I Did Not Kill My Husband, by Liu Zhenyun

I Did Not Kill My HusbandGosh, what a strange little book. I picked this one out of the mountain of advance copies available to me due to its awesome title, the fact that it’s a book translated from the Chinese and I don’t read enough books written by non-Anglophone writers, and the fact that the description made it sound like it might be a little bit like Out.

It is not like Out. But it’s still pretty cool.

So the deal is, there’s a Chinese woman, Li Xuelian, who gets pregnant with a second child in a strict one-child area. But she’s got this great idea — she and her husband can get divorced, he’ll keep their kid, she’ll have the baby, and then they, two adults with just one kid each, can get married and have two kids! Genius! Except that after they go through the divorce, the husband gets remarried. Wah wah.

From the title, I was expecting that either Li would kill her husband and then deny it (as you do), or she would all but kill him and make his life terrible. The latter is what she tries to do, certainly, but what actually happens is that he goes on with his happy life and happy new wife, and Li becomes the tortured soul.

See, Li tries to undo that divorce of hers, but the judge and the court decide against her. She thinks this is ridiculous, so she goes to higher-ranking person after higher-ranking person in an attempt to get her way and leaves a trail of fired, demoted, and/or terrified government employees in her wake, but never gets the recourse she seeks. She eventually ends up sort of accidentally lodging a protest at a national event and ends up attempting to return every year for twenty years, though without any success.

The story is satirical in the style of Candide, where thing after thing keeps going wrong, though Li never thinks that any of it is for the best. As her fight progresses through the government, we meet some interesting political players and see Liu’s take on the ambitious go-getter, the no-nonsense planner, and the dude who just wants to get through the day, all of whom are shaking in their boots when Li comes around because they just can’t figure out what she wants. Of course, at some point all she probably wants is an apology, but by then it’s way too late for that.

There’s some other kind of joke in this book that I don’t quite get, which is that the characters often speak in idiom after idiom, repeating the same sentiments with different metaphors. I understand that that’s what they’re doing, but I’m not sure why or if it’s a joke on the characters or just fun wordplay or what. I will clearly have to study up on my Chinese satire.

Oh, and then the ending… this whole book is just trolling its reader, I think.

I’m really not sure what to make of this book, as I’ve never read anything quite like it before, but I’m pretty sure I enjoyed my time with it. It has definitely inspired me to seek out more Chinese literature, though maybe just some straightforward fiction next time? We shall see. Suggestions welcome!

Recommendation: For readers who don’t mind books that make almost no sense even in the end.

Rating: 7/10

As You Wish, by Cary Elwes

As You WishAt some point in the fairly recent past, I went to see The Princess Bride for the first time… in the theater, that is, as I have watched the movie approximately one zillion times and it is one of my favorite movies of all time. I saw it with a bunch of other people who also love the movie and one person who was actually, literally, truly seeing the movie for the first time, and all of us were more than a little baffled when she was like, “It’s okay, I guess.” Inconceivable!

I’ve also read the book, though only once, way back at the beginning of my blogging career, and I was struck by how it could have been a novelization of the movie and not the other way around, except for the very beginning and a very cool part in the middle that I’m sad wasn’t in the movie.

So I was totally primed for this book, is what I’m saying.

And before I say anything else, I would like it noted that my comments are based on not just an advanced reading copy of the book but a digital advanced copy that had some poor formatting choices when it came to the numerous what I’m guessing are sidebars but ended up just cutting right into the middle of paragraphs and sentences in this version. I can only hope that those formatting issues are taken care of in the final digital version.

Okay, so. I had expected this to be a book about The Princess Bride, which it is, sort of, but it’s more correctly a memoir of Cary Elwes’s experience with The Princess Bride, from casting to filming to the strange cult following that has built up around the film since its release on home video. And that’s cool, for the most part, but there are long stretches of the narrative that are just Elwes (and often the people in the sidebars) having a love-fest for all the other people in or related to the movie, which gets a little boring after a while. It also seems like most of the cute stories that Elwes tells are things I already knew from watching the extras on my DVD copy or from the 25th anniversary coverage a couple years back, and I’m not sure how many people are standing in line for this book that haven’t consumed those other things already.

But there are a few stories that I didn’t know before reading this book, and those stories are totally worth reading the rest of this fairly short book and I’m not going to spoil them for you because I will not do them the justice that Elwes does. And these stories will make you want to go back and watch the movie, which is of course never a bad thing.

I wish that this book had been a little different, with more of more people’s perspectives and some tighter editing on Elwes’s wordy style, but I suppose even Westley can only do so much. And hey, maybe someone else (I’m looking at you, Mandy Patinkin) will decide to do this again around another anniversary?

Recommendation: If you love The Princess Bride, you’re probably already reading this. If you don’t, there is nothing I can do for you.

Rating: 7/10

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, by A.S. King

Glory O'Brien's History of the FutureEarlier this summer, I had this grand plan to finally catch up on all of A.S. King‘s backlist, because I knew that Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future was coming out and I feel compelled to read things in order. So I read Ask the Passengers, which was her fourth novel but only my second of hers, and clearly this plan was not well thought out from the beginning but I had good intentions, and then I got caught up in all the other books that came out this summer and I was like, eff it, I’ll catch up later, give me my teenagers drinking dead bats.

Because, um, that’s kind of the thing that happens in this book. Not the only thing, obviously, but the thing that everyone’s talking about because weird.

There’s no real reason why Glory and her friend Ellie drink this bat, except that there’s this bat, see, and it’s dead and kind of mummified and there’s this beer, see, and it’s beer and makes all sorts of ideas seem good, and also Glory’s not really sure Ellie is her friend and she’s not sure what her future holds, having not applied to any colleges and having no plan for her “gap year”, and she’s got a dead mom and an absent-ish father and you know, you gotta try everything once, right?

And that, that right there, is why I am in love with this book. There’s the weird-pants conceit of the story, which is that Glory drinks this bat and starts seeing the past and future of every sentient creature she looks at (except for herself), but there’s also this completely realistic base for the story, in which people are people and they have issues and also Issues and they do things and stuff happens and sometimes it’s important.

But also I love the weird-pants part of the story, in which Glory sees people’s pasts and futures and realizes that a) everyone’s got a messed-up life, not just her, and b) that if she gets off her indecisive butt, she can help make the world a lot less messed up. Because as she looks into everyone’s future, she pieces together a world not dissimilar to the one in The Handmaid’s Tale, in which women are legislated into, like, absolutely-last-class status and the country finally splits apart over the issue and there is war and horror and it’s… not great, is what I’m saying. And I’m not sure exactly when King wrote certain parts of this book, but some of the events she has leading up to this awful future have already, recently, come to pass and it’s a liiiiiittle creepy.

I know that at least my corner of the internet is saturated with anti-misogyny rants and pro-awesome-women posts, and it is possible that you are already like, I am not going to read this book that thinks all men are terrible, but let me assure you that this future business is just a small part of the novel, and that “we shouldn’t hate women” is not the only take-away from this story. Glory’s path leads to the realization that she is important in her own way that has nothing to do with her family and the legacy left by her mother’s suicide, that friendship is an imperfect science, and that life is more complicated than anyone wants it to be, among other small lessons learned. Her history of the future could just as easily be about climate change or racism or a world in which teens fight each other to the death, but I am both not surprised and happy that King chose ladies and their rights to write about. Though “A.S. King writes The Hunger Games” is a thing the internet needs to get on right away. I’ll be right here.

Where was I? Oh, right. Glory O’Brien is an awesome kid who is going to do awesome things, and I kind of wish she were real so I could say I knew her when.

Recommendation: For lovers of realistic but not too realistic teen fiction.

Rating: 10/10

RIP Update

Hello lovely RIPers and spectators! The weather around here has been hinting at fall, but it hasn’t quite taken hold yet. My sweaters are quivering in the dresser!

The StandBut it’s definitely been a spooky couple of weeks around here. As I mentioned on Friday, I’ve been reading The Stand for my book club, which so far has been mostly re-reading; I read half of the book two years ago on vacation and then never got around to reading the rest of it. I’m glad I re-read the first half, as I had forgotten all but the broadest strokes of the story, but the fact that it took me two weeks to get through that first half again is a bit disheartening. After the first harrowing bit where everyone’s dying of government-made flu (which is even more harrowing with the start of regular flu season and the recent ebola worries), there’s been a lot of nothing going on, although it’s clear that King’s building up to a big fight between Good and Evil. I’m intrigued to see where it goes, but I’m not really in any hurry to get there.

HannibalIn TV, Scott and I finished up Hannibal season one, which definitely got better and creepier after those first two episodes, largely because it becomes more obvious that Hannibal is not only a bad guy, but the bad guy. He’s very very good at being the bad guy, too, which led to me being angry at fictional characters at the end of the season when Hannibal has them completely outsmarted. I had to look up the storyline for the second season to make sure that I wouldn’t want to kill Hannibal myself whenever that season gets around to being on demand for me. Come soon!

What are you all consuming in the spirit of the season?

Weekend Shorts: Hawkeye, Vol. 1

Hawkeye: My Life As a WeaponIt has been a strange couple of reading weeks ’round these here parts, due to my book club deciding to read The Stand and therefore all of my dedicated reading time being already spoken for by that giant doorstop. Luckily, my un-dedicated reading time — couch time with my video-game-playing husband, can’t-fall-asleep time, that sort of stuff — has been filled with some superfun superhero antics (is Hawkeye a superhero? I mean, if Batman’s a superhero, I guess he must be?). Waaaaaay better than plague fiction, especially these days…

Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life As a Weapon
I had heard lots of good things about this comic series, though I couldn’t tell you any specific thing, just that people I know and mostly trust read and enjoyed either the single-issue comics or this first collected volume. All I really knew about it was that it’s about Hawkeye (genius, I am) and that it’s about Hawkeye when he’s not an Avenger, which I thought could be pretty interesting. And… it is? I think?

I’m not sure because none of the issues in this collection are easy to read, which I appreciate in theory but which breaks my brain in practice. The story-telling is in no way linear — the first issue has three distinct timelines (dog, eviction, Hawkeye badassery) that are each told in vignettes that are chronological for their story but which trade off with the other timelines in a non-chronological fashion, if that makes any sense, which it probably doesn’t. Another issue has Hawkeye listing his nine most terrible ideas of the day in order from least to most horrible, which are of course also not in chronological order. I like it. It’s cool. I’m still not entirely sure what happened.

But what little I understand of the various stories is pretty cool, so there’s that. That first story shows Hawkeye as Clint Barton, awesome sharpshooter with a little notoriety but no pressing superhero engagements when the Avengers are out of session, which leaves him free to fight the evictions of his friends in his apartment building. The second brings in Kate Bishop, alternate Hawkeye, to raid a circus run by bad guys, as you do. The third is… I don’t know, there’s a car and a chick and some trick arrows? And then the fourth and fifth are a two-parter in which Hawkeye has to go win an extremely incriminating for himself and SHIELD tape (no, really, a videotape, omg) at what is apparently an auction for villain types, including a really go-getter Hydra member who makes me giggle. There’s also a bonus issue, Young Avengers #6, which explains a little bit of the Clint/Kate relationship. No big overarching story that I can see, just some fun times with Hawkeye and sometimes alternate Hawkeye. I’ll definitely be checking out the next volume, but with probably more brain power on reserve next time!

The Eye of Zoltar, by Jasper Fforde

The Eye of ZoltarGuys! Guys! The new Jasper Fforde is out! I don’t know how we have all survived to this day! Well, I mean, some of us had ARCs. And probably some of us live in or ordered it from the UK, where it has been out for SIX MONTHS already. Those sneaky Brits. But if you aren’t one of those people? It’s here! Hooray!

There’s really not that much to say about The Eye of Zoltar that I haven’t already said about every other Jasper Fforde book ever, and especially about the other two books in the Last Dragonslayer series. You’ve got your Jennifer Strange, teen head of a wizarding corporation; you’ve got your Un-United Kingdoms, poised for war at any and every moment; you’ve got your wacky hijinks and puns and misunderstandings and deus ex machina…s?

This book picks up right after the last one left off, but you don’t need to have read that one because Fforde delivers a summary right at the start, which is sooooo useful because all the crazy he writes can get easily mixed up in my head. And besides, all that nonsense gets left behind when Jennifer goes off on what is very clearly not a quest (quests involve too much paperwork, you see) to find a probably nonexistent object for a usually inanimate but still very powerful magician. Before she can go off on this not-a-quest, she is also recruited by the king and queen to take their insufferable princess daughter, recently body-swapped with her own beleaguered servant, and train her up to be a useful human being. Just another day in the life of Jennifer Strange.

One of the weirder things about this book is that it gets downright educational. It turns out that the princess is some kind of economics genius and she explains things like futures and options and goat trade in a way that seems, to this reader with little knowledge of economics, to be pretty factual and useful if I ever want to rid myself of a goat surplus. Luckily all that learnin’ talk is surrounded by rubberized dragons and leaps of faith and 50 percent survival rates, so you don’t have to learn things if you’d rather not. Nice to have the option.

I am definitely intrigued to see where Fforde goes next with this series, but according to his website he is taking a break from dragon slayers for a little while and releasing a “super secret standalone novel” next year (oooooooh) and then, finally, a prequel to Shades of Grey in 2016, and holy crap I am so excited for that I can’t even. In the meantime, this book is the perfect cure for your Fforde withdrawal, post-summer reading slump, or general boredom.

Recommendation: For everyone, unless you don’t like weird humor, in which case I’m not sure why you’re here.

Rating: 8/10

The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith

The SilkwormI read the first Galbraith book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, long after it had been revealed that he was actually J.K. Rowling (writer of a kids series you may have heard of) and probably just after all the controversy had passed, which is clearly a good time to read things because I thought it was super awesome.

This second book is probably equally awesome. There are all the twists and turns and broken alibis of the first novel, as well as all the introspection and cinematic writing (which are an odd combo, to be sure) and excitement. Really, if you liked the first one, you should just go read the second. Well, unless you’re easily squicked out by gore and weird sex things, which this book has just enough of to be kind of icky.

See, our dead person this time is a fellow called Owen Quine who is a writer of books with weird sex things in them and also kind of a huge drama queen, to the point that his wife only comes to our hero, Cormoran Strike, after he’s been missing several days, and she just wants Strike to go get him back from some writers’ retreat that she’s sure he’s run off to.

But of course it’s more complicated than that, as Strike finds out that Quine went missing shortly after writing a new creepy book that is pretty blatantly about basically everyone Quine has ever known. His friends, fellow writers, mistresses, publishers… almost everyone is painted in a hugely unflattering light. The book hasn’t even been published and there are fights and lawsuits aplenty that would make any writer go into hiding for a while.

Except that when Strike finds Quine’s hiding place, Quine is there and also dead and also really gruesomely dead, tied up and covered in acid and with his guts missing, which conveniently mimics the ending of his already pretty awful novel. It seems likely that someone didn’t like what Quine had to say about them, but with so many suspects, it’s going to take a while for Strike to figure this one out — especially with the police blocking his every move in an effort to save face after that whole Lula Landry debacle.

Meanwhile there’s quite a bit about Strike’s assistant, Robin, and her fiancé issues and her Strike issues and the fact that if she would just use her freaking words her life would be a lot better. I may be projecting that last part. There is also, as you might expect, a lot of talk about the publishing industry, which makes me wonder what could have been if this book had been written after the whole Hachette vs. Amazon shenanigan began. A lost opportunity, really.

There’s nothing particularly new or noteworthy about this book compared to The Cuckoo’s Calling, but it is a solid work of mystery fiction and I am super looking forward to whatever Rowling writes for me next. As long as it comes soon!

Recommendation: For fans of non-Potter Rowling, crazy-pants mysteries, and characters saying “I have a plan” and then not telling you the plan, just doing it.

Rating: 9/10