Continuing my torrid reading pace…
The Maid by Nita Prose
Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.
Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.
But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?
My thoughts: Our protagonist, Molly Gray, is a high-functioning autistic young woman who works as a maid at the prestigious Regency Grand Hotel. And yet despite this fairly obvious fact, no one around her ever mentions it, even as a possibility. Instead, she is dismissed as weird or embraced as unique by her co-workers as she she goes about her routine cleanings, until the day she discovers a corpse in one of the suites. And that is when Molly’s highly-structured life falls apart. In some ways, this book reminded me of one of my favorites, Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, minus the mystery angle – and, to honest, the mystery angle was the least successful part of this book. Molly is an incredibly endearing character and the elements of the story related to her various relationships are strong, especially her relationship with her grandmother which prove inspiring, touching, and, surprisingly, tragic. There’s nuance and depth here that is missing in the various supporting players as well as the central mystery. The bad guys seem incredibly (Dare I say conveniently) naive in their actions while the equally naive Molly, who falls under suspicion of murder, gets (Dare I say it again – conveniently) bailed out by her concerned friends, ensuring that it all works out for her in the end. There’s a lot of heart and humor here. I just wish it was married to a more clever plot.
Mazebook by Jeff Lemire and Steve Wands
A lonely building inspector still grieving the loss of his puzzle-loving daughter receives a mysterious phone call one night from a girl claiming it’s her and that she’s trapped in the middle of a labyrinth. Convinced that this child is contacting him from beyond this world, he uses an unfinished maze from one of her journals and a map of the city to trace an intricate path through a different plane of reality on an intense and melancholy adventure to bring his daughter back home. The only way out is in . . .
My thoughts: A heartbreaking tale about mourning, loneliness, and moving on that, when all is said and done, proves incredibly touching and uplifting. Lemire conveys a sense of heartache and desperation through a muted color palette and sparsity of words. At five issues, it’s a fairly quick but incredibly rewarding read.
Anthem by Noah Hawley
Something is happening to teenagers across America, spreading through memes only they can parse.
At the Float Anxiety Abatement Center, in a suburb of Chicago, Simon Oliver is trying to recover from his sister’s tragic passing. He breaks out to join a woman named Louise and a man called The Prophet on a quest as urgent as it is enigmatic. Who lies at the end of the road? A man known as The Wizard, whose past encounter with Louise sparked her own collapse. Their quest becomes a rescue mission when they join up with a man whose sister is being held captive by the Wizard, impregnated and imprisoned in a tower.
My thoughts: osh Hawley is a great writer. His books are high-concept, compelling reads with wonderful character work throughout. And Anthem is, in many ways, Hawley at his best. There’s an engaging central mystery (with the mass teen suicides), some unique and nuanced players in our band of unmerry youthful protagonists, a well-plotted adventure that builds to a tremendous climax pitting the agents of change against forces of the old order, and lots of social commentary. In fact, the latter is clear and present throughout this novel. There’s no subtlety here. The lessons are stark – about our shortcomings as a society, our failures of those in need, especially the younger generation. Hawley examines the fringes, the most extreme of right-wing elements, casting them as the evil villains who have exploited our world, led it to ruin, and now exploit its tragic demise. It feels more of a damning indictment than a thoughtful exploration. The bad guys are the stupid good old boys as. sure, they are in the real world, and you root as they get shot up, and as the child-molesting Epstein-clone has his compound raided at book’s end, but it all feels rather heavy-handed in its thematic explorations.
Night on the Galactic Railroad
What is true happiness? For Giovanni, the answer is as far away as the stars. Mired in hardship, the young kitten faces problems that should be unknown to someone his age. At school, his classmates mock and ridicule him, and after the bell rings, Giovanni toils at a job to earn enough money for bread. Then at home, instead of being taken care of by his mother, he must take care of her. The sole bright spot is that of the Festival of Stars, where he hopes to run into Campanella, his only friend. When they finally meet up, however, it isn’t while looking up at the stars, but rather traveling amongst them… as the Galactic Railroad whisks the two away for parts unknown!
My thoughts: This classic 1985 animated film has influenced the works of anime’s greatest creators, like Leiji Matsumoto and Hayao Miyazaki, who have tackled many of the same themes, and used some of the same visuals as inspiration in their works. The movie is surprisingly eerie and, dare I say it, churchy, in its moody atmosphere and stark symbolism. It’s fascinating, poignant, and super fucking weird. So weird, in fact, that at one point I turned to Akemi to ask her what was going on to which she replied: “Back when the original book was published, marijuana and cocaine were legal.”
Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror edited by John F.D. Taff
Created in the tradition of the 1980 horror classic anthology Dark Forces edited by Kirby McCauley, this collection features all original novelettes showcasing the top talent in the horror field today, with a committed line-up of stories from both established names and up-and-coming voices. Dark Stars is not themed, allowing each author to write their very best horror story, unhampered by the need to conform to any unifying tropes.
My thoughts: Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror is a tribute to the classic Dark Forces anthology edited by Kirby McCauley, released back in 1980 and showcasing such talents as Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and Robert Bloch (among notable others). This collection does its predecessor proud, delivering a diverse mix of dark tales from some truly great writers, ranging from subtle psychological terror to grim, visceral horror. Overall, a stand-out selection of stories but, as in all anthologies, your mileage may vary. My favorites included The Attentionist by Caroline Kepnes, a deeply unsettling tale about the illusory narrative a young woman crafts under pressure from a relentless stalker, Ramsay Campell’s A Life in Nightmares, a hallucinatory journey through our protagonist’s fractured memories and nightmarish present, Josh Malerman’s Mrs. Addison’s Nest that sees four friends confront the demonic teacher who made their high school years a living hell, and Usman T. Malik’s Challawa with its echoes of Dan Simmons’ Song of Kali and The Wicker Man. If you enjoy curling up to some good horror fiction, this is the book for you.
Thor: God of Hammers by Donny Cates, Nick Klein, Matt Wilson, Joe Sabino.
Mjolnir has gone missing! And nobody, not even the powerful eyes of Lady Sif, is able to locate it. So Thor must turn to the last person he wants help from…Odin. For until the hammer is found, nobody in the realms is safe!
My thoughts: Two issues in and I’m enjoying the epic story-telling despite having been out of the comics loop for years. That said, I’m not sure how to interpret the big reveal that concludes the second issue. Hopefully, it will all come together for this Marvel outsider in issue #3. So far, so good.
The Fourth Man by Jeff MCComsey, Mike Deodato Jr., Lee Loughride, Steve Wands, Ive Svorcina
Three dead bodies lay in a rural morgue – all murdered in the span of three weeks. It’s up to two detectives from opposite sides of the tracks to determine who put them there, if the murders are linked and what, if anything, they have to do with a pair of dueling car dealerships.
My thoughts: One issue in, and I’m hooked. A terrific suburban noir with an undercurrent of dark humor.
Not All Robots by Mark Russell, Mike Deodato Jr., Lee Loughride, Steve Wands
In the year 2056, robots have replaced human beings in the workforce. An uneasy co-existence develops between the newly intelligent robots and the ten billion humans living on Earth. Every human family is assigned a robot upon whom they are completely reliant. What could possibly go wrong? Meet the Walters, a human family whose robot, Razorball, ominously spends his free time in the garage working on machines which they’re pretty sure are designed to kill them.
My thoughts: Speaking of darkly humorous – this brilliant sci-fi book delivers a sharply satirical tale about our reliance on technology, its insidious infiltration of our daily lives, and the potential dangers it presents…that we conveniently choose to ignore. Highly recommended.
A Taxi Driver
In 1980, a foreign journalist hires a down-on-his-luck taxi driver to take him to Gwangju, South Korea. They soon arrive to find a city under siege by student protesters and the military.
My thoughts: Song Kang-ho (Joint Security Area, Memories of Murder, Parasite) is fantastic as a single father who unwittingly becomes involved in the Gwangju Uprising of 1980. 2000 people, many of them young student protestors, were killed and discussion of the events surrounding the massacre were suppressed decades. Despite the challenges this movie faced during its production and the lead-up to its release (Song Kang-ho was purportedly blacklisted by the government), it became the second-highest grossing movie of 2017 and since cemented itself as one of the country’s greatest films. Powerful.