Review: Mindhunter by John Douglas & Mark Olshaker

Title: Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit
Authors: John Douglas & Mark Olshaker
Rating: ★
Summary: Over 25 years, Special Agent John Douglas became a legendary figure in law enforcement, pursuing some of the most notorious and sadistic serial killers of the 20th century. Using his uncanny ability to become both predator and prey, Douglas examined each crime scene to create the killer’s profile, describing their habits in order to predict their next moves. Mindhunter is the classic, behind-the-scenes chronicle of Douglas’s tenure at the FBI, taking us through some of his most gruesome, fascinating, and challenging cases—and into the darkest recesses of our worst nightmares.


As a true crime fan, I really wanted to like Mindhunter. (Like, really.) It’s one of the more well-known titles of the genre and getting a chance to read about the man who helped solve some of the most recognized criminal cases was something I couldn’t pass up. (Like, John Douglas personally interviewed serial killers! He was the basis for the character of Jack Crawford in Silence of the Lambs!) Even though this book was originally published in the mid-nineties, I thought that I would still find it interesting.

Except that I didn’t.

Mindhunter isn’t that long, but it still took me over two weeks to finish, as I often put off reading because it just wasn’t compelling enough for me to pick up. Filled with extraneous personal details and a convoluted timeline, the point of John Douglas’s narrative—that he pioneered the FBI’s criminal profiling department!—gets lost. The chapters loosely feature a particular case to further explain the different ways in which Douglas and other criminal profilers work, but they also spend a lot of time not focused on crimes, too. And it’s not just the lack of murder that annoyed me: it’s that the summary hypes this particular type of crime and then veers away from it at multiple points. (Also, who even is Mark Olshaker? Because he did not come up in this book.)

I also found Douglas to be a bit, shall we say, over-enthusiastic to avoid mentioning how incredibly lucky he was to be an FBI agent during the 1970s and 80s, coming into a new department that he ultimately had a hand in shaping. Like, does the fact that Douglas (1) had the ability to tailor a federal program to his specifications, (2) use well-known individuals for his case studies, and (3) the chance to personally interview them really not warrant a mention? If any one of those hadn’t been true, would Douglas have succeeded to the degree he did? Would criminal profiling be what it is today? 🤷‍♀️

I’m not saying that Douglas doesn’t deserve credit for all of the work he pioneered and skill he brought to his job, but Mindhunter doesn’t really adequately express any humility, to the point where I just got annoyed with him for being a blowhard. Like, he very casually throws this into the mix (bolded for emphasis):

Eventually, I would come up with the term signature to discribe this unique element and personal compulsion, which remained static. And I would use it as distinguishable from the traditional concept of modus operandi, which is fluid and can change. This became the core of what we do in the Investigative Support Unit… I had come up with an insight that was to become critical in my law enforcement career, simpy by betting on raindrops.

🙄

Would I have enjoyed this book if I’d read it when it was first published? Maybe. I found the introduction, written in 2017, the most interesting section, but was this because it was the most current or because it acknowledges that the world has changed in the intervening 22 years? I can no longer read a book without interpreting it through a 2019 gaze—and that’s great! It means that my reading life is more diverse and more enriching than it’s ever been. But it also means that I couldn’t read Mindhunter and forget it’s pub date or ignore the privileges of its author—something the book really needed me to do.

Review: Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

Title: Here and Now and Then
Author: Mike Chen
Rating: ★½
Summary: Kin Stewart is an everyday family man trying to keep the spark in his marriage and struggling to connect with his teenage daughter. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career as a time-traveling secret agent. Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s, Kin has kept his past hidden until the afternoon his “rescue” team arrives—eighteen years too late. Their mission is to return Kin to his proper timeline in 2142: where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and a family he can’t remember is waiting for him. Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten his daughter’s very existence, it’ll take one final trip across time to save her—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process.


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley & Edelweiss+.

I’ve been sitting on this review for a week or so, but I cannot figure out what to write. Like, Here and Now and Then was a book? And I read it?? Time travel stories are some of my absolute favorites to experience, but after I finished this one, I realized that there were a lot of things that happened but nothing that really grabbed me or made me feel truly invested in the narrative. Everyone feels like silhouettes of themselves, reduced to fictional stereotypes in a paint-by-numbers sci-fi romp.

I can tell that Mike Chen spent a lot of time thinking about the story—especially how time travel would work—but the prologue introducing Kin was too brief for me to really empathize with him getting stranded in 1996. And then the next time we meet him, in 2014, feels like another blip on the way to the real story: Kin being forced to return to 2142 and subsequently trying to figure out a way “back to his daughter”. (I won’t write how he accomplishes this, but I literally said out loud “Oh, that’s not what I thought would happen but okay sure” after reading it.) But once he’s back in his proper timeline, Kin is able to “process both eras clearly and cleanly,” the huge barrier providing tension to the previous chapters magically removed. Kin also talks a big game of having to choose between Heather, his wife in 2014, and Penny, his fiancee in 2142—but he never has to, not really. The choice ultimately becomes Penny or his daughter, but he doesn’t have to choose between them, either, getting to have both with little conflict. Everything just kind of… works out.

It’s not that Here and Now and Then wasn’t good, it’s that it wasn’t for me (even though I really wanted it to be). Chen’s characters are stilted outlines without much filler, the plot moves forward but doesn’t feel like it goes anywhere, and every scene is so full of extraneous stuff that you don’t notice how ultimately bland and empty the book is until you finish. With too much focus on the how instead of the why, the story, unfortunately, becomes forgettable, one of those books you’ll close with a “hmm” and then never open again.

Review: One Day in December by Josie Silver

Title: One Day in December
Author: Josie Silver
Rating: ★½
Summary: Laurie is pretty sure that love at first sight doesn’t exist anywhere except the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there’s a moment of pure magic… and then her bus drives away. Despite searching for the next year, they don’t “meet” until Laurie’s best friend giddily introduces him as her new boyfriend. What follows is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into, and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley.

One Day in December has SO many things going for it: a Christmas-themed holiday meet-cute, a friends-to-lovers arc, and that super-adorable cover art (which I know isn’t that important, but still, it’s super adorable). Instead, Josie Silver’s novel feels like fanfiction of something else, where we KNOW that a certain couple is endgame, but we have to suffer through all of this pointless bullshit before they get their happy ending. (Especially when she puts our OTP in the freaking summary. If I know where the story is going – that basically, Silver’s going to purposefully put her characters into pointlessly dramatic situations – the entire story becomes drama for drama’s sake. Stupid, pointless drama.)

I found myself reading in binges while on vacation, one half of me hoping the novel would get better and then the other immediately regretting it. Like, I would actually roll my eyes and yell at my iPad. Will this book get better? I hope it gets better. But do I hope it gets better? Why do I hope it gets better? Ugh this book is such trash! I never really bought the initial premise of the meet-cute and so always kind of felt like there was no real motivation to want Jack and Laurie to get together. (And their actions never convinced me, either.) Then Silver finally gives them their Moment and it’s like, meh, I’m more happy that this book is finally over.

On top of all that, Silver uses dual narration as a crutch, which is one of my absolute biggest fictional pet peeves. When an author chooses to use dual narration, there better be a good fricking reason for it. If the only way to know which character I’m following is by the name that’s written at the start of the chapter, an author has failed. Most of the POV switches happened at pivotal scenes, too, when knowing how Jack felt about Laurie would “tug at our heartstrings”. No! It annoyed me! Who the f*ck cares what Jack thinks!

So, I don’t know… should you read this book? Maybe. A lot of other reviews are giving it high marks – but maybe those same people think Andrew Lincoln’s character in Love Actually was romantic. (I didn’t.) There are so many good holiday-themed romance novels out there; you owe it to yourself to find one.

Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Title: Artemis
Author: Andy Weir
Rating: ★½
Summary: Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself — and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.


Artemis was disappointing, to say the least. The Martian was a 5-star read for me, so I went into this book with high expectations. Unfortunately, there were just too many hang-ups and eye-rolling to make the novel more than a bleh for me.

The protagonist, Jazz, felt like a cardboard cutout of a female character, stripped of a multi-faceted personality and, instead, given what Weir thinks a female ought to possess in order to fit her surroundings. (Or perhaps he just transplanted his thirty-something, white, cis, heterosexual fictional stand-in, Mark Watney, into the body of a twenty-something Arab. Who knows.) Her understanding of the world has stalled at puberty, and she comes off completely self-centered, her actions and motivations before we meet her cringy to read. (Her main impetus for taking over the heist is to repay her father for an accident she caused; Jazz has apparently completely ignored him for seven years among of a population of only a few thousand  and is certain his wants and needs have stayed static in the intervening half-decade. Hey Jazz, why don’t you just, I don’t know, talk to him??)

The plot itself is a jumble of a heist but also a murder mystery, with spots of romance thrown in for good measure. Except it’s also a science fiction novel… I guess? Weir has Jazz sarcastically overexplain her actions, but it’s not as quirky as Mark running through how he’s going to survive on an inhospitable planet; it’s just grating. I suppose that Weir wanted all of his science to be accurate, but I was already on board with humans living on the moon: I didn’t also need Weir to treat his lunar base as potential science fact. (As if, in the future, scientists would read this book and go, “ooh good idea”?) In the end, he never quite found a balance between underexplaining the economic, cultural, and social facets of Artemis’s social construction and then overexplaining the physical.

Artemis had a good outline but needed too many changes for me to actually enjoy it. Maybe if Jazz had been appropriately aged to match her personality, or she’d been explicitly written as a white male instead of a brown female. Maybe if there’d been one solid plot instead of two and a half meh ones, or if the book didn’t come off as a half-assed attempt to replicate The Martian‘s success without understanding why it succeeded in the first place. (Um, The Hangover 2??) Maybe if every character didn’t come off as a checkbox next to a diversity hire so that no one could fault Weir for only writing about able-bodied white people in space.

Or maybe it was all the welding.

Review: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

23899174Title: In the Unlikely Event
Author: Judy Blume
Rating: ★½
Summary: When Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events that Judy Blume experienced in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, Blume imagines and weaves together a haunting story of three generations of families, friends, and strangers, whose lives are profoundly changed by these disasters.


Did you know that Judy Blume is, like, the OG of young adult authors? I knew that, even though somehow I never read one of her (20+!) books growing up. Maybe that’s why I had such high hopes about In the Unlikely Event, and maybe why I felt so disappointed after finishing it – she’s Judy Freakin’ Blume. There is a GIF of her kayaking down a river of words on her website! She intervened when that husband gave away his wife’s 24-year-old copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret!! Anything she writes should be awesome-sauce!!!

So when I heard that she was publishing an adult novel, I got excited to jump on the Judy Blume Train and have my first Judy Blume Transformative Reading Experience™… and then I started reading In the Unlikely Event and it became a slog through flat characters and superfluous details.* ☹ There were just too many characters and plot threads – spiraling off into who cares and what the heck is going on and why is this character never mentioned again – packed into a 400-page book with one omniscient voice that couldn’t inflect or modulate its tone. I’m definitely sure that In the Unlikely Event was an updated example of the Adolescent Coming of Age trope found pretty much everywhere (in every time), but I’m only kind of sure it was supposed to be about Miri, Blume’s teen stand-in to the real events she both experienced and then fictionalized for the book. Because there’s, like, twenty-five characters who get POV chapters but only about five who get the lion’s share but then most of them relate to Miri some way except when they don’t…. (Do you see my problem here???)

Miri’s a good narrator: she’s reliable and self-assured, but still in that questioning place where “what does it mean to exist in a world that doesn’t always make sense?” seems less twenty-something apathy and more a genuine grapple with existentialism. From her perspective, having a succession of plane crashes be the driving force of the novel is understandable. Being fifteen is hard enough without external motivators; add in trauma and grief and love and hormones and suddenly aviation mishap (which every single summary mentions, btw) transforms into a pretty interesting inciting incident. But without that? Without Miri’s particular view of what’s happening? In the Unlikely Event becomes a slow crawl through Blume’s failed attempt at writing multiple perspectives – her lack of plot induces boredom, her plethora of characters merit confused head-scratching, and her fictional doppelgänger’s existential angst gets lost in the shuffle of Blume mentioning everything in lieu of missing anything.

* These are verbatim:

“Wish me luck,” Kathy said. “I’m going to call home now.”

“Good luck.”

Kathy went out to the pay phone in the hall to dial her parents.

Because I need to know that “call home” means picking up a phone receiver and dialing a number??

They changed into their nightgowns, leaving their underwear since they weren’t going to sleep for hours.

Because knowing a character’s underwear situation is imperative to the plot???

Review: A Shortcut in Time by Charles Dickinson

Just a warning that the following review contains massive spoilers.

A Shortcut in Time (A Shortcut in Time, #1)A Shortcut in Time by Charles Dickinson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Oh, this novel’s potential…. The plot is original, as is the character’s mode of time travel, but the structure and cliff-hanger ending really made this novel more annoying than entertaining. First of all, If I had time-traveled fifteen minutes into the past, like the novel’s protagonist Josh Winkler did, I would not be so freaking calm about it. (I would be just as obsessed, though.) This calmness irked me so much that I’m still thinking about it. Apparently there’s a sequel, titled A Family in Time, but you wouldn’t know it from the incredibly frustrating and blunt ending. Penelope and Josh successfully time-traveled back to whenever this novel takes place and their lives are irrevocably changed. Flo never married Josh – yet Penelope still exists and hasn’t yet ripped a hole into the space-time continuum. Josh is now married to Lee. Jock Itch never existed, which means he never killed Vaughn or caused brain damage to Kurt, which means the Winkler family never went bankrupt to pay for Kurt’s hospital bills – WHICH MEANS THE VERY FABRIC OF TIME AND SPACE HAVE CHANGED.

I actually looked up this novel online to confirm that, no, my copy wasn’t missing any pages. Penelope comes back from 1908 and then nothing. Not even some blank pages – literally just the back cover.

Please tell me that my crazed reaction is not an anomaly because ugh, this book!

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