It’s October, and you know what that means! Spooky book month. I’ve shifted my reading focus to horror and new weird, though of course some other genres are going to sneak their way in there depending on my mood. I think I might skip doing a series this month and instead focus on the 2spoopy4me books, because I’ll be honest–it’s kind of draining at this point. I haven’t even gotten to any of the big books I swore I was going to read, because I’ve been putting so much focus into picking & reading series! (Am I going to be able to read Infinite Jest, Gravity’s Rainbow, and Ulysses before the year is up?… probably not). I miiiigh finish the last 3 Kate Daniels books, though I have to be honest–I really don’t want to.
On a more positive note, I hit my 150 book challenge! My reading seems to be increasing slowly every year. In 2013 it was 137 books, in 2014 it was 160, and I’m at 157 right now so I’ll clearly break that unless I like fall into a coma or something. Maybe I’ll set next year’s challenge for 175!
Books of Blood VII, by Clive Barker: Finished October 1st. Starting off with horror! I always find Barker’s work to be a mixed bag: he’s written my all time favorite short story (“In The Hills, The Cities”) but others just don’t do it for me. Probably because he dabbles in a lot of types of horror and I’m not a fan of all of them. This, like his other collections, follows that same pattern: I LOVED some of them (“Dread,” “The Skins of the Fathers”), liked others (“Jacqueline Ess,” “New Murders in the Rue Morgue”), and disliked one of them (“Hell’s Event”).
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson: Finished October 3rd. A historical fiction book with a dose of fantasy. It covers the life of Ursula… or rather, the lives of Ursula. She lives, she dies, she comes back and does it all over again. This was a great way for Atkinson to explore the different paths lives can lead us down, all those unexplored avenues of choice. There was an overarching plot, that she was destined to do one specific thing, but I’ll admit that didn’t interest me much. What did was all the subtle ways her lives changed, and how her environment affected her personality and mood. This is a really lush and beautiful book, and actually made me like WWII historical fiction which is kind of a miracle.
Harvest Home, by Thomas Tryon: Finished October 5th. This is one of those books that I read compulsively in my early teens (along with Valley of the Dolls, The Thornbirds, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle). I wanted to revisit it and see if it held up now, and it does! I love gothic horror that focuses on a small town–it always feels very Stephen King to me, even though this was published a year before King’s first book. I did forget how long it takes to really build up to the horror: there are a few creepy incidents, but the tension builds and doesn’t break until the very end. It kind of lulls you into a false sense of security, only to slam you in the chest when you get to the climax. I’d forgotten the very end, which is so deliciously disturbing. A perfect October read!
Magic Rises, by Illona Andrews: Finished October 6th. Guys, I am so done with this series. I loved the premise, loved a lot of the characters, but it’s literally turned into the Kate & Curran soap opera. The tension in this book comes from the fact that Curran is being a total psychopath idiot and treating Kate like shit. Wow, just what I want from urban fantasy! Also, Curran is the worst. Why does anyone like him. This book was basically “let’s talk about pack dynamics and watch Kate moon over Curran!” which… is everything I didn’t want. So frustrating, made no sense, huge deus ex machina ending. I don’t know if I can finish the next books at this point, but I’m already 6 in and I really don’t want to be a quitter.
Cthulhurotica, curated by Carrie Cuinn. I will admit that I read this because I thought it would be stupid and fun, but it’s actually really good. Like no joke. It’s not exactly Lovecraft erotica, more like a feminist slant on the mythos (with some sex thrown in). The stories have a nice amount of variety, and I really didn’t feel like there were any weak points in the collection. Some were kind of mediocre, but I didn’t skim through any or find any of them downright bad. This also sent me down the slippery slope of Lovecraft Mythos–I will admit that I’m kind of snobby about Lovecraft, and so far have only read the original stuff, none of the expanded works. But after reading this I just wanted more. Oh, and this was my 150th book of the year!
Rose Madder, by Stephen King: Finished October 11th. Rose Madder is part of a loose trio of books with Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne, connected not by plot but by theme (the lives of women). Gerald’s Game is one of my top 3 favorite King novels and I really enjoyed Dolores, so of course I had to read this one eventually. The beginning of this is so strong, a brutal peek into the life of a woman living in an abusive relationship. It was really stomach-churning and you just felt so, so bad for Rose. But I think after the first section, it kind of slides downhill. Her husband was an absolutely amazing villain, but all her day-to-day life stuff felt kind of dull after 500 pages. And while there is a supernatural element, I really feel like it would have been stronger without it.
The Year of the Runaways, by Sunjeev Sahota. Finished October 13th. This was the last book on my Man Booker list (and, hilariously, the only one I didn’t read/didn’t want to won! my life, sigh). Oh, by the way, I’m really bitter about A Little Life not winning. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Anyway, this sounds like a book I should love–it’s about immigrants from India, both legal and illegal, trying to start a life in the UK. The cultural background is rich, and the layers of detail really make you feel like the setting & story is alive. But that’s kind of all I liked about it. Two of the main characters, Tochi and Narinder, I adored–but more of the focus is on Randeep and Avtar, who I really didn’t like. Also I kept confusing them, because their stories are kind of similar. The plot just dragged on and on and really had no direction. The focus was never on the important stuff (for instance, towards the end one character is living on the streets with no job–yet there were like 2 scenes of that), instead we ended up dealing with a seemingly endless amount of minute details about their everyday lives while big plot moments were skimmed over. I really wanted so much more from this.
Hear the Wind Sing, by Haruki Murakami: Finished October 14th. This and its sister novel finally got re-translated! I can’t believe I didn’t hunt down a copy before, but here we are. In this short work you can see so many of the classic Murakami traits: jazz, cooking spaghetti, a male protagonist filled with ennui, a girl with a strange but alluring trait, weird obsessions, and seemingly unconnected side tales. There was none of the magic realism that is in most of his books, but you can see the scaffolding of his style taking form, which is really amazing if you’ve read a lot of his later stuff. The writing is a bit more… stiff? I guess, than his other stuff, and the plot is a little looser than what I normally like from him, but it was really fun going back to the beginning.
Pinball, 1973, by Haruki Murakami. Finished October 15th. These books were written very close together, but you can see the progress. This book is more cohesive, and a bit more bizarre, than Hear The Wind Sing. There’s still no outright magical realism elements, though the strangeness of some of the occurrences hints at it. Plus, finally cats make an appearance! I found this more compelling than HTWS, though it’s so short it was hard to really sink your teeth into. But the twins might be some of my favorite characters of his, I wish we got more of their backstory! Though, really, I think the mystery is what makes them so great.
The Pretty Ones, by Ania Ahlborn. Finished October 15th. Oh Ania. What are you doing. I usually don’t do spoilers, but this mini-review is going to contain full spoilers for The Pretty Ones. It’s not worth reading, so don’t worry. It’s about a downtrodden, dumpy office worker who feels like the world is out to get her. Her brother, mute from a terrible childhood accident, lives with her and pushes her limits constantly. She’s full of just-contained rage and fantasizes about killing her co-workers. Then one day, one of them is actually murdered! And she thinks her brother did it, dun dun duuun.
The twist is so obvious, just from that little writeup. Her brother died as a kid, she’s batshit crazy and hallucinates him/thinks she is him while killing people. This is a twist that has been done SO MANY TIMES. I can think of 7 books that do exactly this, or some variation of it (one sibling dead, person thinking they’re someone else while killing, etc) and it’s just painfully, stupidly obvious. Reading this made me feel dumber because why, Ania, why! I really adore two of her books (The Seed, The Bird Eater), and one of them is just okay (The Neighbors), but everything else is trash. How is she so painfully inconsistent.
Year’s Best Weird Fiction, curated by Laird Barron. Finished October 18th. I am such a Laird Barron fangirl that I will read anything he even remotely worked on. Plus, after Cthulhurotica, I really wanted more weird fiction and Cthulhu mythos. This anthology has a LOT of stories in it, so of course there will be hits and misses–I really adored a good chunk of them though, especially “Furnace,” “Success,” and “The Year of the Rat,” and it introduced me to a ton of authors I’m really excited about. The misses were also few and far between (and were more about my reading taste than actual quality), and this was a really well-crafted collection that I couldn’t put down.
Jagannath, by Karin Tidbeck. Finished October 19th. Oh. My. Goodness. This slim little collection of tales from a Swedish author is absolutely amazing. It’s hard to classify: weird fiction would be the best category, I guess. Though there are only a few stories in here they hit a bunch of different genres: folktale, steampunk, new weird, and even bizarro. They are beautifully crafted with lush language and amazing imagery, and while each story is technically unconnected to the ones around it there are trails that link many of them together–and not just thematically. Though there is a running theme (family dynamics–especially parent/child and sibling) which makes this weird little collection feel entirely cohesive. If you like lyrical weird fiction please read this–it won’t disappoint!