books

52 in 52 Update

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I can’t tell if I’m well ahead of schedule (5 months to finish another 11 books) or if I’m behind (5 months to finish another 11 books…). I did reactivate my library card-I want access to free Ebooks. The upside to this is that a good chunk of my Amazon wishlist is relatively new releases-which is primarily what Overdrive offers. So I should be able to read books I’ve been wanting to read, for free, with no commitment (the fact that you can’t get a late fine with Overdrive is also appealing). Buffalo, if you have a Kindle, get an Erie County card and use Overdrive.

  1. A Murder in Mount Moriah
  2. Hairspray and Homicide
  3. A Mouthful of Murder
  4. Green Lake
  5. Pineapple Lies: A Pineapple Port Cozy Mystery
  6. Who Murdered Mr. Malone?
  7. The Shining
  8. Dead Leaves
  9. Mechantula
  10. Ted Saves the World
  11. Haunted New York
  12. Murder Under Construction
  13. Murder on the Page
  14. Death Takes a Trip
  15. Sharcano
  16. I Bring the Fire Part 1
  17. Dead Shifter Walking
  18. A Head Full of Ghosts
  19. Shifty Magic
  20. The Long Way Down
  21. A Feral Darkness
  22. A Narco History
  23. The Virginian
  24. The Halloween Host
  25. Halloween Tales
  26. At the Sign of the Jack o Lantern
  27. Crazy Little Thing
  28. Only Yesterday
  29. Grim Tidings
  30. Walking After Midnight: Tales for Halloween
  31. Death of Addie Gray
  32. Owning Your Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche
  33. Urban Shaman
  34. Just Add Trouble
  35. Misadventures of the Laundry Hag: Skeletons in the Closet
  36. The Sweet Dreams Bake Shop
  37. The Creature from the Bridgewater Triangle and other Odd Tales From New England
  38. Three Promises: An American Faerie Tale Collection
  39. The Bucolic Plague
  40. Money Secrets of the Amish
  41. The Worst Noel

 

Sharcano

Sharcano

Jose Prendes

420 Pages

Accessed as an Ebook

4.99 at the time of review

I have to be completely honest with you, I have no idea why I have a copy of Sharcano, and I really wasn’t expecting much.

I’m not necessarily cheating with my 52 in 52 Challenge, but I might be picking books that are easy reads on the bus. When I found Sharcano I couldn’t really figure out why I have have it (I have a massive shark phobia, for one) and it’s not really a genre I read frequently. I’m not a monster or a natural disaster girl.

To get the main weakness of the novel addressed up front: if you’re the type of person who needs a tight writing style you’re not going to into this novel. This book reads more like the way that my coworkers and I talk to each other than a book, it feels like a conversation with a lot of very casual narration. However, Prendes is capable of presenting a story that’s surreal and paced fast enough to overcome the slightly unconventional story telling technique.

And the story really is surreal-sharks, volcanoes, mythical beings…the narrative is actually goofball enough to be entertaining while being just grounded enough to be so unbelievable as to not be readable (the fact the characters are consistently stopping and asking, wait, what? helps; I don’t know if I could handle this book if everyone were wandering around saying, ok, I’m completely on board with this). It’s hard to describe this novel without giving away too much of a plot twist that I honestly didn’t see coming. Other readers may have seen it coming, but I have to admit I didn’t.

It is 2014 and volcanoes are erupting out of nowhere-volcanoes that have been quiet for thousands of years. People are dying and no one knows why-and there are reports that people are being eaten. But by what? And why is the Vatican so interested?

Not a traditional monster novel, or a disaster novel, or an end of the world novel, the book is actually highly enjoyable. There are a few aspects that read like plot holes, but Sharcano is the first in the trilogy so hopefully they are addressed in the rest of the series.

 

52 in 52

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I admit I need to back track a little with this post; I’ve not had a chance to sit down and blog about this yet-and I’m already four days late.

Better late than never.

I am giving myself a challenge for the next twelve months: I want to read 52 books between November 1st 2015 to November 1st 2016. I am horribly, horribly backlogged on books. I have something like 1,100 in my Kindle library…that level of backlogged.

So I am putting myself on this goal. I will be reviewing the ones that strike me to, but I read -a lot-of cozy mysteries and I don’t want overwhelm you, readers. To that end I will be updating this post with a running list and total.

  1. A Murder in Mount Moriah
  2. Hairspray and Homicide
  3. A Mouthful of Murder
  4. Green Lake
  5. Pineapple Lies: A Pineapple Port Cozy Mystery
  6. Who Murdered Mr. Malone?
  7. The Shining
  8. Dead Leaves
  9. Mechantula
  10. Ted Saves the World
  11. Haunted New York
  12. Murder Under Construction
  13. Murder on the Page
  14. Death Takes a Trip
  15. Sharcano
  16. I Bring the Fire Part 1
  17. Dead Shifter Walking
  18. A Head Full of Ghosts
  19. Shifty Magic
  20. The Long Way Down
  21. A Feral Darkness
  22. A Narco History
  23. The Virginian
  24. The Halloween Host
  25. Halloween Tales
  26. At the Sign of the Jack o Lantern
  27. Crazy Little Thing
  28. Only Yesterday

The Aeschylus

The Aeschylus

David Barclay

402 pages

Accessed as an ebook

$0.99 on Amazon at the time of review

I start a lot of books for review that I eventually give up on. It’s not uncommon. It’s generally a lot of urban fantasies and the like; there are a lot of tropes that just turn me off of a book almost instantly.

Every so often though I get my hands on a book that I thought I would hate and then find myself really enjoying. I really liked this one. Not quite horror but not quite scifi, definitely Lovecraft twinged but self deferential if not meta, with enough darkness to keep this from being just another ‘thing from outer space’ indie scifi novel but enough scifi to keep it from being another creature feature novel.

I normally don’t like books that dump the reader into the middle of the action (yes, this novel does that) with little or no true back story to the events. I’m okay with the plot not being wrapped up into a neat package at the end of the story, but I like to know what I’m headed into. Even if it’s just a Romero style ‘and there was a zombie in the graveyard’ I want to know what has been going on to get a grasp of the world. Aeschylus doesn’t really do that. There¬† is something floating off the South American coast. We don’t know what it is. We know that it’s been there for awhile. We know that it’s not from here.

Beyond that, we’ve been trying to figure out what these things are, what they want, and why they are going about what they’re doing. The Valley Oil Corporation is notified that something is wrong with one of their platforms-none of the crew has been in contact for long enough that the corporation decides to send a team to investigate. Kate McCready, daughter of the late Vice President of the United States finds herself the largest stockholder of the company-and on her way to see what’s going on at the platform.

What is going at the platform is a mystery stretching back to at least Nazi Germany and potentially much, much longer. The novel avoids a lot of the normal indie horror/scifi tropes-it’s hard to be a Final Girl when you’re the only female in the modern arch, the male lead isn’t all that perfect, the monster is not a mindless killing machine even if we don’t really understand what’s going on or why. The only issue I have with the book is a stylistic issue that’s a personal pet peeve- the ending hints at a sequel and I really don’t like novels that set up series straight out of the gate. If the plot can handle a series, so be it, but don’t force a series right from the beginning.

Warnings: language, violence, mild sexual content, light to moderate discussion of racial and Fascist politics (plot relevant).

House of Dead Trees

House of Dead Trees

Joseph Duncan

372 pages

Accessed as an ebook

4.99 on Amazon at the time of review

Fair warning, I may get a little bit rambly with this review.

There are a fair number of tropes that I normally can’t stand in a horror novel, mainly because I feel like they’re shortcuts to creating tension. You want to make a person feel bad for a character/emphasize how evil/deplorable/nasty a character/situation/setting is? Play the assault card! I mean, you’re totally not going to use something that -actually ruins people’s lives- so that you don’t have to worry about advancing plot or characterization via other methods or anything!

This book has assault in spades.

And yet…I still found myself being pulled further and further into the plot. I actually found myself enjoying this book-and I think that a lot of it is that Duncan actually manages to fall on the right side of a very, very thin line: while the sexual violence in this book feels like throw-away, tropish action it actually does work to drive home just why we should -not- empathize with certain characters. It’s a very, very feather light balancing act that normally doesn’t work for most books, and somehow manages to work here.

The other area that was impressive the Dead Trees is that it reads like a poor man’s The Shining. That’s a compliment, by the way. Duncan manages to develop similar imagery and tone with the haunting that runs through this book, without the heavy psychological horror that runs through King’s work. That’s fine, sometimes you want to wade around in a person’s brain and sometimes you just want to run through the halls screaming. Much of the paranormal action throughout the novel feels like the overtly paranormal sections of The Shining, if the Overlook was set in the woods along the yellow brick road. This is not a slow burn novel, with action hitting fairly early in the plot-complete with what may be one of the more inventive usages of a not terribly overused image in modern horror where everything wants to be a Walking Dead rip off.

So yes, in the end I really, really wanted to hate this one and ended up making friends with it and actually thinking that if there were to be any major weaknesses with the book, I’d like it to be slightly more fleshed out and longer [Billy. Billy, I know why your character arc went the way it did…but it sort of just…stopped].

Major Content Warning

Language, violence, sexual content, assault references, the whole R rated tool box. Definitely an ‘adult only’ novel.

 

[About the elves and faeries tag for this post: without going too far into the plot for risk of spoilers…kobalds. Can we get more authors to work with European folklore? Even if it is a mutation/derivative of the legend?]

The Bear Conundrum

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I sit here, more than a little sick (what does it say when your mother asks you if you need to go to the ER? I’m not that sick, Mom) and rewatching Fantasia.

Fantasia is more than slightly relevant to this topic because while this is the first time I’ve had it on as more than background noise since I’ve been an adult, I feel like there are sections of this movie that I’ve never seen before. Which is impressive since I binged watched this film as a child. Maybe I’m watching some new cut? I have no idea.

With that in mind, I present to you one of the odder Internet effects-even if this amounts to some sort of bizarre Reddit game that just keeps going.

[Also, blogging while sick is a terrible idea. This wiped me out more than it should have.]

Like the Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark books, this might be a legend/quirk you have to be a certain age to remember.

Are the books the Berenstein Bears or are they the Berenstain Bears? Because Amazon says they’re the Berenstain Bears.

To a great many people this presents a fundamental wrongness. They’re the Berenstein Bears, and someone somewhere took a great amount of time to ‘fix’ it to -stain.

(In defense of those people, the -Stain looks wrong to me, but I probably haven’t seen one of these books in 20 years so at best my memory is suspect, plus the effect of suggestion. And illness.)

So who’s right here? And why, if they’re right? Are we just a generation with really terrible memories? Did they really did change the spelling somewhere along the way-but how do we handle the anecdotes of people’s belongings shifting to the ‘new’ spelling?

Are we just really, really bored?

The Wood between Worlds-On the Berenstain Bears Switcheroo

AskReddit thread 1-potentially nsfw/language

AskReddit thread 2-potentially nsfw/language

Does Anyone Actually Remember It as -Stain?- potentially nsfw/language

Bears Glitch Theory on Reddit-potentially nsfw/language

 

The Truth About Sharks and Pigeons

The Truth About Sharks and Pigeons

Matt Phillips

Accessed as an e-book

$2.99 on Amazon at time of review

320 pages

I have to admit that this was a sleeper book for me, in that it wasn’t until I was in the second half of the book that I realized I did in fact enjoy it.

Bill is about as ordinary and average as a person can be and still exist-so when he finds himself in a dark alley with a pigeon, what happens next is almost so incomprehensible for him that he fears he lost his mind. It’s hard to talk about the plot without giving too much of the driving force of the novel away-and I really feel that this is enough of an absurdist novel that you sort of need to experience it for yourself. However,¬† I’ll give you a hint: it’s about the truth of the nature of both sharks and pigeons.

And sheep.

And corgis.

And the Queen of England.

I will say that this is definitely absurdist fantasy in the general vein of Piers Anthony, not horror, though it does have a fair share of generally pretty silly violence, such as any violence can be silly.

I experienced quite a bit of ‘what did I just read’ and ‘I’m really quite baffled’ and ‘wait, what was that about sheep?’-but for as many times as I questioned why I was reading this novel, I couldn’t stop reading it either.

If you need a break from heavy ‘traditional’ horror or fantasy, or your humor runs to the absurd [mine does, by the way], then I do recommend the book. Just don’t go into this one expecting a serious plot-and be aware you might find yourself side eying both sheep and corgis for awhile.

Once Upon a Curse: Stories and Fairy Tales for Adult Readers

Once Upon a Curse: Stories and Fairy Tales for Adult Readers

Various Authors

272 pages

Ebook, $6.95 on Amazon at time of review

I want to start this review by saying that the title is a little misleading. It’s not ‘adult’ in the ‘don’t let your kids hear you talk about this or you’re going to be having conversations about birds and insects’, it’s ‘adult’ in the, ‘this isn’t Disney’ sense. I would give this a solid middle school or higher rating; these aren’t necessarily happy stories but there’s little to no blush worthy material.

That being said, if you’re the type of person who likes your fairy tales to wrap up with perfectly happy endings this isn’t going to be your type of book. Several of the stories actually do have pleasant endings, but how they get there isn’t necessarily happy-and it’s true that several aren’t happy endings in the sense that everyone lives happily ever after. However, I have to say that even those stories have twists to them that makes one wonder if it’s not a happy one after all, albeit not a traditional one.

I did enjoy this anthology. Each story in this book is a reworking of a traditional folk tale or faery tale with a fairly wide range of countries represented. There is one story that doesn’t really fit the traditional faerie tale theme, but with vampires being a solid part of the modern faerie tale world I think it’s a fair inclusion. Impressively, while some stories are more solid than others, there is a pretty consistent quality level throughout.

If you’re like me and like your faerie tales a little darker than Disney, then this is a pretty good addition to the modern faerie tale library. If you’re one to really need a clean wrap up and a completely positive ending, this isn’t going to be the anthology for you.

Very slight violence and sexual content. Potentially mature themes; not necessarily young reader inappropriate, tween and older readers should be okay with this anthology with parental screening.

Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season

Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season

Norman Partridge

125 pages

Accessed as an Ebook, $2.99 on Amazon at time of review

If I’m going to be honest with this review my favorite part of this anthology isn’t the fiction.

My favorite entry in this anthology is a short essay entitled “The Man Who Killed Halloween”, which is a retrospect as much as it is anything. The essay examines what it was like to have lived through the Zodiac murders as a child, beginning to sense that life is shaped by forces larger than we can really grasp and completely out of our control-either as a child or as an adult.

This is the kind of stuff that I wish that horror writers would go into more often- the events that they have lived through that has shaped their writing. I think that it’s silly to try to separate out our past from our writing because it’s there whether we admit it or not. And to have lived through one of the great unsolved American crime waves of the 20th century is surely going to influence your views on the macabre.

If I’m going to be honest, the rest of the book is slightly uneven with the overall impression being ‘good’, but several of the stories feel rushed at the end, and a handful feel like they simply stopped the way that short fiction sometimes seems to. I think that’s more of a genre specific stylistic choice that I simply don’t favor because there are multiple writers working with short horror or macabre fiction that seem to use this technique. In a few of the stories I wish there was just slightly more of a wrap-up than there was; I don’t need clean, happy endings for my fiction but I do need to feel like I didn’t walk out halfway through a retelling.

So, overall, definitely worth the price of admission, but the endings tend to run to the abrupt.

NOS4A2

NOS4A2

Joe Hill

709 pages

Ebook, $1.99 on Amazon at time of review

Three books make up a type of pseudotrilogy, with NOS4A2 being the third book in that trilogy. It’s a pseudotrilogy (yes I just made up that word) because there’s no reason to think that it’s a deliberate move, and it’s not a traditional linear progression within the storyline. However, The Shining, Doctor Sleep, and NOS4A2 are arguably set in the same universe and NOS4A2 hints that this a much larger universe with a lot of wonderfully cryptic and creepy potential.

That said, the first two books are not necessarily mandatory reading for Hill’s book to be an enjoyable read. I do want to get my hesitations with the novel out of the way first: I think that Heart-Shaped Box was a much more solid read because I think that Hill’s voice was much more his own in that novel. I think there are sections of NOS4A2 where Hill starts to mimic his father’s [Stephen King] voice in a way that detracts from his own work. This novel is much stronger when he swings back to his own territory.

The middle third of the book just drags. It took me three months to get through this book because I would read a few chapters, stop caring, and then come back in a few weeks for a few more chapters. However, the last third of the book is more than satisfying and finds the energy that the first third had to propel the novel forward.

At its core, Hill’s novel is a vampire tale where the vampire may or may not even know what he is. Vic finds herself drawn into the web of a monster who drives an antique car and has an obsession with Christmas and children-so much so that his own inner world is Christmas. This man becomes the driving force throughout Vic’s life, going so far as to draw her own son into the tale. Like The Shining, many of the interactions with the villain (who, like The Shining, is not a person but is the setting) are suggestive that Hill is talking about emotional healing and power imbalances but within this novel the ripple effect of cause and effect is played out with arguably a greater audience.

Ultimately, NOS4A2 reads like the themes present in The Shining are lifted from the individual and extended to the group. This is a good thing. While the middle third of the book gets bogged down in places, NOS4A2 is an interesting look at the monsters inside people and King’s multiverse-even if it is accidental.