January 2021 Book Reviews

We’re excited to find 2022 chugging along nicely for our blog.  With January in the rearview mirror, we’d like to take this opportunity to share what we’ve read over the past month.  This is the start of a recurring feature.  The first Tuesday of every month we will share what we read the previous month and our thoughts on each book.  If you’re interested in purchasing a book, we’d love it if you could purchase it through Amazon Affiliate links!

Books will be rated on a 1 – 5 star scale with 1 being bad and 5 being excellent.  If you enjoy what you see and don’t want to wait until the next book post, please follow us on Goodreads.  We’ll stay consistently updated there before compiling our month’s reading and thoughts here.

The comics Chaos has read will also be included at the end of the post.  Normally those will just be listed and not officially reviewed.  If you ever want to hear about a comic in particular though or want his thoughts, don’t be afraid to ask.  He enjoys discussing what he’s read. 

Now on with the show!

How Lucky by Will Leitch – 4/5 Stars

How Lucky explores the life of Daniel after he witnesses a potential kidnapping of a young college girl.  As the only witness of a crime that is now gaining national attention, Daniel has to figure out exactly how to proceed and how to possibly get people to listen to the guy with a degenerative disease that has advanced quite a bit.

It’s easy to call this novel a suspense or thriller, but the meat of this book is Daniel and his perspective on life.  The mystery and kidnapping are present throughout, however, a lot of the novel’s focus is on our quirky and charming narrator instead.  Honestly, the book is probably better for this because while Leitch does well with the thriller aspect of the novel, he shines most when letting Daniel share his outlooks, experiences, and humor.  

Even when teaching me a lot about Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which can easily be a downer or sobering, the book maintained an overall light tone which pushes readers to appreciate what they have in life no matter what their circumstances and to count themselves among the lucky.  

The only reason this novel loses points is because at times it feels the author might be trying to push too many points and messages without them feeling completely earned, especially during the final sections.  

If you’re looking for light, fun, and feel-good novel with a narrator who aims to keep you smiling, How Lucky may be the perfect book for you.  

*Quick note: I do slightly judge Leitch for writing about Settler of Catan and Azul as heavy duty board games for the most experienced and brilliant of gamers.  Both are great games, but they are also easy to introduce to newcomers.

** I’ll forgive Letich though because he perfectly understands that if you see someone eating Zaxby’s it must be Sunday because otherwise they’d be eating Chick-Fil-A. 

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin – 3/5 Stars

“With great power there must also come great responsibility,” unless your name is George Orr.  In that case, the power to shape the world through your dreams is either better left avoided or left to be used and misused by your psychiatrist.  

The Lathe of Heaven gets a ranking in the middle because I like the overall premise and early execution of the novel, but it doesn’t quite live up to its potential.  The idea of Orr’s power/curse and how it ends up affecting reality is all very interesting.  I enjoyed seeing his power toyed with and the unintended consequences of its use.  Sadly, our main character often feels like a vehicle to the plot having to be foolish, overly trusting, or simply inactive in order for the story to continue (aka letting Dr. Haber do his thing).  Other potentially interesting characters are introduced but are then never really developed to a level that makes them truly worthwhile.  

This shorter novel works best as a spring-board for further thoughts and conversations around the premise.  What is the right way to use this power?  How would you use it?  What consequences would actually occur?  Are there simple solutions to humanity’s biggest problems if you have the power to alter reality?  

As a piece of classic science-fiction, I like The Lathe of Heaven.  However, it just ends up being good ideas delivered through an okay-ish story.  I could see using it to prompt class discussions and writings as I have used Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” in the past. 

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld – 4/5 Stars

This is the first time I’ve read anything by Sittenfeld and I must say she’s a very strong writer.  Her writing style is clear and engaging.  Even more impressive is her ability to create fully formed, complex characters in the span of just a few pages.  Most of the stories in this collection range from twenty to thirty pages, but that’s more than enough to get a deep grasp on Sittenfeld’s characters and their lives.  

You Think It, I’ll Say It contains stories about a diverse cast of characters (though most of them feel most comfortably labeled as white middle/upper class) each dealing with issues that keep them from really being happy or fulfilled.  The overarching theme of how snap or improper judgments can hurt the one bestowing judgment connects most of Sittenfeld’s stories found in this collection. 

Some of the stories are stronger (The Prairie Wife, Volunteers are Shining Stars, and Gender Studies).  Others are well written but their messages are less clear or feel stretched (The World Has Many Butterflies and Vox Clamantis in Deserto).  Each story: the greater, the weaker, and the in- betweens all feel worth reading and of further discussion. It’s easy to get invested in each character’s dilemma.  Sadly, for my tastes at least, Sittenfeld does a good job of creating problematic and troubled characters, but then she leaves them in their broken, hurting states.  Sittenfeld created interest and sometimes sympathy for these people, now if only she also offered more hope or redemption for a few as well.     

How to Be a Chicana Role Model by Michele Serros – 3.5/5 Stars
(unfortunately, out of print)

This novel is a piece of fiction, but it definitely feels as if it draws heavily from Michele Serros’ real life.  The protagonist, also Michele Serros, shares a series of events and experiences from her life that are loosely tied together by her hopes of becoming a successful writer and a Chicana role model.

I really enjoyed Serros’ writing, which was usually humorous and quick witted.  Most of the book was funny and that made for a pleasurable read.  Even when dealing with some heavier topics such as racism, poverty, anxiety, and self-doubt, Serros maintained a fun banter which helped the book speed along at an enjoyable pace.  I should however say that Serros did a good job finding other emotional levels, at times such as when she discussed the loss of her mother.  That chapter is a tear-jerker.

As a Mexican-American myself, I found a lot of her anecdotes either relatable directly or through the experiences my parents and their generation have shared with me.  As I’ve become older, I’ve done more to try and find representation in some more of what I read and watch, so it was great to add a worthy book to the list.

I won’t say How to Be a Chicana Role Model is a must read novel, but if you’re ever looking for a quick, fun, light read, it should fill that role (model) nicely.

Mox by Jon Moxley – 4/5 stars

Mox is an autobiographical look at pieces of the life of Jon Moxley, professional wrestler and lover of violence.  As expected, Moxley delves into his personal life and wrestling career but in a way I didn’t see coming.  Reading this book felt like having Moxley speak right to me.  Having heard him give interviews before and deliver countless wrestling promos, his voice came through perfectly.

The book bordered on stream of consciousness, jumping around to different points in Moxley’s life and sometimes breaking for tangents on music, movies, and sandwiches.  The nonlinear approach works surprisingly well, with Moxley tying unique points in his life together and showcasing his evolution as a performer and person, all while making you feel special for getting a glimpse into the life of someone so guarded.  

I also enjoyed how the author would insert chapters about where he was mentally as he wrote the book: dealing with the pandemic, mourning the loss of a friend, relishing in what former teachers would think if they knew he turned out to be a successful, married man who spent his free time working on his book.  

Like many other readers, I’m sure, I picked up Mox because of Moxley’s wrestling career and my enjoyment of his in-ring and character work.  Moxley finds the perfect blend of exposing the theatrical world behind wrestling while still making it feel real.  He talks about his training, learning the ins-and-outs of selling, his ideas of what makes a good match, creating stories through his work, and the backstage politics of it all.  Moxley lays it on the table that wrestling in a creative production which is predetermined, but then he goes deeper into his character work or describes the matches themselves, and a switch subtly flips.  Moxley admits to losing himself in his character when working and it bleeds into his writing.  When describing matches or recounting promos and storylines, you feel as if you’re hearing from Dean Ambrose or Jon Moxley the characters.  The man across the ring is no longer a fellow performer, but a man who needs to be hurt.  Moxley becomes a fighter looking to stay alive and relishing in the pain of others.

I appreciate how honest and upfront Moxley is about his personal trials and demons.  I hope the man behind the book is doing well on his continuing journey of keeping them in control and finding the proper and hopefully safe ways to express himself and enjoy life.

This autobiography will work especially well for wrestling and Jon Moxley fans, but I think it will provide a fascinating and worthwhile look into a unique individual’s life for any reader.  It’s a messy book that perfectly captures the messy life of Jon Moxley.

* For those it matters to: Mox mostly covers Jon Moxley’s early career and time in the WWE and its developmental systems.  Hopefully, one day he’ll write more about AEW, but his book only offers a brief glimpse into that chapter of his life.

If I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier – 2/5 stars

This is a book that started off strongly and then sort of petered out as it went along.  First person narrators are not for everyone, but I felt Brazier did a good job of crafting a character and voice that felt intriguing.  Sera Fleece felt unhinged, frantic, and troubled, but that helped me become more interested in her quest to solve the disappearance of her favorite podcast personality.  The author also did a good job of creating the secluded and creepy ranch that most of the novel takes place in.  It may be a little cliche, but the ranch did feel like its own character.  

During a good chunk of the novel, I was curious to see where things went and could see multiple characters being more than they seemed.  But as the story progressed and unfolded, I became more frustrated with Sera and just hoped that sticking around to the end would pay off.  It didn’t.  The twist and turns at the end didn’t feel completely earned, sensical, or satisfying.  I left the novel thinking, “welp, that’s one way to end it.”

Brazier’s underlying messages about women’s forced roles in society and their expectations to blend in and disappear felt like they could have been handled better too.  When your protagonist comes off as unhinged and obsessive, it’s hard to take anything she’s preaching too seriously. It’s even harder when your main character’s quest to prove her worth is consistently undercut by even her own admitted inability to really stand up for herself or look beyond men’s rough and handsome exteriors.  

I don’t regret reading If I Disappear, but just wish it delivered on the promise that it started with.  As a lover of a good mystery and as someone who appreciates the occasional true crime podcast, this story had a lot of unmet potential.

Confetti Thoughts: There is gratuitous animal death in this book. For that reason alone, it is dead to me and got a 1 out of 5 stars on my personal goodreads account. The 2 stars for this review is a concession that it started out OK.  

Her Perfect Family by Teresa Driscoll – 3/5 Stars

If you’re a fan of mysteries and thrillers, Her Perfect Family is worth checking out.  It’s full of twists, turns, and dramatic revelations.  Told from multiple viewpoints, this novel shows just how much power secrets can hold and just how far people will go for their families.  The premise of figuring out who is behind a graduation shooting and why is pretty strong.  Driscoll does a good job of creating multiple suspects and injecting each with their own wild backstories and motives.

This isn’t a perfect book though and can be frustrating at points.  While the premise and action of the story is built on the ideas of secrets and buried pasts, it often feels like a few simple conversations would fix a lot in these characters’ lives or at least make the police’s jobs easier.  Clues, evidence, and important details are suppressed just because the characters don’t want to talk about them or think it might be too hard to discuss.  Also, for a novel where phones and texting are established things, a lot of characters refuse to give vital information in any other way than seeing each other in person, which can often lead to it being shared too late.

Finally, the ending is fine, but the big reveal feels a little forced and out of sync with the information and characterization readers have been given so far.  It’s not bad, but it could have been foreshadowed a little better.  It’s not enough to ruin the ending completely or the experience of the novel as a whole though.  

Her Perfect Family is an overall fun read, if you’re willing to look past some of its flaws. Hopefully it’ll remind readers to be honest and open with their own families.

The Push by Ashley Audrain – 5/5 Stars

As a new parent, this book hit close to home.  As I often tore through pages with my 4 month old son napping on my chest or feeding from his bottle, I couldn’t help wanting to hold him a little more tightly over fear of losing my sweet boy and also slightly praying that I wouldn’t screw him up. 

The Push explores one woman’s journey through motherhood, which turns out to be much harder than she or anyone else deserves.  Has Blythe given birth to a sinister daughter or is generational trauma seeping into her reality and destroying what could be a perfectly happy family?  

Audrain does an excellent job of building dread and tension throughout her novel.  My heart kept breaking for Blythe, knowing things were always on the edge of getting worse.  She lacks the support system she needs and her husband is not on her side. Blythe is expected to love and protect the one person in the world who hurts her most.  It’s a terrible situation with no true escape.

This is not an easy book to get through, but the book was so well written and the character study so well done, I had to push through my uneasiness at times because I had to know what happened.  I teared up at certain points reading, and then had to swallow emotions again when reflecting on aspects while away from the novel.

If you have trouble with childhood trauma and hardships or don’t love the idea of children in peril, this book is not for you.  However, if you can withstand the darker content, you’ll be rewarded with a fantastically presented story that drills to the core of your emotions.

I give a strong recommendation to those who can soldier through this novel.

Comics Read This Month:

  • Symbiote Spider-Man: King in Black by Peter David and Greg Land
  • Thor vol. 2: Prey by Donny Cates and Aaron Kuder
  • Runaways vol. 6: Come Away with Me by Rainbow Rowell and Andre Geolet
  • Amazing Spider-Man: vol. 13 – King’s Ransom by Nick Spencer and Patrick Gleason
  • Amazing Spider-Man: vol. 14 – Chameleon Conspiracy by Nick Spencer and Ed Brisson

The Wrap Up:

Thanks for checking out our shelves and books!  We’d love to hear about what you’re reading too.  If you share with us, don’t be surprised if add your book to our to-read pile too.  

Happy reading everyone!

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