November Reading Wrapup: Part I

13 Dec

November was, at least for the first half, an absolutely atrocious reading month for me. I got almost nothing done, I couldn’t stick with any book I picked up. I’m sure everyone in America understands why: those post-election blues. I didn’t want to do anything but lay in bed and sigh heavily for a few days, so actually reading words? Difficult. Thankfully, like many people I’ve seen, I dived back into a comforting old favorite and was able to get out of my mini-slump fairy easily. Still a terrible month, though (for reading and, you know, humanity in general).

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Autumn Cthulhu, edited by Mike Davis. Finished November 2nd. As you can probably guess, this was spillover from my October horror reading binge. I think the name of this collection is a bit misleading–it is a Lovecraft-inspired collection (kind of… more on that in a bit) but it is NOT a mythos collection. There is much Lovecraftian inspiration here, but little of it is from his cosmic horror stories. I find it strange that some reviews say that there’s almost no Lovecraft here, because many of the connections are crystal clear (“The Night is a Sea” – “The Dreams in the Witch House,” “The Black Azalea” – “The Colour out of Space,” “End of the Season” – “Shadow over Innsmouth” to name a few).

The main theme here is more so fall horror than Lovecraftian horror. Sure, many of the stories have Lovecraftian themes, but many of them do not. Quite a few feel more Stephen King-esque, or even like they belong in the world of Laird Barron (especially “Cul-De-Sac Virus” and “DST (Fall Back)”) than like Lovecraft stories. Then again, both King and Barron are heavily Lovecraft-inspired… so in a roundabout way you could probably argue that most stories here are indeed Lovecraftian.

Funnily enough, the most heavily Lovecraft story (“Trick… or the Other Thing”) was my least favorite. In fact, I rarely like to call out stories in a collection, but it was BAD. It’s about Nyarlathotep as an agent of vengeance for a spurned love affair. The hell?? Does that sound like the Nyarlathotep we know and love? No. It was kind of a joke of a story and I didn’t even finish it, which is very rare for me. And on the flip side, my favorite story (John Langan’s “Anchor”) was also not very Lovecraftian. It felt very much like a Langan story and not like anything else–as it should, in my opinion.

This is definitely a mixed bag of a collection. There are lots of gems (other than the ones I have mentioned so far, I really liked “Grave Goods” and of course Laird Barron’s contribution), a few middle-of-the-road stories, one that made absolutely no sense, and one absolute stinker. Definitely not the best horror collection I’ve ever read, but it really invokes the fall spirit and was a perfect seasonal read. Well worth dipping into if you like new weird-style horror and Lovecraftian stories a bit off the beaten path.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Goldenhand, by Garth Nix. Finished November 4th. I have very mixed feelings about this book, though they are mostly positive. The Sabriel trilogy is one of my favorite series and it just feels so cozy and nostalgic to be back in this world with such familiar characters. It also has my favorite magic system: the Charter/Free Magic dynamic and the role of necromancers is just endlessly fascinating. I’d definitely read a book that takes place entirely in the river Death.

We tie up a lot of loose ends from Abhorsen here: Chlorr, of course, but also the lingering magic in Nick. Plus following up with what happened to Mogget and the Dog! Mogget is my all-time favorite literary character so that’s what I was looking forward to most. Sadly he has a very small role and doesn’t appear until the end but still, it’s Mogget!!

But it wasn’t without flaws. The pacing just seems… off. It takes over 70% of the book for all of our main characters to connect, and I really thought there was way too much plot for the remaining 100~ pages. But the climax is SO rushed! Everything happened way too fast and there wasn’t enough character development. I also felt the Lirael/Nick romance seemed very rushed and super strange by the end.

This was an enjoyable book, and I loved coming back to this world, but I think the plot would have been better served in a duology. Hopefully this isn’t the last book we get in the Old Kingdom.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden*. Finished November 5th. There was so much hype around this book that I was hesitant to pick it up. It’s getting compared to a lot of big-deal books, like The Golem and the Jinn. Thankfully, it definitely lived up to the hype for me and dare I say… surpassed it? I was so smitten with this novel.

The Bear and the Nightingale is part historical fiction, part fairytale. It takes place in snowy Russia and revolves around a young girl whose mother dies in childbirth. Her grandmother was, apparently, a witch, and it seems like Vasilisa might have inherited some of her powers. But this is a time when women were essentially property: how can she reconcile her magical future with a world that won’t give her any agency?

While this is certainly heavy on the magical realism, the fantasy serves as a backdrop to some very intense cultural questions. TB&tN addresses sexism, women’s agency, classism, religious mania, and many other important issues. It never feels heavy-handed or preachy: every part fits together seamlessly, from the possibly insane pastor who comes to Vasilisa’s village to the suitors her father foists upon her. And the fantastical elements, which I don’t want to spoil by discussing in-depth, add another layer of richness.

This is a book to read slowly and savor. There are so many layers to the story, and the characters are richly drawn. I can already tell that this is a book I will read again in the future: in fact, once you know the end, it’s hard to resist the temptation of turning right back to the beginning.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling. Finished November 12th. Does this need explaining? Post-election, I didn’t want to read anything that didn’t feel like a warm blanket. And what’s more soul-warming than Harry Potter? Though the themes of muggle-racism and government corruption were perhaps a bit too on-the-nose given our current situation.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Surface Detail, by Iain M. Banks. Finished November 13th. This was definitely one of my favorite Culture novels (probably #3 for me, behind Look to Windward and Excession). It’s also probably the darkest–while Inversions covers some dark topics, this book is literally about hell. Well, it’s literally about a virtual hell, but there are quite a few scenes set in ‘Hell’ that are difficult to read. It’s amazing how these books bounce from genre to genre while still consistently feeling like science fiction, because much of this book is straight horror.

I have noticed a trend in Culture books: there is always an amazing core idea, and so many plot threads that never *quite* come together. This really isn’t a negative for me, because I love the ideas Iain Banks tackles and the worlds he builds so much. But it can be quite frustrating: for example, there’s an entire character here who has basically nothing to do with the plot but gets tons of POV chapters. Why is she in the book? Sure, you get a glimpse at a cool aspect of the Culture we didn’t see before. And to be honest, I think the Culture books are WAY more focused on “look at this cool thing!” than “please admire my well-crafted plot.” Some of the earlier ones (Player of Games and Use of Weapons especially) are quite tightly crafted but the farther you get into them the more they seem to…. unravel, in terms of cohesiveness.

He’s also not that great at characters, except for the various AI Minds and drones and ships which are consistently amazing. It’s funny, there are quite a few negative aspects of these books and I can’t really describe why I love them so much. I usually hate thin characterization and messy plots. But here? All is forgiven. There is something mesmerizing about the Culture world.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Beauty, by Alia Whiteley. Finished November 14th. I was very much looking forward to this book but it let me down hard–I really liked Whiteley’s The Arrival of Missives and was hoping for more like that. The idea here is so cool: all the women in the world contract a strange fungus-based illness and die. After their death, mushrooms start growing on their graves and eventually turn into weird sentient mushroom-women. I HATE mushrooms really passionately (are you a plant? an animal?! make up your damn mind!) so this was particularly horrifying for me.

But overall this novella was all shock and no substance. It’s obviously supposed to be an allegory for gender relations, roles, and expectations but it seems very heavy-handed. Maybe I’m missing something because this has great reviews, but I found the messages trite. Yes indeed, rape culture and forced motherhood and toxic masculinity are bad things, I don’t need a book to tell me that. Not only that, but the delivery is just… strange. This is not magical realism or fantasy, it’s horror. Really extreme body horror. Which is actually a genre I love, but I feel like all of the gross-out moments were included just to make the reader uncomfortable. So we can look at our own ideas of gender, I’m sure, and ~deconstruct~ why we find these scenes so upsetting. But let’s be honest, they’re upsetting because they are gross as hell and overly violent for no reason. It doesn’t really serve the plot, no that there’s much of one. Super disappointed by this and I kind of wish I hadn’t read it.

LipstickRating1And1Half

 

 

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A House at the Bottom of a Lake, by Josh Malerman. Finished November 15th. I read Bird Box in 2014 and it was one of my favorites of the year. A dark, atmospheric piece of literary apocalyptic horror, it shone bright against the cookie-cutter books we usually get in the genre. Of course I’ve been eagerly awaiting Josh Malerman’s next book which isn’t until 2017, but we have this little novella to tide us over until then!

I feel like I’ve been harping on novellas lately. It’s just a format I’m hard to please in. I want a small cast of well-developed characters. A plot that fits the length but feels meaty, like it has life outside of the ~100 pages it’s contained in. But not a plot so big it feels unfinished, or one so small it seems like a stretched-out short story. I want a cool, inventive world that feels alive. This is a lot to ask for, and most authors just don’t deliver on most of these. Thankfully, A House at the Bottom of a Lake is everything I want in a novella and more.

The story centers around Amelia and James, two teens on their first date who discover a secret lake and a house at the bottom of it. They become infatuated with the house and each other, and spend the summer exploring. There are really only those two characters and the plot centers entirely around the house and their relationship. Tightly woven, but at the same time the mystery is expansive.

Like with Bird Box, the atmosphere is what really makes this shine. To James and Amelia, the house is whimsical and magical. They have the time of their life in it, and you can feel that rush of teenage excitement. But at the same time it is so ominous. The house feels oppressive and menacing. It’s a neat writing trick: you see exactly why James and Amelia are enchanted with the house, but the reader feels nothing but terror and apprehension the entire time. All of their sweet romance is tinted with darkness. The more James and Amelia fall for each other, the more nervous the reader gets. It’s just such impressive writing!

I docked half a star because I wasn’t crazy about the ending–it felt unfinished and clashed a bit with the rest of the tone. But that’s really my only complaint!

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

237/175 Books

25/35 Series Books

66/50 TBR Books

24/15 Different Countries

[books marked with a * were provided by netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own]

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  1. November Reading Wrapup: Part II | Lipstick & Libraries - December 13, 2016

    […] I mentioned previously, November was a pretty meh reading month for me. Sure, I got a decent amount of books finished off, […]

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