It’s time again for another book reviews round-up. I only read three books last month, two of which I really enjoyed, one of which was a bit of a trashy read. Can you guess which was which?
The book reviews:
Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth
Emma Jane Unsworth’s Animals was everything I wanted the Amy Schumer film Trainwreck to be, but wasn’t. Oh man, when Amy’s character did that stupid cheerleading thing to “get the guy,” I wanted to claw my eyes out. Seriously. Can’t we have a movie or piece of media where a woman doesn’t have to completely transform or deny herself to find love and/or happiness?
Anyway, Animals is the story of two girl friends, Laura and Tyler, in their late 20s/early 30s who are struggling with the whole “time to grow up” thing. Laura’s engaged to a guy who, let’s face it, sounds like an absolute bore. She lives with Tyler, her best buddy, a privileged American living in the UK. Tyler’s your classic direction-less, privileged young woman — overly educated, yet not doing much with her life. She drinks a lot (A LOT) and does (too many) drugs. Yet, no matter how messed up her behavior, she’s still charismatic and draws people towards her.
Laura’s feeling a pull between her friend and her fiancé. She goes out and gets wild with Tyler, only to have Jim, the fiancé, disappointed with her decisions.
In your typical rom-com, you’d have Laura giving up some part of herself for one or the other. Not so with Animals. It’s a coming of age tale, it’s bittersweet, but it’s a story that says you don’t have to compromise or be untrue to yourself to figure out who you are.
The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich
Who doesn’t love a trashy thriller every now and then? I guess I can really take or leave The Hand That Feeds You, a novel that is very loosely based on Les Liasons Dangereuses (or, for those of us who grew up in the 1990s, Cruel Intentions). It was one of those books that was hard to put down, but also one of those books that make you wonder why on earth you are reading it. Morgan Preager is studying victim psychology at John Jay College of Criminology in NY. She comes home one day to find her fiancé dead in her room, apparently mauled to death by her usually friendly dogs.
So, as it turns out her beloved was a fake, a guy with multiple girlfriends and identities along the East Coast. Morgan starts to feel more like the victims she studies for her graduate thesis and also starts to try to figure out who her fiancé really was. She’s also sure that her dogs couldn’t possibly be the ones to have killed him, despite all the evidence, and sets out to prove their innocence.
What makes a good thriller? It needs to be a page turner. It needs to be somewhat implausible, but not so implausible that you don’t buy it or its characters (this one teetered on the edge of that. So many bad things happen to Morgan that you’re kind of like, “really? REALLY?”).
And, I think most importantly, a decent thriller needs to keep you guessing until the end. I came up with a lot of hypotheses about Morgan’s affianced during the book, most of which turned out to be wrong. But, I did figure out the ending well before the end, so that was a bit of a let down. Also, the structure of the ending was a big letdown. Not just in terms of the big reveal, the big “who did it,” but in terms of how quickly it all resolved. If you like this type of book usually, you’ll probably love The Hand That Feeds You. If not, I wouldn’t recommend reading it.
Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science by Richard Dawkins
Hm. For someone who’s all like, “I don’t really read memoirs,” I read a lot of memoirs. Case in point, Brief Candle in the Dark, by the biologist Richard Dawkins (I guess some might know him better as an atheist). The sequel to his first memoir, Appetite for Wonder (which I didn’t read), Brief Candle traces his life as a scientist, from his early days as tutor at Oxford through all of the books and films he’s worked on.
Although it does touch on personal bits of his life (he’s married to Romana II from Doctor Who!), the memoir focuses mostly on his work, which I prefer. I’ve only read two of his other books (the Selfish Gene and the God Delusion, both of which I’d recommend), so it was nice to get an introduction to the rest of his oeuvre from the man himself. (I’ve put the the Extended Phenotype and The Magic of Reality on my to-read list).
One of the things I like about Dawkins is that he’s really passionate about science. When he’s talking about religion, that passion might come across as a bit pompous or a bit offensive, but when it’s directed towards biology and evolutionary theory, it really makes the subjects come alive. Admittedly, some parts of the book were a bit dense, but it never felt like a slog to read through.
Another think I like about Dawkins is that he shows that one can be scientifically minded and creative at the same time. Growing up, I feel there was a big emphasis on the division between the arts and the sciences, and I think that limited some of the choices I made about school and career, but really there’s no reason the two can’t get along just fine in one person.