Dec 14: Second Chances

I quit a lot of books. Usually I quit them very early but sometimes I quit when I'm a few chapters or even 100 pages in. The ones where I make it further have been happening more lately, where it starts out interesting enough to grab me but then I find when I go back to pick it up the second or third or fourth time that I'm not feeling all that excited to start again. I went for a whole week without finishing anything in print because this kept happening. And not the Quit in 10 pages ones, those are normal. But the Quit in 50 or 100 pages ones. Those are harder. And a few in a row is a bummer.

Sometimes this is the book's fault and sometimes it's mine. Sometimes my head just isn't in the right place for a book. And every now and then when that happens I will actually come back to it later. So while I was hitting a wall over and over in print this week, on audio I was having another go with Bunny by Mona Awad. I got a few chapters into this one and I don't even remember why I put it aside but I thought even then that I should come back to it some day. And this year when I read Awad's new novel All's Well, which is one of my favorites of 2021, I remembered that I owed her one. Audio is often my go to when I am having another try, I am much more finicky in print, much more patient when I listen.

It was well worth it, because Bunny is exactly up my alley (review below) and even better it had a great audiobook. I don't know that I will come back to any of the books I quit this week. Usually I don't. But if I see enough other people read and enjoy sometimes that will tip the scales. It's weirdly reassuring to me to be able to come back later and truly enjoy a book, especially since I know I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it the same way when I quit the first time. (For the record, I don't remember exactly why I quit but I never had even an ounce of desire to quit this time. I really was in the right place.)

I can't give every book another chance. It is rare that it happens. But that's part of why it's special.

New Releases

Last release of the year!

Silent Parade (Detective Galileo, #4)
Detective Galileo, Keigo Higashino’s best loved character from The Devotion of Suspect X, returns in a complex and challenging mystery—se...

Sometimes I feel like I talk too much about Keigo Higashino but he still hasn't taken up the full bestseller list so clearly I haven't.

This is a new entry in his Detective Galileo series, which has mostly continued to have a new entry translated every few years since the release of The Devotion of Suspect X. The first book was released with much fanfare but if I hadn't been looking I don't know that I would have heard about any of the others. I read Devotion on audio, I finished it in public, and I gasped aloud. I am sure people stared.

Since then I wait for a new Higashino just like I wait for a new Tana French. His books are not all translated and not always in order so I just have to wait to see what we will get. A new Detective Galileo is a particular treat because they have a very golden age mystery feel with some kind of puzzle to solve. Salvation of a Saint spends about half its time going over the detailed mechanics of how a single cup of coffee was poured.

Silent Parade is an excellent new entry. You don't need to read these in order, Detective Galileo is not even a detective but a scientist that is occasionally called upon to help with a particularly baffling case. This book has three cases in one--for the two old cases everyone knows who did it but they can't ever pin them on him. And with so many people yearning for revenge, when that suspected killer turns up dead there are many suspects.

Higashino can take you on some unexpected journeys. Here he doesn't tell you exactly who the perpetrators are... but he basically does. Sometimes the mystery is not the killer but the motive. Or the mystery is not the killer but the method. These twists on the formula are why I enjoy his books so much, they have certain guarantees and yet they are always full of surprises.

If you are trying to decide where to start, I usually send people to Suspect X although it's really quite different in a lot of ways and a slow burn at that. Lately I've been choosing Newcomer instead, the last book before this one, which is from a different series all together but I think hits the sweet spot of getting deep into the fussy details while also being his most charming book.

What I've Been Reading

(If you're like wait Jess you just told us you didn't finish any print books for a week then how are there print books on this list, it's because I always save one or two because I worry that I will read zero books some weeks and have nothing to put here so it's just a little behind.)

String Follow
A darkly comic suburban Gothic about a malevolent force that targets a group of Ohio misfits, harnessing their angst for its sinister des...

Release Date: Feb 1, 2022
Shelves: Horror
Stars: 4

A dark, hypnotic horror in the utter bleakness of high school in a post-Columbine world.

The title is apt as we move through a group of characters in a way that feels deliberate but also random. Rich, rebellious punk Claire and Sarah who desperately wants to be her friend and Sarah's actual best friend Beth who has stopped coming to school and Beth's brother Greg whose complicated mental health is reaching a tipping point. And we can't forget Sarah's ex-boyfriend David who is finding himself more interested in incel videos since the breakup, and Tyler the kid with the bad home life who takes up residence in David's empty basement, and Collin one of the few Black teens in town who is still reeling from his older sister's suicide. At first it can feel a little overwhelming, you come back to a character that you've forgotten about, but all along the unusual narration of this novel made it clear to me that I needed to just sit back and let it wash over me and as a strategy this worked very well.

The copy calls this "comic" and some of it can be funny, but mostly it's extremely dark. The strange narrators are not a person and it's not clear they are even a thing but it's definitely clear they have bad intentions. It is a very regular world and yet it is a world where it feels like violence could burst out at any moment, which actually is a lot like the regular world. It is a book that's very interested in the ways a "sleepy community" can suddenly find itself in the center of something unexpected and horrific. Because something is always lurking underneath, and our narrators are looking to exploit whatever they can.

I also loved how this feels so much like the habits of real teens, the way they can be obsessed with something for months and then suddenly cast it aside. Their spur of the moment decisions that they do not understand but fully commit to. The way they can put the entire world aside to just play video games and smoke weed and pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist. The irrationality of a not-fully-developed brain is alive and well here. And despite feeling heavily nihilistic for much of the novel, it is also surprisingly optimistic at the end, which honestly I needed at that point.

A truly unique novel that was of particular interest to me as I was thinking about unexpected and inhuman narrators myself before I picked it up.

Piles of content warnings, including suicide, school shootings, violence, parental neglect and abuse, and sexual assault (may be attempted, mostly off-page).

In the summer of 2002, when Korea is abuzz over hosting the FIFA World Cup, nineteen-year-old Kim Hae-on is killed in what becomes known ...

Release Date: Out now!
Shelves: Crime, In Translation, Authors of Color
Stars: 4

An interesting look at the long shadow of a terrible crime. It has an unusual structure, hopping around to a few different characters and taking big leaps through time, but ultimately it reveals a surprising plot, slyly revealing the murderer and how the victim's family takes revenge.

This is the perfect length, with short chapters that give you just enough time in each one to figure out who is narrating and what has happened since the last chapter. There are moments of beauty and philosophical reflection and a surprising amount of character development squeezed into these small chapters, but it really works.

Recommended for readers who enjoy a nontraditional mystery or are looking for more in translation.

Samantha Heather Mackey couldn’t be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. A ...

Release Date: Out now!
Shelves: Horror, Audiobooks, Authors of Color, Best Backlist of 2021
Stars: 4

Bunny is a dark and delightful counterpoint to all the campus novels out there. The campus novel is a subgenre I have approached with more trepidation each year, as it becomes clear that almost all of them are set in colleges I never could have afforded and are populated by students who are utterly unaware of the pricetag on their attendance. The campus novel is hardly ever set in a state school or a community college or the kind of place most of us attend, it is for that other set of people, who coincidentally make up a lot of writers and publishing people, who come from money and look for that specific kind of prestige. All of this context is important for Bunny to mean anything to the reader.

Our protagonist Samantha is an outcast among the small group of other fiction writers in her program, the rest of them all rich girls with almost identical, carefully curated tastes who all call each other by the pet name Bunny. Beyond that, nothing in here is following the campus novel tropes. Not a single thing. The novel shifts several times, shedding its skin to become one thing and then another. You don't always know where it's going and its surprises shouldn't be spoiled.

It is a bit interesting to come back to this after All's Well, which certainly has similar notes in tone, style, and subject matter. But her newest novel feels more like a complete whole, while this is not really that kind of book. It technically has a structure but it is more about the twists and turns along the way than it is to getting to any particular spot. I am not actually sure that is a weakness, I think Bunny is exactly what it intends to be, casting off expectations and living comfortably in its surrealism, still quite far off from the dark-fairy-tale pieces it will occasionally remind you of.

I did this on audio and the reader really went for it in a way that I found quite satisfying. Though I think some readers may find the voices she gives for the bunnies too cloying but I found it used to excellent effect.

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