Pretty books: Recent acquisitions

So my attempts to journal my reading here have fallen by the wayside, other than the occasional recommendations of books I loved. If you’re that interested in the minutiae of what I read (some people are–it’s crazy!), you can always check out my thread on LibraryThing.

I still like to share my acquisitions, especially when they are pretty. Lately I’ve been on a ghost story kick. Here are three ghost stories I recently picked up.

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Very pretty, aren’t they? The first one is a novel; the other two are short stories.

Reading Journal: Beginning of April

It’s been over a month since I’ve posted a reading journal update. Most of my reading has lately not-so-inspiring–although I did enjoy reading Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor so much that I wrote a rather long response to it.

far_north_therouxAnother post-apocalyptic book I enjoyed was Far North by Marcel Theroux. It is set in post-climate change Siberia and is also about a woman’s journey. Also recommended is John Scalzi’s Lock Inwhich is a near future thriller with a lot of intriguing ideas.

Newer fiction was a bit of a letdown. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins is buzz-worthy dark fantasy, and the style reminds me quite a lot of Neil Gaiman, but it seemed too heavy on the horror with not enough emotional connectivity to fully engage me. Ditto for the post-apocalyptic novel The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy–strong shades of The Stand and Swan Song, but not nearly the emotional punch of those classics.

Some horror by women: A romance-heavy ghost story by Alexandra Sokoloff, The Unseen (which is set very near where I lived in Durham, NC), came across as muddled. The Cipher by Kathe Koja is much better written horror, but somewhat overlong for the premise. It’s about a hole (a “Funhole”) that’s a portal of sorts, and it changes things … and people. This is a concept that’s hard to summarize. However, I did think it should have been closer to novella length.

26883558Victor LaValle’s new novella, The Ballad of Black Tom, is very well written, and interesting in that it is both an homage to H.P. Lovecraft and a refutation of his racism. It is a retelling of one of Lovecraft’s most notoriously xenophobic stories, “The Horror at Red Hook” (amusing summary here). LaValle very cleverly turns Lovecraft in on itself to offer a different version of events, one that underscores the racism of the time as it really existed and in the writing and reading of Lovecraft and others. However, it is still Lovecraftian, and I have never been a fan of anything Lovecraft. If you are, it is worth a read.

Both The Cipher and The Ballad of Black Tom have a cipher; a portal into nothingness; a figure inside that you do not want to see. It was interesting reading them back-to-back.

An homage of a different sort is James Maxey’s Bad Wizarda return to Oz. This self-published book is a lightweight adventure that takes place after Dorothy is all grown up. Like the LaValle, it’s a cheap buy for Kindle.

Currently, I’m back to horror, reading the enthralling A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. I hope to be reading more new fiction over the next few months and posting reviews more regularly. I hope you find something in this roundup that catches your fancy!

Reading journal: Mid-February

Reading has slowed down, although I have one new recommendation to post shortly. I reread The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin with my son, which I think was a bit too old for him, but I still love it.

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I also reread Dracula on audio. I last read Dracula as a pre-teen or youngish teen. I don’t remember exactly when, but I do remember the book: it was a large hardcover, text printed in columns, with deep blue and black illustrations. I wonder what happened to it. My current edition is also lovely, from Penguin Classics. I have to admit that I’m amazed at what my younger self read all the way to the end. Of course, back then we didn’t have video games, tablets, DVDs (or even VCRs), or personal computers. We had three television stations. (I’m making it sound like the way-back old days, but truthfully, I am not that old–things have changed a lot!) There wasn’t much to do but read, and I was game for just about anything.

Does it hold up? It’s a trifle bloated, more than a trifle sexist, very purple at times, a touch anticlimactic, but still has so many wonderfully scary parts. What can top Dracula crawling headfirst down the wall of his castle? So I’d say yes, it holds up. There’d be no vampires without him.

I finished an interesting ghost story by an Icelandic author: I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. It’s fun exploring a familiar genre from a new point of view. I’m following it up with a vampire story, Let Me In by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist. A lot of snow and desolate places in my reading right now.

New acquisitions! I treated myself to several collections focusing on specific genres.

 

Reading journal: January wrap-up

Not full reviews or even necessarily recommendations, just some notes on what I’ve been reading.

I will never read all the dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction out there, but I keep trying. This month I read a very early apocalypse story by Jack London: The Scarlet Plague (free to read online). This short story feels like an ur-story for George Stewart’s Earth Abides (also set in San Francisco). It doesn’t really have a plot; rather, it’s just a description of civilization’s quick fall from disease and a meditation on how easily humanity could return to savagery. Frequent readers of apocalyptic fiction will recognize a lot of ideas that were later fleshed out by other writers, but London should get credit for being one of the first. This might also be considered an early steampunk story, as well. London’s vision of the future–the plague hits in 2013–includes dirigibles and steam power, as well as some radically altered version of U.S. government. However, it’s also terribly classist and sexist. But it’s short enough to read in one sitting and would be of interest to anyone studying this genre of fiction.

I also read Margaret Atwood’s latest dystopia: The Heart Goes Last. (I linked to the NYT review, which I pretty much agree with.) Not every book by a favorite author can be great (with the exception of Jane Austen). Inevitably, a disappointment comes along, and here comes one from an author who is a personal hero of mine. Atwood’s messaging regarding security and freedom is pretty heavy-handed, the sexual content is more than a little disturbing, and the end just left me cold. It feels like a throw-off and certainly in no way resembles Atwood’s more masterful dystopias, Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid’s Tale.

I do have a book recommendation to post soon, and I am just starting another post-apocalyptic novel: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins. 

Reading journal: Ringing in 2016

This year, I’ve decided to post snippets from my ongoing reading journal that aren’t full reviews, just thoughts about what I’m reading and what I want to read. This will possibly be terribly dull; I’ll let you decide. Here’s what I’ve been reading since the start of the year — a lot of short books!

I started with the The End Is Now. This is a second in a series of short story anthologies called the “Apocalypse Triptych.”  This stories in this volume take place during the apocalypse, and many continue from where the stories in Volume 1 left off. It wasn’t as good as Volume 1. There were several zombie stories. What is the fascination with zombies, anyway? Seriously, they’re not that interesting. I’m over zombies altogether. Totally.

I also finished The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes, a noir thriller published by New York Review Books in their classics line (reviewed previously). I liked Hughes’ taut writing, but particularly enjoyed her setting of 1960s Phoenix, Arizona, so much so that I’m planning to read  more books set in the Southwest. I wonder how many I’ll get through before I get tired of desert settings?

Unfortunately, the library is hampering my plans to read more in the Southwest. I am on the waiting list for one request, the other is coming from somewhere else (possibly Nepal), and the third turned out to be almost 700 pages long, which is more than I’m willing to gamble on a new-to-me writer. Honestly, what is with all the big bloat? I understand that some stories legitimately take 600+ pages to tell, and if the writing is good and the story is enthralling, I’m willing to put in the time. But I seriously doubt that so many books have to be that long. Ideal length for me is around 350 pages, especially if I’m just getting to know the writer.

Anyway, in the meantime, I knocked out Edward Abbey’s Black Sun, which is set in the Southwest and is very short. The writing is lovely, especially in reference to nature, but it was written in the early ’70s (and shows it), and Abbey’s attitude toward women is… cringe-worthy, at the least.

Since I’d just read another noir novel, The Expendable Man, I thought I’d also go ahead and knock out The Maltese Falcon, which I already had on my shelf (still waiting for library books). Eh, it was better than The Thin Man, but as a writer, Hammett doesn’t come close to Raymond Chandler. He’s good with dialogue, though, which is probably why his books made such great movies–better than the books, in my opinion. I’ll give this one props for helping to invent a genre and a ton of tropes. And I think I’m done with crime noir for the time being.

I’m a sucker for gorgeous book covers, so check out these beauties, all of which I own.

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After a detour to California, The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi came in from the library, and it is near-perfect length, 370 pages. It’s set in Nevada and Arizona, so continuing my Southwest streak…