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The Books I Read in January 2017

I’m not happy with my January reading.

I wanted to start the year reading more literary fiction. I wanted to start the year off with a Margaret Atwood binge. Nadine Gordimer got in on the binge. I wanted to try Louise Erdrich. And I decided that I finally needed to complete a T.C. Boyle novel (after failing to finish Water Music and The Road to Wellville). ( I also added a few other books here and there. Too many honestly).

I started off with LaRose by Louise Erdrich. I read fifty pages. The novel started strong. I liked what I read. But gradually, an emotional dissonance in the narrative and a sojourn in 1839 (compared to the 1990s setting) threw me out of the novel.

From that defeat, I moved on to Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer. This is a difficult novel about a young woman who has devoted herself to her parents’ political struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. I really should try this novel again when I am in a mood for difficult and great literary fiction.

As far as Margaret Atwood is concerned, I tried to read Cat’s Eye for the second time (and was not into it) and The Handmaid’s Tale (which I will not get into- not a fan of dystopia).

I also tried Peter Ho Davies’s The Fortunes and really did not like it. Which is a shame.

As far as literary fiction is concerned, I really enjoyed T.C. Boyle’s The Harder They Come. It is a powerful story about violence and what drives people to violence. I would give it a solid four stars. But the novel is not without flaws. I feel that Sarah, whose story starts out strong, falters as the narrative progresses, becoming little more than an appendage to Adam/ Colter’s story.

I also reread Wislawa Szymborska’s View with a Grain of Sand. I first read this selected collection over ten years ago and loved it. But this past reread has cooled my passion for this collection of poems. To say I am frustrated should be obvious.

The problem, I am sure, is that I allowed a form of unintentional peer pressure to create a desire to binge read too much literary fiction. Which ultimately put me off of the whole thing.

In addition to the above books, I also read three comic book volumes. I first read Midnighter volume 1 (“Out”) by Steve Orlando. The book was okay. I enjoyed it. But the art is disappointing, the narrative is disjointed (and not in a good way), and the final confrontation with the villain is beyond disappointing (I expected so much more from Prometheus). I later read Thor volume 1 (“Goddess of Thunder”) by Jason Aaron. I  really liked this volume. I am sold on Jane Foster as Thor. I want to see what happens to her. But, I feel Thor is too good too fast. She can do things her predecessor never did without any training. And every damn villain is a straw man misogynist. I also read Doctor Strange volume 1 again by Jason Aaron. I hated this comic book. Aaron not only rips himself off (the plot is basically Doctor Strange’s “God Butcher” arc) but also attempts and fails to capture Loki magic by imitating Gillen and Ewing. And the art is terrible.

Finally, as I wandered around my favorite library, I checked out Nick Harkaway’s  Angelmaker  and James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes. I hated Angelmaker. And fell in love with Leviathan’s Wake on my second attempt.

I love this book now. Leviathan’s Wake is wonderfully written and exciting and enjoyable. I fell in love with the characters. I wanted to see them succeed. I yearned to see the mystery of Julie Mao solved. A solid four and a half stars.

There are some flaws. Miller is, perhaps, too much of a hard boiled dick stereotype (down to falling in love with the subject of his investigation). Julie Mao is a woman in a refrigerator who I feel could probably have taken over Miller’s role. But on the whole, I really like the novel.

So that is what I read last month. Again, I’m not happy with it. I want to read more. And finish more books. And like more books for that matter.

Hopefully February will be a better month.



Comic Book Review Day, Part One: Scalped Vol. One: Indian Country

Scalped is a 60 issue series written by Jason Aaron with art by R.M. Guera. This review covers the first collected volume of the series, entitled “Indian Country.” All in all, this was a very surprising and enjoyable read.

A quick synopsis: After fifteen years, Dashiell Bad Horse has returned to the Prairie Rose Reservation and finds himself unwillingly drafted into the reservation police force.

There are two arcs included in the volume. First is “Indian Country” where Dashiell Bad Horse must acclimate to his new reality as the newest member of the reservation police force. The second arc “Hoka Hey” explores the relationships between Dash and Carol Ellroy, Chief Red Crow and Gina Bad Horse as well as exploring the events of 1975 (inspired by the Leonard Peltier  case).

As a character, Dashiell can be easily described as an angry young man. He outwardly hates the reservation, but as Agent Nitz points out, there is also something there that pulls him back.

His tumultuous relationship with his mother is also excellently depicted. Gina Bad Horse  is a Native American rights activist who (in Dash’s mind) abandoned him so she could carry on her crusade. In reaction to this, he not only becomes a cop on the reservation, but is also revealed to be an undercover FBI agent working under Nitz (even if unwillingly).

Given Scalped’s noir roots, there is also the femme fatale/ damsel in distress figure embodied in Carol Ellroy, Dash’s old love interest and Chief Red Crow’s troubled daughter. The sexual tension between them is palpable and explosive. Both characters come off as incredibly self destructive.

Even as the main narrative focuses on Dash’s mission to bring down Red Crow (a former Native rights activist turned politician/ mob boss), the events of 1975 fuels the flames of the present. From determining what kind of reservation Prairie Rose will become ( the casino or the old ways?) to a racist  FBI agent’s pursuit of vengeance/ justice, none of these characters can escape their pasts.

And the final panels are just awesome.

Now, the art. If I were to just look at the art without reading the comic, I don’t think I would like it. The art is gritty and noirish. But as I read the comic, the art makes everything come together. The art is, honestly, perfect for the series.

Now, I ILLed this book from the library. But I must say that I look forward to picking up this series as the opportunities arise.