the descriptions of the atmosphere but I can’t remember much else so it’s possible I was being kind. It happens sometimes. :)
I also was disappointed by The Midnight Library. I thought it was all the Thoreau references, but you know what, I think it was the whole plot.

My favourite mammogram technician was one I had pre-pandemic. She was like an aerobics instructor, with this super sing-songy voice. "And let's put you here, move a little, okay turn, now hold. Hold. Hold. Great! Other side!"
StephLove said…
Finger crossed for the repeat mammogram.

I felt pretty much the same way you did about Billy Summers. I got The Midnight Library for Christmas, haven't read it yet. It does seem like an interesting premise. The one about someone who wants to go to Oberlin (my alma mater, though I went to the college and not the conservatory) who has an evil absorbed twin does sound up my alley, too, at least potentially.
Suzanne said…
I relate to this very strongly: "I really want to be the kind of person that keeps this to myself and only talks about it afterwards, exercising a modicum of courage and equanimity, but I am fifty-one and I am mostly through trying to be someone other than I am. This is how I process things." SAME. I am going to over-analyze and panic about everything, and it helps to have others do it with me.

Billy Summers: I listened to this book over the summer and found it a really great, plot driven novel and enjoyed it. EXCEPT for how there got to be this weird sexual tension between Billy and Alice. I kept hoping that King would RESIST that, and yet he didn't. I don't know. It felt very gross to me. Also all the reasons you mentioned.

Sending you healthy boob vibes.
Ernie said…
I hope you don't lose any friends over your reviews. That was funny though. And did the descriptions of ice (in the Split, I think) bother your new-found allergies to ice?

"I'm always interested to read about families with more kids than mine where competition and rivalry and personality conflicts are a thing" - well, dang. I'm excited to learn this about you . . . it gives me high hopes that you might enjoy my memoir. (she says while still not at all confident that it will ever be printed and if it will, would it survive your critique - these are the things I worry about).

I also laughed that you have learned nothing about how to pick books.

I've gotten called back before and it freaked me out. My kids were quite a bit younger and I kept staring at them feeling worried. I'm hopeful yours is nothing to worry about, and I would bet that it is. I do think it is a common thing. I love that you now have a name for your band and your social media handle or whatever. Look at me, caught up here. No where else in life, though.
I had exactly that reaction to "The Midnight Library" which we read for book club. And I truly LOVED the title you gave to that section of your review.

I hope your test results are favorable for you.

I also wanted to say, in response to your comment on my blog, that I found nothing insulting in what you said. It's all good.

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