Tag Archives: novella

Favorite Books of 2017

11 Jan

It’s that time of year again, and I’m only a little bit late! It’s always a struggle to cull down my read books to my absolute favorites, especially since I read so much. Choosing a mere 10% of them as my favorites would still be 24 books, and my favorites of 2017 shelf was at 46 by the end of the year. But somehow I have done the impossible, and ended up with 15. The usual rules apply: one book per series, no re-reads, and it’s alphabetically ordered.

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Assassin’s Fate, Robin Hobb. I read all of Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings books last year and it quickly became my all-time fantasy series. Like hands down, no competition, give me these books over even Harry Potter. This year we got the ultimate conclusion and it absolutely broke my heart and soul. Perhaps objectively this is not a perfect book (it’s a bit too long, and I feel like there are probably too many fake-out endings) but to me it is the shining jewel atop a pile of fantasy perfection. It’s everything I wanted for the characters, even if their fates do make you want to rip your heart out and sacrifice it to a dragon god.

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Black Mad Wheel, Josh Malerman. Probably the most controversial book on this list, but I loved Black Mad Wheel even more than Bird Box. The atmosphere in this fucked me up hard. I was absolutely terrified reading it: it’s got the kind of existential dread you’d find in House of Leaves combined with a bizarre non-linear narrative. If you want a neat horror story, this is not for you. In fact there are basically zero answers to be found, and let’s be real… the setup doesn’t make a ton of sense. But I adored it not despite these things, but because of them. It’s utterly bizarre and captivating and such a mindfuck. I already loved Malerman because of Bird Box and A House at the Bottom of a Lake, but he is quickly becoming one of my all-time favorite horror authors.

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The Familiar Vol 4 Hades, Mark Z. Danielewski. What a surprise, a volume of The Familiar on my favorites! There is going to be one every year until it finally ends, so prepare yourselves. There is something so magical about this series: it’s strange, dark, disturbing, creepy, and confusing, but also whimsical and magical. A crooked fairytale for the modern age. If you like postmodern fiction and haven’t picked this up, what are you waiting for?

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Fever Dream, Samantha Schweblin. Never has a book had a more accurate title than Fever Dream. The entire narrative feels like a hallucination, and I spent pretty much the entire time thinking “what the hell is happening here?” And, shockingly, it does come together and make sense in the end. The swirling, dreamlike horror turns swiftly into dark realism. A word of warning: if you plan on reading this, I highly suggest doing it in one sitting. There are no chapters or even real breaks in the story, and it’s definitely short enough to read in an hour or two.

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Journey Under the Midnight Sun, Keigo Higashino. This is a book that really snuck up on me. I enjoyed it while reading it, but it wasn’t until the last third that I realized how brilliantly it was put together. Even then I only rated it 4 stars initially, and about a week later I couldn’t stop thinking about it and upped my rating to 5 stars. The structure and plot are SO tight, and it might be one of the most perfect mysteries I’ve ever read. Unfortunately everything special about this book is way too spoiler-y to talk about, but if you like grim Asian thrillers/mysteries this is the absolute cream of the crop. It’s a slow burn for sure, so be prepared for tension that ramps up to almost unbearable levels.

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Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders. This is the first time the book I loved the most from the Man Booker longlist actually won. Let me tell you, there was loud and exuberant squealing in my house when the winner was revealed. This is such a strange book, with two plot elements (Lincoln mourning his dead son, and ghosts partying it up in limbo) that really don’t seem to fit together. It is told entirely in dialogue and snippets of historical documents (both real and imagined), and while it’s a decent length the pace absolutely flies by. It’s comic and heartbreaking, and if I made a top 5 of 2017 list this would definitely be on it.

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Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill. This is a book I never would have read if it wasn’t on the Bailey’s longlist. I mean, look at the cover: it’s pretty, but it looks very chick-lit. Especially given the name. But this is a heartbreaking work of historical fiction that is so fantastical it feels like magical realism. There are no actually magical elements here, but it has a dark fairytale vibe. And I do mean dark: there is some really disturbing content in here, interspersed with moments of absolute breathtaking beauty. I cringed, I cried, I wished I could stay in this book-world forever.

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Montpelier Parade, Karl Geary. Ugh, talk about heartbreak. This is another “I wouldn’t have read this if it wasn’t on a book award longlist” entry, and I am so so glad I picked this one up. It’s one of those books that really creeps up on you slowly. At the beginning I was enjoying it, but wasn’t very invested in the plot or characters. By the time I got to the end I was sobbing my eyes out. I just… I can’t with this book. It is SO sad but also really beautiful and moving. The ending destroyed me but was also utterly perfect for the characters? It’s just so good.

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Marlena, Julie Buntin. I love stories about toxic female friendships, and Marlena is pretty much the Platonic ideal of a toxic female friendship story. This book is so beautifully written and moving: it’s everything I have ever wanted in this micro-genre. It seriously feels like I’ve been searching for years for this exact book. It is mature and insightful while managing to maintain a youthful spirit. It portrays the narrow-minded focus of teenage girls with pinpoint precision. There were so many moments that took my breath away, either because I cared so much about the characters or because there was some great insight into teenage girlhood that brought me back to my own childhood.

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The Ones that Got Away, Stephen Graham Jones. This book was a really last-minute addition. I read it during October and didn’t even add it to my yearly favorites shelf then, but I have thought so often about the stories in this collection since I finished it. The first story in particular haunts me, but really everything in this book was fantastic. I love Jones but you never really know what to expect from him: he goes from mood to mood depending on the release. This book is pure, intense, visceral horror: it is exceptionally bloody and disturbing, but all of the gore reveals some cold truths about the human condition. If you like body horror with a little heart (hehe) this is for you!

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Oola, Brittany Newell. While Oola is nowhere near a horror novel, it might be the creepiest thing I read all year. And I read 42 horror books in October alone! It reminds me strongly of both You and Lolita: a story told from the eyes of an obsessive stalker/boyfriend who wears a girl down to her limits. The sanity of both the protagonist and Oola unravel slowly, and you don’t realize how absolutely insane things have gotten until it’s far too late for either of them. The writing is gorgeous and lush and the content will shake your soul up. I think about this book often, and it’s one I would really love to re-read.

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A Short Stay in Hell, Steven L. Peck. This was such a random impulse purchase. I saw it sitting at Barnes & Noble and couldn’t resist that title or premise! It’s about a man who goes to hell and is given a task to escape: he is in the Library of Babel and has to find the story of his life. Once he’s done that, he is free to go to heaven! Sounds simple, right? Well… it’s not. This book gets so much darker and weirder and philosophical than I expected, and I loved every (short) second of it.

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A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson. UGH, my heart. It hurts every time I look at that cover. This is another made-me-cry novel, and those always get on my favorites list. What can I say, I’m a glutton for emotional punishment. This novella is very strange fantasy set in a possibly-post-apocalyptic African country. It’s a love story, but one that will both destroy you and leave you very content. If that makes sense. I loved the world, loved the characters, and am still shocked that Wilson made me feel so strongly in such a short amount of pages.

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The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson. Oh man. This… might actually be my favorite book of the year, if I had to pick just one. It’s at least top 3. I accidentally read this in scifi September (it’s fantasy–I let the “is it a cyborg mask?” cover confuse me), and I am still recovering. Everything about this is glittering and perfect. The world is incredibly deep (I cannot WAIT for the next book, which is next October), the characters are insanely complex and morally grey, the writing is sharp and poignant, the plot is so twisty, and Dickinson actually made me care about a plot based on accounting. Yes, this is about an accountant in a fantasy world. I fucking hate math yet I love everything about this book. Especially how much it ripped my heart out.

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The Waste Lands, Stephen King. The first half of my reading year was absolutely dominated by my buddy-read of the Dark Tower series. It was so much fun, especially since I had a friend to chat with nonstop along the way! Of course I had to include one of them in my favorites, and while I gave quite a few of the volumes 5 stars it was easy to pick my #1. This book is just bafflingly bizarre. It’s got an evil talking train that tells riddles as the main bad guy. Like, that cover is not metaphorical. There’s a bad train named Blaine. Also a giant guardian bear, a distorted mirror-world New York, gangs that live in a trash labyrinth, a nuclear wasteland complete with mutant animals, doors between worlds, a wheelchair-bound badass black lady, and so much more. If you like sff this series is an absolute must read… although it is very, very strange. Prepare yourself.

 Honorable Mentions (aka I could swap out most of the books on this list with one of these without issue): The Hike, The Golem & The Jinn, Autumn, 4 3 2 1

The interesting thing about compiling these lists is how unexpected the final product ends up being. There were a shocking number of books from award lists (in fact, there was at least one from every award I read with the exception of the National Book Award). Some books I though I would forget ended up instantly on it, and a few I thought were shoe-ins (Autumn, Pachinko, Multiple Choice) were easy to cull from my initial list of about 25. I read a lot of really wonderful books in 2017 and honestly, a random mix of any of the 46 on my favorites shelf would have been easy to be pleased with. I’m sure a month from now I’d organize this list differently, but at the moment I am quite happy with it.

December Reading Wrapup: Part II

4 Jan

In terms of raw numbers, the first half of December was much better than the second in terms of reading. The holidays are always a rough time for hobbies: there’s so much traveling, so many things to do, so much cooking… and no time for my usual before-bed reading. I got a little bit done, but not as much as I had hoped. Though I wrapped up almost all of my challenges on time, so that’s something to be happy about!

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The River at Night, by Erica Ferencik*. Finished December 16th. There are a few things that will get me to pick up a book no matter the reviews or author. If it has survival elements or spooky woods (and The River at Night has both), I generally don’t even bother to look up information on it. I just read that sucker. This has led me astray many times: according to my shelves, I’ve read 22 unsuccessful spooky woods books and only 10 I actually enjoyed. Thankfully, this is the latter category!

The premise is a wonderful combination of The Descent and The Ritual (which are both about as good as it gets when it comes to survival horror). Four women have been friends for decades, but they only see each other once a year on epic vacations. Beach getaways, skydiving, that sort of thing. This year they’re going white water rafting in an uninhabited part of Maine. No, none of them have ever rafted before, but these girls are desperate for adventure. Or at least their leader, Pia, is.

Most of the first half of the novel is spent setting up the characters. Sure, things happen (the adventure starts!) but it’s mostly building up all 4 women as complex and realistic figures. Their interactions, histories, and personalities feel very fleshed out and realistic. They all have obvious flaws (the divorcee, the adventure addict, the recovered alcoholic, the abused wife) but none fall into trope territory. They feel like real, average humans. Like women you went to school with or talk to at a book club. It’s a nice writing trick: they’re complex enough to hold your interest, but not over-the-top enough to take you out of the mood.

And the mood is fantastic! While this is not technically a horror novel, it has a very moody atmosphere and moments of extreme tension. After all, you know from the blurb (and tone) that the trip does not go well. This is a survival novel, after all. And there’s a lot of surviving going on. There are also some old-fashioned creepy-people-in-the-woods element as well. Stranded in an unexplored forest with potentially Deliverance-level crazies? It makes for some excellent horror moments.

Though the build to the meat of the plot is slow, it never feels like a chore getting there. The pacing is great, and you are carried along the river of these women’s relationship at the exact pace the author intends. Sure, there are some unrealistic elements in play towards the end, but that’s almost always true in survival stories (because if they were realistic, 99% of the time they’d end in “and then they all died of exposure”). But this is an immersive piece of horror masquerading as literary fiction. If you like survival horror, I’d definitely give it a shot.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Breaking Wild, by Diane Les Becquets. Finished December 16th. After reading The River at Night I immediately wanted more survival-themed books. Maybe I should have resisted that impulse, because it’s no surprise that Breaking Wild suffered from the comparison. Then again, based on other reviews I might feel just as neutral if I’d waited.

Breaking Wild has a lot of elements I love, aside from survival. There’s a hint of grit lit (without the over-the-top sexually violent tones that plague that genre), strong female characters, and that Gone Girl “is she really who she says she is?” element to the missing woman Amy Raye. Then again, that last one might be a little too on-the-nose for me (I mean, she has the same name–Amy. Kind of trite). We also have lots of animal-based scenes, both friend and foe. Dogs and coyotes and cougars and bears and elk, oh my!

But I felt a huge distance in the narrative. Even when we are with Amy on her survival journey, watching her on the brink of death, I didn’t feel that emotional pull I want. I like being close to characters, getting in their skin and feeling their pain along with them. And I don’t mind the “unlikeable” type that Amy Raye obviously falls into: as long as I understand a character, there’s the potential to like them. But with Amy? Even after her full backstory reveal I didn’t “get” her. And the woman looking for her, Pru, felt like an unnecessary add-in at times. Her home life and backstory was a bit dull next to the excitement and shine of Amy. That might have been an intentional contrast, but that doesn’t make it a good story decision.

There’s one thing this book does amazingly well: build tension. We have alternating chapters from Amy (missing woman) and Pru (looking for missing woman), but the timelines don’t sync up. Amy’s is at a much slower pace: it takes half a dozen chapters to even get to when she goes missing. Pru is way in the future by that point, and desperately looking for Amy. And while Pru’s chapters are in the 1st person, Amy’s are in the 3rd. These combine to create a big sense of unease, because we have no clue if Amy survived or not. And her chances seem quite grim as the book goes on. It’s cleverly executed and is a nice twist to the missing woman genre.

There are definitely highs and lows here. I loved the tone and the pacing, didn’t love the characters or side plots (I don’t care about Pru’s love life or kid, author. I want to know what happens with the cougar!!). I don’t regret reading it, but it’s not a book I will think back fondly on. If you don’t mind distanced narratives, though, and like survival thrillers, this might be right up your alley.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Bodies of Water, by V. H. Leslie. Finished December 17th. This is one of those books I finished and immediately had almost no opinion on: I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it. I feel decidedly lukewarm on pretty much every aspect. Which is odd, because the themes (intense female friendship, bizarre antiquated cures for madness, mythology/magical realism elements, alternating past-and-present storylines, cats!!) are things I almost always love or at least can easily get involved with.

But Bodies of Water was decidedly bland. The writing was decent and had some sparks of beauty, but mostly came across as just adequate. The characters are quite flat. They have interesting backgrounds, but everything we see from their perspective makes them seem dreadfully dull. They also act in a way that drives the plot forward but makes no real-world sense. If you moved into a brand-new apartment and the ceiling started leaking, would you 1) visit your upstairs neighbor to ~investigate~ and then forget about it or 2) call the fucking super to fix it asap because it’s DRIPPING ALL OVER YOUR BED. Our girl Kirsten takes #1 because yeah, that’s logical. Their motivations don’t line up with their actions at all, and it’s a consistent issue.

I think one of the main problems was the length. It’s so short but covers two stories with deep backgrounds. There’s a LOT going on, and each story could have easily been 100+ pages. It wouldn’t fix the other issues but it would make it easier to get invested. With this novella format, by the time I finally gave a damn about the plots it was over. Something interesting happened (there’s honestly only one real ‘event’ in the book) and 10 pages later it’s the end of the book? The pacing is quite poor.

I know this was going for a traditional Gothic atmosphere, and it had a great base to work with. The plot sounds so interesting on paper, and issues of mental illness and sexuality are just begging to play out on a weird Gothic water therapy stage. Yet this was just okay in almost every way. Super forgettable.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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In Pinelight, by Thomas Rayfield. Finished December 17th. This is, without a hint of exaggeration, one of the best pieces of literary fiction I’ve ever read. Yet it has 4, count em FOUR, reviews on Goodreads! I only stumbled upon it because the spine looked intriguing while I was at the library. I am a constant whore for books that take place in spooky woods, and how spooky does that cover look? Very spooky. But misleading, because there’s no horror here and very little woods. But quite a few pine trees, thus the name.

This is a book uniquely told. The plot may seem been-there-done-that: it’s an old man telling his life story to an unnamed interviewer. His life took place entirely in a small rural town and one of the main themes is past vs present, new vs old, progress vs tradition. No new ground there, but it’s dealt with in a very interesting way. The old man’s story is told in stream-of-consciousness. And not in a neat, easy to digest format. It includes all the mess of human speech: repetition, mistakes, grammatical errors and memory flaws. He’s definitely an unreliable narrator, though it is unclear if it’s because of age or intentional deception. At first it’s hard to get more than a paragraph into it without feeling a bit mentally exhausted. But once you get into the meat of the story, the narrative flows like water. It’s so intimate, like you are right in the room with our narrator. Or even better, right in his head. The interviewer actually doesn’t get any lines, so you kind of have to guess from the context what the questions are.

While at first this seems like a simple life story with no drama, the themes and characters get more and more complex and entangled as it goes on. His wife, sister, daughter, and best friend feature prominently, but it’s not told in sequential order. You’ll hear about his wife’s death, and then go back to when he first bought his horses (another important set of characters), then go all the way back to his childhood before snapping back to another memory of his wife. You’re in the stream of his life, and it’s absolutely mesmerizing. If you told me before I read this that I’d be captivated by the life of a guy who drove a horse-and-cart delivery I’d probably have laughed in your face, but In Pinelight is pure magic.

There are some big questions lurking in the background (what happened to his missing sister, what was going on at the weird medical institute in town, who is the interviewer, why is he being questioned, what secret was his friend hiding) that peek up occasionally but generally lurk in the background. They act as ties that bind everything together, but this is in no way a mystery. The joy of reading it is in the telling, not in the answers or cohesion. And while we do get answers (in a way–it’s left up to the reader to put together the pieces), they’re not at all what makes this book shine. It’s the carefully crafted narrative that make it so amazing. If you like literary fiction, please give this a shot. It’s criminally underrated.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Some Will Not Sleep, by Adam Nevill. Finished December 19th. I have a fraught relationship with Adam Nevill. You know how Stephen King often can’t write a good ending? Nevill is like that, only it’s the entire second half of his books. When I say that The Ritual is one of my favorite horror novels, what I mean is “the first half of The Ritual is one of my favorite horror novels and I generally pretend the second half doesn’t exist.” Same for Last Days. I felt more positive about diving into a collection of shorts because hey, they aren’t long enough to have a different first and second half, right?

Well, that’s true. But somehow I ended up with the same problem of only liking 50% of the content! Except it was whole stories I liked or hated this time, which is an improvement I guess? Some of them I absolutely adored. “The Original Occupant” is basically a prequel to The Ritual, and takes place in that amazingly creepy forest. “Mother’s Milk” is gross-out body horror at its best. “Yellow Teeth” was so unsettling. “To Forget and be Forgotten” was possibly my favorite, and had me checking behind the shower curtain late at night. “The Ancestors” is a great take on Japanese horror.

But about half of the others were huge flops for me. “Pig Thing” was overly short and predictable. “Doll Hands” seemed to be bizarre just for the sake of being bizarre. “What God Hath Wrought?” had potential but ended up being overly long and about 80% exposition. “The Age of Entitlement” was just dull. “Florrie” was boring and uneventful.

I did enjoy the end section, which had the history of all the stories (both the writing of them and the ideas themselves). Very Stephen King. But at the end of the day, I’m just so confused by Nevill. I can’t believe the same author wrote all of these stories, much like I can’t believe the same author wrote the first half and second half of The Ritual.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Scent of Winter, by Tiffany Reisz. Finished December 20th. MY HEART

“It happens to me sometimes. Something comes on me that’s more animal than human. I wish there was a word for it. The only word that comes close is ‘bloodlust.’ I’d felt it that night in the woods, the first time with you.”
“When you chased me and ran me down.”
“I wasn’t chasing you, Kingsley. I was hunting you.”

This may seem sacrilegious to other Original Sinners fans, but I’ve never been a huge fan of Kingsley. I don’t hate him, but I just don’t like him as much as the other two members of the Unholy Trinity. The books that focus on him tend to be my least favorites. I mean, I still enjoy him, but I never considered myself a real fan. Until this novella. It tugged on my heartstrings, and for the first time I felt totally sold on Soren/Kingsley. The rawness of their relationship here is so authentic and bittersweet.

“Why would I think I could fall in love with a wolf and never get bitten?”

This is probably my favorite of the Christmas novellas. And while at first it doesn’t seem overtly Christmas-themed, it’s perfectly seasonal!

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Innocents, by Cathy Coote. Finished December 21st. I have this morbid fascination with all those “it’s like Lolita!” type of novels. Lamb, The End of Alice, Tampa, et cetera. This already backfired on me once this year with All The Ugly & Wonderful Things (which romanticizes pedophilia, why) so I was a little hesitant to pick this up. The premise is a play on all those “Lolita was a seductress!” morons (I almost apologized for that but if you think Lo was anything but a victim please get out immediately). Our 16-year-old heroine, who remains unnamed, is… kind of a sociopath. And by “kind of” I mean “she fantasizes about beating and torturing her classmates.”

One day she decides that seducing her teacher is a great idea. The plot summary makes it sound like she is the hunter and he is the hunted, and indeed that seems like the direction it’s going in. But of course, it’s much more complicated than that. The title, Innocents, could apply to both of them. The teacher thinks his student is innocent, and she thinks he is innocent. There is a very strange predator/prey dynamic here where they both think they are “in charge” of the relationship and manipulating the other one.

There is no question that our heroine is very messed up. She is no innocent, abused girl… but at the same time, she is very young and unable to understand adult relationships. The things about herself that she plays up (childish appearance, carefree demeanor, sexual reluctance, innocence and naivete) are not the things a mentally well adult man are interested in that, but she is totally blind to how creepy he is. She thinks she is totally in control and so clever, but she’s set a trap for a pedophile… and nabbed one. The question becomes, which of them will get hurt first? And how badly?

This is a dark, twisty book. You should have a strong stomach if you’re going into it, and a taste for moral ambiguity. It’s certainly not as upsetting as some of the other books in this “genre” (especially because it’s set in Australia, where 16 is the age of consent… if it’s not with a teacher) but there are many stomach-churning scenes. I hope this is not Coote’s last book, because I’d love to see what she does next.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling. Finished December 25th. Sometimes you just have to go where your heart takes you. Towards the end of the month, I just really felt like reading Harry Potter. I knew I had one book to get through before the year ended but hey… sometimes you need comfort food, but in book form. Which is what this is. Not really a lot I could possibly say that’d be new: it’s one of my favorite in the series, and I loved it.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Hydrogen Sonata, by Iain M. Banks. Finished December 31st. It seemed fitting to have this be my last book of the year. I started the Culture series in January of 2016, and have devoured the 10 books in it over the course of 2016. Sadly, Banks passed away a few years ago so this is the last Culture book we’ll ever get. And since it’s an open world (no books follow the same characters or plot), it had pretty much endless potential.

This is very much the swan song of the Culture world. It’s about a society at the end of its life-cycle: they are done with reality, and about to go post-physical into the Sublime. The Hydrogen Sonata seems like a goodbye letter, both to the Culture world and (tragically) to life. One of the main themes is the life-tasks people in this society give themselves. It can be anything (playing a particularly difficult piece of music, traveling to a far-away place, covering your body in a specific set of tattoos), but the goal is to accomplish a difficult or obscure task before death. Since the civilization is about to leave the Real, many people are rushing to finish their life-tasks. Like oh, you know… writing a book series. Yeah, it’s a little too close to home.

While this wasn’t the most compelling book in the series or the most emotional, it was beautifully crafted. It felt much more somber than anything else in the Culture world, and a little forlorn. It was also a rough read emotionally, not necessarily because of the content (though it’s quite sad) but because of the real-world parallels to Banks’ life. Plus, you know, last book of such a terrible and tragic year.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

268/175 Books

28/28 Series Books

70/50 TBR Books

27/15 Different Countries

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

December Reading Wrapup: Part I

3 Jan

I find the last month of the year to be the most difficult in terms of reading. I’m already looking ahead to my 2017 goals, or looking back on my favorite books of the year. By mid-December I kind of think of the year as “over” already. But despite that, I still had a pretty good reading month! I finished off my series challenge and got quite a few off my TBR read.

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A Gambler’s Anatomy, by Jonathan Lethem*. Finished December 1st. Jonathan Lethem is one of my favorite authors, but for some reason I only gravitate towards his weirder, lesser-known books like As She Climbed across the Table, Amnesia Moon, and Girl in Landscape. Though let’s be honest, I don’t think you could classify any of his books as normal. I haven’t read any of his “big” works like Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude, etc–I guess I will eventually, but I have no real drive to. Which is weird, because the books I’ve read of his I adore!

I think A Gambler’s Anatomy falls rather uncomfortably between his odd, quirky books and his more mainstream ones. There are a few elements of magical realism (our main character is psychic, for example) but they don’t add much to the book either in terms of plot or metaphor. It would be basically the exact same book if the mind-reading element was removed. Which is odd–why was it included? It adds an extra layer to the final chapter but that’s about it. I think it would have been a much more interesting book if 1) the magical realism was just removed or 2) it was amped up and more integral to the plot/characters.

My main issues with the book are all the elements that seem neither here nor there. A lot of plot points seem randomly jumbled together, and there’s not enough of any one to make a cohesive whole. It’s hard to even pinpoint what the book is about (and not in a “so many interesting elements!”) kind of way. Is it about gambling? Yes and no. Is it about backgammon? Yes and no. Is it about severe illness? Yes and no. Is it about communist revolutions? Yes and no. Is it about the negative effects of capitalism? Yes and no. Is it about addiction? Yes and no. All of these elements are fascinating on their own, but somehow putting it all in the same plot dilutes all of the oomph.

The writing is, of course, beautiful and it is a compelling read. Even when I wasn’t very interested in what was going on I wanted to keep going, which is an impressive feat. And all of the side characters were great! Our main character? Not so much. He’s supposed to be stoic and boring and his perspective comes off as… stoic and boring. I really dislike “boring, blank-slate” narrators that kind of serve as a widow to the action more than a direct player in it. So while there are lots of redeeming features here, and it was far from a bad book, nothing drew me in. A disappointment, to say the least, though I certainly don’t regret reading it.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Devotion of Suspect X, by Keigo Higashino. Finished December 2nd. Other than my love affair with Tana French, I find myself continually disappointed by Western crime fiction. I’m just never that interested in whodunnits, so often I feel that any side plots or forced character “development” are just standing in the way of getting the reader to the solution. So it’s no surprise that I adore Eastern crime fiction: in almost all the ones I’ve read (Malice, The Investigation, Confessions) you find out who the killer is fairly early on, and it’s more about the characters and motives. The Devotion of Suspect X takes this to new heights: it’s not a whodunnit, because it starts from the POV of the killers. It’s not even a whydunnit, because the murder takes place very early on and the motives are crystal clear. It is the rarest of things in crime fiction: a howdunnit.

Yasuko is being stalked by her ex-husband. When he goes after her teenage daughter, she kills him in a fit of fear and protectiveness. Her neighbor, the unassuming math teacher Ishigami, helps them cover it up. But it cuts from the murder to days later, when Yasuko comes under suspicion. The mystery here is how Ishigami covered it up. Every angle of the murder is examined, and he seems to have covered it all. But how? It seems like the perfect crime.

Ingeniously, because the book starts out from Yasuko’s POV you are 100% on her side (and thus, on the side of the criminals). I was dying to know how Ishigami managed the coverup, but I wanted even more for them both to get off scott free and for the cops to remain in the dark. This is a riveting novel, a real page-turner but without the fake “cliffanger every chapter” that so many books in the genre rely on. This is my second Higashino book, and I doubt it will be my last. If only more of his work was translated!

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Inheritance, by Robin Hobb. Finished December 3rd. This is, technically, the last Realm of the Elderlings book I have to read. I say technically because it’s a collection of short stories, and only the last section is set in that world. The other half is by Robin Hobb’s other pen name, and take place more in the real world (though they have many elements of magical realism and fantasy in them).

I was kind of expecting to skim through the first half in an effort to get to Hobb’s section, but I found them surprisingly enjoyable. I don’t know if it’s a writing style I would seek out on its own, but the stories were quite memorable. A few fell flat, but for the most part-success! But, of course, I came for the Hobb and that’s where this book shined for me.

There are only 3 Hobb stories because as you’d suspect, they are very long. They’re all wonderful, though the first (which is about the settling of the Rainwilds) and the last (which has a cat perspective) were particularly amazing. I don’t think I will ever get enough of this series, so let’s hope that the new one coming out in spring isn’t the last!

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Into The Forest, by Jean Hegland. Finished December 4th. What a mixed bag of a book this was. I love survival stories and I love post-apocalyptic fiction so theoretically, I should have loved this. And I will freely admit that those aspects were fantastic. There’s a large amount of day-to-day survival stuff: growing a garden, canning and drying food for winter, figuring out how to hunt, etc. Given my love for survival classics like Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson I am a total sucker for “here’s 20 pages that list all the different plants here and what they do!” type of things, which this book has in droves. And the apocalypse itself is very interesting: it’s not one big event, but the culmination of many. Climate change, unstable currency, political strife, a failing economy… sounds eerily familiar.

If the novel had stuck with the survival aspects as the main focus and given us more character development between sisters Nell and Eva, it would have easily been 4 stars. I was so involved for the first 100 pages or so, even though a few of the elements (the forced romance for Nell, the constant flashbacks to her parents) were almost too young-adult-y for my taste. But then, sigh, it takes a very sharp nosedive.

For some reason, the main message of this book seems to be that men are bad and women are victims. I hate hate HATE when fiction frames sexual interaction with men as only negative. If it’s consensual, watch out, you’ll get pregnant and be a single mom! And then, of course, we have to threaten the girls with rape because an apocalypse and having your parents die and almost starving to death just isn’t spooky enough. Sigh. It’s so unfair to both genders. Not all men are evil, obviously, and the “it’s the apocalypse so men revert to being horrible rapists” thing is truly baffling as a trope. And women are not victims! A girl can insist on birth control. A girl can consent to sex and not have any negative consequences, emotional or physical. A girl can, gasp, enjoy sex without somehow getting in trouble for it.

Weird 60′s feminist themes aside, this book really suffers in the last 100 pages or so. There are some truly baffling scenes that serve no purpose besides making the reader uncomfortable (sudden incest like woah) and the book seems to go from reality to magical realism very quickly and suddenly. Things that aren’t physically possible happen with no discussion. And tonally it’s weird. I think the end is meant to be read as inspiring or empowering which is… weird, because it seems more like the girls went totally insane. But rah rah women living together in the forest female power?

If you’d like to read a book about survival in the forest and a (kind of) apocalypse, I’d really recommend Our Endless Numbered Days. It deals with many of the same themes in a far more mature and coherent way (and manages to be much darker without the “men are out to get us!” bullshit).

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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World War Z, by Max Brooks. Finished December 6th. I read this years ago and loved it, and while I’ve heard many people raving about the audiobook I was never really interested. Audiobooks just aren’t my thing. But then I heard that it was what everyone wanted from the movie (an abomination we shall not speak of), plus I needed to read an award-winning audiobook for the Read Harder challenge. So WWZ audiobook it was!

This is just amazing. So immersive, and it really feels like the way the book is meant to be “read.” It is really more like a radio play than a regular audiobook. Fully voice acted, with a consistent narrator. Definitely get the full edition though: many of my favorite stories were left out of the original release.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Crow Girl, by Erik Axl Sund. Finished December 9th. This is a dark, dark book. Before you consider reading it, I’d add heavy trigger warnings for child abuse, rape, and incest. If any of these are upsetting topics for you I’d definitely proceed with caution. While none of the violence is gratuitous and most of it happens either in memory or off-screen, a lot of the details are hard to get through even if you have a strong stomach. Though this does work against the book in some ways: by the time you get to the end and the final reveal of the horrors the murderer has created, it seems almost blase. I feel like this is a danger with any long, dark book: eventually the reader is immune to the shocks. But that doesn’t negate how grim and effective 90% of it is.

The Crow Girl neatly toes the line between police procedural and psychological thriller. We have a ton of POVs: everything from the cops working on the case to the killer. Quite a few seem unrelated and really only come together at the end, and there’s a ton of misdirection and potentially unreliable narrators. It’s one of those “who am I supposed to trust?” type of novels, which I always enjoy. Every time I was sure I knew what was going on another twist and turn was revealed. It’s not a wham-twist type of novel like Gone Girl: sure, there’s a lot going on, but it’s hard to say that there is “one big reveal.” It’s more a series of smaller (but still effective) surprises.

The most interesting aspect of the book is the discussions of mental health. It’s both my favorite and least-favorite thing about The Crow Girl. I loved how complex all the characters were, and how intensely it looks at trauma, memory, and mental health. There are some wonderful moments of insight and really interesting discussions.

However, every mentally ill character in the book (and there are quite a few) is either an abuser or a victim. It’s absolutely a myth that the mentally ill are more likely to commit violent crimes: in fact, there’s no proven link between mental illness and criminal behavior. However, the mentally ill are far more likely to be the victim of a crime. For all its interesting discussions, The Crow Girl still uses mental illness as a plot point. It’s supposed to be a revealing look at the cycle of abuse but it kind of comes off as “wow mentally ill people sure are crazy, look at the stuff they do!” It’s a sore subject for me and I didn’t appreciate how black and white the issue was. You also really need to suspend belief for some of the bigger twists, or know nothing about mental illness.

To end on a positive note, this is an incredibly compulsive read. The chapters are quite short (2-5 pages) and the POV/time period changes constantly, making it feel insanely fast paced even though it takes place over the course of a few months. I never felt bored by the length or wanted things to happen faster. In fact, I think it could have been a bit longer: the end is slightly rushed!

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Memories of my Melancholy Whores, by Gabriel García Márquez. Finished December 10th. This is my first Marquez, and I think it was a poor choice on my part. I picked it out because I saw it hanging out at the library, and let’s be honest… it’s really short. I don’t read a ton of physical books (almost all of my reading is done late at night on my Kindle, with the lights off), so when I pick one up from the library I don’t want it to be a chunker.

But this book is about age and the path our lives take: it’s an old man hitting 90 reflecting on his life. I just can’t connect with the themes, which is obviously on me and not the book. The writing is beautiful and I think the plot fits the themes perfectly, but I just felt really distanced. It’s hard for me to rate, and I’d love to go back to it in a few decades when the “I’m old and I feel like I’ve wasted my life” is something that I can connect with.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay*. Finished December 10th. I came into this book with low expectations. I know Roxane Gay only from her nonfiction work, so I was expecting a collection of stories with interesting ideas and feminist themes, but perhaps not the most elegant writing. And I was pleasantly very wrong: this book absolutely blew me away.

It is, as the title states, a book about difficult women. Women who strike out on their own path and refuse to follow traditional gender roles. Women who do anything it takes to survive. Women in bad situations, or women in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s easy to classify them all as ‘difficult’ but it’s also a bit depressing to realize that a women can be difficult for something as simple as not listening to a man. As you’d expect from Gay, these stories have a strong feminist vibe and sell the message very well. It never feels forced or preachy: in fact, it’s a depressingly realistic realization that all women are ‘difficult women.’

The writing here is lush and varied. We go from stories totally grounded in reality to hints of magical realism to full-out fantasy to a terrifying dystopian future. The mood changes: we get more upbeat love-themed tales, heartbreaking life stories, little slice of life pieces that are nearly flash fiction, epic-in-scope fantasy… I was wowed by how easily she shifted genre, mood, and tone while still giving them all a cohesive vibe.

Every story felt like it belonged here. Some were so depressing I almost hated them because of how they made me feel, others so short and brief they don’t seem to fit at first. There are stories that end at the worst possible moment, ones that start after the action. And yet they mesh together perfectly by the end. Difficult women are not just difficult in the way they live their lives, but in how their stories are told. They’re not easy to digest: some are challenging thematically, some emotionally. One made me cry. But they all touched me in different ways, and for once I feel like I’ve read a short story collection where I wouldn’t remove a single one

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Mongrels, by Stephen Graham Jones. Finished December 11th. Earlier this year I read Stephen Graham Jones’ Demon Theory, and it’s absolutely one of my favorite books of 2016. I really wanted to read more of him but he has a LOT of books out. An intimidating amount, to be honest, and I didn’t know where to start. Mongrels is actually a brand-new release and seems to be getting a lot of hype, plus it’s a modern werewolf tale which is usually something I really enjoy. So it seemed like as good a place as any to dive into his body of work!

Mongrels is about a young boy who is convinced his family is full of werewolves. His mother died in childbirth, and he lives with his aunt and uncle. They are a family of vagabonds, moving from place to place and picking up whatever odd jobs are available along the way. So while this is, on the surface, a story about monsters, it’s much more a book about humanity. It’s about how we all have something monstrous inside of us, and how it can shape our lives in ways we never expected.

Mongrels deals with poverty and classism/racism in America as much as it deals with howling at the moon and eating people. Like all good monster novels, the fantastic elements serve as a metaphor for real-world issues… though it also tackles these themes head-on in a more literal sense. It’s a very fast-paced book but it’s surprisingly deep, and cleverly skirts the line between adult fiction and YA. It’s totally, completely different from Demon Theory and I’m now even more intrigued to read more of Jones’ books.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Rules for Werewolves, by Kirk Lynn. Finished December 13th. I had two werewolf books on my TBR and thought to myself, “why not read them in a row?!” So here we are, with a very wolfish December. Rules for Werewolves is compared to Sharp Teeth in the blurb and that happens to be one of my favorite books so how can I resist?

RfW is told almost entirely in dialogue, but with no speech tags. So there are no descriptions of the action, or even clear ways to know who is talking at any point in time. It reads very much like poetry (thus the Sharp Teeth comparison) and obviously can be intensely confusing at times. The plot itself is simple enough: a group of homeless young people are moving from abandoned house to abandoned house… oh, and their (possibly insane) leader is convinced they are werewolves.

Unlike Mongrels (and Sharp Teeth) this is not an overt “werewolf book.” It’s incredibly unclear if this is a cult-type situation or if they are actual werewolves. This is a difficult book: the plot is messy, there are so many characters it’s almost impossible to keep them straight, and most of the time the reader is a bit unclear on what is going on. But I loved it! It’s so lyrical and interesting, and raises some very interesting questions about how we live our lives. If you like challenging books and possibly-magical-realism with a dark turn, I really recommend this.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Driver’s Seat, by Muriel Sparks. Finished December 14th. Sometimes I let myself get swayed by hype. I read a bunch of glowing reviews, see it’s a short novel, and pick it up. Though to be honest, this has been sitting on my Kindle for about a year–back when I first read those rave reviews. Even the mid-tier ones mentioned the amazing twists of this little mystery/thriller/whatever it is. I stumbled upon it recently while trying to give some order to the 1,800+ books on my device and off we went.

Sadly, it didn’t live up to the hype. I almost want to give this 2 stars because it was such a disappointment, but the writing was clever and well-crafted. I just… I was SO BORED. The plot sounds so interesting: Lise, a woman who has lived an ordinary life and seems ordinary in every respect, goes on a self-destructive adventure into the long-hidden dark side of her personality. It’s short, witty, and to the point. But I just. Didn’t. Care.

It has a manic energy but manages to be very pedestrian at the same time. Lise acts completely insane: flitting from person to person, topic to topic, changing her personality or aims on a whim. Yet it’s not very interesting to read about because Lise is just a dull person. Even when trying her hardest to get into trouble, the height of her craziness seems to be bold miss-matched prints and stealing car keys. Ooh, scandalous.

Sure, the ending is good. But it wasn’t a twist–you see it coming from a mile away–and you don’t even get any insight into why she chooses that path. Crazy woman does a crazy thing, the book. I prefer more depth and meat to my stories, but maybe I just missed something because this has generally great reviews.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood*. Finished December 14th. Until now, I have not been wowed by the Hogarth Shakespeare line. The ones I have read are, admittedly, exactly as advertised: retellings of Shakespearean stories. But I have always wanted more from these books: more attention to detail, more commentary on society, more meta narratives. Thankfully, Hag-Seed is what I’ve been searching for all along. Which is particularly fitting since The Tempest is my favorite Shakespeare play!

Like many of Shakespeare’s works, Hag-Seed is a play within a play. The main character, Felix, is putting on The Tempest in a prison, but his actual life mirrors the play. He was deposed from a position of power, is essentially in exile, and is using his in-prison play to get revenge on those who wronged him. His daughter is even named Miranda! So for most characters you have both the in-book counterparts and their in-prison-play counterparts. Felix is, of course, both the in-book Prospero along with playing him in his own play. I’m making this sound way more confusing than it is probably, but basically the book has a play in it and both mirror The Tempest both literally and thematically.

Much like how TT is aware that it is a play, HS seems to be aware that it is a book. Felix’s inner monologue often comes off as a speech to an audience, and many of the book allusions come off as very wink-wink-nudge-nudge to the reader. There’s not a lot of overt 4th-wall breaking, but it’s clear that we are a layer of the book: there’s Felix, then his play, then the audience in the book, and then finally, the reader. Or perhaps we’re the “top” layer of the pile. The question is, are we being played by Felix too or are we in on his shenanigans? This is a book that I already want to re-read because I know there are probably dozens of important things I missed.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Good As Gone, by Amy Gentry. Finished December 15th. I keep picking up these popular thrillers expecting something amazing and getting, surprise surprise, canned mediocrity. If this book had any other premise I would have skipped it: I’ve really trained myself not to pick up those “thriller of the month everyone’s bookclub pick IT’S THE NEXT GONE GIRL” type of things. But I am borderline obsessed with the documentary The Imposter (go watch it, seriously) and this plot seems ripped right from that with the genders reversed.

When she is 13 years old, Julie is kidnapped right out of her bedroom. There are no leads, there’s no evidence, and the case is basically abandoned. She returns many years later and while her parents are thrilled to see her, her mother (Anna) becomes suspicious. Is it really her daughter who has come back, or an imposter?

It’s a really fast read, with chapters that alternate between Anna in the present day and “possibly Julie”‘s past. So you’re going both forward in time and back, which is a nice aspect. It’s smoothy written for the most part, though nothing really stands out and there are some clunky sentences. The pacing is great: very tight, chapter breaks at just the right moments, not a lot of down time or unnecessary content. Every conversation seems packed with meaning, every scene full of clues. If you’re a thriller junkie I think this is probably a great read.

However, I found it really lacking substance. The characters were flat, and the mystery felt very thin (especially because many details were pulled from The Imposter and JonBenet’s case, making it feel overly familiar). The last quarter of the book saved this from being terrible: the reveals are great, and while not totally unexpected they did catch me by surprise.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

259/175 Books

27/28 Series Books

68/50 TBR Books

27/15 Different Countries

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

November Reading Wrapup: Part II

13 Dec

As I mentioned previously, November was a pretty meh reading month for me. Sure, I got a decent amount of books finished off, but a lot of them were just so-so (or outright negative reading experiences). In fact, I only loved a handful of books this month… and almost all of them were in the first half of November. Towards the end of the month things did pick up but man, I really think this is the worst reading month I had all year!

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The Merciless, by Danielle Vega. Finished November 15th. This book is all fluff and no substance, and reads more like a movie script than a novel. I actually do think it will make a great movie, like a slasher version of Mean Girls. I mean, that’s basically what this is. Girl moves into new town, is taken in by the hot popular girls, participates in the ostracization of the weird loner, falls in love with handsome boy. Only this time the mean girls are a psychotic Christian cult and the loner girl may or may not be skinning cats behind the bleachers.

It’s definitely an odd book. It’s hard to place who it was written for: given the high gore level (tame compared to some of the stuff I read, but very high for YA) I assumed it was more adult-minded… like My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which is a book about teens and exorcism and weird violence but has themes that resonate with many readers and writing that’s clearly aimed at an older audience. But so much about this book is juvenile: there’s little to no characterization, the writing is painfully repetitive and simple, the dialogue is stiff, the relationships seem forced. Signs that you’re reading a YA novel, right? But the content is definitely NOT for young teens.

You really have to suspend belief for this book to be halfway effective. Can you imagine, in this day and age, the popular girl group at a public school being crazy devout Christians and baptizing people in bathrooms? No. Somehow I can accept exorcisms and people possibly being possessed by the devil but the idea that a group of teens would be like, “yes, this exorcism sounds like a GREAT IDEA” while also being super hot and popular and appearing totally sane? Nah.

I think the core ideas are good. It’s a very cinematic book, and had potential. But there were a ton of issues! Sofia, our main girl, knows the main girls all of like 4 days before the main events happen. The opening section should have taken place over weeks or months so we feel like she trusts them and they trust her. And why was there a random relationship crammed in there that had nothing to do with the plot? Because teen girls love a good romance? I was a teen girl and let me tell you, if it’s a book about blood and guts I didn’t want to read about making out in between the gore.

The ending definitely redeems it a bit, and while I was not invested at all I’m almost tempted to read the sequel. It’s honestly pretty badly written but was still enjoyable, in that “page-turner thriller every chapter ends on a cliffhanger” bubblegum sort of way. It’s also incredibly short (just over an hour’s read for me) so it’s not a huge time investment. I think readers who like YA would appreciate this more.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Fool’s Assassin, by Robin Hobb. Finished November 21st. I initially meant to start this trilogy in December. For the first time, I’m reading a Hobb series while it’s in publication, and we aren’t getting the last book until March. So basically, I wanted to end the year on it so it wouldn’t feel like such a long wait. But this was just chilling on my Kindle and I felt inexplicably drawn to it. I’m a heavy mood reader, so off I went back to the Six Duchies! Side note: why is Fitz white on every single cover? Because in the book world, he’s clearly… not. But that’s a topic for another post.

This is the third trilogy featuring Fitz, and the fifth overall in the Elderlings series. I read all of them this year and I became a passionate fan very quickly. There’s just something about Hobb’s writing, world, and characters… even in slow moments (which, to be honest, is 85% of this book at least) it’s so compelling and comfortable feeling. It’s like being with family! The same kind of warm fuzzies I get from Harry Potter & Dresden Files. Which is basically the highest compliment.

But this was not my favorite of her books. Sure, it was a great read, but it was like that slow middle section of the last Farseer book… for 600 pages. Very slow-paced, little happens, and it seems to be mostly a setup book. There are moments of strong tragedy that are like a shock to the system after all that calm slice-of-life stuff, and I think the dark tone of the ending is really setting the stage for the next two books.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Aickman’s Heirs, edited by Simon Strantzas. Finished November 23rd. Aickman is one of the godfathers of modern horror, and while you often see story collections influenced by Poe, Ligotti, and Lovecraft (or even modern authors like Laird Barron!), it’s rare to read straight Aickman-inspired fiction, which is what drew me to this collection.

The mood of this collection is so dreary and unsettling, as you’d expect. The stories are inspired more in terms of tone and pacing than style and setting, which I enjoy: I don’t want to read Aickman fanfiction, but stories that feel like they belong in his world. Which these definitely do! But that’s also kind of a downside and what kept this from a higher rating even though the stories were all high quality. Aickman stories tend to never really explain their horror… or really give any sort of definitive conclusion. And all of these stories follow that path. Lots of buildup, lots of spooks, little emotional payoff. It’s not exactly a frustrating experience but it is like literary blue balls. I mean, it’s totally perfect for what it is, but you need to really be in the mood for some unexplainable fiction.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Witch’s Market, by Mingmei Yip. Finished November 25th. This is a strange little book that’s hard to describe. It’s about a woman doing anthropology fieldwork about witches on the Canary Islands, and she has a history of witchcraft in her own family. Sounds fascinating, right? And all of those elements, the Chinese folklore and witch myths, are great. SO many tidbits and pieces of history.

But the writing style just doesn’t match up with the content, which is a problem I’ve rarely encountered. It’s written like chick-lit or a fluffy romance. Very simplistic, with a focus on mundane details and (of course) the looks of everyone around our heroine. It’s not bad writing, it’s just really solidly mediocre. The premise is literary fiction, the writing is not. It’s so strange!

I think most people wouldn’t really enjoy this book. If you want chick-lit, the premise is way too esoteric (and the book actually turns into a murder mystery with ghosts, no joke). If you want literary fiction, it’s unbearably fluffy. But I have a degree in anthropology and a lifelong obsession with mythology, so I really enjoyed all of the information presented here, both real and made-up. I don’t think I would ever recommend this to anyone, but I did enjoy reading it.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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H.P. Lovecraft: Nightmare Countries, by S. T. Joshi. Finished November 26th. This is an interesting mix of coffee table book and biography. As such, it doesn’t give you a intensely detailed look into Lovecraft’s life and works, but has tons of interesting facts along with fascinating reproduced documents. Everything from the astronomy journal he printed as a child to a handful of letters he wrote to his will and death certificate. And the real illustration of Cthulhu! Most of his stories are also discussed, with insights into how and why they were written. Though obviously, huge spoilers if you haven’t read all of his stories.

While I loved 99% of the book, I found the last chapter (which discusses Lovecraft’s impact on the literary scene) a bit lacking. For example, Joshi states that Stephen King is kind of the anti-Lovecraft (in terms of writing style) and really only has one Lovecraftian story. Anyone who knows King knows that Randall Flagg is literally Nyarlathotep, and there are dozens of Lovecraft references peppered throughout his books and stories. So… that was kind of weird. But very worth reading if you’re a Lovecraft fan.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb. Finished November 27th. This was a big improvement over the first book! Hoenstly there’s not a lot more action, but it feels like more happens. There’s a lot more meaningful dialogue between characters, and it’s a lot less exposition-focused than Fools’ Assassin.

The main improvement is that, of course, our two main characters are finally together again! They were apart for 90% of FA and you spend a long time just waiting for them to come together. And, like Malta in the Liveship books, I went from hating a character from the first book (Shun) to growing rather fond of her… though I have mixed feelings about what happened to her character.

I’ve never had to wait for a Hobb book so the 4 months between now and the finale are going to be absolute agony.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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American Hunger, by Eli Saslow. Finished November 29th. I am a serious food stockpiler. I have enough food in my apartment to last my husband and I a month, probably 2, maybe 3 if we really stretched (in case the zombie apocalypse happens, we are ready!). Boxes of pasta, bags of rice and beans, tomato sauces and tuna cans, mac n cheese, pasta- and rice-a-roni, a freezer full of dumplings, chicken thighs, and sausage, tons of imported ramen… just a LOT of food. And the thing is, this is not insanely expensive. It’s not something I spend a lot of time or money on. We’re on a budget, and our food one is often tight, but I like to feel secure about our eating future. But for so many people in America, cupboards stocked with cheap food is literally an impossible dream.

This is kind of a soul-crushing series of articles. I know there’s poverty in America, and like most “middle class” people I deal with periods where things are very tight, often uncomfortably so. But I’ve never stopped and thought about the families who literally can’t feed their children. The ones who rely on school meals and when summer break hits the panic sets in. The families who can only afford/have access to cheap crap so they have obese kids who are starving and suffering from malnutrition. The mothers who have to chose between milk and cereal because they can’t afford them both. This book is about those people, the ones we try not to think about, the millions of suffering Americans who have it rougher than I’d imagined.

I think it’s a very important read and, thankfully, it is wonderfully written. The tone is compelling, the information and facts presented seamlessly within the narrative of these families. I was so intrigued by this that I immediately read another book on the subject, and have quite a few more in the queue. Highly recommended.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn Edin & H. Luke Shaefer. Finished November 30th. For some reason, after the soul-crushing American Hunger I thought to myself, “let’s read more depressing books about poverty!” And boy is this one a doozy. It’s about the section of America that literally lives on $2 a day–not $2 for food, $2 for every human necessity. It’s something that should be impossible in a 1st world country, yet here we are. After reading this book (and living through the election) I just… America kind of sucks.

This is a great, informative book, but the writing wasn’t nearly as good as American Hunger. I think this actually suffered in my mind because I read them back-to-back. The style here is very to-the-point, and while it follows 8 families below the $2 a day poverty line, you only get a surface level understanding of their lives. I mean, you know their circumstances intimately by the end, but I never knew them as people. For example, one of them is a woman who, in her late 20′s, got into a relationship with a 16 year old boy who ended up being physically abusive. But doesn’t that kind of…. make her a predator? 28-year-old women should not date teens. You get the impression that she is perhaps a little slow, but we don’t get enough information (especially emotional details) to really understand how she ended up in that situation.

I don’t really expect amazing narration from nonfiction, so I can’t dock it too many points for that. Everything else? Fantastic. So much research and information is presented to the reader, but so much of it stuck with me just because of the absolute shock factor. Along with American Hunger, this really changed my perspective on poverty in America.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Springtime, by Michelle de Kretser. Finished November 30th. I was drawn to this slim little novella by the cover. I’m a sucker for a pretty cover, and this (along with the ‘A Ghost Story’ subtitle) was impossible to resist. I mean, where can I buy that dress? Because I want it. And maybe the dog too.

This is a hard book to describe. It is a ghost story… kind of. Much of the character’s inner dialogue focuses on how important small details are, and how misleading a story can seem. And this is referenced, of course, directly in the plot itself. It’s an incredibly tricky little book that on the surface appears quite simple. I think it would benefit from a re-read… and it’s one of those books I honestly wish I read in a classroom. I feel like you need some meaty discussion to really understand all the moving parts.

Unfortunately, while the complicated narrative is super interesting, almost nothing else is. The plot seems quite mundane (even with a ghost) and the characters rather dull. I wanted more from this than what I got.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

246/175 Books

27/28 Series Books

66/50 TBR Books

26/15 Different Countries

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]

October Reading Wrapup: Spooktober Part II

2 Dec

The all-horror marathon continued in the second half of October! And thankfully it picked up a bit, because I was a bit slow in the first half. I never used to get in book slumps but I’ve found it happening every few months this year. I’m not really sure why, but I get in moods where I don’t want to read or none of the books I pick up hold my interest. It’s never very hard for me to get out of it, but it’s annoying as hell. I had SO many more books on my Spooktober TBR that I didn’t get to! But I did Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon again. The April one was more successful for me, (I read the same number of books both times–6–but far more pages in April) but I was very happy with the progress I made this time.

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Let The Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Finished October 22nd. This is one of those books I’ve been meaning to get to for ages. It’s a modern classic in the horror genre, and I love all the various takes on vampires we’ve been getting. So why didn’t I read it sooner? No clue. But I think the hype might have hurt this a little bit for me because it didn’t quite live up to expectations.

In many ways, this is an incredibly effective piece of horror. The characterization is fantastic, especially with our main character Oskar who is incredibly complex, and the vampire Eli. I loved their interactions and creepy/cute relationship: it read very much like a true-to-life vampire story rather than the romanticized plots we often get in this genre. The push/pull between them is absolutely the highlight of the novel for me.

As in many good horror books, this has classic horror elements but the real terror comes from humanity. Eli’s keeper/protector is a pedophile and the scenes in his head, while not overly graphic or exploitative, are so distressing. There is a group of boys picking on Oskar and any of those scenes was hard to read as well, because both of these things (child abuse and bullying) happen crushingly often in real life. Many of the characters’ relationships are also tragic: the drunk dad who Oskar wants to believe in but always lets him down, the teenager who hates his stepdad and feels like he is losing his mother, the lovers who would just could never make it work and always end up apart. It’s the sadness and tragedy of the real life, magnified. You barely even need the vampire element for all of these elements to do their job.

But there are vampire elements… a lot of them. I was actually taken aback at how gruesome and violent this book gets. Some of it is incredibly chilling and well-done, but I felt like other scenes were done purely for shock factor. It was a little TOO much in a book that didn’t need so much gore. I think the shock factor would have been more pronounced if these scenes were more spread out: they lost their effectiveness after the 20th “gross out” moment in 100 pages. I did love the more realistic vampire moments, but a lot of others just felt forced (especially the cat one, you know what I’m talking about if you read it).

I also thought there were a few too many characters and plotlines. We have tons of POV characters and one of the storylines (Tommy/Steffan) could have been cut completely without losing anything. It felt a bit bloated, especially towards the end when everything came together in a pretty halfhearted way. The Eli/Oskar/Hakan/bullies and Lacke/Virginia storylines were all this really needed.

It’s better for a book to have too much instead of not enough, but at the end of the day it just felt bloated. I found the first half far more effective and memorable (except for a few end Eli scenes).

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe, by Peter Clines. Finished October 22nd. As a kid, I was absolutely obsessed with Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson. I read each at least a dozen times, and wanted to get shipwrecked on a deserted island. It all seemed terribly romantic and probably sparked my lifelong love of survival stories. I’m also a massive Lovecraft fan, an author I discovered a few years after my Robinson/Swiss obsession but read just as many times. Add in Peter Clines, who wrote one of my favorite comedy-horrors 14, and what could go wrong? Nothing, that’s what.

I think this is really only a book you should read if you’ve read and loved both Robinson Crusoe and Lovecraft’s major works. It’s a mashup novel, so it takes the basic plot of RC and reimagines it: what if he landed on a strange Lovecraftian island full of terror? And just for fun, what if he was a werewolf too? Turns out werewolves do NOT like Cthulhu. At all.

The key elements of the book (detailed logs of survival methods, a sense of hope despite the bleak circumstances) are kept intact, as are the Lovecraftian plot points (cultists! fish people! monsters in the waves! ia! ia!). They mesh surprisingly well, and Clines adds in tons of unexpected twists and turns. There are so many subtle Lovecraft references that any fangirl or fanboy will be incredibly happy. And while all the elements are classic and well-trod, there are some events you absolutely do not see coming. And yes, the werewolf thing fits in perfectly. In fact, I think that makes it a much better book, even though at first glance you’d probably think, “okay, that’s way too much.”

I 100% can’t be objective about this book because I love all of the elements. It seriously feels like this was written for me. Sure, the writing is old-fashioned, the plot slow, the inner monologue of Crusoe repetitive. But all of these potentially negative elements are incredibly true to the original. For what this is, it’s perfect.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Vlad, by Carlos Fuentes. Finished October 22nd. The original Dracula is one of my favorite books, and one that I’ve read over and over again. I’m always drawn to retellings/reimaginings of the plot, so how could I resist Vlad? Dracula in Mexico City, where the crime is rampant and the police basically don’t care about missing people. It seems like the perfect fit–and it is, though I think that being the “plot summary” is a bit misleading.

There’s zero scenes of Dracula roaming around Mexico City. The entire novella is told from the perspective of Yves, a lawyer helping Vlad to buy a house with some very specific necessities… like blacked out windows and a drain in every room. Vlad finally finds his home and becomes very interested in Yves’ wife and daughter. It’s very much a play on the original Jonathan/Dracula/Mina scenario, though with an updated twist of course.

This is a short book, and I think that’s where it suffers for me. The original Dracula is so immersive, a world you can truly get lost in. Vlad is beautifully written and has moments of real horror (the scene with the daughters oh my god), but I never felt quite invested in it. I think that might be my own fault: this is definitely as much a critique of society in Mexico as it is a play on Dracula, and I came into it only looking for the latter. As social commentary it’s pretty scathing, but what I wanted from this was just different from what I got.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The October Country, by Ray Bradbury. Finished October 22nd. For October I really wanted to read some Halloween-feeling books, and what’s better than a short story collection by Bradbury with the month right in the title?

This is a melancholy collection, full of more sorrow than frights. While not every story hit the mark for me (when is that ever true in a collection, though?) I enjoyed the vast majority of them. And it was a really fun read for the month: I did a story a night for most of October, and it definitely added to the “seasonal” feel.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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X’s For Eyes, by Laird Barron. Finished October 22nd. If Bret Easton Ellis wrote Lovecraft fan fiction, it’d probably look a lot like this book. I tend to prefer Barron’s short stories to both his novels and novellas, and that holds true here, but it was still a rollicking romp through nightmare land. Secret corporations, espionage, demented children, cosmic horror, visceral violence, arctic exploration… and a lot more. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this as a starting point for Barron (any of his first 3 short story collections would be a much better introduction) but if you’re a fan it’s probably not to be skipped.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. Finished October 22nd. What is there to say about this book that has not already been said? It broke my heart. Again. This was actually a re-read for me during Dewey’s Readathon. I wanted to cap the night off with a beloved favorite, and I’ve had this sitting on top of my TBR pile for ages. But I wanted perfect “read before the movie” timing and it wasn’t going to get much better than this.

If you haven’t read this, you probably should. I think it has near-universal appeal in the way it deals with grief and loss. I cried the first time I read it, I cried the second time, I’ll probably sob like a little baby when I watch the movie. If you like books packed full of feels, or that whimsical/creepy vibe a lot of older children’s literature has, this cannot be missed.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Doom that Came to Gotham, by Mike Mignola. Finished October 23rd. Continuing my (apparent) Halloween theme of Lovecraft x Things I Love with a Batman crossover! Which really does seem quite natural considering that Batman has always had Lovecraft references in it (Arkham!).

This was a fun ride, and I think started off much stronger than it finished. The real problem is that there’s just SO much going on. We have every Bat-character under the sun: Batman, most of the Robins, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Penguin, Etrigan, Talia, Ras, Harvey Dent, Green Arrow… and that’s not even a comprehensive list. The story itself is a mashup of several Lovecraft tales, though it pulls most heavily from “At The Mountains of Madness.” There’s just too much story for 157 pages, at least half the cast/plot should have been cut.

Oddly enough, none of the Elder Gods are referred to by their real names, but are given “sound-alike” ones (Iog-Sotha instead of Yog-Sothoth, for example) which seemed like a weird choice given how many other authors just pull directly from the mythos without such changes. There are so many clever Lovecraft references that I think non-hardcore fans would miss (Mr. Freeze being given a Cool Air origin story, for example), and some of the villains are hard to guess if you’re not familiar with Batman, so it’s really something only fans of both will enjoy. Definitely worth the read if Batman x Lovecraft sounds appealing to you, but not as deep or interesting as it could have been.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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I Am Providence, by Nick Mamatas. Finished October 25th. You know the episodes of Supernatural that take place at their fan convention and are about the crazy fans? Imagine that level of snark and meta-ness… about a Lovecraft convention. But it’s also a murder mystery. Yeah, basically I Am Providence in an nutshell.

I kind of had a love-hate relationship with this book (though it was mostly love). It’s REALLY snarky, about both Lovecraft and the modern Lovecraftian fiction. Obviously this is meant to be satire, and since Mamatas writes in the genre it’s good-natured, but some of probably stings a little for avid Lovecraftian fans. Until you step back and say, “yeah, so you really have a point there.” At the same time, you have to be a huge fan of Lovecraft and modern mythos stuff for this book to be remotely enjoyable. So it walks a very thin line between “I love this book” and “I hate this book” for pretty much every reader, I’m sure… and I think that was 100% intentional. It’s clever and pretty brave to attempt something like this, and it was so much fun. Sure, the murder mystery itself isn’t that interesting, but the characters and mood were a blast.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Swift to Chase, by Laird Barron. Finished October 28th. Can we talk about this book cover? Because it’s perfect. Absolutely my favorite cover of the year.

It kind of kills me to not give a Laird Barron story collection 5 stars. I’m obsessed with his cosmos and his other 3 collections, and perhaps I would have enjoyed Swift to Chase a little more if I wasn’t such a fangirl. Which seems weird to say, right? But Swift goes in a very different direction than his previous work, and is more tonally in line with the novellas he’s been putting out. Darker, more violent, but with less oppressive cosmic horror and more of a grit-lit feel.

That’s not so say that he has totally dumped his previous cosmos. But this book feels like it was written in a world… adjacent to his previous ones. There are a few mentions of the Black Guide and the Leech, but Swift introduces different cosmic elements into play and they’re far more the focus of these stories. It doesn’t feel tightly knit together with his other stories… which makes sense, since in the introduction it’s mentioned that Swift will be part of a “new trilogy” of story collections.

I feel like I’m coming off quite negative! Don’t get me wrong, this is an amazing collection, and the later half in particular delivers all the creep and terror I want from a Laird Barron collection. I just feel like the first section is a bit weaker–though other readers seem to think it’s some of his best work, so don’t take my word for it!

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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A Night in Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny. Finished October 31st. This was my October “project.” it’s a book with 31 chapters, one taking place on each night of October, and I read them one-a-day for the entire month. Okay, one day I fell asleep early and read 2 the following night, but other than that I was right on time! Which, I think, really enhanced the experience. This is a super quick read and quite short, so I don’t think I would have liked it as much if I breezed through.

Told from the point of view of a wizard (of sorts)’s familiar, who happens to be a dog, this is the tale of a Halloween Game. The reader doesn’t learn what the Game really is until the last few chapters: our narrator, Snuff, speaks to the reader and other characters as if we’re all equally in the know and never feels the need to explain anything. It’s clever, and everything comes together so seamlessly in the end. Plus, lots of guest appearances by famous horror characters and monsters! Most of the players in the Game are literary characters, though it takes a while to figure out who is what.

This is a really unique take on the comedy horror genre: most of the main characters are the animal familiars, rather than the actual players, and the perspective is drastically different because of that.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

 

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Greener Pastures, by Michael Wehunt. Finished October 31st. Somehow October went from “spooky book month” to “New Weird author month” in the last few weeks. Every time I went to rate a book Michael Wehunt’s Greener Pastures popped up and it was obviously a sign from the reading gods. Also I can’t stick to a set schedule of books and impulsively read anything that looks new and shiny, and boy oh boy was this looking shiny to me in October.

Thankfully, it’s one of the best things I read this month, probably only topped by The Fisherman (which is, like, top 5 of 2016 for me). Every story in here is a glimmering jewel of horror. Some stories are pure nightmare fuel, others are subdued and quiet horror, but they are consistently amazing. I don’t think there was a dud in the whole collection. And it switches tone so artfully: there’s everything from a House of Leaves inspired piece of metafiction to a love story riddled with body horror to a more traditional (but twisted) possession tale. A little something for everyone, but I think the appeal of most of them stretches way beyond the horror/new weird genre. If you like Laird Barron, John Langan, Paul Tremblay, or any of the writers in that circle this is a must read. Absolutely cannot recommend it enough.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

So as you can see, October was a very successful month for me! Not my best of the year, but close, and I had quite a few 5-star reads. Sometimes I worry that I’m a little too fast-and-loose with my star ratings because I know some people are VERY strict with them, but whatever, I try to rate based on how a book makes me feel. Not every 5-star book is equal in my heart, obviously, but it’s more a scale of enjoyment than “this is objectively amazing.” Because where’s the fun in that?

Reading Challenge Goals

230/175 Books

24/35 Series Books

63/50 TBR Books

24/15 Different Countries

October Reading Wrapup: Spooktober Part I

16 Nov

I’m sorry this wrapup is so late, but October was a busy month… and November has been a rough one. After an action-packed few weeks I suffered from election hangover (both metaphorical and literal) but now I’m back on track! My November reading has suffered a little but this is about October, the spookiest month. For years I’ve wanted to do an all-horror reading month for Halloween and I finally did it in 2016! All horror, all month. It was a blast, though I am sure I’ll be tired of the genre for quite some time.

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The Trespasser, by Tana French. Finished October 3rd. So this isn’t technically a horror novel, but 1) Tana French goes to the top of my TBR no matter the situation and 2) a lot of people consider crime/thrillers totally fine for a spooky book read. So, it counts! Technically.

I’m a massive Tana French fangirl. Eventually I’ll have a whole series of posts on her Dublin Murder Squad books, which this is the 6th book in. Suffice to say, it’s one of my favorite series, and Ms. French has basically ruined the mystery genre for me because I’ve never found anything nearly as good. And this one was, like all the others (except maybe Faithful Place which I didn’t love) fantastic. It’s a bit more by-the-books than some of her others at first glance: a deceptively simple case, characters we’ve already gotten to know well, and not-so-complicated relationships. But this is Tana French, so of course things get hinky. She plays with the unreliable narrator (which we haven’t really seen since In The Woods!), and our MC might be in actual, physical danger. The case itself isn’t as intriguing as some of the others, but the character development and writing are, as always, stunning.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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White, by Tim Lebbon*. Finished October 4th. Winter-themed horror is something I always want to love, but am constantly disappointed by. Snow, The Shuddering… it’s usually just bad. I mean, we also have stuff like At The Mountains of Madness, but modern “snow horror” tends to leave me feeling very un-spooked. I had middling success with Tim Lebbon’s The Silence and thought, “hey, that guy’s okay, let’s read some creepy snow stuff for Spooktober!”

This was an okay book. The bad guys (bad… entities? bad ghosts?) were inventive and certainly original. The snowy setting was quite effective: our main characters are snowbound in a remote mansion while they watch the world end on tv. They’re technically only 5 miles from town, but with the snow several feet deep getting there is an impossible task. Eventually, the tv and radio go out. What happened to the world outside? And what are the strange white creatures they’ve been seeing out of the corner of their eyes?

However, the length really hurts the mood and storytelling. It’s quite short, barely novella length. It’s easier to categorize this as a lengthy short story. And while the cast is small, I felt like we never really got to know anyone. A lot of time is spent setting up events: what’s happening now, what happened before. There’s little time for any character development or discoveries, and we find out literally nothing about the white things OR what happened outside. Which, in a longer book where we got more hints and ominous background information, would be fine. But I found this overall a frustrating read: it had a lot of potential, and I think there was way too much crammed into about 60 pages. It wasn’t a bad book, and it was an easy read, but it’s nothing I will look back fondly on.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Nightmares & Dreamscapes, by Stephen King. Finished October 10th. I love Stephen King, and I especially love his short stories. As the reigning king of horror, I of course had to read something by him this month, and short stories seemed the way to go. I’ve read many of his other collections (Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Everything’s Eventual) and loved all of them. This one, sadly, didn’t have as much of an effect on me.

There were gems, of course–I loved “Dolan’s Cadillac,” “Home Delivery,” and “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band.” But overall, I think only “Band” will stick with me: they were pleasant enough (well, not pleasant… you know what I mean) but not as spectacular and horrifying as his usual work.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Witches of Lychford, by Paul Cornell. Finished October 11th. Novellas are always a tricky subject for me. There are quite a few I love (Diamond Dogs, Every Heart a Doorway, This Census-Taker) but usually I am left wanting. It’s very hard to strike a balance of decent characters and worldbuilding and a contained plot in such a short page count without it feeling like an overly long short story or a too short novel. To me, a novella has to feel like a full story even if it’s part of a series and basically setting up a world.

This comes SO close to being that perfect balance for me. The urban fantasy world that’s set up is very interesting: it’s not totally unique (town on the border of magical realms has been done nearly to death) but it’s handled in a clever way that felt fresh and not derivative. There’s certainly a ton of room for expansion here, and it’s clearly meant to be the first in the series. But… that’s also kind of my problem. It very much feels like “first novel, setting up the world” but it’s even shorter than your usual “setting shit up” UF book. The plot takes a backseat to worldbuilding and character introduction, to the point where I barely cared about the actual story because it was clear that anything resolved in ~100 pages wasn’t going to be very dramatic. I just never felt any tension even though the stakes were quite high.

Of course there are lots of positives. As I mentioned, I enjoyed the world, but it’s really the characters that shine. We have a group of three “witches” who are quite diverse: there’s Judith, the traditional trope-y older witch, but even she manages to feel unique. There’s Lizzie, a Reverend who is questioning her faith after the death of her boyfriend. And finally Autumn, who runs the New Age store but doesn’t believe in magic. All three were very interesting but their dynamic together was pure magic. We get amazing exchanges like this:

“So,” she said, “that’s a fairy.”
“Yeah,” whispered Autumn.
“He didn’t look like a fairy.”
“What were you expecting?”
“For him to look like a fairy.”

These ladies are high sass all the time. I’m definitely going to continue the series because I think now that we’ve had “meet the characters, learn about the world” the others will be more emotionally deep and have fuller stories. I just wish that this had been longer OR had less plot and focused just on introductory things.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Graveyard Apartment, by Mariko Koike*. Finished October 13th. I think there was a lot of potential here, but The Graveyard Apartment never really delivered. I feel like I’d been on a streak of mediocre horror when I read this, and while this was almost great it never really quite raised up out of “just okay.”

The mood of this book is definitely the strong point. It’s a very slow-burn horror, with ominous moments through the first half that really notch up the tension. It’s the type of horror that I think would be way more effective in a visual format (this would make a fantastic movie): it’s SO slow-burn that at times you almost forget you’re reading horror until another unsettling event occurs. And the book itself is highly visual, easy to picture in your head–especially the more horror-driven scenes towards the end.

I’m a fan of slow-burn horror but it was almost too slow for even me. The last 25% of the book is drastically different from the rest and far more frightening–while reading I kept wishing that it had been divided up a little more evenly. The events that kick off the last quarter could have easily happened halfway through and given us a solid half a book of high-octane terror. It’s disturbing, unsettling, and features a really interesting mix of supernatural and survival horror. While I loved the end sections, they actually just served to show how unnaturally slow the pace is through the beginning part.

The character development was also a little lacking. I know horror isn’t a genre known for its great characters, but everyone here (aside from Misao, the mother, who I really liked) felt like thin paper cutouts. So when they were all shoved together at the end, I felt like the tension between them was a bit flat. If we had a better look at their motivations, it would have been far more effective. So overall this was an “almost great but actually just okay” book in basically every aspect. Disappointing, because it’s clear that the potential is there.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Fisherman, by John Langan. Finished October 16th. In the first half of October, I read a lot of mediocre horror. It wasn’t bad, but it was disappointing–which was a shame, because horror is one of my favorite genres. Thankfully, John Langan once again saved the day. I read one of his short story collections last year and was so smitten by his unique brand of cosmic-horror-meets-classic-tropes. Plus, a ton of it is set in the Hudson Valley where I grew up! Including this book, which is set like half an hour from my hometown. Awesome, but also now I’m really scared of the reservoir. Thanks Langan.

This is hands down my favorite book I read in October, and one of my favorites of the year. It’s about a man dealing with grief after his wife dies. He turns to fishing and eventually finds a fishing companion suffering through a similar loss. Sounds like the plot of a dry but well-written literary fiction novel but this is definitely horror. The two guys discover a hidden stream and the sordid history behind it… and of course decide to go fishing there themselves.

The structure is quite interesting. Right in the middle we get the story of Fisherman’s Creek, which is at least a third of the novel and comes basically without warning. We’re with our main characters in a diner, and suddenly it switches to historical fiction horror. A bold choice, and it works beautifully. The tone instantly goes from lightly ominous to intensely terrifying, and ramps up as we finish the tale and then dive back into the “real” plot.

I loved everything about this. The tone, the atmosphere, the twisty plot, the deep look we get into the psyche of our main character. It’s pure yet complex horror, and it goes in a really amazing direction. Langan obviously is part of the current weird horror movement, but his stuff feels so unique and distinctly his own. I’m definitely a rabid fan now and really can’t recommend this enough for horror fans.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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HEX, by  Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Finished October 20th. As I mentioned, I have a huge weakness for books set near my hometown in the Hudson Valley. Probably because it happens so rarely, and when it does it’s almost always in horror, one of my favorite genres. I inexplicably read not one but TWO horror novels set in the Hudson Valley recently, and this one is basically set in a fictional version of my teeny tiny hometown (at least the English version is–I know it was re-written from the original for this translation). Only, you know, it’s haunted by a 300 year old witch who has her eyes and mouth sewn shut.

While the premise (a haunted town you can’t leave without wanting to commit suicide) is horrifying, there are moments of pure comedy in here. In the opening scene, the witch Katherine appears in a family’s living room while they are eating. Everyone sighs, used to her weird habits, and they drape a towel over her head so they don’t have to look at her face. There are other lighthearted moments where the teens of the town play a series of ridiculous pranks on her, but despite these scenes it’s quite a dark book. Funny, but dark.

The premise is very ‘Blair Witch’ and Thomas Heuvelt plays with the concept a lot. A few of the teens of the town have started secretly filming the witch and prepare on releasing some viral videos of her… things obviously don’t go according to their plan. And I really wasn’t expecting the direction this book went in. It’s darker and more unsettling than your typical “supernatural witch horror” because so many of the moments of terror rely on the depths and darkness of human nature rather than jumpy spooks. It really twists your expectations on their head.

Despite its strengths (truly effective horror, a great setting, original concept, the humor) it’s not a book without flaws. Some events felt a little disjointed, and others intentionally over-the-top for the shock factor. There’s also a very large cast of characters, and while most of them get decent to great character development, others (especially the “villains”) are really lacking. I feel like there also should have been more lead-up to the end: the last 10% or so is really intense but a bit too fast-paced and at times I was almost lost with what was going on and who was where.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

As you can probably tell, Spooktober did not start off that well. There was really only one stand-out book (The Fisherman), though honestly I’d be happy if that was the only book I read for the first half of the month. It was that good. Thankfully, the second half of the month really picked up and I read a ton of great horror overall in October.

Reading Challenge Goals

219/175 Books

24/35 Series Books

61/50 TBR Books

23/15 Different Countries

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

May 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part II

2 Jun

The first week of May was a great one for reading. The rest of the month? Maybe not so much. In terms of number of books read nothing much has changed (in fact May was very high in that regard) but my reading was all over the place. I skimped on my goals (only one series book read, and 1/3rd of the tbr books that I did in April). I also read a lot of lackluster novels. I think this is because I am in a major reading slump that started mid-month: nothing I pick up holds my attention, and I’ve found myself bouncing from book to book without settling down. I started a bunch of books that I really should love (authors/series I adore) but couldn’t get more than 10 pages in before giving up. So I spent most of the month reading “fast” books, ones that grab you and reel you in but are totally forgettable the moment you put them down. Yeah, not the best, but at least I got something done!

Strap in, because this is a long one. I originally intended to do weekly posts for May, but I guess because of my slumpy-ness I thought I didn’t tackle that much this month. I was horribly, horribly wrong. We’ve got a lot of books coming up.

[...]

November 2015 Wrapup: Weeks 1 & 2

17 Nov

I had kind of a bumpy start to November, which is why I didn’t do a wrapup for week 1. I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted my reading to go in and felt generally kind of slump-y. Actually, I’ve been doing a lot of dual-week wrapups which you might have noticed. I’m still trying to figure out if weekly or bi-weekly is best: I’d like to stick to one format, but it really depends on how many books I finish in a week! I mean, does anyone want a weekly update if I only finish 1 or 2 books? But if I do 5 in a week, I don’t want to wait until the next one to review. It’s a conundrum. Anyway, let’s get into the reading adventures!

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by JK Rowling. Finished November 3rd. So in the beginning of November I felt kind of lost. Most months I have a theme (like October was horror) or I pick out a series. My to-read list is intimidatingly long, so I always have something to pick from. But I don’t know what it is about November… it’s my least-favorite month, I feel the most blue, and I just didn’t know what to do with my (reading) self. So, back to comfort food, which for me is Stephen King, Harry Potter, or one of my favorite books. I went with a combo: my favorite Harry Potter! I don’t know how many times I’ve read this, so does it even count? But this time no skim reading, I took my time and felt all those good nostalgia tingles.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Brady VS Manning, by Gary Meyers. Finished November 5th. So I’ve probably never mentioned it on this blog, but I have a passionate love of football. I’ve been watching it practically my whole life, but oddly I’ve never combined my love of books and love of football. My mom actually downloaded this one and asked me if I wanted to buddy read it and I was like, hell yes! Finally, these two areas of my life are combined!

If you don’t like football, this is not the book for you. Even if you do like football, it might not be for you. If you like reading endless stats, checking rankings on 6 different sites every week, scrolling through every article about your favorite team… then man, you are gonna love this. It’s filled with an insane amount of details, stats, and anecdotes about (of course) Brady and Manning. I love Manning and hate Brady (though baby Eli is my fave, of course) but even I felt bad for Brady while reading his backstory. This isn’t a perfect book, though: the writing is kind of dry and repetitive, and I feel like there was more about Brady than there was Manning (plus Meyers skims over the Eli/Brady rivalry). In terms of enjoyment based purely on my nerd-like love of football, this was 5 stars. Based on writing, probably 3. So I tried to round the rating out right in the middle.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. Finished November 8th. As you can see, I was all over the place in the first week of November. People kept mentioning this book right along with A Little Life in terms of their favorites of the year and for some reason I thought “hey, I could really go for some dense and depressing literary fiction!” And that was such a good decision, because I LOVED it, and it really got me back in the mood for reading. I went into this expecting a book about marriage with two unlikeable main characters, because that is what basically every review frames it as. But that’s not what Fates & Furies is at all. It is a book about a marriage, but it is not really a book about marriage as a theme or institution. And the main characters are far from good, but they are hardly unlikeable. They’re complex and wonderfully real.

This book is really about deception, betrayal, and revenge. It’s subtle, and doesn’t really come together until the end, but it does so beautifully. There is also the question of memory, perception, and whether our actions really matter in the grand scheme of things, a theme I really adore. What makes something the “true” version of events when everyone remembers it differently? Does it even matter? I could say SO much about this book (and have!) so you can check out a more in-depth review here.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge. Finished November 12th. I wasn’t really feeling like a long fantasy series for November, so I turned to scifi! Because let’s be honest, those are the genres that most often have series. I picked this book kind of at random, but I guess not really randomly because my dad recommended it to me a few months ago right around when I read Axis. While I love most forms of science fiction, my favorites are definitely space horror and space opera: the more epic the better. So this, a super epic space opera, is right in my wheelhouse. It also has one of my favorite, and super-obscure, features: when a book combines the story of a very high-tech world with a very low-tech one (as seen in The Void trilogy and the last book in the Revelation Space series). Part of A Fire Upon The Deep takes place in an advanced civilization with crazy tech and aliens (including talking coral), while the other is on a medieval world with some of the craziest aliens I’ve ever met. I won’t spoil it, but they are just… amazing.

The world here is EPIC. You could easily set 10 books in it and still have enticing material. The premise is that the galaxy is divided into zones that limit what technology works. There’s the Unthinking Deep, which is at the center and where basically nothing works; the Slowness (where humanity started out and only basic tech functions); the Beyond, which is super high-tech; and the Transcend, where post-physical all-powerful beings dwell. The plot goes between the zones, and gives us what is essentially a light-years-long high speed chase (awesome!). I don’t want to give away much of the plot, but if you like scifi that gives you that sense of wonder, read this. You won’t regret it! Unless you do. Then you can blame me.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Slow Bullets, by Alastair Reynolds. Finished November 12th. As you might have guessed, November is going to be scifi month! After A Fire Upon The Deep I wanted more. I loved the Revelation Space series and there’s many Alastair Reynolds books I haven’t read, so I decided to dive into the newest one. This is actually a novella, so it’s kind of impossible to even describe the basic plot without spoilers (I would recommend not reading a synopsis before diving in). It reminded me of how much I love Reynolds: his bleak worlds, the amazing fresh ideas, his strong female characters and grey morality. I loved every single aspect of this. If you like happier, bright scifi with a sense of hope this might not be for you. But if you like a more cynical worldview, you should definitely try out Reynolds.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King. Finished November 15th. I was so bummed that this book didn’t come out in October (since, you know, spooky book month) and then I totally forgot about it. Oops! Better late than never. I love King and his short stories are definitely my favorite thing he does, so of course I had to read his new collection. Unlike his earlier ones, Skeleton Crew and Night Shift, this contains a mix of horror and straighter literary fiction. Of course there’s an element of the macabre in everything he touches, but this collection is definitely lighter on the horror. There are almost no monsters! I know, crazy. But it still reads like classic King.

We have a car story, quite a few dissolving marriages (including the amazing “Morality,” which is already one of my favorites of his), sad tales of aging parents, creepy evil kids (like in “Bad Little Kid” one of my favorites from the collection), stories clearly reflective of King’s addictive past and his post-accident pain, and of course a classic apocalyptic tale (“Summer Thunder” which is so brilliant and it almost made me cry, because sad animal stuff). There were, as always, a few duds (“Premium Harmony,” “The Dune,” and “Blockade Billy” didn’t really do much for me) but were more than balanced out by the good. The longer stories, like “Ur” and “Obits” were just spectacular. A really well-rounded collection.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Grownup, by Gillian Flynn. Finished November 15th. Two years ago, when I did my first 52 book challenge, I devoured all of Gillian Flynn’s books (Sharp Objects was my favorite).  I’ve been waiting patiently for a new one, but with all of her movie work it seems like we might be waiting a few more years. But in between, a bit of Flynn in the form of a short story. It was actually originally published in Rouges, a short story collection, but I have such an aversion to R.R. Martin that I skipped it. Thankfully a solo version has been released.

I have mixed feelings on this. It’s got all the traits of her work: a morally ambiguous and ambitious female protagonist, manipulative people, twists and turns, and the stereotypical dark undertone we’ve come to expect. But it was WAY too short, and the various twists at the end were way too close together and felt incredibly rushed. I would have enjoyed this a lot more as a novella, with more time given to flesh out the characters & motivations. The ending was just too ambiguous, and we don’t have enough information to make an informed decision about what we “think” happened. Enjoyable enough for a short read, but also kind of disappointing.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

52 Book Challenge: Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

12 Jul

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{Proceed with caution, mid-level spoilers all up in this bitch}

Novellas are great. I love them… usually. It is a nice format: more meat than a short story, but with less filling than a novel. You can execute amazing things in a novella. Just look at At The Mountains of Madness. That’s right, a whole plot can fit into a novella. But I think someone forgot to tell Karen Russell that.

Sleep Donation starts out with an amazing amount of promise. It’s in a near-dystopian future where chronic insomnia has become a rampant disorder, plaguing thousands of people and eventually leading to death of not treated. No drugs work. The only thing that does work is a dream infusion–basically like a blood infusion, but with fresh, sweet dreams. And like blood, someone has to donate those dreams.

Our main character, Trish, is a woman who works at a sleep donation center. Her sister was one of the disease’s first victims, and she uses this story to woo potential donors into becoming real donors. This is the backdrop, but the plot is driven by two opposing forces: one good, and one bad.

The good: Trish has found a miracle child. Baby A has sleep so pure, a single infusion of hers can completely cure victims of this fatal insomnia. The bad: a man managed to sneak through the rigorous testing pre-donation and is spreading a nightmare so horrible people are rejecting donations: they would rather not sleep than face the terror within.

But neither of these are as good or evil as they sound. The baby has to be milked to the extreme for sleep. The man is not a villain at all, but was unaware of his nightmare. It’s a race to get Baby A’s dreams to as many victims of the nightmare as possible before they die, voluntarily, of insomnia.

And… that’s it. Things reach a crescendo, and it ends. Just. Ends. We never find out what exactly the nightmare was. Character development comes to an awkward halt. Sleep Donation reads like half of a novel, not like a novella. It’s unfinished, and brutally so, because it was really fucking good. And I’m kind of mad that I’ll never find out the actual ending.

Rating

Book 52 Sleep Donation

Lipstick Rating 3 Full