books

We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley

I know a lot of readers are not fans of reading main characters who are unlikable or–I shutter–unrelatable, but this certainly never bothers me. I’m a sucker for a debut novel, and Swan Huntley delivers.

we could be beautiful

Catherine West is a spoiled, self-involved, bored forty-something Manhattanite. She’s a tragic figure without realizing it. The opening declaration by Catherine reminded me, oddly, of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho.

I was rich, I owned a small business, I had a wardrobe I replaced all the time. I was toned enough and pretty enough. I moisturized, I worked out. I looked younger than my age. I had been to all the countries I wanted to see. I collected art and filled my West Village apartment with it. My home was bright and tastefully bare and worthy of a spread in a magazine.

I was also a really good person.

This book, no doubt, will be compared to other “unlikable women thrillers” a la The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, but it really doesn’t fit with those. There isn’t frantic movement by the main character, but there is definitely a creeping dread and mystery, and a frustration with the character.

What Catherine West wants is  a family, but single with multiple fiances behind her, she thinks things are looking slim until she meets a handsome man from her far past at an art show. William Stockton is a few years older than her and knew her family at some point when he was a child before he was mysteriously swept off to Switzerland, where he’s lived till recently. He easily woos Catherine, but there are signals to the reader that something is wrong with him.

It’s hard to describe any more without giving away bits of the plot. As more of the mystery oozes out, I was able to figure out what was going on before the end, but by the time you come to the end a feeling of “that is creepy and uncomfortable” still meanders through your mind with the closing of the last page.

There is something quite remarkable how the writer is able to capture such an oblivious and unlikable person without it getting to the reader. Sure, there have been unlikable main characters for ages, but it is a hard task that the author sets up to keep readers with them.

The detail, the comments that Catherine makes, her actions are entirely ridiculous, but I couldn’t turn away. Even though some pages could have been cut in the middle (there were a few dragging parts but still engaging even if not necessary), this is a great summer read where the pages will be turning.

This book only recently came out, but has anyone else read it? I’m curious of other thoughts on the character and voice of Catherine West.

 

 

Froust Questionnaire, 6/21/2016

n. Proust, or more like the Froust Questionnaire (as in Fake Proust)

inhabited painting

Reading HorizonFarthing by Jo Walton, backlog of fiction submissions for magazine I edit (the co-editor is way ahead of me, for shame)

ListeningThe Well-Tempered Clavier by Bach

Day dreaming: Travel, always

Audiobooking: The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates (so long, but so good)

Writing: Making a lot of starts but not focusing. Need something that I am passionate about.

Obsessingnot applicable 

Brainstorming: Ideas for article pitches. Harder than you would think.

Procrastinating: Life, le sigh.

Watching: Scream the TV Series (new guilty pleasure)

Disappointing: ALL THE BOOKS I’VE BEEN READING LATELY

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Oh dear, what a hot mess this book ended up being.

As I’ve stated in recent posts, I’ve been in an unfortunate book slump for AGES. If this hadn’t been a galley from the publisher, it certainly would have been tossed aside weeks ago (it took me weeks to get through what should have been an entertaining ride).

The Invisible Library

The publicity that accompanied this debut wanted to relate it to people interested in Doctor Who (and some American readers will no doubt make the minor leap to that exceptionally mediocre TV show The Librarians). There is time travel, a companion, adventure, supernatural creatures, and magic. Sounds good, right?

Wrong, so very, very wrong.

Like many, I’m a sucker for a book about books. In The Invisible Library, librarians are tasked with retrieving important works of fiction from many different worlds, alternate and otherwise. Our “heroes” are Irene and her unwelcome companion Kai, who is designed solely to be a sounding board and when he disappears at some point during the last quarter of the novel, it doesn’t really matter. Irene must retrieve a version of Grimm’s fairy tales from an alternate London, but, what’s this! The book has already been pilfered by a cat burglar?! Not until the very end to we get a notion why this version is so desperately important.

I am not pleased with myself for bashing a debut, but there really wasn’t anything here keeping my hold beyond the guilt of receiving an advance copy (this book was published this week in the US).

There was too much happening for genre’s sake. You want some cyborg alligators, you got them. You want some vampires and fairies (couldn’t tell you which character was which) with a shadowy connection to the apparently shadowy country of Liechtenstein, there are plenty. Need a villain or two? Voila!

The characters were wooden and one tone. If it wasn’t for their names identifying them, it could’ve been all the same person.

Lately, my inner reader brain has been shouting WHERE’S THE EDITOR?! There seems to be almost no editorial control of a lot of new releases these days. It could be a few things. 1) All books must now be over 400 pages. Didn’t you know? and 2) editors now no longer say no to authors. They do not help the narrative and the author. –end of rant–

At some point toward the end, one of the characters says,

What is the point of this Library?

Who knows. There was much gravitas to the library (plot holes). The stolen Grimm book really didn’t seem that important for every trope of genre fiction to be thrown on the page. I kept wondering more pointedly, What is the point of The Invisible Library?

Has anyone else read this? It came out this week in the US, but was already published in the UK last year.

The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel

I must admit, I’m a sucker for period deduction, whether it be on TV or in fiction (even the odd non-fiction book). So, I was immediately intrigued by The Strings of Murder, the first novel in a series by Oscar de Muriel featuring the particular English inspector Ian Frey and his rougher colleague Detective McGray.

strings of murder

London is caught up in the Jack the Ripper murders, but the accomplished Inspector Frey has been dismissed from his post at Scotland Yard, his fiancee dumps him, and his family seems to nag him about everything. Finally, he is exiled to Edinburgh–a place he views as being inhabited completely by uncouth Scots–to assist in a murder investigation that might be similar if not identical to the Ripper killings.

What initially drew me was the premise of the murders: a violinist is found eviscerated in a locked room with possible occult signs. The violin, too, is reportedly having once belonged to the Devil and any subsequent owner meets an untimely and disemboweled death.

Promises of the strange and Satanic whet my appetite. The novel also starts out with an enigmatic and gruesome slaying of a family (some of the details drip out later in the plot). The opening is entirely intriguing, but it seems to not have much to do with anything; I’m curious if more information is vital in the subsequent pieces of the series.

I found myself flying through the book following along with the two “odd couple” inspectors. The initial crime is propelling enough and the fact that any other owner of the violin soon perishes is most interesting. However, about midway through, this reader felt as if she were tugging at a rope and not much more came out. The story and characters were, sadly, flat, which is disappointing as the story began so compellingly. It was as if the author cooked up an interesting few ideas in his creative mind, but never really did much with them or connected them. It is a hard task these days with so much top notch period detective entertainment.

With that said, the book wasn’t a disappointment. I don’t think I would carry on with the series as the characters didn’t develop much and the entire book felt like a never-ending series of witness and suspect interviews. What initially piqued my interest (the locked room, Devil violin, and occult) were never wholly formed.

This is a strange case to be sure, because I’m sure there will be plenty of readers who will love this book. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t one of them and just wanted the final page to come regardless the solution.

 

 

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

I was hesitant, at first, to review this book, so perhaps this really won’t be a review. This is a book that appears to have universal adulation (if the internet is to be believed) and I so wanted to like it too. It was witchy, magical, and fantastical, or so it claimed. It did have some of these elements but, sadly, it was truly terrible.

Print

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read a bad book; I generally stick to the 50 page rule, but this one really did trick me. The first third is engaging: the plot flowed even with a few bumps and repetitiveness, but the language was compelling and the magic, so to speak, was enough to keep me there (also, after the sad failure of my attempt to watch that horrid SyFy show The Magicians, I was really hoping this book would do the trick to remedy my desire for something enjoyable and magical).

I am baffled by the praise here. Perhaps, the reviewers only read the first third and wisely didn’t finish. The beginning deals with the characters when they’re children and then at some point jumps ahead into adulthood: one is a apocalyptic-type of Silicon Valley engineer that in real life would make me roll my eyes so much they would fall down a sewer drain and the second, Patricia, who had real potential is a “feisty” witch who never is very interesting or magical as an adult….also, there’s something about her being able to understand birds (hence the title, but whatever, really).

The terrible two thirds are twisty and unpleasant. Too much is brought up and it is incredibly opaque. I have no problem with unlikable characters, but I absolutely didn’t care about them. I hoped they quickly perished in whatever future worldwide catastrophe was approaching; at least the book would be over sooner.

I stuck with it because the beginning was promising. It reminded me of the lightness of Neil Gaiman’s writing–as if the reader is in a strange fairy tale of the author’s own making. But All the Birds in the Sky is the biggest con of the publishing schedule for 2016. Avoid at all costs. There are too many books in this world to read. Good grief, was this awful. A huge question I kept wondering was did Charlie Janie Anders even have an editor? Was she just taking four different books she was thinking of and mash them together hoping the reader would be stupid enough to accept this? I have never felt so alone in my opinion (except when I switch over to the 1-3 star ratings on Goodreads).

If I wasn’t borrowing this from the library, I would have certainly chucked it out of a window no lower than the third floor of a building.

 

The Witch Who Came In From The Cold: A Long Cold Winter

This selection is an intriguing one: it comes courtesy of Serial Box, which appears to be a new publisher. With serial entertainment coming back into vogue–podcasts, television, documentaries–it seems a ripe time for traditional fiction publishing to hone in on the action.

witch who came in from the cold

Serial Box only provided an ARC of the first installment of the multi-part series, so I am of course only able to comment on episode one.

I was particularly taken with the premise–1970s Prague at the height of the Cold War and espionage, but to make it a whole new story, the spies are witches and sorcerers. Besides the synopsis, the idea of a serialized story told by a handful of different authors was also intriguing. (Also, for good measure, I’m a fan of Lindsay Smith’s short story Doppel, which I reviewed here a couple of years ago).

For a first installment, the story didn’t do enough to completely draw me in until the latter half. It was a bit muddled and I found myself going back to the beginning and starting again.

Too many characters were introduced and flung around, and the nary bit of witchcraft that the title alludes to is opaque at best. I was also disappointed with the fact that Prague, an excellent setting for such a story, was not really part of the narrative (beyond the fact that it certainly was a place filled with spies and dissidents post-WWII).

However, with all that said, the story did clear up in the final third of this initial episode and moved more clearly at its already breakneck speed. I wondered if it was a hard start out of the gate because it’s a story told by multiple authors who then will have to pass the story off to another. Is it that they stuffed too much in to their introductory bit because they wanted so much introduced to the reader so they would keep reading? I think so. But I think it backfired. I wish the publisher would have provided another episode or two, so I could properly envelop myself in the story and dig deeper into the review, because, even with my critique, I still think it has the capacity to be an entertaining tale.

I would certainly recommend having a gander at the first episode (especially, since Serial Box is offering it on their website for FREE or for your Kindle for 99 cents). I’ve been in a magical mood lately and I was hoping for a bit more from this; although, it might pick up as the series moves along. With the first installment, the story is a general one of spies, and the sprinkling of the fantastic is too limited. If you subscribed to the story through Serial Box’s website or app, there is an audiobook version that accompanies the text. Much to my dismay, however, if you download the free app, there is no immersion reading (meaning you can’t read the text with the audiobook narrating).

Another concern of mine is, since the story had a hard time hooking me, I am feeling less likely to pony up the pretty pennies for the remaining episodes, which are priced at $1.59-$1.99 through their website, including the audio. It is a bit of a bummer for readers who have Kindles, because Serial Box does not have a Kindle app, and the only way to download is to pay Amazon $1.99, minus the audio. I like Serial Box’s premise, but certain logistics still need finessing.

I don’t ever use star ratings, but since this text was a bit more difficult to review and I think I came across harsher than I intended, I hope the star system will help those on the fence.

3/5 stars

Among Others by Jo Walton

I’m not quite sure how this particular novel came to me, but it was recent and it was much needed. I had just finished up some lovely reads suggested to me by a co-worker who is a passionate lover of books with good taste. When I was done with her few recs, I went back into a slight reading slump (I had previously fell victim to a tiresome acute slump in the latter part of 2015…ugh.). I needed something escapist and magical, and although Among Others takes place in reality the tinges of magical realism were so pleasurable.

among others

“You can never be sure where you are with magic.”

I must say that I am a true sucker for novels written in epistles (Dracula, Dracula, Dracula), and Among Others is told entirely in diary entries by 15-year-old Morwena Phelps, or just abbreviated Mor, during the school year of 1979-1980.

Mor’s leg is crippled and she walks with the aid of a cane. This is all the result of some dastardly situation with her mad mother six months prior that left her mom shoved off to an institution and the death of her twin sister who also went by the nickname Mor.

She’s wrenched from her home in Wales where her family and the faeries live to be packed off first to a children’s home and then to her father and his sisters in England, who she’s never met. The controlling and wealthy sisters think it’s best to send Mor to a boarding school (of course the school leaves something to be desired, but she soon find solace in all of the books–including her father’s love of sci-fi and fantasy–and a group of new friends of fellow readers and librarians.

Through Mor’s diary, moments are told quite easily, but there is always a sense that something else–especially, the previous six months with her mad witch mother and twin sister–is not quite exactly as it seems. England is not nearly as magical as Wales with its landscape scattered with faeries of all sorts.

It’s really the strong, imaginative writing of the author Jo Walton that allows for the magical realism to pleasurably flow so easily. It was a snap to get enjoyably lost in Mor’s world even if it was pretty much our world. It is Mor’s imagination that makes the reality magical.

Has anyone else read this novel? When looking up info afterward, I saw that it was the Winner of the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the Winner of the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

I’m onto another Jo Walton novel called My Real Children, which so far is excellent, but at times heartbreaking and devastating. Lately, I’m trying to read only one book at a time so I can be totally involved, but I might need something to cut the tragic parts of the novel. It is unbelievable and I can’t wait to see how it ends, but I find I need a breather because of some of the events happening to the main character.

Any other escapist, magical books to recommend? My Goodreads TBR list is mightily growing.

 

 

Hauntingly Beautiful: Ghosts, Ghouls, & Good Books

Christmas is almost upon us and for some reason the spooky feeling we all crave during October somehow vanishes beneath all of the holiday card glitter. But not for me, I say! (and I’m sure there are plenty of you out there that agree; I might not be commenting lately, but I’m still reading my favorite bookish blogs; I know what you people like.)

I’m one of those people that always has many tabs open in their browser. I can’t quite close the two that show this pseudonymous photographer’s new work of derelict houses called Hauntingly Beautiful. I saw a quick clip on the BBC that’s worth a watch, along with a few of his photos on his website.

 

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Although, Nina at Multo (Ghost) has fantastic folklore and spooky content year-round, she has been posting her annual Winter Tales: ghosts, haunted houses, and creatures abound. She kicks off this year’s with Number Ninety

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The graphic novel Three Shadows has been sitting on my night stand for far too long, but I’m hoping that the long weekend will free up some time to give to it,

“Three shadows stand outside the house – and Louis and Lise know why the spectral figures are there. The shadows have come for Louis and Lise’s son, and nothing anyone can do will stop them. Louis cannot let his son die without trying to prevent it, so the family embarks on a journey to the ends of the earth, fleeing death.”

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Many thanks to everyone who read and recommended some really great podcasts from my last post. I immediately began investigating (and subsequently binged listened) all of the ones listed. Even after listening to the creepy podcasts recommended, I did some internet sleuthing and loaded up my podcruncher with even more based on the comment recs. Here’s a quick rundown for those interested,

  • The Black Tapes Podcast
  • Tanis
  • Limetown
  • The Message
  • Knifepoint Horror
  • Criminal
  • The Leviathan Chronicles*
  • Imaginary Worlds*
  • Wormwood: A Serialized Mystery*
  • The NoSleep Podcast*
  • 99% Invisible (okay, maybe not exclusively spooky, but Helen recommended the Ouija episode)

*These are queued up but haven’t had a chance to listen.

***Also, for Spotify users, did you know they have loads of audiobooks, radioplays, etc. I recently listened to Christopher Lee read Dracula.

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I am sure everyone has a Goodreads account that is ever growing and shaming you for not being even close to catching up to it. I’ve recently added 3 titles.

Short blurbs excerpted from Goodreads,

  • The Girl From the Well: A dead girl walks the streets. She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.
  • The Screaming Staircase: When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts.
  • The Ghost Hunters: Welcome to Borley Rectory, the most haunted house in England. The year is 1926 and Sarah Grey has landed herself an unlikely new job – personal assistant to Harry Price, London’s most infamous ghost hunter.

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Woohoo! I think I am officially tapped out of spooky offerings for deep December. For those, who are too full from eating to even consider reading–really?–there is always the horror-comedy Krampus.

Loving and Listening to LORE Podcast

I am an unabashed lover of podcasts (I think I’m not alone in this sentiment). Although, I am very picky. I only listen to a few and I think I’ve boiled down what makes me automatically lose interest in so many: 1) bad recording equipment, 2) the host’s voice, and 3) lack of storytelling abilities or the simple but crucial talent of being able to keep a conversation going.

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For a few months, I’ve had the newish Lore queued up and ready to go, but because of my aforementioned hesitance to new listening options, I sadly let it sit.

But as I was trying to de-stress yesterday, I slipped into a warm bath and began to listen.

Aaron Mahnke, a writer himself of the supernatural, produces and hosts this really excellent endeavor. Besides avoiding the above mentioned technical curmudgeony, Mahnke clearly does research for each episode’s topic. They last roughly 15-20 minutes and are released every two weeks (I will be impatient once I’ve caught up and realize I have to wait… impatient child, I can be). The lore which the podcast is titled from is both clearly documented events and the peripheral monsters that we don’t quiet see clearly.

What had me first going was that I found out that Mahnke covered the 19th Century New England vampire panic I had just recently read about, along with the lycanthropic tendencies of a wealthy German farmer. He investigates what goes bump and glows in the forest or the persistent infatuation we have with mental asylum (one episodes covers the institution that HP Lovecraft was influenced by).

The podcast creates a mood. The stories are told without glorifying the macabre and squeezing out bloody details like a tabloid (although, there is plenty of unpleasant and gory happenings).

medusa.jpg!Blog.jpg

As of this typing, I’ve breezed through about eight episodes so far. I just did some internet sleuthing on Aaron Mahnke and he has a few novels published (As a lover of the strange and scary things forests can hold, I am particularly curious about his 2014 book Consumed).

Has anyone else listened to Lore? Any other suggestions? I also am keen on Bookfight, Serial, The Bugle, How Did This Get Made, and the occasional This American Life. I’ve tried giving Welcome to Night Vale a chance, but more often than not, I find it tedious which definitely outweighs the fewer amusing bits. I have also sadly given up on This is Horror, because of the host’s voice; I know, I’m awful but I just can’t do it.

post script I use Podcruncher on my phone, but Lore is also available to listen to straight on the website.

post post script For those interested in the podcast but are deaf or hard of hearing, Aaron Mahnke does the brilliant thing of posting transcripts. (I had a acquaintance in grad school who was deaf and I remember her lamenting the fact that she often couldn’t access certain podcasts because of the lack of transcripts).

post post post script I have never once cared about the music played on a podcast and couldn’t care less when the hosts gives this info, but the music here is truly wonderful and he offers the list for every episode.

The Proust, nay, Froust Questionnaire

n. Proust, or more like the Froust Questionnaire (as in Fake Proust)

Reading Horizon: Three vastly different titles and genres. 1. The Poet and the Vampyre, 2. The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay, and 3. On Myself and Other, Less Important Subjects.

Listening: A toss up between Metronomy, Sylvan Esso, and the Sleep playlist on Spotify, which I’m oddly listening to at 9:30 in the morning.

Day dreaming: Snorkeling and sleeping (maybe, not at the same time).

Audiobooking: PG Wodehouse and the Jeeves stories.

Writing: Longhanding….typing…..longhanding.

Obsessing: This news story.

Brainstorming: Three ideas for stories.

Procrastinating: Need to send out new fictions to literary journals.

Watching: The DVD for Interstellar as it looks at me with shame as I continue not to watch it.

DisappointingInherent Vice