These are all the psycho killer books I read in the last four and a half months.

A Test of Wills by Charles Todd
Inspector Ian Rutledge has returned from the war (World War I, that is) with his body intact, but his mind not so much. For one thing, he has a ghost accompanying him everywhere he goes. It gets to a guy. He’s afraid he’s losing his touch as a detective. A beautiful woman’s fiancé has been murdered, possibly by her guardian, a decorated military officer and respected local gentleman-farmer. It’s a political nightmare, and Rutledge suspects he’s being set up to fail, which makes it all the more imperative that he solve the case. The mystery was pretty well plotted, if a bit complicated, but more importantly, I really enjoyed Rutledge as a character and wanted to read more about him—which is convenient, since Todd has written about 27 more books about him. (Okay, maybe not 27, but somewhere in the double digits—high teens, at least.) 4/5 stars

Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Kills by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye
Confession: I have not read any original Sherlock Holmes stories. I know, I’m a disgrace to mystery lovers everywhere, I’m not fit to wear the uniform, etc. I keep meaning to, but somehow I never do. I am a big fan of BBC’s Sherlock, if that counts for anything. (No, I realize it does not. In fact, it may even make it worse.) Perhaps I would have appreciated this book more if I’d had a strong background in Sherlock Holmes, but I couldn’t have appreciated it much more because I loved this book. I loved the interchanges between Holmes and Watson, and how the mystery gradually unfolded, and how Holmes was affected by his failure to catch the murderer. I quite enjoy these psycho killer books set in the times before modern forensic techniques. This is a particularly great read. 5/5 stars

The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo
This is a Kate Burkholder mystery. Kate Burkholder was born into the Amish community but left the fold as a young adult, became a police officer, and eventually returned to her hometown to serve as the chief of the (“English”) police. This gives her an “in” with the Amish because she understands their ways, but they don’t quite trust her. Plus, emotional baggage, blah blah. I read the first three books a few years ago, but didn’t keep up with the series until I found this book in my local digital library. It’s #6, and it stands on its own. It begins with an apparent suicide that is soon revealed to be a homicide. This incident is followed by another suspicious “suicide” that leads Kate to a 30-year-old unsolved crime involving the death of an Amish farmer and four of his children, plus the disappearance of his wife. It’s pretty good. Development of the relationship between Kate and her love interest, John Tomasetti, will probably not resonate with anyone who hasn’t read the previous books, but it probably won’t distract from the story either. (It just made me want to fill in the blanks, as you will see below.) 4/5 stars

Gone Missing by Linda Castillo
I had to go to the actual real-life library and borrow actual real-life books in order to find out what happened with Kate Burkholder and the Amish in books 4 and 5. This will give you some idea of my dedication to this series! Here Kate is trying to find an Amish teen who has gone missing during her Rumspringa, the time when young Amish are allowed to break the rules and experience the outside world before deciding whether or not they want to be baptized. Has the missing girl decided to leave the Amish life, or has a more sinister fate befallen her? During the course of the investigation, Kate discovers links to other missing-teens cold cases. There’s some pretty messed up stuff here—as there usually is, when the Amish are involved. (At least that’s how it is in psycho killer books.) And Kate has to deal with more baggage from her own dark past as an Amish teen; this subplot will probably not be appreciated if you have not read the previous books. It’s a pretty exciting read, though. 4/5 stars

Her Last Breath by Linda Castillo
Yes, this is Kate Burkholder #5, and I had mixed feelings about it. This story involves a friend from Kate’s past—her Amish past, that is. An Amish man and his three children are riding in their horse-and-carriage one night when they are hit by a speeding pickup truck; father and two children die on the scene, while one son survives (but only barely). The grieving wife and mother is Kate’s childhood friend. There is something super-weird about this case. This was no buggy accident! Someone wanted this family dead, but who? Kate thinks her friend knows more than she’s letting on, but what is she hiding, and why? There are a lot of flashbacks to Kate’s teen years and her (Amish-style) adventures with her friend. This added a layer of poignancy to the story. You can see the plot twists coming a mile away, but there is a lot of action. Maybe a little too much action, in the Jason-springing-up-out-of-the-lake sense. One does begin to wonder one Amish community could have so much dark side. But that’s the nature of the small-town-sheriff-psycho-killer genre. Willing suspension of disbelief and such. I seem to recall liking this book somewhat less than the others, but according to my Goodreads records, I still gave it 4 stars, so what do I know? 4/5 stars (possibly 3.5, but I’m not going to re-read the book to tell you for sure)

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd
I could not get my hands on Inspector Rutledge #2, so I settled for Todd’s Bess Crawford #1, which this is. The setting is England during World War I. Bess Crawford is a nurse aboard the Britannica when it is attacked and sunk by the enemy; she survives, but she has a broken arm and is sent home to convalesce. A dying patient has charged her with taking a cryptic message to his brother. She feels obligated to fulfill his request, so she does, but she can’t leave well enough alone because she can see there’s something fishy going on with this family. Something that involves…MURDER. The mystery is well-crafted, and Bess is a great character—smart and nosy, but not in an annoying way. (That is more difficult to pull off than it sounds.) She’s no Ian Rutledge—she doesn’t see ghosts, for one thing—but she’ll do. 4/5 stars

A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
This is the first book of another series about English detectives solving murders, only this one is real vintage: it was written in the 1980s. Inspector Thomas Lynley isn’t your average police detective; in addition to being talented and incredibly handsome, he’s also an earl. A freaking earl! He doesn’t like to flaunt his aristocratic ties—he only wants to be treated the same as any other talented and handsome police detective—but Sergeant Barbara Havers doesn’t buy his modest act. She’s working class, with an entirely deserved reputation for being difficult. In fact, this is her last chance to make it as a detective because she’s blown all the other ones by being such a pill (even though she’s very smart). She suspects she’s only been paired with his lordship because she’s the only female in the squad unattractive enough for him not to sleep with. She does not think much of Inspector Lynley. Their case is pretty gruesome: a fat, simple country lass is found in a barn with an axe in her lap, sitting next to her dead dog and decapitated father. Circumstances clearly point to her as the murderer, but the forensic evidence doesn’t add up. Lynley and Havers learn to work together as they uncover the dark, seedy mysteries of country life. It was the ‘80s, kids, so the secrets are pretty messed up. The story is a tad…seamy, to tell you the truth, but I enjoyed the interplay between Lynley and Havers; each character is like an onion, or an ogre—they have layers! 4/5 stars

Die Again by Tess Gerritsen
This is #11 in the Rizzoli & Isles series. I read the first two or three R&I books several years ago. I liked them—good psycho killer stuff—but I didn’t feel compelled to read any more and only picked up this particular book because it was cheap on Kindle and I was loading up for my trip to Japan (specifically the plane ride). It opens with a deadly camping safari in Botswana, which never bodes well. I don’t usually like to read murder mysteries where the weapon is a large cat, but this one intrigued me. Most of the book takes place in Boston, six years later, where large cats do not usually go around being the inadvertent facilitators of homicide. Detective Jane Rizzoli is on the case with Dr. Maura Isles, M.E. I saw the twist coming, but I still liked the story. It put me in the mood to read more of the R&I back catalogue. These broads are hardcore! 3.5/5 stars

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
Tessa Cartwright is the lone survivor of a serial killer who murdered several teenage girls about 20 years ago. The man arrested for the crime is (finally) about to be executed, but she has become convinced that he is innocent and the real killer is still out there. Don’t ask how she knows—just some freaky unexplained stuff that makes her think he might have been stalking her all these years. So she goes digging into her past, hoping to discover the truth. There are flashbacks to the period following the failed attempt on her life, her visits with the shrink and the rap sessions with her best friend, who was her rock until she betrayed her. What the heck happened there? And who is the real killer? It takes the whole book to find out—which I guess is how it should be. I will say this much: this book was a page-turner. However, I found the ending to be a bit of a mess. A whole lot of crazy revealed at the last minute. I didn’t quite buy it, so it was a bit disappointing. I’d give this author another shot, though. 3/5 stars

In the Woods by Tana French
I don’t remember how I heard about the Dublin Murder Squad series, but it took me forever to get to the top of the waiting list for this book, which is the first. Detective Rob Ryan has a dark secret from his past: when he was 12, he and his best friends disappeared one summer afternoon. A few days later he was found in the woods, considerably scuffed up and his shoes full of blood, but otherwise unharmed. His friends were never found. No one knows about his past except his parents and his best friend and partner, Cassie Maddox, but it comes back to haunt him when he and Maddox are assigned to a case involving a young girl who was murdered and left in the same woods where Ryan was found as a child. There’s no evidence that the two cases are connected, and yet the coincidences are too hard to ignore.

Based on the reviews I read, this is another one of those books you either hate or love, and whether or not you hate it has largely to do with your expectations regarding the two mysteries. I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, so I’ll just say this: the same thing that disappointed many readers also disappointed me, but it didn’t spoil the book for me. To me the book was as much about the characters as about the case(s)—perhaps more so—which is why I found it so compelling. It wasn’t just about solving a mystery, but about understanding the characters and their motivations. I saw the end coming, and it still broke my heart. And that’s how I got hooked. 5/5 stars

Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George
Inspector Lynley #2! Lynley and Havers are back, this time investigating the murder of a playwright on an isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands, where they have virtually no authority, but they’ve been assigned the case on the basis of Lynley’s aristocratic connections, since one of the suspects is another aristocrat. This is pretty un-comfy for Lynley, especially since the case also involves his dear friend Lady Helen, who has become romantically entangled with yet another suspect. Lynley is forced to confront his own prejudices; Havers is forced to work behind his back in order to discover the truth. It’s a page turner, and there are quite a few plot twists, but again it’s the characters that make it worthwhile. 4/5 stars

Well-Schooled in Murder by Elizabeth George
Inspector Lynley #3! Lynley and Havers investigate a murder at a boarding school at the request of an old school chum of Lynley’s, who is now a house master at aforementioned boarding school where murder took place. I should rewrite that sentence, but I won’t. You get the picture. There are bullies, there are plot twists, there are repressed homosexuals. It’s pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. 3.5/5 stars

The Likeness by Tana French
Dublin Murder Squad #2, this time narrated by Detective Cassie Maddox, shortly after the events of In the Woods. The cops find a body that looks exactly like Maddox—like, they could be twins. It’s super weird, and it affords an excellent opportunity for some super-weird detective work. Maddox’s old boss from her undercover days convinces her to go undercover posing as the murder victim to see if she can figure out who killed her, since they’re pretty sure it’s one of the friends she lives with. I know, it’s crazy. How would that even work? It’s too long of a story. Just trust me, it’s slightly less crazy than it sounds (but only slightly). Again, this is partly about solving a mystery and partly about exploring a character’s motivations and vulnerabilities. This one didn’t gut me like In the Woods did, but it still kept me intrigued through the end. 4.5/5 stars

Faithful Place by Tana French
Dublin Murder Squad #3, this time narrated by Frank Mackey, who is technically Dublin Undercover Squad, but we met him in the previous book (Cassie Maddox’s old boss, the manipulative bastard). Faithful Place is the name of the crummy Dublin neighborhood where Frank grew up; as a teenager, he planned to escape his dead-end world by eloping with his girlfriend Rosie to London, but on the night they were to leave together, Rosie never showed up. He spent the next 22 years believing she’d stood him up and gone to London on her own. For his part, he’s spent the last 22 years trying to forget Faithful Place and his crummy family, but one day Rosie’s suitcase is found in an abandoned house on Faithful Place, prompting a new investigation into her disappearance. Officially, Frank is not supposed to be working this case (too close, you know), but being Frank, he can’t help himself. Cans of worms are opened. Confronting the truth of his past sheds a light on his present that he’d rather not see. One of the things I appreciate about this series is how the characters will make morally questionable decisions and aren’t always likeable, but I understand and feel for them nonetheless. Another sad story, but like The Likeness, it ends on a slightly hopeful note. 5/5 stars

Broken Harbor by Tana French
Dublin Murder Squad #4. Yes, I did inhale this series. Once I started, I couldn’t stop! This book features Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, the a-hole murder detective from Faithful Place. Yeah, I didn’t mention him in my review, but he was there and now he’s here, investigating a huge multiple murder case. A man has been knifed to death; his two children were smothered in their sleep, and his wife is also an apparent victim of a knife-wielding maniac, only she’s managed to survive and is in intensive care. Kennedy is of the opinion that most murder victims are the architects of their own demise; dig under the surface and eventually you’ll find whatever shady business they were into that got them killed. He and his rookie partner think this will be another open-and-shut case—prolly drugs or something—but they can’t find a motive anywhere. Could these victims be completely innocent? Meanwhile, Kennedy is dealing with his mentally ill sister and the specter of a family tragedy in his past. The combined stress threatens to send him off the deep end. I found the resolution of the murder case a little far-fetched and therefore a little unsatisfying; however, the real story was Kennedy’s evolution from by-the-book cop to a more complicated, emotionally damaged and morally compromised human being. He sort of broke my heart. 4.5/5 stars

The Secret Place by Tana French
Don’t worry, #5 is the last one I’m going to review for now because I’m still on the waiting list for #6 (although I’m still thinking of buying it, even though it’s still full price, being relatively new—I’m cheap, but I feel guilty about it). Holly Mackey, Frank Mackey’s daughter (who was introduced as a 9-year-old in Faithful Place but is now a savvy 16-year-old) comes to the police with evidence that someone at her boarding school may know something about a murder that happened on their campus the previous year. The other DMS books are told from first person. This one alternates between third-person narration (told from the point of view of Holly and her friends) and first person narration by the detective Holly initially approaches (Stephen Moran, a relatively minor character who played a pivotal role in Faithful Place). I didn’t think this book was quite as successful as the other ones, as I didn’t feel quite as invested in the characters. I couldn’t quite relate to Holly and her friends enough to find their story compelling. I liked the detective characters, but there wasn’t as much character development there; it was more of a buddy/partner story. It was still absorbing, even if it was less emotionally satisfying. 4/5 stars

Body Double by Tess Gerritsen
Back to Rizzoli & Isles. This is #4, so ancient history. A woman is found murdered in Dr. Maura Isles’ driveway. Here’s the weird part: she looks just like Maura. No, Maura is not asked to go undercover as her doppleganger. It’s not that weird. Turns out, it’s her twin sister. Maura was adopted as an infant, so heretofore she’s been ignorant of her family of origin. Unfortunately, solving this case means learning some unpleasant facts about her genetic background and the human beings associated with it. What does it all mean? Well, that isn’t delved into too deeply. This story is more plot- than character-driven, but it’s a pretty good plot nonetheless, if you enjoy police procedurals. 3.5/5 stars

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I’ve been on the waiting list for this sucker for ages, so maybe my expectations were too high, but I was a tad disappointed. The main character is a pathetic drunk who was dumped by her ex-husband for another woman (partly because she became a pathetic drunk); every day she rides on the train and passes by her old house. She avoids looking at it and instead focuses her attention on her ex-husband’s new neighbors, an attractive young couple she has decided to live vicariously through via her fantasies she concocts about them. One day the wife is reported missing; her husband is the chief suspect, but our pathetic drunk heroine is convinced he must be innocent. She knows that she was in the neighborhood the night the wife disappeared, but she doesn’t remember much of what happened. She is desperate to recover her memories and solve the mystery, but she’s such a pathetic drunk that she keeps screwing up and making the police think she’s a kook, and her ex and his new wife think she’s stalking them, and she’s just a mess. I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic. I felt sorry for our pathetic drunk heroine, but I also found the story a bit tedious. It started out page-turny, but by the time the mystery got around to being solved, I’d sort of lost patience with it. 3/5 stars

Still to come: Romances!

I remember how excited I was when I posted the March-April edition back in May, and I thought, “Cool, now when May is over, I can just start posting these monthly.” Ha ha ha ha ha! I’m so funny.

As usual, we will start with the highbrow stuff. Let’s do non-fiction, since that’s my shortest list.


The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes
This was a book I’d been meaning to read for years but never got around to. I think it finally went on sale on Kindle or something, which is how I finally forced myself to read it. I read Shlaes’s biography of Calvin Coolidge, which was pretty good as far as biographies go. I really don’t like biographies because they tend to start with the dawn of time and take at least four chapters before the subject has even been born, and then they tell you what the subject ate for breakfast during their formative years and yada yada yada. I think I will never read another biography as long as I live (except for Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography, which I intend to read but may not because my husband bought the hard copy and I find it so hard to read actual physical books anymore…but I digress).

This book is not a biography, thank goodness, but a quite interesting history of the Great Depression and the expansion of federal power. It’s a favorite of political conservatives because it’s critical of FDR’s New Deal, but it’s not a simplistic criticism. For example, the government takeover of utilities allowed more people to have access to electricity faster than it would have otherwise. And nobody is a straight-up villain in this tale, but most of the political figures have ulterior motives. Quelle surprise! Anyway, well-done if you like that sort of thing. 4/5 stars

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
I might not have read this book except it was for a book club, and someone mentioned there was polyamory. Nothing with polyamory in it could be totally boring! Anyway, this book explores the feminist origins of Wonder Woman. Interestingly enough, Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston, who was a feminist but also kind of a jerk in real life. Lepore mercifully spares us most of the years covering the time when Marston’s and his female friends’ ancestors were crawling out of the primordial ooze, but gives a pretty decent sketch of early twentieth century feminism and the issues it was concerned with. Marston lived with two women (well, mainly two women), with whom he had children, and…let’s just say it was a very interesting family arrangement. I guess everyone was cool with it because they were all consenting adults and whatnot, but they failed to record a lot of sleazy details, so posterity will never know for sure. Anyway, the book is as much about the women in his life–Sadie Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne–as it is about him. Margaret Sanger shows up a lot. I think, technically, the story might have made an excellent long article and makes a slightly less excellent full-length book, but that’s mainly because I’m a big picture kind of gal. Fortunately, it’s not a long read, and the less-interesting parts are easily skimmed. The interesting parts are interesting enough. 3.5/5 stars

Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel by Tom Wainwright
If you’re like me, you’ve never expected to want to know how to run a drug cartel. But I heard the author of this book interviewed on a podcast and suddenly became very interested in how drug cartels work. As it turns out, the rules of economics apply to the drug trade as much as they do to other industries. This is a very accessible book for the layperson, filled with anecdotes as much as statistics. It covers human resources, infrastructure, competition, supply, demand–everything you need to know if you’re thinking about becoming a drug lord! Be forewarned that the author is pro-legalization, a position I am largely sympathetic to, but not always completely sold on. (Confession: I am mostly sold on it most of the time, particularly after reading this book.) 5/5 stars

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer
This is another book I’d been meaning to read for years, mostly because I was fascinated by the personal story of Hoffer, who wrote philosophical treatises in his spare time while working as a stevedore on the San Francisco docks in the 1940s. (For real!) I finally broke down and bought the book when someone mentioned it again in the context of Trump voters. Hoffer starts by discussing the appeal of mass movements and their potential converts, then goes on to describe the life cycle of the mass movement. His thesis is that the motivations behind mass movements are interchangeable, regardless of goals or values. It’s a relatively short, accessible tome, philosophical rather than scientific in nature. However, judging by current events, it appears to be scarily accurate. 5/5 stars


Father Melancholy’s Daughter by Gail Godwin
A character-driven novel about a woman’s relationship with her Episcopalian priest father, who is prone to long episodes of depression. Much of the story is told in flashback, as Margaret (the daughter) recalls the effect of her mother’s abandonment on both her and her father’s lives. You might appreciate it more if you have a religious background. Or, if you like books about religious people despite not having a religious background, you will probably appreciate it just fine (unless you only like books about nuns solving mysteries and whatnot). I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never not had a religious background myself. I loved it. 5/5 stars

The Collected Stories by Conrad Aiken
The only Conrad Aiken story I’d ever read before this was “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” which is probably one of the best short stories ever written. If you’ve never read it, you must. (Unless you hate short stories, in which case, don’t bother.) And yes, I read this mainly because I got it on the cheap on Kindle. I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, but I’m glad I did, because Aiken actually wrote several other excellent short stories. There are a lot of them in this collection. I didn’t like all of them, but many were on par with “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” in my opinion. Perhaps you might like one of them even better! 4/5 stars

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
I was never interested in seeing the movie based on this book, and I must say that it never occurred to me to read the book the movie was based on until one day, I just got a wild hair and said, “Why the heck not?” Fair warning: Don’t read this book looking for something uplifting. It’s pretty much the opposite. This is a big fat downer of a book, narrated by the mother of a teenage boy who executes a mass murder at his high school. It answers the question “what do you do when your kid is a sociopath?” (SPOILER ALERT: You don’t do anything. You’re pretty much screwed.) It alternates between flashbacks and current time as more of the story is revealed, but you know from the beginning that nothing would end well. As I said on Goodreads, “This book was horrifying. I could not look away.” You’re either into that sort of thing, or you’re not. 4/5 stars

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
I’d heard this book was a feminist classic, and it always shows up on lists like “50 books every woman must read” or “50 books by female authors everyone must read.” So when it showed up on my Kindle sale list, I said, “Sure! Sold.” What can I say? I think I will just copy and paste my Goodreads review:

The chapters are hundreds of pages long with no natural breaks; you either have to read for hours at a time or randomly pick a place to stop and then come back later and think, “Now what was she talking about? Oh yeah, right. She’s using an awful lot of words here. Are they really all necessary? I feel like we’ve covered this.” Which is probably the point, or whatever, but man alive, it was tiring. Which is not to say there’s nothing interesting here. There’s lots of interesting stuff here–it’s a very long book, or at least it seems that way. Am I glad I read it? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve finished, and what I feel most is relief.

I had to read a few romance novels afterward to recover. 3/5 stars

Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron
William Styron’s big claim to fame in our house is that he wrote Set This House on Fire, a book I checked out of the library about 10 or 12 years ago and ended up buying because Mister Bubby spilled water on it. I’ve never read it. Correction: I’ve never read more than about 20 pages of it. I’ve always meant to, especially since I paid $14.99 for it. For some reason, I have not. If only it were on Kindle, like Lie Down in Darkness was. (But if my kid had spilled water on my Kindle, that would have been a lot more expensive.)

I read Sophie’s Choice (also by Styron) a few months ago. If you’ve read Sophie’s Choice, you will recognize the story of this book: A Southern family deals with the aftermath of a daughter’s suicide. It’s told in a series of flashbacks. Styron has a knack for writing some poignant stuff. He also has a knack for putting compelling pieces of writing in the middle of a lot of crap I couldn’t care less about. I guess one either loves Styron or thinks he’s overrated. I’m starting to think he might be overrated, which is a shame because $14.99 for an overrated book I’m never going to read is kind of galling. 3/5 stars

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
I tried to read this book a couple years ago and couldn’t get past the 20% mark. So many H names–Heathcliff, Hareton, Hindley–it was hard to keep track. And the story didn’t seem to be going anywhere. A lot of people love Wuthering Heights, and it was bugging me that I hadn’t finished it because isn’t that long, and I felt that I should just power through it and see what all the fuss is about. I’m glad I did because now I can make an informed statement on Wuthering Heights, which is this: Wuthering Heights sucks. Every single person in this book sucks. It’s not interesting. I don’t understand why people like it unless people are possessed of an imagination that allows them to imagine that they’ve read a different book than I did. Or as I said on Goodreads: You’d be better off listening to the Kate Bush song. It will take a fraction of the time, and you will enjoy it 100x more, even if you hate Kate Bush. 2/5 stars

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
I put off reading this book because it sounded like a downer to me: a boy’s mother is killed by a freak accident caused by his best friend. (I’m spoiling nothing here. You find this out very early.) That’s just too sad. On the other hand, it was supposed to be a great book–or so I’d heard. Judging by the Goodreads reviews, I’d say this is the kind of book you either love or hate. I ended up loving it. I loved the character of Owen Meany. The narrator I could take or leave, but Owen was the best. It’s a long book, but it didn’t feel as long to me as, say, The Golden Notebook (or Wuthering Heights, for that matter). Which is not to say that it’s a riveting page-turner that I couldn’t put down. It’s a long story that the narrator takes his time telling, but I found the story-telling entertaining and compelling enough that I enjoyed the long read. I guess you will know after reading 100 pages or so whether this book is for you. Don’t bother reading the whole thing just to find out how Owen Meany got John Wheelwright to believe in God. Long story short: life is horrible, and also miraculous. 5/5 stars

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
I read this novel while I was in Japan this summer. I’d been meaning to read some Murakami for some time but couldn’t decide which book to choose first. Murakami is always showing up on lists like “50 really cool books everyone should read” or whatever, and I guess The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is one of his more popular ones, so I checked it out. I found it enjoyable enough. It’s pretty weird, but let’s face it, a lot of Japanese stuff is weird. (To us American rubes, I mean. I’m sure the Japanese take it all in stride.) The narrator’s wife goes missing suddenly–just doesn’t come home after work. The simplest explanation is the one he gets–she was having an affair and has left him for another man–but for some reason, he just doesn’t quite buy it. Too many people show up giving him the idea that there’s a lot more going on. I became emotionally invested in solving the mystery. Or rather, not solving it, but discovering the solution. (This is not the sort of literary mystery that can be solved by deductive reasoning. It’s just too weird.) I was somewhat disappointed. As I said on Goodreads: “Intriguing, but in the end, I wasn’t sure what the crap I’d read.” If anyone’s read better Murakami, I’d be happy to give him another shot. 3.5/5 stars

The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent
This one is about the Salem witch trials. The narrator’s mother is a devoutly religious woman, but she’s also a fiercely independent thinker, and she doesn’t take crap from anyone. As you can imagine, this does not go over so well with 17th century Puritans. I actually enjoyed this more than I thought I would. The setting is vivid, and the characters are compelling. It would make for a good book group discussion (and undoubtedly has, many times over): When is your integrity worth your life, and when is your life worth your integrity? 4/5 stars

Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre-Ambroise Choderlos deLaclos
I really liked the film Dangerous Liaisons with John Malkovitch and Glenn Close, which I saw a million years ago. It’s not edifying, but it’s certainly entertaining, and it’s even a compelling story. I can’t say the book is edifying either, and it’s less compelling than the movie, which alters the ending considerably. The novel is epistolary, not my favorite form, but it’s pretty good reading up to the end, which has nothing in the way of redemption. It’s pretty dark. I felt like I’d just read a tale of two sociopaths, and I didn’t know what to make of it. 3.5/5 stars

Grendel by John Gardner
Another book I’ve been meaning to read since college, which was when I read Beowulf for the first time. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I’d really read Beowulf in college, or if I’d just skimmed it and relied on the professor’s lecture to fill in the gaps. I thought I should re-read Beowulf, in any case, in order to better appreciate Grendel. I don’t know if it helped, actually, but I did come away with a new appreciation of Beowulf. I found Grendel a bit…what’s the word? At the risk of sounding like (or actually being) an unsophisticated rube, I found it a bit pretentious. It was interesting enough, off and on. The idea that Grendel is fighting against his nature and destiny–to be a monster–is compelling, but while I was reading it, I kept thinking, “Oh, give it a rest, Grendel.” I thought it would be impossible for me to dislike a 174-page novel, but this one just didn’t do much for me. 3/5 stars

NW by Zadie Smith
I read this for a book group. It’s about four young Londoners who grew up in the same neighborhood–or went to the same school, or something–and have grown apart, but are still tangentially in each other’s lives. The writing is James Joyce-ish, particularly the first section. I liked the writing, but I didn’t like the characters, and the story felt inconsequential, despite a number of dramatic events. It was enough to interest me in reading something else by the same author, but I don’t know what I should choose. Do you have an opinion? 3/5 stars

Consenting Adult by Laura Z. Hobson
Hobson wrote Gentleman’s Agreement, the classic novel about anti-Semitism, which I’ve never read but have always meant to. I probably wouldn’t have picked this novel up except that it was cheap on the Kindle, and you know what a sucker I am for the cheap Kindle book. It is based on Hobson’s own experience as the mother of a gay son, who comes out to her during a time when homosexuality was still considered a mental illness. The narrator and her husband are secular, liberally-minded people who know homosexuals and are totally cool with people being homosexuals, but are nonetheless devastated to learn that their son is gay. It’s very interesting, from a historical perspective–it was published about 40 years ago–given that societal attitudes were so different, and even the scientific perspective was only starting to change at that point. Anyway, the story is primarily the mother’s, but also the son’s. Definitely worth reading. 4/5 stars

The Room by Jonas Karlsson
This is like Kafka meets The Office. Bjorn is an ambitious bureaucrat looking to make a name for himself at his new job. On his first day he discovers a mysterious room–actually a very ordinary room, but for some reason it intrigues him and becomes his favorite place. It turns out he’s the only one who can see it. As far as his co-workers are concerned, it doesn’t exist, and they think he’s crazy. But he knows he’s not crazy. He begins to suspect there’s an elaborate conspiracy against him. How high up the organization does this conspiracy go? This is a short novel. I thought it was very funny. It also has the distinction of being the second Scandinavian novel I’ve read that is not thoroughly depressing. (The first was A Man Called Ove, which I reviewed in an earlier edition of MBC–Jan-Feb, maybe?) 4/5 stars

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
This is a book I actually didn’t intend to read because I’d heard mixed reviews, and, you know, as a Mormon there’s only so much polygamy crap I can deal with. But you guessed it, it was cheap on Kindle, so I figured what the hey. There are actually two books here. One is set in modern times, narrated by a young man who was kicked out of his polygamist community (one of the “lost boys” who are abandoned because the religious leaders don’t like the competition for young wives) but returns when his mother (a 19th wife) is arrested for his father’s murder. This story alternates with the story of the “original” 19th wife, i.e. Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young’s infamous nineteenth wife who sued him for divorce and went on a national speaking tour against polygamy. The historical story is told via a series of “historical documents” such as journal entries, letters, academic papers, etc. (The documents are fabricated; it’s just a story-telling conceit. I mention this because so many reviewers seemed miffed about it.)

I found the historical story more compelling than the murder mystery, which was funny because I thought it would be the other way around. As a Mormon woman, I’ve read more than my fill of books and articles about church history and polygamy; if I never read another word, I’d probably be better off. But the “historical documents” really get inside the heads of the people who practiced polygamy and examine things like faith and doubt. The narrator of the murder mystery is not given to introspection, so there wasn’t much in the way of insights into modern polygamy. The mystery itself seemed to resolve rather abruptly, just because it was time for the book to end. There was also a romantic subplot that I didn’t find particularly compelling. 3/5 stars

Well, that will do it for the highbrow stuff. Stay tuned for the next installment, where I review the lowerbrow stuff.

I’ve been catching up on my political podcasts while doing dishes and laundry (and catching up on neither of those). It’s been easy to fall behind lately, for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s cute to listen to a couple of conservative pundits talking a few weeks ago about how there’s still hope for the Republicans this year, and sometimes it’s too painful. Yesterday I was listening to Thomas Sowell give the case for voting for Trump, even though he’s patently unqualified. Thomas Sowell is undoubtedly smarter than I am, in more ways than one, but he has a giant blind spot when it comes to the lesser-of-two-evils saga that is Clinton vs. Trump.

Sowell’s argument (at least at this particular time) was that this election is like being in an airplane that’s about to crash. If you jump out of the plane, any number of things could happen: your parachute could fail to open, you could land in the middle of the ocean and drown, you could land in the middle of an inhospitable landscape and die of exposure or wild animal attack or whatever, etc., etc. None of it looks good. Your chance of survival is slim. But if you stay in the plane, you’re definitely going to die. According to Sowell, voting for Hillary is staying in the plane, whereas voting for Trump is jumping out and hoping for the best.

This argument has a certain logical appeal, if you’re a conservative (or if you just think Hillary is really, really horrible). It’s similar to the argument I hear most often from people who claim to find Trump distasteful but feel they have no choice but to vote for him because Hillary would be worse. But this argument disregards the following:

a) Donald Trump lies.

b) Donald Trump reneges on his promises.

c) Donald Trump has no particular loyalty to conservative principles or to the Republican party.

Those three things are facts. They’re as certain as death by plane crash. They have been amply demonstrated over his many years in business and public life. They aren’t worth trying to dispute. Most reluctant Trump-supporters will admit that voting for him is purely a gamble–it’s jumping out of an airplane–but no matter how dire the possibilities, the gamble still beats what they (claim to) know will happen if Hillary becomes president.

The problem, though, is that we’re not electing a dictator (regardless of what Trump would like to believe). We still have three branches of government, with the accompanying checks and balances and whatnot, and Congress still a) makes the laws, b) confirms Supreme Court appointments, and c) overrides presidential vetoes. (They do some other stuff too, but you get the picture.) No president–not even a President Trump–can just do away with Congress.

Not that no one has ever tried, of course, but Congress remains stubbornly with us nonetheless. At least for the time being.

So what are we sure would happen if Hillary became president? Well, it would depend a lot on which party controlled Congress. If the Democrats take back the Senate (which seems plausible) and the House (which doesn’t), perhaps she’ll be able to do quite a bit of damage, as far as conservative Republicans are concerned. But as long as there are Republicans in both houses of Congress, and certainly if there is a Republican majority in either house, she will face significant opposition. She’ll probably be as ham-strung as Pres. Obama has been the last seven years. No, Pres. Obama hasn’t been nearly ham-strung enough for some people’s tastes, but he’s certainly accomplished less than he wanted to, and less than his supporters wanted him to. Most importantly, Republicans in Congress have provided arguments against his agenda. Pretty crap arguments in a lot of cases, but still–there was opposition, opportunities to articulate conservative principles as an alternative (even if they were sometimes–and spectacularly–squandered).

There’s no reason to think things would be different with President Hillary Clinton, unless you think Hillary is magic. (Most Republicans don’t believe Hillary to be magic.)

On the other hand, let’s say Donald Trump becomes president. Unlikely and gross, but just for the sake of argument, let’s say he does. If Republicans don’t control both houses of Congress, Trump is going to have a tough time enacting a conservative agenda, even if he’s inclined to do so. And there’s no indication that he is so inclined. Quite the opposite, in fact. Without Republican majorities to worry about, Trump will be free to cut whatever deals he wants with Democrats, and there’s no reason to think those deals would be anything close to what Republicans would want. (Obamacare, after all, was nothing close to what Democrats wanted. Chew on that for a bit.)

Trump is not himself a conservative. He doesn’t care about what conservatives want. He doesn’t care if the Supreme Court tilts right or left. Why would he? The argument that he would surround himself with “good” advisers is pretty weak, considering that Trump repeatedly ignores the advice of people working on his campaign. He’s too arrogant and narcissistic to take advice as a candidate. Why would he suddenly humble himself if he became leader of the free world?

And here’s the clincher: there’s also no indication that Trump wants a Republican-controlled Congress. He’s pissed beyond reason that Republicans are pulling their support in the wake of these proliferating sex scandals. To him, party loyalty is a game that he plays to make people dance for him. He toyed with supporting Paul Ryan’s and John McCain’s primary challengers, even after Ryan and McCain had endorsed him, just because he liked feeling powerful. And now that Ryan has (sort of) abandoned him (without actually rescinding his endorsement), Trump wants to punish him. He wants to punish everyone who’s been insufficiently enthusiastic about supporting a sexual predator for president. He wants Ryan to lose, and he wants other Republicans to lose. He’s happy to encourage his supporters to vote for him and against Republicans down ballot. He doesn’t care about a conservative agenda. He doesn’t care about a Republican agenda. The only agenda he cares about is his own, and if you think that will change once he becomes president, well, as Sarah Palin once said, you’re living on a unicorn ranch in fantasy land.

There’s a worse-case scenario, though, in my opinion. Let’s say Trump becomes president and the Republicans retain majorities in the House and the Senate. This seems the unlikeliest of all scenarios, but it’s the scenario Thomas Sowell and other Republicans are pulling the ripcord for. Republicans have not stood up to Trump as their presidential candidate. Why would they stand up to Trump as their president? Paul Ryan felt he had no choice but to support his party’s candidate if he wanted to remain Speaker of the House. Is he suddenly going to stop wanting to be Speaker of the House when Trump is the Republican president? I mean, I know he initially said he didn’t want the job, but apparently he’s gotten pretty attached to it. The time to give it up would have been July, not January 2017 or later.

Republicans will be expected to support their president (just as Democrats were expected to support President Obama), and it won’t matter that Trump’s agenda bears no resemblance to theirs, any more than it matters now. Once Trump is elected, he’ll have no reason to even pretend to care about what conservatives think. (And I don’t think he’s doing such a hot job of pretending now.) Conservatives will have to pretend to care about what he wants and support whatever crap thing he wants to do because, apparently, what these guys care about the most is preserving their own power, and if Trump helps them do that, they’re not going to go against him. (No matter how many women he gropes.)

What this means is that what would be present in a Hillary Clinton presidency–conservative opposition to the president’s scary, scary agenda–would not be present in a Trump presidency. And there is zero reason to believe that Trump’s agenda would be less scary or authoritarian than Clinton’s. (In fact, it could be worse, for all we know. Worse than burning alive in a plane crash? Maybe!) The GOP as a vehicle of conservative policy is already more or less dead, as far as I’m concerned, but with a Trump victory, it would not be just merely dead, but really, most sincerely dead.

So in other words, stay in the plane or don’t stay in the plane, but don’t kid yourself about what’s possible versus what’s probable.

About a year ago, Mona Charen said something like, “If we end up with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as our nominees for president, we will have proved that we are not a serious country and probably unfit for self-government.” This was back before anyone had cast a vote, when conservative commentators were still under the illusion that Trump’s campaign would eventually fizzle out (because…come on), allowing for an actual statesperson to win the GOP nomination. Unfortunately, we all know how that turned out. But I think Mona Charen had it right.

A few weeks before the Republicans officially nominated Trump at their convention, but after it was clear that there was no political will to block his nomination, I took the relatively meaningless action to change my party registration to “none.” I’m not a Democrat, and if Republicans care more about not pissing off some white supremacists than they do about limited government, personal liberty, and (at the risk of sounding corny) character, then I’m definitely not one of those either. (I mean, obviously the Republicans were always less committed to limited government and personal liberty than they claimed to be, but when you’re not even willing to pay lip service to those things anymore, I  guess that’s where we part ways.) So I’ve become one of those insufferable people who can’t bring themselves to vote for the lesser of two evils. Believe me, I’m not proud of it. But it’s who I am.

So I’ve been watching the Republican implosion with some detachment. I am not emotionally invested in the GOP’s survival. As far as I’m concerned, they can all go to hell.*

*Except for Senators Ben Sasse (NE), Jeff Flake (AZ), Mike Lee (UT), Mark Kirk (IL), Susan Collins (ME), Lindsey Graham (SC), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Representatives Mike Coffman (CO), Barbara Comstock (VA), Charlie Dent (PA), Frank Upton (MI), Carlos Curbelo (FL), Bob Dold (IL), Mia Love (UT), and Governor Brian Sandoval (NV), who have never endorsed Trump. (I am only counting elected officials here. Republicans not currently holding elective office who opposed Trump before it was cool can also stay out of hell, FWIW. But the rest of them–dead to me. IN HELL.)

To me it has never been much of a silver lining to know that one day Trump supporters were going to rue the day they endorsed him. I don’t believe Trump true-believers will ever rue anything; they’ll just blame his downfall on the unfaithful “cucks” (of which, I guess, I am one). As I’ve said before–maybe elsewhere, but maybe also in this space, before I became so disgusted with life that I couldn’t bring myself to write about it), this election has accomplished the thing I thought was impossible: I have become more cynical about my fellow human beings. It’s hard enough to accept that a significant fraction of the people in this country a) are straight up racist and/or b) just want to watch the world burn. It’s much harder to watch previously-decent-seeming people, including friends and relatives, argue that the only thing standing between us and total annihilation is a corrupt, race-baiting dirtbag, because at least he’s not Hillary Clinton.

I know it drives Democrats crazy when people say Trump and Clinton are equally poor choices. Frankly, I’m loath to say that myself. I tend to agree with P.J. O’Rourke, who said that they’re both unacceptable, but Clinton is unacceptable within normal parameters. I tend to agree with that, and yet I still can’t bring myself to vote for her. If I lived in a swing state, I might be tempted, but since I do not, and since Hillary Clinton is destined to take Oregon in any case, I feel free to choose an even lesser evil than she.

It must be very frustrating for Democrats to have a candidate who is so poorly situated to attack Donald Trump on so many fronts. Hillary has this going for her: she’s probably not a racist, and she’s probably not mentally ill. That’s not nothing, of course–in any other election year, it would be, but not this one. Her temperament is fine (that’s a winning slogan), and she’s not a racist, but by every other measure, she and Trump are a bit pot and kettle. The main difference is that she’s used her career in public service to enrich herself, increase her own personal power, and bully others, whereas Trump has done all those things without being elected (or his spouse being elected) first. (And if you think he’s going to stop once he’s elected, you’re an idiot.)

This latest news about Trump being caught on tape boasting about sexually assaulting women is gross, of course. Hillary would never do that. Bill would probably never do that–boast about it, I mean. He’s certainly sexually assaulted women. Hillary stood by him, for reasons none of us can know and, in my opinion, aren’t our business. But as a Facebook friend of a Facebook friend put it, whatever peace she made with his infidelities, she only made peace with Bill; she made sure the women paid. No one forced her to participate in personal attacks against his accusers. She says now that “women should be believed,” but the unspoken asterisk is “unless you’re saying my husband is the one who groped you, in which case you’re a lying whore colluding with our political enemies.”*

*To be sure, Bill Clinton had political enemies dead set on ruining him. I would never dispute that. But if you don’t want to get impeached, maybe try not breaking the law, see how that goes.

So I think Hillary would be better off not bringing this issue up. I mean, it’s not like she needs to. She’s already not-racist and not-crazy, and that seems to be enough this year.

Unlike a lot of conservatives, I have never disliked Hillary on a personal level. I don’t find her “shrill” or “annoying.” No, she doesn’t have her husband’s charisma. Few people do. Actually, I find her relative awkwardness somewhat charming. (Speaking as the awkward spouse of a charismatic person, I guess I relate to her.) I remember during the impeachment crisis, Larry Elder said, “I think Hillary has the heart of a lion.” Yes, she does. Unfortunately, that in itself does not make her a good role model in general.

I think that at least some of the animosity toward Hillary can be fairly attributed to old-fashioned sexism or misogyny. It isn’t that there aren’t things about Hillary to dislike, but the intensity of the dislike that has always been there, even before we had such detailed evidence of her personal flaws, has never seemed reasonable to me. It’s unfortunate that she’s the first female presidential candidate (and will probably be the first female president) because so many people will be out to get her not only because they hate her politics but because they hate her. Her supporters will inevitably characterize opposition to her in terms of sexism and misogyny, which will not be untrue, but it will hardly be the whole truth. (It would have been much better if the first woman president had been a conservative, because then we’d know that people were only opposing her because she was a heartless bitch, and not because she had the wrong set of chromosomes.)

A fair number of Republicans are calling for Trump to drop out of the race, which would be hilarious if it weren’t so infuriating. As though Trump has just now crossed the un-crossable line. Give me a break. You knew he was a dirtbag when you decided to support him. You gambled on more disgusting evidence not coming forward, which was stupid. I hope you feel very stupid. I hope you feel like punching yourself in the face, and I hope you actually do it because it would save me the trouble. There’s no replacing Trump at this point, and even if there were, there are so few Republicans who haven’t tainted themselves by their association with him. You’ve demonstrated that you value your personal power more than any conservative principles you may claim. You don’t deserve to lead this country because you’re not leaders. You’re cowards. Cynical cowards, which is the worst kind.

But I truly don’t understand Democrats calling for Trump to drop out. They should just accept the gift Republicans have given them this year (and will probably keep giving, for years to come). Maybe they think it’s just too easy. They like having to work a little on their negative campaigning. I don’t know. What I do know is that if it had been any other Republican running against Hillary, they would still be claiming that she was far preferable to that horrible person who wants to take away Grandma’s Social Security and make birth control illegal, so I wish they’d spare me their indignation.


Welcome to the second portion of this edition of Mad’s Book Club. The first portion, in which we (i.e. I) discussed highbrow literature is here. In this portion we shall be discussing literary offerings of a more modest type, i.e. the type you wouldn’t brag about reading (but I do).

Psycho-killer books

Technically, this should be psycho-killer book, since I only read one of this genre during the March-April period. I know, right? What the heck happened in March-April? Well, mostly I was reading Don Quixote, but I discussed that in part one. Let’s just move along, shall we?

Blood Defense by Marcia Clark
Part of me knew that Marcia Clark had become a novelist, but I didn’t have any particular interest in reading her stuff. Probably this can be chalked up to mere envy on my part. Seriously, it’s not enough to have one successful career (successful, you know, despite that one magnificent failure)? Now you have to be a famous novelist too? Whatevs. Anyway, Blood Defense was a Kindle First offering in either March or April, and heck, it was free, so why wouldn’t I? Okay, I also read somewhere that Marcia Clark was a pretty good writer. Which, it turns out, she is. Not like Ray Bradbury good, but as far as psycho-killer books go, pretty darn good. Her tone is conversational and humorous, and there’s not a lot of extemporaneous info. I like that in a writer of any genre. Apparently her previous books were all about a lady prosecutor. (Go figure.)

In Blood Defense, the protagonist is a lady defense attorney, who manages to be both cynical and idealistic at the same time. Samantha Brinkman knows all her clients are guilty, but everyone deserves a robust defense, and plus, prosecutors and cops can be pretty scummy. So imagine her surprise when a cop accused of murder asks her to defend him. She’s not sure she wants to, even though it is a high-profile case that could make her career (also, he can pay her–score!), because a) she’s not so fond of cops and b) there’s something fishy going on here. Indeed there is something fishy. Suffice it to say, it’s personal. AND it makes the matter of her client’s guilt or innocence that much more consequential (to her, personally). There is a twist ending, and then there is another twist. Part of me was like, “Seriously, Marcia Clark?” And the other part of me was like, “That was pretty awesome, Marcia Clark.” I will definitely read more of Clark’s books. 4/5 stars


The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer
This is the first Georgette Heyer regency romance I have not loved. It is not bad, really. Heyer always writes very witty dialogue, and there is witty dialogue in this book. The story is kind of silly, but that’s neither here nor there. The main problem I had was with the main character, a young woman who has chosen to become a governess rather than live in genteel poverty, and by a wacky Three’s Company-worthy misunderstanding, she winds up in the wrong house with the wrong prospective employer, a gentleman who doesn’t want her to be a governess but to marry his dissolute cousin, who (he’s convinced) is bound to kill himself with drink or some other debauchery any day now. The deal is that she marries the awful cousin and once the awful cousin has kicked the bucket, she gets all his stuff and becomes an independent woman. Why would this gentleman (whom we shall call Carlyon because that is his name) need or want someone to marry his odious cousin? Gosh, I’d tell you, but it seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a mere book review, so let’s just say it’s as good a reason as you’re likely to find in any madcap regency romance. Anyway, The heroine (whom we shall call Elinor, also her name) does not want to marry the odious cousin because, hello, that’s nuts, and not at all the done thing, but somehow she ends up marrying the cousin on his (conveniently timed) deathbed anyway, thereby becoming his heir.

What happens from there is not terribly important. Suffice it to say there is some intrigue involving Napoleon and whatnot, but Elinor really got on my nerves because she kept blaming Carlyon for forcing her into marriage with his odious (now dead) cousin, when the truth was that she was just too taken aback and indecisive not to go along with everything. And anyway, she only had to be married to him for, like, two seconds, and what’s the point of going on and on about it now? I mean, now that I write it down, it seems like she had a right to be upset, but at the time she was just whiny and annoying. Not always, but occasionally. As usual, though, the hero was perfect. 3/5 stars (but there are so many better Heyers to choose from)

Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Julia Quinn is probably single-handedly responsible for my obsession with Regency romance. Her eight-book Bridgerton series (featuring a family with eight children, each of whom finds love, hence, eight books) was my gateway drug. This book is not technically part of that series; this Miss Bridgerton is the Bridgerton patriarch’s elder sister, whom we have never met before, but Julia Quinn likes all her books to be in the same world (and also to capitalize on the Bridgerton name, probably–not that there’s anything wrong with that). Miss Billie Bridgerton has grown up with the Rokesby brothers as her neighbors and considers them her dearest friends–except for the eldest Rokesby brother, George, the heir to the earldom. She thinks he is stuffy and judgmental, and he thinks she is a hoyden, which, technically, she is–always running wild with his younger brothers, getting into scrapes and whatnot–NOT AT ALL WHAT A PROSPECTIVE COUNTESS SHOULD BE. Foreshadowing! I know you know where this headed. By a strange twist of fate (and also an ankle), Billie and George get to know each other better and, quelle horreur, start to develop inconvenient feelings for one another (though of course they don’t admit this to each other because that would be too sensible, which love seldom is). This is typically delightful Quinn fare, humorous and sweet, and a worthy successor to the Bridgerton series. I look forward to reading the rest of the Rokesby clan’s stories. (Content warning: there is sex.) 4/5 stars

A Novella Collection by Courtney Milan
Courtney Milan is hit or miss for me. When she hits, she’s fantastic. When she misses, meh. (It’s not awful, just not my bag.) The first two novellas in this collection are quite good. They are both part of the Brothers Sinister series, which you don’t need to have read to appreciate these stories. The other two were just okay. All stories are set in nineteenth century England. Milan doesn’t use a lot of humor, but she writes good characters (who don’t want for wit, even if they aren’t comedians), and she tends to eschew the usual artifices of romances (namely, characters acting like crazy people in order to keep the plot going). Content warning: There is sex. 3/5 stars

Just One of the Guys by Kristan Higgins
As I said in the last edition of Mad’s Book Club (January-February), Kristan Higgins pretty much has one book that she writes over and over again, but she writes it so well that I don’t mind. The last book of hers I reviewed was something of a departure. This is more her usual book, about a girl hung up on a dude she fell in love with a long time ago but who doesn’t feel the same way about her OR SO SHE THINKS. This girl is tall, sporty, and the only daughter in a family chock full of sons; as the title might have already informed you, she has difficulty getting men to see her as a potential romantic partner. In fact, our story opens on her getting dumped by yet another dude who can’t handle dating a woman who can pick him up (literally). But soon she meets a dude–a doctor, yet–who finds her robust athleticism irresistible. But wait! What about the dude she’s been hung up on forever? Can she bring herself to move on? Can she??? The story is actually more entertaining than it sounds, although I do wonder about the life choices of some of these people. Fortunately, I don’t have to live with them. I will say that although this is pretty much Kristan Higgins’ usual book, it does have a somewhat different ending. I enjoyed it. 3.5/4 stars

Heir to the Duke by Jane Ashford
This is an arranged-marriage historical romance. The wedding takes place early in the story. Nathaniel Gresham, aka heir to the duke, is good-natured but duty-bound control freak. He thinks his marriage to the very proper Violet Devere satisfactory and sensible. What he doesn’t know is that Violet has been repressing her adventurous spirit for years because her grandmother what raised her kept her on such a short leash, but now that she is married, she is ready to let her freak flag fly. Don’t be alarmed–it’s not that kind of freak flag. She just wants to wear fashionable clothes and go to the theatre and junk. But then she learns a deep, dark secret about herself, and she’s afraid that if she tells her good-natured but very proper husband, he will be DISGUSTED. Don’t worry–it’s not that kind of deep, dark secret. Suffice it to say, Nathaniel learns how to relax and have a good time, secrets are revealed, and really, not all that much happens, but it’s a light-hearted romp, fun while it lasts. Content warning: I think there is sex, although I don’t really remember. It seems like it wasn’t terribly explicit, though. YMMV. 3/5 stars

A Duke of Her Own by Lorraine Heath
Here is another story about a gently-bred lady (sister to an earl, in fact) facing genteel poverty who decides to strike out on her own by hiring herself out as a chaperone for American heiresses in London. What she’s really doing is less chaperoning and more husband-vetting. Her brother and his pals–all of them broke and needing wealthy wives–want her to set them up with some American sugar mamas, but she is too conscientious to recommend these dissolute rakes to her charges. Unfortunately, the Duke of Hawkhurst, her brother’s BFF, whom she has always held in disdain despite him being really hot, is determined to win the hand of this season’s loveliest and richest American girl, no matter what it takes, because only a vast influx of cash will allow him to restore his estates and bring out his illegitimate half-sister into society. So he’s ruthless, but for noble reasons. And unfortunately, as Lady Louisa comes to realize this, she finds she is no longer immune to his hotness. ALSO unfortunate: the duke is not nearly as attracted to the rich American beauty as he is to her most provoking chaperone. HIGHJINKS ENSUE.

Actually, this is quite a well-done story. Often in these must-marry-for-money tales, someone turns out to be a secret millionaire or something. In this case there is no deus ex machine. The hero and heroine really are facing genteel poverty. The stakes are high. No one acts like only a crazy person would (well, except when they’re addled by lust, but that’s to be expected). BUT DOES LOVE PREVAIL? You must read to find out. (Or, you know, you could guess.) Content warning: There is sex. (I remember that much.) 3.5/5 stars

I meant to make this a monthly thing, but I keep going with the bimonthly thing. Maybe next month.

Once again, we shall divide and conquer by genre, starting with the highbrow books.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Can you believe I had never read The Martian Chronicles before? Not even one chronicle had I read of it. I’m afraid I am a late-adopting Ray Bradbury reader. I read that one story of his about Picasso–at least I think that was Ray Bradbury. I’m pretty sure. That was in college, and I always meant to read more Ray Bradbury after that, but, well, you know me. Anyway, I read The Illustrated Man last year–that was awesome, by the way–and I quite enjoyed these Martian Chronicles. I don’t know what else to say except that Ray Bradbury is an awesome writer, which you probably already knew because who else besides me would wait 44 years to read The Martian Chronicles? And if, by some chance, you haven’t read Ray Bradbury yet–say, maybe you’re only eleven years old and just stumbled onto this blog by chance and have read this far only because you are filled with ennui and nothing really matters anymore, so why not read about what some middle-aged housewife is reading–you must go read some Ray Bradbury today. I promise your ennui will be significantly diminished, if not wiped out entirely, like some Martians I know. (NOT A SPOILER.) 5/5 stars

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
This is one of Princess Zurg’s favorite movies–she thinks Howl is hot (you know, for an animated character)–but I have never seen the movie. I’ve been meaning to watch the movie, but when I saw that it was a book, I felt obligated to read the book first because that is how I am. For those of you who have neither read the book nor seen the movie, it’s about this young woman, Sophie, who gets cursed by a witch and turns into an old woman (because that’s the curse), but never one to be kept down, she takes control of her own destiny and sets out to get the curse removed, and that’s how she meets the wizard named Howl–who is legendary for stealing young girls, who are never heard from again, and he lives in a moving castle. That last part is pretty hard to explain. Suffice it to say, it’s pretty wild. Sophie ingratiates herself with Howl’s household and gradually grows attached to Howl himself (in the metaphorical sense–just saying, because you never know with these magical books), and I can see why PZ is attracted to Howl because a) he’s a young, attractive wizard and b) he has Secrets and A Past and is Conflicted and Emotionally Unavailable, and what woman can resist that? This is a delightful fairy tale of a book and pretty weird. You can see why the Japanese would make a movie out of it. 5/5 stars

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
Generally speaking, I am not such a fan of epistolary novels. I don’t even like the idea of epistolary novels. But the description of this book said it put the “pissed” in “epistolary,” so naturally that piqued my interest. It is indeed a novel about a middle-aged professor of English who spends an inordinate amount of time writing letters of recommendation for various students and also pretty much anyone else who asks them. He also writes letters of complaint (quelle surprise). He is pissed because he has been disappointed in his professional life–not only as an undervalued English professor, but mainly as a writer–and also in love, but he’s mainly pissed about being frustrated professionally and feeling like no one listens to or cares about him.

I have to say, his story may have hit a little too close to home–which bothered me mainly because this character is kind of a douchebag, and I thought his protégé (on whose behalf he wrote the most letters) was probably a douchebag too, which makes one (i.e. me) wonder, “Am I a douchebag?” How much you enjoy this book will depend on how much you enjoy reading a bunch of sardonic letters. I found them very funny. (The story does get more serious as it goes on.) I also found myself wishing I could see this story from some other character’s point of view–but that’s the problem Professor Douchebag knows all too well: no one writes letters anymore. 3.5/5 stars

Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
I read a very lengthy excerpt from Don Quixote when I was in college. I don’t remember what I thought of it then. Much of college is a blur, to tell you the truth. I can tell you that I always meant to revisit Don Quixote and read the whole thing, but, well, do you know how long the whole thing of Don Quixote is? It’s over 1,000 pages–which oughtn’t to be such a big deal, but not all 1,000 pages are created equal. I quite enjoyed much of Don Quixote, even the parts that seemed pointless. There were times, however, when I felt like this story would just never end. Like, ever. Don Quixote is an old man who’s gone crazy and thinks he’s a knight like in those old tales of knights errant who fight monsters and evil-doers and defend ladies. (If you’ve seen Man of La Mancha, you know the basic premise. If you haven’t seen Man of La Mancha, I recommend it, but only on the stage; the movie is terrible.) So some of the novel is the adventures of Don Quixote, but some of it is just an excuse for Miguel Cervantes to tell an amusing story that has nothing to do with Don Quixote but it may as well go here as anywhere because that is how tales of knight errantry go.

DQ was originally published in two volumes, ten years apart. Some people prefer Part One to Part Two. Some prefer Part Two to Part One. I don’t know which group is bigger, or what the critical or academic consensus is, but for my part, I felt like I had gotten my fill with Part One, and Part Two was like a second helping I didn’t particularly need. It wasn’t that it was inferior in quality. I mean, I couldn’t tell you if it was or not because at a certain point I was just done. It’s like when you eat too much of a good thing–does the food really become less delicious, or do you just not want it anymore? That was Don Quixote for me. I enjoyed the majority of it, and would I say it was worth the effort it took? Yes. But I was also so, so relieved when I was finished. 4/5 stars

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman
This book has the distinction of being the only novel with a Scandinavian setting that I have not found utterly depressing. (I don’t know what it is about those countries, but their books just make me feel empty inside.) Ove is a grumpy old man, recently widowed, whose neighbors are constantly imposing on him. He is not given to warmth. He is, however, a man of principles and integrity, often to the point of being exasperating to those around him. He doesn’t want anything to do with other people, but he keeps getting involved in their lives against his will, and in the process–you can see where this is headed, yes? He forges meaningful relationships! The story is told half in flashback, half in the present. It is funny and heartbreaking and wonderful. (I did think the ending was a little on the neat side–just the tiniest bit, but totally forgivable because the story is so well told, with both humor and restraint.) This is typical Oprah’s Book Club-style fangirling, but I just loved this book. I would give it six out of five stars, but Ove wouldn’t approve. 5/5 stars

The Trial by Franz Kafka
This is another book I had always meant to read and never got around to, despite the fact that people kept making references to it and I always thought, “I should read that so I know what they’re talking about.” Well! Now I know. I have to say, I found it a bit frustrating at one point. It was like reading someone’s really weird dream. I kind of like reading people’s weird dreams. Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled is like that, and I loved that book. Sometimes, though, dreams can be a little tiresome, and one wonders, “Is this profound, or is the author just trying to be difficult?” I’m not one to give an author a pass on being difficult just because he’s a genius or whatever. So I went back and forth between thinking, “This is cool,” and “This is just effing weird.” It is an unfinished novel, and it reads like an unfinished novel–a bit unrefined.  I had to read all of it before I really knew how I felt about it. (Despite being unfinished, it does have an ending.)

Once I’d digested the whole thing, I found it compelling. In case you’ve never read anything about Kafka’s The Trial, it’s about a dude (Josef K.) who wakes up one morning to find he’s been arrested, but he doesn’t know why or what crime he’s supposedly committed, and no one will tell him anything, and no one seems to know who’s in charge, either. SOUND FAMILIAR? (This is what they mean by “Kafkaesque”!) Things only get more confusing from there. The only thing that’s clear is that Josef K. is powerless. Yet he continues to fight in his own defense because, you know, that’s what we humans do. It is a weird, disturbing book, and significantly shorter than Don Quixote (by about 600 pages). 4/5 stars

Thus endeth the highbrow portion of this edition of Mad’s Book Club. Stay tuned for Part Deux, when we discuss the lowbrow portion. (I know you can hardly wait!)


I was going to call this “Vote Trump or Baby Jesus kills this puppy,” but I didn’t think the post could possibly live up to that title.

So I’ve been pretty bummed since the Indiana primary. I didn’t realize I was entertaining any vestiges of optimism in my soul prior to the point when Ted Cruz dropped out of the presidential race. Ted Cruz was the source of my optimism, ladies and gentlemen. What has this world come to?

Of course, John Kasich is out now too, but whatever. Do you know, 2016 was supposed to be the first presidential election where there was going to be more than one candidate left standing by the time Oregon’s primary rolled around, and I was actually going to have a choice between (or among) two (or more) candidates? Now all my dreams are officially dead.

Just kidding. Most of my dreams died ages ago, but I’m sure I still have one or two lurking in the old subconscious. Of course, I won’t know what they are until someone or something finally kills them, but they must be there, because if this election has taught me anything, it’s that things can always get worse.

Back in September or October, Mona Charen said something on her podcast like, “If the United States chooses Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as their nominees for president, we’ll have proved that we’re not a serious country and are probably unfit for self-government.” And I thought, surely it will not come to that. Well, that’s what Mona Charen herself thought, and look where we are now. I know a lot of you gentle readers are Hillary fans. Some of my best friends are Hillary fans. Some of you may even be my best friends. I will acknowledge that Hillary has government experience where Trump has none. I will also acknowledge that she appears to be, for the most part, mentally stable. I mean, as far as I can tell, which is more than I can say for some presidential candidates I know. I won’t pretend those two things aren’t assets in her favor. But good Lord, what a pretty pass we’ve come to when millions of Americans are voting for someone strictly on the basis of her not being demonstrably insane.

It’s not that I dislike Hillary on a personal level. It might be pure contrariness on my part, but I never got why people hated her so much–except for the obvious reason, of course. I have to admire her moxie. Not to mention her chutzpah. And I don’t find her voice shrill or her laugh annoying. I would much rather spend an hour shooting the breeze with Hillary Clinton than with Barbara Boxer or Harry Reid. (I don’t have strong feelings about Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer.) Unfortunately, she’s thoroughly corrupt and a congenital liar. I don’t think she murdered Vince Foster (or anyone else), but there’s not much else I’d put past her. As I’ve said before, probably in this very e-space, I’d feel like the veriest chump voting for her. But I still feel less sick to my stomach about her winning this race than the alternative.

Of course, the likelihood of Donald Trump winning the general election is so small that it’s hardly worth considering. But that isn’t stopping many Republicans from hitching their wagon to him, on the off chance that they can prevent a Hillary Clinton presidency–as though a Hillary Clinton presidency were the worst possible thing that could happen to this country. In my opinion, would Hillary Clinton be a bad president? Yes. Would she be worse than Barack Obama? I don’t know. Possibly, possibly not. As Hillary might say, what difference at this point does it make? When the alternative is Donald Trump, who is a) an emotionally unstable, volatile, unprincipled bully and b) not remotely qualified to hold any governmental office, let alone be leader of the free world, Hillary Clinton looks less like Satan’s very own begotten and more like a necessary evil. Or maybe just an inevitable evil. (I don’t mean “evil” in the Satanic sense, but just the generic, it’s-an-expression sense.) Say what you will about Hillary, but you can’t argue that she’s less qualified to be president than Donald Trump. You might think she’s a worse person with worse ideas, but you can’t say she’s less qualified. (Personally, I don’t see how one can argue that she has worse ideas, since who really knows what Trump’s “ideas” are?)

But as I said before, Trump isn’t going to win this election, even if he had every single Republican on his side (which he won’t, because he won’t have me). Elections aren’t decided by loyal Republicans. They’re decided by the kind of people who thought Mitt Romney was too mean to be president. Not to mention that Donald Trump seems to be the one person in America voters dislike more than Hillary Clinton. I never thought I’d see the day when anyone would take that honor, but here we are, and congratulations to him. I guess.

I’ve heard some Trump supporters say that they don’t even actually want him to be president; they just want Republican party leaders and/or “the people in Washington” to know that they are angry and fed up with business as usual. To which I can only say, what are you, twelve? By this logic I should start a write-in campaign for Hitler, so people will know I’m REALLY upset. Because I am. I really am.

In fairness, I’m not convinced Trump himself wants to be president. I believe he’d like to be elected president, but as for doing the actual job, no, I don’t think he’s interested. I would not be surprised to learn that he plans to pick someone competent as a running mate, and then on the off (very off)-chance that he is elected, he will come up with some excuse to resign and let the non-crazy person take over. But I don’t care who his running mate is. I don’t care if Abe Lincoln or Ronald Reagan himself resurrected from the grave and agreed to be Donald Trump’s running mate. Any Republican politician who endorses Trump is dead to me. Chris Christie–dead to me. Marco Rubio–dead to me. Nikki Haley–dead to me. Abe Lincoln and Ronald Reagan–already dead, but in theory, extra dead to me. (I should not imply that Lincoln or Reagan would necessarily endorse Donald Trump, but who knows these days? Calvin Coolidge, I’m sure, would not endorse Donald Trump. But they don’t make them like Calvin Coolidge anymore.)

Ben Carson (never officially alive but now quite officially dead to me) has said that even if Trump turns out not to be a good president, “it’s only four years.” (That should go down in political endorsement history.) Interestingly enough, that’s how I think of a Hillary presidency now. It’s only four years. I mean, probably. It could be eight, but whatever. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Rephrase: What’s the worst thing that could happen that we can be sure wouldn’t happen on Trump’s watch? The question is unanswerable.

The time to pick a side is over. Better to get your affairs in order and hold your loved ones close.



I have followed the BYU Title IX fiasco, i.e. story, with interest. That’s about the most neutral way I can put it.

I should probably make two things clear from the outset. The first thing is that I’m not a fan of using Title IX to adjudicate sexual assault cases on college campuses. There’s a reason rape is a crime, and there’s also a reason criminals have rights. Does this mean that rapists sometimes go unpunished? Yes. Burglars, muggers, drug dealers, and even murderers also sometimes go unpunished. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when citizens have rights and governments have the burden of proving that you committed a crime before they throw you in prison or otherwise ruin your life. Private institutions can do what they like, of course—but Title IX isn’t a private institution. It’s the law. That’s worth remembering. I believe that sexual assault cases should be handled by the criminal justice system. But I also believe that BYU has moral obligations to its students who are victims of sexual assault. If its failure to fulfill these obligations happens to violate Title IX, that is one thing. We could argue all day about Title IX. But that’s not on my list of things to do today.

The second thing I’m going to admit is that I’m not a fan of BYU’s Honor Code. It’s not that I think the standards are too high. To be sure, I think some of them—e.g. the prohibition on beards and the micromanagement of students’ sartorial choices—are too silly, but BYU is a private institution and can do what it likes. (I’m a big fan of private institutions being allowed to do what they like.) My argument is not with the standards themselves but with the perverse incentives and disincentives that strict enforcement of the Honor Code creates. If you need an ecclesiastical endorsement signed by your bishop to remain in school, it can discourage you from seeking pastoral care when you may need it most. And if you’ve been sexually assaulted and the story of your sexual assault involves an Honor Code violation on your part (even tangentially), or if a violation may be inferred from the circumstances (even without evidence), it can put you in the position of choosing to press charges against your rapist or to stay in school. That’s not a position anyone should have to be in. It’s reasonable to argue that a student signs a contract and should be expected to live up to the contract. I can’t argue with that. My argument is with the terms of the contract itself.

I agree that a lot of the discussion around this topic has been unproductive, due to people’s visceral instincts to slam BYU (and by extension the church) or to defend BYU (and by extension the church). And as many feelings and thoughts as I have on this issue, I’ve not been eager to talk about it publicly because I don’t have any desire to contribute to unproductive discussions. (Lately, I mean.) I understand the reluctance to alter BYU’s Honor Code, which appears to have served BYU and most of its students just fine for decades, and specifically reluctance to make exceptions, even for alleged victims. But there are two arguments against making such exceptions that need to be addressed.

It is interesting how many people argue that the Honor Code dramatically reduces a BYU student’s risk of being raped. (A representative example can be found here.) It is true that there are some high-risk situations that a person following the Honor Code would be unlikely to find themselves in. I’m the first person to advise young women—or anyone, really—against deliberately intoxicating themselves. You cannot argue that remaining sober does not put you at a distinct advantage in life; you are at far lower risk of being a victim of anything if you aren’t unconscious or similarly impaired. As victim-blamey as some people think that is, I will say that all day long and not apologize for it. (If that sounds familiar, I learned from the best.) However, no one should be under the illusion that refraining from alcohol or other mind-altering substances—or following any aspect of the Honor Code whatsoever–keeps you “safe” from sexual assault. Plenty of people are raped while sober, in their own apartments, in the middle of the day, in places and at times and under circumstances where they “should” have been perfectly safe. The Honor Code is in no way a protection against being raped, nor is it intended to be. The Honor Code is designed to discourage you from doing x, y, z (and probably a-k and m, p, t & w) and to cultivate a wholesome environment and image for BYU. Period. That is a fine goal in and of itself. But it was not intended nor designed to protect anyone from sexual assault—and it won’t.

What is really interesting is that many of the same people who argue that the Honor Code makes BYU students safe(r) from rape also argue that giving rape victims Honor Code immunity will encourage people to make false accusations of rape in order to avoid punishment for consensual sex. Unlike the risk of being raped—which isn’t particularly affected by the Honor Code—the risk of being falsely accused of rape actually is significantly reduced by following the Honor Code. If you never have consensual sex with someone, it is highly unlikely someone will claim that your non-existent consensual sex was rape in order to avoid getting punished for something that never happened. But what are people worried about, if rape victims receive Honor Code immunity? False accusations against students who engaged in consensual sex. So what happened to the ”safety” of the Honor Code? It is hard not to infer that rape prevention is meant to be primarily a burden on women.

Rape, of course, is not explicitly mentioned in the Honor Code. But people take what is mentioned in the Honor Code and apply it exclusively in terms of a woman’s responsibility to avoid her own rape. Imagine if the well-intentioned advice about preventing rape went like this:

Don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol consumption is highly correlated with sexual assault. You are more likely to rape someone if your judgment has been impaired by alcohol. Your inhibitions will be lowered, and you may not be able to tell if your partner is fully willing or not.

Don’t be alone with a woman. Whether in your own apartment or hers, or in the back of a car in a secluded location, it is never safe to be alone with a member of the opposite sex. You are much more likely to rape someone when there aren’t any witnesses.

Be aware of the signals you are sending. Are you communicating clearly with your partner that you intend to have sex with her, regardless of what her personal wishes are? Or are you giving her the impression, even inadvertently, that you care about her feelings and that she can trust you? Be clear about your expectations. Don’t act like you’re not going to rape her and then change your mind halfway through.

If you’re thinking, “This is ridiculous. Rapists aren’t going to pay any attention to this advice,” you’re beginning to see my point, even if you don’t know it yet.

The Honor Code shouldn’t be seen as a “safety” issue at all. Whether or not it was “smart” or “showed good judgment” to drink or do drugs has no bearing on whether or not someone was in fact raped. I would advise everyone I know to do what they can to stay out of prison, as there’s no question that staying out of prison significantly reduces your chances of being sexually assaulted. However, being raped isn’t something that you should just “expect” to happen when you are incarcerated because hey, don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. I don’t care what you’re in prison for, or whether you’re guilty or innocent: other people don’t get to rape you because you’re in prison. Rape is a crime, and it’s evil. It is not a “natural consequence” of your own poor choices, even if your “poor choices” include felonies. Your risk of sexual assault is directly related not to your compliance with the Honor Code but your proximity to someone who is willing to rape you. People should always be safe from sexual assault because sexual assault should never happen.

But of course it does. Not because victims do something wrong or stupid or inadvisable, but because rapists do something wrong, i.e. they rape people. In a perfect world, people should be able to go anywhere or do anything without fear of being assaulted, robbed, murdered, or harmed in any way, but that is not the world we live in. So does it make sense to take precautions in an imperfect world? Yes. Please do take precautions, by all means. Don’t tattoo your Social Security number on your forehead. Don’t give your credit card numbers to Nigerian royalty. Keep your drink in sight at all times. Avoid driving at night after the bars close. Never follow a hippie to a second location. But negotiating risk—deciding for oneself which risks one is willing to take under what circumstances–is not the same as being responsible for creating risk. People have the right to walk alone at night, even in a bad part of town, without being assaulted. That is a right because assault is a crime. We think differently about rape than we do about other crimes because of the emotions and vulnerabilities associated with sex. In some ways this is proper; rape is an especially heinous crime because of the emotions and vulnerabilities associated with sex. However, we must not let our treatment of rape victims be influenced by cultural attitudes and beliefs about sex that may be false, unhealthy, or otherwise harmful. Unfortunately, women are more likely to be victims both of rape and of harmful cultural attitudes about sex. And that is especially bad news for Mormon women at BYU.

So about two years ago I thought I would jump-start my mostly-dead blog by answering The 36 Questions That Lead to Love. Not for any reasons related to love, but because I needed writing prompts, and usually I enjoy answering questions about myself. Unfortunately, I have not enjoyed many of the Questions That Lead to Love. This may explain why I have historically had difficulty getting people to fall in love with me. It’s okay because I really only needed one person to fall in love with me, and he did it without me having to answer any of these pesky questions, but now I’m getting off topic. Where was I? Oh, yes. I felt like jump-starting the blog again–really, this is getting ridiculous, but I’m slowly making peace with the fact that I’m a ridiculous person–so I looked up where I left off on the 36 Questions, and I’m on #15:

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

Of all the questions I have hated, I may hate this question the most. Actually, the question I hate the most is “What’s for dinner?” Something about that question just sends me into a rage spiral. I can’t explain it. Why does anyone need to know what’s for dinner? Why can’t we treat it like Christmas or your birthday? Why spoil the surprise? Do you have alternate plans? Have you received other offers? But I’m getting off topic again. Aside from “What’s for dinner?” the question I hate the most is “What is your greatest accomplishment?” Is it really fair to ask this question before one is on one’s death bed? Do I really have to contemplate at the tender age of almost-45 how puny and pathetic my accomplishments thusfar have been?

I think it’s not so bad to have to answer this question at, say, 25 (or almost-25). A 25-year-old isn’t expected to have too many accomplishments. You could say, “I graduated college” or “I got a job,” and that’d be fine. You’re just starting out in life, after all. You have plenty of time to look forward to greater accomplishments. At almost-45, your life is, let’s face it, probably more than half over. (Obviously, your life could be more than half over at any age, since death is usually unpredictable, but for the sake of argument, let’s just assume most of us will live until 70- or 80-something, at the most.) (Of course, I may well live to be 90-something. It seems to be how the ladies in my family tree roll, with the obvious exception of my mother, who only made it to 52 1/2. If I’m not destined to put up more years than my mother, I’m certainly on my last legs here, but just this once we’ll go with a more optimistic estimate.) (Someday I will tire of parenthetical asides, but today is not that day!) This is not the best time to do an assessment. It is both too early and too late. Too early to say, “Oh, well, I did my best,” and too late to say, “Dude, I really need to get going on those accomplishments!” because at 45 (or almost), you are busy with a lot of stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, and far too busy to re-think your grand scheme strategy.

At church, the ladies’ auxiliary has been doing a weekly spotlight on individual ladies, to help us get to know each other better, and one of the questions, regrettably, is “What is your greatest accomplishment?” Almost everyone says, “My children” or “my family.” I think that there is nothing wrong with that answer. It just isn’t the right answer for me. For one thing, I don’t feel that I have “accomplished” my family. I mean, I gave birth to four people. That’s a thing. I don’t disparage that thing. On the other hand, pregnancies have a natural tendency to end in birth, requiring no special skills on my part. But more to the point, aside from giving birth to them and taking care of them, which is not a small thing–I don’t mean to suggest that it is small–a) they’re not finished yet, and b) even if they were, I can’t take credit for what they are. I mean, I refuse to take credit for it. (Especially since I don’t even know what they’ll end up being yet. You can’t pin this thing on me! I won’t have it!) So I can’t say that my family is my greatest accomplishment. That doesn’t mean anything to me. To say my family is my greatest joy is something different. I could say that, probably, without laughing. (Not sure I could say it without my family laughing at me, but that’s a separate issue.) Greatest “accomplishment,” no.

But what have I accomplished? In 45 years of living, what have I accomplished? I graduated from college. I got a job (that was in no way related to my college education). I gave birth to four people. I learned to tap dance. Learning to tap dance may have been my greatest accomplishment. I’m not sure what that says about me, considering that I’m not a great tap dancer. I mean, I’m fine. I’m as good as one can expect to be when one takes up tap dancing at 33 and also isn’t terribly coordinated. I enjoy my ability to tap dance. What does it mean to me that I’ve learned to tap dance? What does it mean that I’ve learned to tap dance and yet it isn’t enough?

I guess this question just seems especially cruel after Question #14: “Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?” I answered that question in November. The answer hasn’t gotten less depressing. I give some version of this answer every time someone asks me if I’m “still writing.” Really, that question ought to be right up there with “Are you still married?” If you don’t know, don’t ask! It just brings up painful feelings!

It’s mainly that I had great hopes for my accomplishments, back when I was 15, 25, 35, and even as late as 40 or 41. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve thought I should probably make a new game plan for accomplishing stuff. I should go back to college, but this time major in something useful, and get a job that will be useful and that I will be good at. I’m not about to waste tens of thousands of dollars more on educating myself, though, until I know what it is that I would be good at that would also be useful. So far I’ve got nothing. I really have a very limited skill set. For one thing, my people skills are terrible. You’d be surprised at how many careers this eliminates right off the bat. And yes, it is too late for me to become a doctor.

I spent far too many years expecting my greatest accomplishments to be in the writing arena, but it turns out I’m not nearly as good at writing as I am at reading. I tell myself that I would be better at writing if I read less and wrote more, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Do you know how many hours I spent reading Don Quixote last month? I didn’t even enjoy it all that much (although I have an intellectual appreciation for it). The only reason I read Don Quixote instead of writing was that I knew that if I kept reading, I would eventually finish Don Quixote. I know how to keep reading. I don’t know how to keep writing, and I haven’t finished writing anything apart from posts on this blog for about five years. (I think. I don’t know. It depresses me to count. Although I know how to count. I’m just afraid to keep counting.)

At this point I am waiting for someone to say, “Don’t you see, Mad? Your greatest accomplishment is this blog!” Followed immediately by “WHICH YOU ALLOWED TO DIE!!!”

Just remember, I said it first.


We’ve covered the non-fiction and the high-brow fiction. Now it’s time to talk about the kind of books I mostly read.


A genre devoted to solving crimes committed by psychos.

Rage against the Dying by Becky Masterman
Brigid Quinn is a retired FBI agent who has worked hard to leave her former life of psycho-crime-fighting behind. More than anything, she’s afraid of it infecting the peaceful, happy life she’s found with her new husband, the gentle professor, who knows that she’s former FBI but thinks that she investigated fraud, not psycho-killing. Alas, fate has other plans for Brigid because a body turns up, and it looks just like the work of the Psycho Killer Who Got Away–a case that led to the death of Brigid’s young protégé and effectively ended Brigid’s career. Brigid doesn’t want anything to do with it–except of course she has to have something to do with it because it looks like this psycho will now be targeting Brigid, and she’s got to protect the people around her. Man oh man oh man, did I ever enjoy this book. Mainly because Brigid is awesome. Also because I like books about people catching the psychos and BRINGING THEM TO JUSTICE. This was a very exciting book (although content warning: rape and other horrible things), and I look forward to reading the further adventures of Brigid Quinn, sixty-year-old-lady badass. 5/5 stars

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
I pretty much read all of the Karin Slaughter books. There is only one Karin Slaughter book I have not read, and will not read, because it contains the death of a character I was not and probably never will be ready to watch die. (I have, however, read subsequent books where the deadness of aforementioned character is a sad fact of life, but that is okay. I accept that it happened. I just can’t watch it happening. It’s too sad. This from a woman who reads serial-killer books for diversion. I never said my brain made sense.) This book is a stand-alone (not part of her Grant County or Will Trent series, although a new Will Trent is set to come out later this year AND I AM SO THERE), and as I said on Goodreads, I thought it was remarkably good–an intriguing mystery and a poignant portrait of grief–up until about the 60% mark, where there’s this crazy, crazy plot twist–CRAZY plot twist. Like Gone Girl crazy, only much, much crazier. Jason springing out of the lake crazy. The kind that makes you go, “What? WHAT? Oh, come ON!” I kept reading, because a) I can’t help myself and b) there was still a psycho-killer to catch and bring to justice and ONE CANNOT REST, but I confess that I grumbled a little while I was reading. “This is all very exciting, but are you freaking kidding me?” Eventually, though, I just decided to go with it. And it did make for a very exciting third act. Also, a very satisfying bringing-to-justice. (Content warning: rape and torture of women. What kind of sick human being am I?) 4/5 stars

Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane
Apparently this is the fourth book featuring the main characters, two ex-cops (a man and a woman) who are private investigators. Like, you know, a team. A private investigation team, I guess you would say. Anyway, I haven’t read the other books, but I would say this stands alone just fine. Previous events are alluded to, but you understand all you need to know from context. On the other hand, if you’re planning to read the other three books at some point, this book would contain spoilers. On the other hand, if you’re like me, by the time you get around to reading the other books, you’ll forget everything you learned about them from this book, and it’ll be just like starting with a clean slate. Anyway, enough small talk. The story of this book is a child abduction. A four-year-old girl is taken from her immature, irresponsible, and occasionally-drug-using mother’s home one night (while the mother is out doing whatever), and the girl’s concerned aunt asks Kenzie and Gennaro (aforementioned private eyes) to take on the case because she thinks the police aren’t doing enough. K & G are reluctant, but soon become intrigued by all the weird things they uncover (in the course of convincing the aunt and themselves that their services are not really required) and end up fully entangled in a case that is much more than simple abduction (if abduction is ever simple). Drug dealers! Blackmail! Police corruption! Meanwhile, there’s still a kid missing and time is running out. Stuff happens, K & G have to decide who they can trust and whatnot–it’s an interesting story, and it raises some interesting questions about what constitutes justice. (Content warning: violence, gross crime scenes and some mentions of crimes against children, although aforementioned mentions are isolated and not graphic in nature.) 4/5 stars


Because a life without love is…something.

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer
If there was a TV channel that showed nothing but BBC adaptations of Georgette Heyer novels, that is where I would be every day of my life. I don’t know that BBC has ever done an adaptation of any Georgette Heyer novel, but they ought to. They ought to do all of them! Georgette Heyer is like Jane Austen, if Jane Austen were sillier. The dialogue is always very witty, and there are many eccentric characters to provide actors with ample opportunities to chew the scenery (if they were so inclined). This is a comic romance about Sir Waldo, a much-admired Corinthian (the “Nonesuch”) who travels to a village in Yorkshire to inspect the ramshackle property he has just inherited, which leads to much gossip among the villagers as to his intentions (regarding both the estate and the eligible females neighboring it). Sir Waldo is accompanied by his nephew, a charming, fun-loving young man who becomes infatuated with the most beautiful girl in town (who is unfortunately a spoiled brat who ought to be punched in the face, but I don’t want to give away the whole plot). Meanwhile Sir Waldo takes up a flirtation with the girl’s lovely (and much more sensible) companion, a gently bred spinster (you know, about 24 years old) who has been forced by circumstances to take this paid position (because no one would do it for free). This isn’t my favorite Heyer, but it was still very enjoyable. The hero is pretty much perfect, which ought to be boring, but at least he has a sense of humor about it, which is what matters. Besides, if we can’t have perfection in our fictional heroes, where can we have it? 4/5 stars

Silk Is for Seduction by Loretta Chase
Marcelline Noirot is a gently-bred lady who has been forced by circumstances to go into trade as a dressmaker. She works with her two sisters, each of whom has a special talent that is essential to the success of this family business. Marcelline is the designer, and she’s pretty much a fashion genius. She is determined to get the business of the finest (and wealthiest) members of the ton, and her latest strategy is to convince the Duke of Clevedon that she must provide his (intended) fiancée’s wardrobe. Clevedon could not care less about dresses; he just wants to sleep with this gorgeous and provoking woman (as one does). It’s kind of complicated, i.e. too complex to bother explaining, but Marcelline ends up getting the commission for the dresses but also finds herself becoming enchanted by the handsome and provoking duke, blah blah, whatever. This was a fine enough story as this type of thing goes, but I have to say I loved Marcelline as a character. She’s smart and determined and self-confident and doesn’t have hang-ups that need to be solved by a hot aristocrat’s sex-skillz. That alone placed this book above the average romance novel. (I guess–it’s the only reason I can remember for the rating I gave it.) (Content warning: There is sex. Performed with skillz.) 4/5 stars

If You Only Knew by Kristan Higgins
I’ve read quite a few Kristan Higgins books (mostly her Blue Heron series), and heretofore they have all been more or less the same. Which is not to say that they were not enjoyable. I am generally not a fan of contemporary romance, as the stakes tend to be lower than in historical romance and the heroines more neurotic (which is actually rarely loveable–it’s like everyone wants to be the next Bridget Jones, but I didn’t really like Bridget Jones). I do like Higgins’ books, even though the heroines do tend to be neurotic (as we know all modern women are), because her writing is clever and her characters are interesting, even when she’s writing the same plot over and over again. (Modern neurotic woman who has been hung up on a guy who broke her heart or didn’t return her interest for years finally meets a new dude, who has issues, but is exactly right for her–but wait! the dude she loved for years suddenly decides she’s the one for him and misunderstandings ensue. I don’t think I’m giving anything away, even though I’ve told you everything but the resolution, which I’m sure you can guess. It’s a tried-and-true formula: it’s all about the journey.) This book is slightly different in that it’s more chick lit than romance (although there is romance, so I’m including it here because I don’t want to make a separate chick lit category for one book). It tells the stories of two sisters–one who is divorced and looking for someone to settle down and have kids with (but is unfortunately attracted to the unsuitable dude who lives in the apartment beneath hers), and one who has the perfect marriage and family that includes a set of triplets and everything. Only wait! Is everything really as perfect as it seems?? SPOILER ALERT: No. Also, there are deep, dark secrets about their parents’ marriage, which one of them knows but the other doesn’t. Deep, dark secrets abound, really. But there is also humor, so it’s not that dark. It is a book about marriage but also about families. I think this is Higgins’ best book (of the ones I’ve read), hands down. (Content warning: Not really a lot of sex, mainly allusions to sex, but a frank discussion thereof at times.) 4/5 stars

Act Like It by Lucy Parker
This is a Kindle exclusive, and I got it on the cheap (even cheaper than its regular cheap price), so that may have influenced my feelings about it considerably–I do love a bargain–but I am prone to hate things I read for $1.99 as much as things I read for $11.99 and for free, so I will just go ahead and say that I thought this romance was pretty darn good for what it was. Another contemporary, set in the London theatre world. Elaine is an up-and-coming actress working in a play that needs to do well at the box office (for the same reason all plays need to do well), but ticket sales are flagging because the star of the show, an arrogant (but talented) diva named Richard Troy, is acting like a jerk in public and getting bad press all over town. The play’s producer and the theatre manager and Richard’s agent all conspire to persuade Elaine, England’s sweetheart (insofar as the theatre world is concerned), into faking a romantic relationship with Richard in the hopes that some of her good press will rub off on him. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but that’s the premise. Take it or leave it. Elaine agrees to the charade because the producer also promises to give x percentage of ticket sales to Elaine’s favorite charity, which is important to her for personal reasons. It’s a common romance trope–two, actually: fake relationship and enemies-to-lovers. Here’s what I liked about the book: Richard really is a jerk. He really is arrogant, and he is often rude. He is not a loveable guy. He does not undergo a radical personality change over the course of the book (although he changes a little–for the better! because that is what romance heroes do, unless they’re Georgette Heyer heroes, who are perfect to begin with). But like Shrek and all ogres, he has layers. As you get to know him, you start to see his good qualities and how Elaine could fall in love with him without getting a lobotomy first. It’s not Shakespeare (ha ha, see what I did there), but it’s clever and more imaginative than the average. I also liked that the characters acted like grown-ups (most of the time), rather than adults who were psychologically still in high school (or whatever they call it in England). I was diverted. (Content warning: There is sex. Not oodles, but some. Can’t really recall the level of detail. Sorry.) 4/5 stars

Before We Kiss by Susan Mallery
I don’t know why I read so many contemporaries during February. It’s most unusual for me. I also don’t know why I picked up another Susan Mallery, when the last Susan Mallery I read was decidedly meh. I think that once upon a time I must have read a Susan Mallery I liked and have assumed there must be another one out there I would also like. Well. This wasn’t it. Sam  is an ex-NFL player who has a business with some NFL buddies of his–I forget what the business is, but it’s thriving but they also need to have an EVENT because that’s what successful businesses like theirs do, and Sam is in charge of the event, so he needs to hire the services of an event planner. Unfortunately, the only event planner in town (it’s a small town, which nevertheless has many thriving business–it’s like a 27 book series where everyone in town finds love and professional fulfillment) is Dellina, a woman he had a one-night stand with and freaked out on when he stumbled into a spare room where she was storing a bunch of wedding dresses for a friend (who also has a thriving business in this very small town, but not a lot of extra storage space). Because a woman who keeps a dozen wedding dresses in her spare room is clearly PSYCHO. Well, Dellina’s not actually psycho (as I explained), and Sam gets that NOW, but it’s still kind of awkward now that they have to work together on this event thing, especially since they’re still very attracted to each other. Shall I go on? No, I should not. I should have stopped reading long before this, but I actually finished the whole thing (sort of–I skimmed a lot). This book sort of exemplifies everything I don’t like about contemporaries: the stakes are low and the details are mundane. Will the event go as planned? WHO CARES? Will Sam learn to trust women again (I forgot to mention he has trust issues)? WHO CARES? How does the story end? I DON’T REMEMBER. There are a few funny bits here and there, mostly involving Sam’s mother, who is a sex therapist and has never met a personal boundary she didn’t want to cross, but that’s neither here nor there. As a whole it was more tedious than diverting, and that’s not okay. I don’t like books that make me feel like I’ve really wasted my time as opposed to only sort of wasting my time. (Content warning: IT’S BORING.) 2/5 stars

Scandalous by Jenna Petersen
Well, here we have a historical romance, which is more my speed. Miss Katherine Fleming, who was orphaned as a young woman and subsequently made the ward of some awful family, is engaged to be married to a widowed nobleman of some consequence. She isn’t in love with him; she’s a practical sort, and she’s determined to make a pleasant but practical marriage. Uno problemo: Turns out aforementioned nobleman’s dead wife is not so dead after all. It happens. Unfortunately, this is the olden days, when you couldn’t just say, “Oopsy, turns out my fiancé is still married to a live woman,” and everyone would just understand. No, this will be a huge scandal that will ruin Katherine unless she agrees to marry the un-widower’s black sheep of a brother, whose name I think is Dominic. Yes, Dominic. Dominic is technically, from a biological point of view, the un-widower’s half-brother, being the product of an affair his mother had back in the day. Nobody outside the family knows this, but within the family things have been awkward, which is why Dominic has been off making his fortune and only come home to try to talk his half-bro into selling him one of the family properties for reasons which are very important to him personally, i.e. he knows Mom was residing there when he was conceived and therefore believes the house holds some clue as to his true parentage, of which he is ignorant because Mom refuses to say. It is so important to him that he agrees to marry Katherine in exchange for the property, and did I forget to mention that the reason the Un-widower is so concerned about saving Katherine from scandal by marrying her off to his brother is that he’s already spent her dowry. Oopsy again! Katherine, meanwhile, knows nothing of these family intrigues and believes Dominic is marrying her because he has nothing better to do just now. Honestly, I don’t remember why she thought he might be so willing to marry a woman he just met unless it was because he found her sexually exciting. Because that’s what’s really troubling Katherine–not that her fiancé has an undead wife and that she will now be marrying a complete stranger, but that the complete stranger MAKES HER FEEL THINGS SHE DOES NOT WANT TO FEEL. I told you that she was a practical sort. She wants a comfortable marriage to someone she likes, not someone she could fall in love with, because TO FALL IN LOVE WOULD BE DISASTER.

Okay. Yes, this blurb has to be longer than one paragraph, because I, like Katherine, have feelings. Okay, so far, so good. I mean, this is a pretty typical premise for a romance novel. People getting thrown together with people they’re sexually attracted to but not wanting to RISK THEIR HEARTS. I don’t know how often it happens in real life, but in the romance genre it happens all the time. It is also very common in romance novels for characters to have Deep, Dark Secrets that they are afraid to reveal to their beloved because aforementioned beloved Might Not Understand. This is often pure stupidity on the part of the characters, but you know, people are imperfect. They don’t always act in their best interests. Dominic’s secret is known to the reader from the outset: he’s of questionable parentage and he’s just made a gross deal to marry his (half!) brother’s fiancée in exchange for a freaking house. Of course Katherine Might Not Understand, so even though he knows he ought to tell her–especially since he’s FALLING IN LOVE WITH HER–he procrastinates. Katherine’s motivations, on the other hand, are not at all clear to the reader. You know that she is afraid to fall in love with Dominic, but you don’t really get why. Hers must be a TRULY Deep, Dark Secret, if not even the reader gets to know it. This is the thing, though, about romance authors keeping Deep, Dark Secrets from their readers: if you’re going to hold off on the reveal until the book is practically over, that secret had better be pretty damned deep and dark, or someone’s going to be pissed. And by “someone,” I mean me. When Katherine reveals why she cannot possibly live with a husband she loves but whom she believes does not (TRULY!) love her in return, even though she’s a woman in the nineteenth century with no money or social position and wouldn’t last a freaking second without the advantages of marriage, it turns out the reason is a) neither deep nor dark, and b) pretty damn stupid, actually. Then she commits the cardinal sin of romance heroines everywhere, which I find always annoying but basically unforgiveable when my eyes are already rolled so far back in my head from the Deep, Dark Secret That Wasn’t, and she does something THAT ONLY A CRAZY PERSON WOULD DO. And by “crazy person,” I mean someone ENTIRELY WITHOUT WITS OR REASON. This from a character who has heretofore shown every indication that she has intelligence and mental wellness. It angered me so much that I couldn’t get past it and focus on the fact that the love story itself was actually rather compelling. DO NOT ANGER ME WITH YOUR CRAZY-ASS NONSENSE, ROMANCE AUTHORS, or you too will find your book receiving 2.5/5 stars.


Well, that does it for the January-February edition of Mad’s Book Club, which is good because we’re almost all the way through March. That means that the next time we meet, we shall be discussing the books I read in March, which will probably not be nearly so many because a) I’m reading Don Quixote, and it’s freaking long, and b) other reasons I don’t care to get into just now, but don’t worry–it’s not a Deep, Dark Secret! I’ve just way-overstayed my welcome on this post. Gentle readers, adieu.




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