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Shannon's Reading and Review Thread (sturlington)

2017 Category Challenge

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1sturlington
Dec 2, 2016, 11:06am Top

I previously posted my not-a-challenge challenge here, which is where I will keep up with any reads for the CATs, BingoDOG, or my self-imposed categories. For regular reading updates, I am favoring a simpler approach this year, hence this thread. This will be the place I record my ongoing reading and book reviews, not categorized.

Goals: My main goal is to read what I want when I want and follow my interests. I will mostly be reading from various lists and off my TBR. The ALA Reading List of genre books is a frequent touchstone. I also want to try to read purchased books soon after I buy them, so they don't get stale, and otherwise use the library more.

As a secondary goal, I want to read more nonfiction this year. I usually don't read nonfiction, because my habit is to read before bed, when I favor more escapism and less heavy lifting. So I have set a goal of reading a chapter a day from a nonfiction book during the daytime and completing 12 nonfiction books. Books will be in the categories of history, science, and memoir, and are chosen from my TBR and the ALA Notable Book lists.

See you on January 1!

2christina_reads
Dec 2, 2016, 12:37pm Top

This sounds like a great idea! I especially like your nonfiction challenge. Like you, I mostly read fiction and tend to gravitate toward lighter books. I look forward to seeing what you read!

3DeltaQueen50
Dec 2, 2016, 1:10pm Top

I've incorporated non-fiction categories for the last few years and now I am hooked. I also love scanning book lists so now I am off to check out the ALA Notable Books List!

4sturlington
Dec 2, 2016, 4:28pm Top

>3 DeltaQueen50: They do one every year, a mix of fiction and nonfiction, and some poetry. Here is the website: http://www.ala.org/rusa/awards/notablebooks

And here is the ALA Reading List website: http://www.ala.org/rusa/awards/readinglist

If you like any kind of genre fiction, the Reading List is a great place for discovery. At least two of my top reads for 2016 came from this list.

Enjoy!

5DeltaQueen50
Dec 3, 2016, 3:27pm Top

>4 sturlington: Thanks for those links. The books that I have already read that are on the lists were all very good reads for me and I have now added quite a few new ones to my wishlist!

6whitewavedarling
Dec 5, 2016, 4:08pm Top

I hope it works well, and I'll be curious to watch the progress :) I started trying to read one nonfiction book per month a while ago, getting in a chapter a day, and it's mostly worked pretty well :) Sometimes a book I pick up has ultra-long chapters and I pick a page count goal instead--say, 15 pages per day or getting to the nearest section break after I hit that mark--but it's definitely kept me from getting bogged down in a two-serious issue/read. I hope it works just as well for you!

7hailelib
Dec 14, 2016, 9:01am Top

Often, with nonfiction, I'll read 30-50 pages and then read some fiction before the next chunk. You just need to find what works for you.

8-Eva-
Dec 15, 2016, 1:55pm Top

I'm another one who struggles with my non-fiction - looking forward to seeing what you read!

9The_Hibernator
Dec 22, 2016, 8:06am Top

Hi Shannon!

10The_Hibernator
Jan 1, 2017, 8:44am Top

11sturlington
Edited: Jan 7, 2017, 11:56am Top

>10 The_Hibernator: Thank you, and welcome 2017! Here is my first read of the year:



1. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Cover notes: I love the cover for this paperback edition. The design evokes both ocean waves and barbed wire, picking up on the theme of storms at sea and prisons.

Hag-Seed is Margaret Atwood's contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare series, which are retellings of Shakespeare plays set in contemporary times. (Previously, I read The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterston, also in this series.) Atwood takes on one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, The Tempest, locating it in the world of small-time Canadian politics. Felix (Prospero), an avant-garde director at a local theatre festival, is betrayed and booted from his position by his partner Tony (Antonio). Felix exiles himself to a hovel in the middle of nowhere for twelve years, dreaming of revenge, but when he begins to see shades of his dead daughter Miranda (who grows older as time passes), he realizes he needs to get out of the house more. He takes a job teaching Shakespeare to medium-security prisoners, when the opportunity for revenge presents itself.

This was a mostly light-hearted retelling of The Tempest, and I like that Atwood managed to include a play within a play by staging The Tempest itself at the prison--how very Shakespearean of her. The prisoners themselves were affable and sympathetic, if somewhat indistinguishable, while the politicians were, of course, buffoons. Felix is a bit of a pathetic character, but Atwood deepens the story by adding the ghost of his daughter to the cast of characters. If you don't know much about The Tempest before you begin, you will after you finish, as Atwood mixes in plenty of literary criticism. While somewhat gimmicky, and therefore feeling a trifle forced, this was overall an entertaining read. 3.5★

12tess_schoolmarm
Jan 7, 2017, 10:50am Top

>11 sturlington: Sounds like a marvelous book. Onto my wish list it goes!

13sturlington
Edited: Mar 18, 2017, 10:44am Top

>12 tess_schoolmarm: I hope you like it!


2. A Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar

I read the Kindle version. I like the hokey covers for Margaret Millar's ebooks.

A young housewife has a dream of her own grave and becomes obsessed with investigating what happened on the day of her "death," four years before.

I enjoyed the style of this and found it very readable. The dialogue was quite good. I could picture the Hitchcock-style film version, everyone wearing nice suits and the pale, washed-out colors under a bright California sun. Unfortunately, the plot strained my suspension of disbelief quite a bit. I don't believe in selective amnesia, the love story seemed forced, and I saw all the twists coming well beforehand. 3.5★

Theme notes: This is the second noirish thriller by a woman writer that I have read from this time period (the other being The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes), which exposed the ugliness of racism in polite American society. I shouldn't be so surprised about this, as race and racism permeates all of American culture, but it struck me as significant that both books should have such a strong theme.

The main character, Daisy, is overprotected and coddled and ultimately betrayed by everyone in her life, an indictment of sexist attitudes toward women masked as protectiveness. I hoped at the end that she would find happiness in her newfound independence.

14rabbitprincess
Jan 7, 2017, 12:58pm Top

>13 sturlington: I just finished The Expendable Man, so I'll have to track this one down too!

15sturlington
Jan 7, 2017, 1:54pm Top

>14 rabbitprincess: The Expendable Man is definitely better, but I also enjoyed reading the Millar and it's a quick read. Her books are cheap for the Kindle, if you have one.

16sturlington
Edited: Jan 18, 2017, 5:34pm Top

Nonfiction #1. What We're Fighting For Now Is Each Other by Wen Stephenson

This book profiles several leaders in the climate-justice movement. Well-written and engaging, but a very difficult book to read (in fact, I didn't quite finish). I picked it up after the recent election because I was feeling so much despair, especially for my young son's future. I wanted advice on what I could do personally. I can't say this book helped much with the despair; I still feel very strongly that we are in for some very difficult times, and we may not make it through. But it did help with the people aspect--I have more hope and faith, especially in young people, than I did before I read this. I ended up donating to 350.org as a result, signing up for some newsletters, and opening myself up to educating myself more, playing more of an activist role, and encouraging and supporting those who are doing the front-line work in any way I can. I still don't know quite what that means, but I am open.

Nonfiction #2. A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage.

Listened. An interesting overview/refresher of world history viewed through the lens of various drinks: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and soda. I picked up some trivia and was mostly entertained. I didn't quite make it through the last chapter, not due to lack of interest, but because this was an audiobook and I changed devices when I was almost finished but didn't bother redownloading. Lazy, I know.

17DeltaQueen50
Jan 8, 2017, 2:05pm Top

Thanks for the info on Margaret Millar, I went off to Amazon and picked up a couple of her books.

18sturlington
Jan 8, 2017, 2:07pm Top

>17 DeltaQueen50: I'm definitely going to get a few more.

19sturlington
Edited: Jan 15, 2017, 12:05pm Top



3. The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier

Cover notes: This is a reprint by the University of Pennsylvania Press. The abstract cover appeals to me, suggesting a skewed perspective, shadows, and the dominating atmosphere of the chateau that is the main setting. The green sky seems very ominous somehow.

John (last name never given) is a British professor specializing in French history on holiday in France and at odds with what to do with his life, as he has no family and feels he is a failure. Then by chance he meets Jean de Gue, who looks exactly like him. The two have dinner and drinks, and then de Gue drugs John, takes all his things, and essentially switches lives with him.

The premise is a bit far-fetched, but du Maurier makes it work because essentially this is a psychological novel. de Gue disappears from the scene as the narrator takes over his life, returning to the chateau where his doppelganger is a minor count and lives with his neglected wife, spoiled daughter, morphine-addicted and dominating mother, a brother and sister who seem to hate de Gue, and a sister-in-law he's been having an affair with him. This novel is not so much about improbable doubles as about who we really are and whether it is possible to take off and put on lives, to change ourselves into who we think we should be. As usual, du Maurier's writing is so good that the story becomes very gripping, and even though there isn't a lot of action, I kept wanting to know what would happen to John and the people he so quickly becomes entangled with. The house itself is also a character in the novel and, like the countess, dominates this family, as does their family history, their home village, and the specter of the recent war and occupation. The ending is somewhat unsatisfying, as it does seem to loop back to the beginning and leave things unresolved, especially as we have no idea how the changes John has brought into the de Gue family play out. I personally was hoping for a more romantic ending, but alas. Still, I don't think that detracts much from the overall enjoyment of this story. 4★

Theme notes: Clearly, doubles/twins/doppelgangers are a primary theme, and this is an interest of mine. Du Maurier plays with this a lot, emphasizing shadows and reflections, teasing the reader with what is real and what is merely a character's perspective. Every character in the novel, not just the narrator, has a doubled self, depending on who perceives them. Other dominant themes include the weight of the past and escaping it, new starts and resurrections, wiping the slate clean. Could be worth a reread someday.

20tess_schoolmarm
Jan 15, 2017, 12:35pm Top

>19 sturlington: used to read Du Maurier a lot about 20 years ago. I don't know why I stopped. Will have to get back into her.

21sturlington
Edited: Jan 18, 2017, 5:44pm Top

Nonfiction #3. 1001 Books for Every Mood by Hallie Ephron

Not a book you sit down and read cover to cover--rather, a book for browsing through, and pleasant enough for that. I used this to add to my reading list. There are very brief summaries of each book, a helpful "literary merit" rating, and nice icons indicating whether the book is a page turner, family friendly, challenging, etc. I wasn't sure I trusted all these icons when I saw that The Road by Cormac McCarthy was labeled "humorous," but perhaps it was a typo and she meant "brainy" or, possibly, "cannibalistic." Overall, fun and useful.

22RidgewayGirl
Jan 20, 2017, 9:50am Top

>21 sturlington: Did you need a book full of reading suggestions? I'm in need of a book that removes books from my wishlist/tbr rather than adding to it!

23LittleTaiko
Jan 20, 2017, 10:42am Top

>22 RidgewayGirl: No kidding! If I did nothing but read for the next 20 years I doubt I'd get to the books I currently own or have on my wish list.

24sturlington
Jan 20, 2017, 3:18pm Top

I didn't need it. I couldn't help myself. It's a sickness...

25DeltaQueen50
Jan 20, 2017, 9:24pm Top

I've got that same sickness, I think I caught here at Library Thing!

26sturlington
Jan 21, 2017, 3:02pm Top



4. The Elementals by Michael McDowell

Cover notes: Obviously, this is a reissue in trade paperback. I like the stark, simple cover, which evokes the major elements of the novel--dark house, bright sun, white sand--but it may be slightly too cartoonish to really evoke this story's atmosphere, which is its main attraction.

On an isolated spit of land on the Gulf of Mexico, cut off from the mainland at high tide, three identical Victorian mansions sit. Two families vacation there in the stultifying hot Alabama summers. The third house is being subsumed by a gigantic sand dune, and something else altogether resides there.

This book was first published as an original mass-market paperback during the heyday of paperback horror, the late 1970s and early 1980s. The author--probably better known as a screenwriter of such films as Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas--is certainly a cut better than a lot of the horror writers who flooded the market at that time, riding on the coat tails of Stephen King's success. The setting here is both unusual and incredibly atmospheric, a brilliant contradiction of gothic mansions and oppressive heat--the steadily encroaching sand is unexpectedly unnerving. The build-up of the story is suspenseful and disturbing, only marred by the an overreliance on treacly thick Southern accents and the use of the cliched "magical" black character, Odessa, who instinctively understands the supernatural and who is gratingly referred to as the "black woman." As in a lot of horror, though, the promising story falls apart at the end, relying on unnecessary gross-outs and random deaths than on real terror. (All horror writers could learn quite a bit from studying Shirley Jackson.) However, the unusual and memorable setting and the tense build-up are more than enough to make this novel stand out. 3.5★

27lkernagh
Jan 22, 2017, 1:07pm Top

>21 sturlington: - I wasn't sure I trusted all these icons when I saw that The Road by Cormac McCarthy was labeled "humorous,"
Agreed!

28sturlington
Edited: Jan 23, 2017, 9:12am Top

>27 lkernagh: I went back and read her summary of The Road. She found it surprisingly funny, which made me worried for her. And I thought I had a morbid sense of humor!

29sturlington
Edited: Jan 27, 2017, 9:35am Top



5. When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord

Cover notes: I love covers with stars on them. Always. And this is a different take on the woman with her back turned cover. I think it captures the themes and atmosphere of the novel pretty well.

In a small town somewhere in America, when the children reach adolescence, they breach. On the nights of the full moon, they give in fully to instinct and run wild and naked in the streets. Everyone else stays indoors. There is sex, there is violence; anything can happen, and almost everything is allowed. Lumen Fowler, who narrates the story looking back on her teenagehood as a suburban housewife, is a good girl who does not believe she will breach like the others. Is she wrong?

Clearly, this story is a literalization of coming of age, of the wild, out-of-control feeling that most of us experience in adolescence. It is also a meditation on whether we are right to suppress our instinctive animal natures as we do. The teenage Lumen is a compelling character, who reads and reasons and struggles with herself. However, the scenes featuring the adult Lumen were the ones I found truly chilling, and those elevated this book for me above yet another coming-of-age story. 4★

30sturlington
Edited: Mar 18, 2017, 10:50am Top

6. The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith

Cover notes: Library book. It's a movie tie-in cover, my absolute least favorite kind. I won't inflict it on you.

I really like Patricia Highsmith's writing, really. She manages to spin a sense of suspense out of almost nothing. This one left me a little flat, though. It starts out well enough. A con man, Chester, and his young wife, Colette, are traveling in Greece--waiting for things to cool off at home. A policeman confronts Chester in his hotel room and he accidentally-on-purpose kills him. While he is struggling to hide the body, he encounters a younger man, Rydal, in the hallway who has, in truth, been sort of tailing Chester because he reminds Rydal of his estranged and now deceased father. Rydal has a bit of a shady past too; he gradually becomes less sympathetic as the story winds on.

So Rydal, on impulse, helps Chester out with the body, and these three become entangled. Colette flirts with Rydal, Chester gets jealous--a nice, tense triangle is put in place. Then the main turning point of the story: Chester kills Colette while actually trying to kill Rydal. For me, this was where the story started to deflate. Without Colette, the suspense was gone, and as a character, I was much more interested in her than in either of the two men. Even though this is a short novel, the remainder seemed to drag on to what I felt was a fairly foregone conclusion.

Highsmith is a taut, compact writer. The exotic yet somewhat seedy setting is perfect for this type of story. It's too bad that it wasn't quite the story I wanted it to be. 3.5★

31LisaMorr
Feb 6, 2017, 7:48am Top

You've had lots of great reading so far!

I also have that sickness (>24 sturlington:) and will take a book bullet for 1001 Books for Every Mood. And for The Elementals and When We Were Animals.

32sturlington
Feb 7, 2017, 9:20am Top

>31 LisaMorr: Hope you like them!

Nonfiction #4: The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller

A good read if you want to be a copy editor or if you are a writer wondering what a copy editor does. Saller offers practical advice on getting organized, maintaining good relationships with writers and colleagues, and above all, doing no harm.

33sturlington
Edited: Mar 18, 2017, 10:44am Top


7. The Bird's Nest by Shirley Jackson

Cover notes: I used to love the Penguin black band covers, but I've gone off them now. However, this one, like most of the Jackson reissues, is startling and weird, and thus does a good job of reflecting the book's contents.

The Bird's Nest is a psychological thriller about a woman, Elizabeth, with multiple personalities, written well before that became a cliche. Quite weird and disorienting, this novel reminded me most of Hangsaman--not instantly a favorite, but a book that gets under your skin. As usual for Jackson, there is not really a likable character--she skewers everyone--and the reader is left a bit unsure as to what has happened. I found the ending quite chilling, though. While her pompous psychiatrist aims to combine all her personalities into one whole person, what she becomes instead is a non-person, without a name, even--completely effaced. 4.5★

34sturlington
Feb 16, 2017, 10:09am Top


8. Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith

Cover notes: I think this cover is boring. My husband though the book was a romance based on the cover, even though it shows a man's hand pushing a head down into water. My husband has a weird idea of romance.

Vic is a mild-mannered everyman whose drunk of a wife, Melinda, regularly has affairs and basically flaunts them in his face. All his friends are, naturally, appalled by her behavior and wonder, as we do, why Vic puts up with it. Finally, Vic is pushed too far and on impulse, murders one of his wife's lovers. Melinda publicly accuses Vic of murder, which not very many people believe, and the rest of the novel examines Vic's gradual disintegration.

Highsmith once again tackles the theme of the husband pushed too far by an unbearable wife, this time putting the microscope on an ordinary man in an ordinary town and asking the question of what would such a man do when pushed too far. It's an effective character study and suspenseful, even if the reader is pretty sure of what will eventually happen. Yet once again, Highsmith has given us no one much to root for here. It's not that I insist that characters be likable, but it would be nice if I felt like I could at least relate to them. That might make Vic's gradual dissolution more effective and chilling, but he's such an odd duck, with his weird hobbies and general inertness, that being in his head is more like observing an alien species than catching a glimpse of human nature. 3.5★

35dudes22
Edited: Feb 16, 2017, 11:00am Top

>34 sturlington: - Your cover notes have me sitting here chuckling for a few minutes. (It sounds so typically husband) But, not the book for me.

36mamzel
Feb 16, 2017, 12:42pm Top

>34 sturlington: I think that cover is downright disturbing! I appreciate you dove on this grenade for us! I doubt I would have ever picked it up. I wonder what your husband saw when he looked at it.

37LisaMorr
Edited: Feb 16, 2017, 12:47pm Top

>34 sturlington: The Bird's Nest sounds like a must-read for me.

38sturlington
Feb 16, 2017, 12:49pm Top

>36 mamzel: I wonder too.

I like Highsmith's writing, generally, but her characters are often appalling. I don't think she liked people very much.

39mathgirl40
Feb 22, 2017, 10:17pm Top

>33 sturlington: That cover is indeed striking!

40sturlington
Edited: Mar 18, 2017, 10:44am Top


9. The Blackbirder by Dorothy B. Hughes

Cover notes: This is a Kindle "cover." It looks like it's done with clip art, but it does cover the most important aspects of the story: Nazis and New Mexico.

Julie is a refugee from Nazi France, hiding out illegally in the United States, when she unexpectedly runs into an old acquaintance. Not sure whether he's friend or enemy, she has a polite drink with him, after which he is murdered in front of her apartment. This sends Julie on the run to New Mexico to seek out the Blackbirder, who smuggles war refugees into and out of the US. Soon, menacing types are turning up all over the place, and Julie has to rely on her own resources to keep out of their clutches.

This was a decent thriller that probably would have made a terrific movie. It started out a bit slow but picked up momentum as it went along, and I appreciated the unusual Southwestern setting. Julie is an intriguing heroine who often has to rescue herself, but the plot did largely consist of her escaping from and then being caught by the same people. Hughes writing is straightforward and simple, tending toward the repetitive; this book didn't seem as polished as her other novel I've read, The Expendable Man. I thought the end was pretty great, though. I read this on the Kindle, and there were a lot of conversion mistakes; all of the errors did detract from the reading experience, unfortunately. Fun escapist fare. 3.5★

41rabbitprincess
Feb 27, 2017, 5:55pm Top

>40 sturlington: I picked up this book after reading The Expendable Man (also, apparently, it had been on my TBR for a while). The Expendable Man was pretty excellent, so I will calibrate my expectations for this one accordingly.

42sturlington
Edited: Mar 6, 2017, 3:47pm Top


10. Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand

Cover notes: This is a book about photography, so there probably should not actually be a photograph on the cover, as it could never do justice to what the reader imagines the photographs in the story look like. I think in this case, the hard-cover version (the second one) is leagues better.

Title notes: Generation loss in photography refers to the loss of quality when making copies of copies of an original, but the phrase has a wonderful and appropriate double meaning here.

Cass Neary was once a young photographer on the burgeoning punk scene who made a name for herself with a ground-breaking book, but a couple of decades later, she's burnt out, damaged, and still working in the storeroom at the Strand bookstore. A friend gives her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview her idol, Aphrodite Kamestos, who lives like a hermit on a remote island in Maine, and Cass takes it. When she gets there, she finds several people as damaged as she is, and she stumbles onto a mystery.

This is a story with a strong, unusual voice and a memorable, compelling setting, which more than makes up for there not being a lot of actual story, at least not until last third or so. I liked Cass primarily because she is so hard to like, because she does seemingly odd things mainly just to screw with people, and because her narrative voice seems so genuine. She is a person I believe in, not quirky just to be quirky, but quirky because that's what humans are. Pairing her with the island setting--remote, isolated, difficult both to get to and to get away from--works to take Cass out of her long-time comfort zone and yet situate herself in a place that might feel like home. Toward the end, the story is permeated by a wonderful neo-gothic atmosphere. All of this does make up for the rather breathless (and somewhat unbelievable) wrap-up to the plot, which almost felt beside the point anyway. 4★

43VictoriaPL
Mar 6, 2017, 3:52pm Top

>42 sturlington: Yay! Another Elizabeth Hand reader. Do you plan to read the sequel?

44sturlington
Mar 6, 2017, 3:59pm Top

>43 VictoriaPL: I hadn't read anything of Hand's in years, since I read Waking the Moon, which I don't altogether remember too well. I picked this one up because it won the Shirley Jackson Award, and I'm reading through a great many of those. The sequel looks interesting and also seems to have an isolated, creepy setting, which I love. So maybe, although I don't usually "do" sequels. :-)

45AHS-Wolfy
Mar 6, 2017, 9:18pm Top

>42 sturlington: I need to get around to picking up something from Elizabeth Hand. So far I've read a couple of short stories that were included in collections and quite liked them both but I've never acquired any of her novels so far. One of these days...

46sturlington
Mar 11, 2017, 11:22am Top


11. Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Cover notes: This cover is very charming, with its retro design and muted colors; it is an accurate reflection of the book's contents.

Ten-year-old Noel Bostock is an odd boy, smart, a reader, independent. He lives with his godmother until she goes senile and then dies. Left bereft, Noel is evacuated with other London children at the start of the Blitz, when Vee takes him in on impulse. Vee lives hand-to-mouth, always with some small scam going, always on the point of eviction; she has a shiftless son and a doddering mother. Together, Noel and Vee are an odd couple, but Noel begins to help Vee improve her scams and their relationship deepens as the bombing of London gets under way.

This is a sweet and charming book about how people need each other, quiet for the most part, and often humorous, which is a take on the Blitz I've not yet seen. (I particularly enjoyed Vee's mother's letters to the prime minister and the scenes in the crowded shelters during the air raids.) I'm not sure how well it will stick, but I found it a light-hearted and quick read, and an antidote for all the horrifying WWII books I've been getting burned out on. 3.5★

47clue
Mar 11, 2017, 1:03pm Top

>46 sturlington: This sounds fun and my library has it so I'll pick it up this afternoon, I'm in the mood for something different and this sound like it might do well.

48sturlington
Mar 11, 2017, 1:19pm Top

>47 clue: It was a nice change of pace. I've almost stopped reading WWII books because they are usually so depressing.

49sturlington
Mar 13, 2017, 10:25am Top


12. A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson

Cover notes: I like the slightly open door on the cover, which suggests both a haunted house and a doorway into another realm. The gravestone is a bit much.

Tom, a typical 1950s suburban guy, is hypnotized as a party trick by his brother-in-law and develops psychic powers. Not only can he now sense the disgusting thoughts swirling through all his neighbors' minds, he also must solve the mystery of the ghost who keeps appearing in his living room, while reassuring his wife that he is not going crazy. This is a quick read, sometimes shocking, but not at all scary, despite the ghost. It explores some typical Matheson themes--sudden transformation and resulting isolation from a masculine point of view. I enjoyed this, but I thought both The Shrinking Man and I Am Legend tackled similar themes in a more satisfying way. This one does a good job of exposing the underbelly hiding beneath squeaky-clean 1950s suburbia, though; that's where the real horror lies. A bit dated, as women do not come off well in this novel; all of the female characters seem shrewish, slutty, or baby-crazy. I was pretty uncomfortable with the "jokes" about punching pregnant women in the stomach. 4★

50sturlington
Edited: Mar 18, 2017, 10:43am Top


13. The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue

Cover notes: Overall, nice. The font is a great choice, and the stark black and white reflects the wintry mood of the book.

An interesting premise that fizzles in execution. Jack Peter has Asperger's, and since he and his best friend, Nick, nearly drowned three years ago, he has refused to leave his house. Lately, he has been obsessed with drawing monsters, which his parents and Nick have glimpsed outside--and they seem to be getting closer to the house.

As this story was set in Maine, I can't help but compare it with pretty much everything Stephen King has written, and Donohue definitely comes up short in both the scares and the suspense departments. The stakes just never seem to become real enough to matter. Jack Peter's parents don't act in ways that I find believable, and the "monsters," while sometimes grotesque, never seem all that menacing. I also can't help but compare to the last book I read that was set in Maine, Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand, which used the remote coastal setting and the conceit of a storm to much better effect, amplifying the emotional damage and isolation of the characters. I appreciated the twist at the end of The Boy Who Drew Monsters, which I didn't anticipate, but the journey to that destination seemed labored and often tedious. Bringing in a magical Japanese woman (as opposed to a magical Negro) to help explain some of the paranormal concepts also seemed like a crutch. In this case, I think this story would actually make a much better movie than a book. Disappointing. 3★

51sturlington
Mar 20, 2017, 4:38pm Top

Have to relay this conversation I just had with my 9-year-old.

Kid: Mom, I just read a page of a real live novel!
Me: Really? What novel?
Kid: I don't remember. I just pulled it off the shelf and read a page.
Me: Well, what was it about?
Kid: I have no idea, but I read a page! Wait, I'll go find it. {runs upstairs}
Kid: It's called The English Patient!

I just got such a kick out of this. I even struggled with that book. He was so proud of himself.

52Jackie_K
Mar 20, 2017, 5:17pm Top

>51 sturlington: Oh that's brilliant! I am so looking forward to my daughter reading for herself and seeking out books (at the moment we do the reading for her, as she's only 3!).

53rabbitprincess
Mar 21, 2017, 6:26pm Top

>51 sturlington: Good for him! I read that book too and there were times when I didn't know what it was about either ;)

54sturlington
Edited: Mar 21, 2017, 7:33pm Top

55sturlington
Mar 23, 2017, 11:12am Top


14. Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters.

Cover notes: Love it--a striking, powerful, and stand-out cover.

I enjoyed and appreciated this gripping book on three levels.

First, it presents a fascinating what-if scenario. In this alternate America, instead of having a civil war, the states came to a compromise that essentially made slavery constitutional into perpetuity. In the present day, slavery continues to be legal in four states--the "hard four," as they are called--making the United States a political and trade pariah in the world. This hard-to-fathom reality of present-day legal slavery shades every plot point, character motivation, and line of dialogue, presenting a mind-warping vision of America.

Layered on top of this is a highly suspenseful, well-plotted crime story. The combination of tropes from two such disparate genres infuses both with a new energy. Winters has done this before, in his excellent Last Policeman trilogy, but he's upped his game here. The nameless narrator, once a slave, is now an undercover detective for the US Marshals who tracks fugitive slaves himself, with a hard-boiled sensibility but a nuanced character that gradually reveals itself.

All of this would be enough to make Underground Airlines a terrific read, but Winters has deftly woven piercing social commentary into his alternate history. This vision of America, in which people passionately condone the enslavement of black human beings, is so different from and yet so much like our own society that it forces the reader to re-examine all the assumptions that lie at the bottom of race relations in the United States today. Without preaching or lecturing, Winters makes us question how we view race as it affects poverty, education, incarceration, pretty much everything.

This book enthralled me on all levels. I so hope there will be a sequel, because I would definitely read it. 5★ (first of the year!)

56RidgewayGirl
Mar 23, 2017, 12:22pm Top

Underground Airlines was hampered by being published around the same time of The Underground Railroad. I know I passed over it for that reason. I'll have to find a copy now as I keep hearing good things about it.

57sturlington
Mar 23, 2017, 12:52pm Top

>56 RidgewayGirl: I can understand that. I haven't read Colson Whitehead's book yet, but I am going to assume that the two are probably very different, despite similarity in concept.

58LisaMorr
Edited: Mar 23, 2017, 1:37pm Top

>55 sturlington: Wow, Underground Airlines sounds great! I must admit I hadn't heard of it at all.

Edited to the correct post...

59LittleTaiko
Mar 29, 2017, 12:52pm Top

>55 sturlington: - Definitely sounds like something I need to read. The title sounded familiar but I think I assumed people were just making a joke about The Underground Railroad. Too many underground titles to keep track of!

60sturlington
Edited: Mar 30, 2017, 2:23pm Top


15. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Cover notes: I love these covers, from the hardback and the trade paperback. The atmosphere is very noir, but the cover feels a bit mismatched with the book. While Eileen's car was a big part of the story, I didn't think of it as a defining element, and these covers seem to suggest a caper or fugitives; the paperback shows a couple in the car, maybe a Bonnie-and-Clyde duo? So while the covers are great, they are also a bit misleading, unfortunately.

Eileen is a most unpleasant character, a twenty-four-year-old girl working as a secretary in a juvenile delinquent facility for boys, enabling her verbally abusive father's alcoholism, doing everything she can to make herself disappear. This is the story of the last week she spends living with her father in her unnamed dead-end hometown in Massachusetts, the week of Christmas, related from the vantage point of fifty years later, when she has long since given up being Eileen altogether. The turning point that finally catalyzes inert Eileen into movement is the arrival at the prison of an exciting, glamorous woman, Rebecca, whom Eileen instantly idealizes.

The writing here reminds me of Shirley Jackson, although Moshfegh lacks Jackson's acerbic wit. Here, as Jackson frequently did, Moshfegh climbs deep into the head of a disturbed young woman and lets us look out at the world through her eyes. It's not a fun head to be in--the sections about the laxatives were enough to turn my stomach--but Moshfegh manages to make Eileen a believable and sometimes pitiable person in spite of herself. Rebecca, on the other hand, was much more of an enigma, and sometimes I questioned whether she even existed or whether the events unfolded as Eileen related them; some of the plot developments seemed a bit too convenient. But in all, this is a well-done character study, thought-provoking and sometimes queasiness-inducing, and I found myself wondering exactly what horrific things Eileen became involved in after leaving town. 3.5★

61lkernagh
Mar 31, 2017, 7:01pm Top

>51 sturlington: - That is awesome!

62sturlington
Apr 3, 2017, 4:33pm Top


16. Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Cover notes: A stark and striking cover. I love the font, but I think the image of the water is just a little simplistic.

My first impressions of this book were not great. It seemed like a hot mess, to be honest. Jumping around in time and in point of view, from third person to first, and sometimes even second. And what was it with sentences just ending in the middle like.

But gradually, sneakily, this book got me in its grip and would not let me go. And I absolutely love it when that happens.

This is a hard story to summarize, but let me try. The focal character is Dustin Tillman, who's had a hard life. When he was thirteen, his parents and his aunt and uncle were massacred, and his adopted older brother Russell was indicted for the crimes, based largely on Dustin's and his cousin Kate's testimony. Which concerned Satanism (a big thing back in the '80s, if you recall). Thirty years later, though, Russell is cleared by the Innocence Project and released. Dustin, now a seemingly successful psychologist, is also dealing with his wife's terminal cancer and his estrangement from his teenage sons, and he's forming an unhealthy relationship with a patient, Aqil. Aqil has uncovered what he thinks is a serial killer (or possibly a cult?) drowning college boys around the area, and he wants Dustin to help him investigate.

It becomes increasingly clear that neither we nor any of these characters have a coherent idea of the truth of any of these events, Dustin least of all. Our memories are untrustworthy, stories we tell ourselves to make sense out of our lives, or "truths" other people implant in our brains. Here is where Chaon's odd stylistic choices begin to work their magic. Looping around in time, skipping from one unreliable narrator to the next, the reader becomes hyper-aware of the unreliability of memory. Ending sentences in the middle--something only Dustin does--demonstrates his fundamental disconnect from the events of his life. At a few points, the text splits into three or four columns, illustrating how multiple perspectives, even contradictory ones, can be true, or perceived to be true, at the same time. As we go deeper down this rabbit hole, we realize that we everything we think of as real is fundamentally untrustworthy. Like the characters, how can we even be sure if we are alive or dead?

This story is not for everyone. It is about the ambiguity of reality, so the reader has to be comfortable with an ambiguous story. Chaon lets the readers assemble their own truths out of the component parts he gives us, just as the characters do. While I think there are two characters (minor ones) who are more trustworthy than the rest, even they are just putting theories together. No one knows, so whatever you decide did happen is in fact your truth.

By the end, I had become convinced that Chaon is a master craftsman, and for the last 200 or so pages, I could not put this book down. Chaon has built in so many twists and turns and tunnels, it's like a great funhouse of a book that I'm sure would reveal more of itself with multiple readings. While not a comforting story--or maybe it is?--it was a fascinating trip into the depths of the human experience. 5★

63RidgewayGirl
Apr 3, 2017, 4:43pm Top

I liked Eileen quite a bit - it's so much fun to have to enter the brain of such an unlikeable character. I don't think I will ever forget the frozen vomit.

And I've just gotten a copy of Ill Will. The Tournament of Books comments section really liked this one and I'm looking forward to reading it.

64sturlington
Apr 3, 2017, 4:51pm Top

>63 RidgewayGirl: Eileen really put me in mind of Shirley Jackson, who is one of my favorite authors, but with a lot more physicality. The laxatives, ugh! I will look out for more books by Moshfegh.

I hope you will give Ill Will a good chance. I nearly put it down a couple of times, but I ended up believing it was a wonderfully crafted book. I can see why it would appeal to ToB readers.

65LisaMorr
Apr 3, 2017, 4:56pm Top

>62 sturlington: Another WOW!

66sturlington
Apr 3, 2017, 5:00pm Top

>65 LisaMorr: Yes, I rarely have two five-star reads so close together. I got up this morning and finished it first thing, and still cannot stop thinking about it.

67sturlington
Edited: Apr 7, 2017, 11:34am Top


17. Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

Set in what is so obviously intended to be an Ikea store that the book has to specify the store is actually a knockoff of Ikea, this is obviously a fun parody; even the book's design mimics an Ikea catalog, although the furniture gets progressively more alarming as you go along. It does make good use of all the typical horror tropes, and there were a few parts that made me chortle, but you can't take it that seriously, even if it does have a few good points to make about the torture of modern-day retail work, and the contents do accurately reflect my one and only experience shopping in an Ikea. This would make a good movie, I think. 3★

68sturlington
Edited: Apr 7, 2017, 12:05pm Top


18. The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

This is Stephen King's contribution to the fairy tale genre, best suited to older middle-grade readers and young teens. I read it to my 9-year-old (a reread for me). Although not strictly set in the same universe as The Dark Tower books, this would make a good entry point into that series. Admittedly, it is far too long for what it is and could easily be cut by half, with way too much setup, but once it reaches the daring-escape climax, King kicks into high gear and the book becomes unputdownable. The characters were all terrific and, especially important, the dog does not die! When we were done, my son asked me to email Stephen King and get him to work on a sequel right away (ha!). 4★

69LisaMorr
Apr 10, 2017, 4:25pm Top

>68 sturlington: I finally got around to reading The Eyes of the Dragon in 2015 - very well done! (I look forward to the sequel!)

70sturlington
Edited: Apr 10, 2017, 4:55pm Top

>69 LisaMorr: I'll let you know when Steve gets back to me on that.

71sturlington
Apr 12, 2017, 10:16am Top

I think I am officially getting old. I'm reading The Sympathizer now and I like it, but it's slow-going because the print is so small and crammed together. Meanwhile, I'm racing through books that have larger print and more white space.

And another thing I'm crotchety about: The Sympathizer has no quotation marks. I'll keep going because I like it, but I find this annoying. What do authors have against blameless punctuation that helps their readers relax and immerse in the story instead of constantly trying to figure out who's talking and who's doing what? Why are teeny-tiny quotation marks and commas so objectionable? I don't get it.

Ok, I'll get off my rant box now.

72clue
Apr 12, 2017, 1:25pm Top

> 72 This is on my TBR, hoping to get to it next month so I'll be sure and have something I can switch to for a break. I've noticed that a lot of the older books on my shelf have much larger print than the current books. I've seen books at the library that had such small print that I decided to get them from Overdrive instead.

73sturlington
Apr 12, 2017, 1:41pm Top

>72 clue: I bought this one sight unseen, but print size may now have to be a factor in books I decide to purchase, alas. Not quite ready for the Large Print shelf at the library yet, though. :-)

74Jackie_K
Apr 12, 2017, 1:54pm Top

I must admit that I am much more tolerant of small print now that I have finally got varifocal glasses - I know they're an inevitable admission of middle age, but I wish I'd got them years ago! (if I hadn't I would have had to get arm extensions as I was having to hold the book so far away to read it!)

75sturlington
Apr 12, 2017, 2:26pm Top

>74 Jackie_K: Not quite ready to go there yet, but it's coming, I think.

76sturlington
Edited: Apr 14, 2017, 10:51am Top


19. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Cover notes: A very Gatsby-esque cover, and that's not accidental. I actually like the back cover better, which depicts a black-and-white New York skyline, but these bright young things on the front are what I imagined the characters to be like. Turquoise on grayscale is divine.

Rules of Civility chronicles the year 1938 for Kate Kontent, the year she comes of age and comes into her own. This book is part love letter to New York City, part gushing fan of the great writers of the time, and I have to admit that at first I was put off by a sense of preciousness in the writing, of trying a bit too hard to emulate those writers of yore. After a New Year's Eve car accident changes the trajectory of events, though, the story started to take hold of me, and I grew to really like and admire Kate's independent, self-determined character. In fact, I liked all of the women characters in this book, even those who weren't so admirable, as they all had goals, desires, and the drive to fulfill them. Men seemed a bit superfluous, and the male characters came off as more mundane. I never did see what attracted Kate to Tinker, for instance, or the other men she became interested in, although Tinker's artist brother turned soldier was more intriguing and, like Kate's friend Eve, not on page nearly enough. In the end, this was a light, fluffy, and enjoyable story, but probably not a consequential one for this reader. 3.5★

77sturlington
Apr 14, 2017, 2:21pm Top


20. The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

Cover notes: Meh. A bit boring.

Zoo (so nicknamed because she works at a wildlife-rehabilitation center) is a contestant on a survival-type reality TV show where she is dropped into the wilderness and must complete silly challenges; she doesn't know, however, that a horrific pandemic has pretty much wiped out everyone on the East Coast in the span of a few days, so she makes her way home thinking the devastation she sees around her is all part of the game.

It's a bit of a far-fetched premise, I'll admit, but I think Oliva does good work with it, although it may have been more effective if the reader hadn't been told of the pandemic from the start, if we also had been left to wonder whether what Zoo was experiencing was real or staged. The chapters alternate between Zoo's journey home after the pandemic and the filming of the reality TV show with the other contestants before the shit hits the fan. I enjoyed these latter chapters more, as I found the character dynamics more interesting, and I kind of wished that Oliva had gone for a slightly different story with the setup that she gave us. I see what she was trying to do with Zoo's solo odyssey of denial, and I appreciate it, but it was difficult for me to buy into, and I didn't find Zoo's character compelling enough to have strong feelings for her. Still, this is a very readable book for fans of apocalyptic fiction. 3.5★

78mathgirl40
Apr 16, 2017, 9:40pm Top

>67 sturlington: I enjoyed that one too, even if it were rather lightweight. I've experienced the feeling of wandering in a seemingly endless loop around an IKEA store, so that part seemed realistic enough!

79sturlington
Apr 17, 2017, 11:47am Top

>78 mathgirl40: Lightweight is sometimes just what you need. And I agree about the IKEA part being realistic!

80sturlington
Edited: Apr 24, 2017, 3:50pm Top


21. Suffer the Children by Craig diLouie

Cover notes: Only one thing creeps me out more than clowns, and that is dolls. This cover is so creepy, I don't think I'm going to be able to keep the book.

This is a good old-fashioned pulp horror novel with a novel twist on the vampire/zombie story--not for the squeamish. On a single day, all of the world's prepubescent children fall down dead, plunging the world into grief. (Yes, it's a far-fetched premise, but this is a horror story, so you have to go with it.) Three days later (yes, I know), many of the dead children return, but changed. For one thing, they ask for blood to drink. Things deteriorate rapidly from there. The story combines psychological horror, as parents commit more and more horrific acts to obtain blood for their children, with monster horror, as the children start to transform, and a fair amount of squick. This is certainly not deep literature, but it is a fast-moving and entertaining page turner, if you like this sort of thing. Go in with suitably low expectations and you won't be disappointed. 3.5★

81sturlington
Apr 23, 2017, 3:36pm Top


22. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Cover notes: I can't say that this cover does much for me. Beyond its vibrant colors, it seems strangely uninspired.

The unnamed narrator is an undercover North Vietnamese sympathizer embedded with the South Vietnamese army and telling his story as a "confession." He begins with the Fall of Saigon, when he narrowly escapes with his employer, the General, and relocates to Los Angeles as a refugee.

It took me some time to connect with this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, largely due to Nguyen's style. Although his writing is excellent, he eschews quotation marks like so many contemporary literary novelists, and he favors long paragraphs with dialogue run up against description, so I kept getting thrown out of immersion as I tried to figure out whether someone was talking, or who was talking, or backed up to reread when I realized someone was talking. I don't know why writers feel they have to make things difficult for readers, but I suppose this is how awards are won. I did start to really engage with the writing once the narrator becomes an advisor on the set of a blockbuster Vietnam War movie; this was my favorite part of the story, and I found it both darkly humorous and incisively satirical. Unfortunately, I feel this tone was somewhat lost in the final climax, when the narrator returns to Vietnam, and I felt that some of his insights about war, power, and communism were perhaps a little obvious, possibly because he never seemed that committed to his cause in the first place. Despite its faults, though, this was a well-written novel with a different point of view on a period of history that I rarely get to read about. 3.5★

82sturlington
Apr 23, 2017, 3:48pm Top


23. Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Cover notes: A menacing cover. I like the birds in the stormy sky and the echoing stitches across the title. The houses seem a bit prosaic, but I imagine they're meant to.

The small town of Black Spring, New York, is cursed by the ghost of a witch, who haunts the town's residents with her terrifying appearance and her whispers that conjure thoughts of suicide. None of the residents can ever leave on pain of death, and all live in terror that she may one day be able to enact her ultimate revenge.

What a great premise that drew me in right away. The small, isolated, besieged town is one of my favorite horror tropes. What I particularly liked about this conceit is the clash between the stuff of fairy tales and ghost stories--the witch, the woods, the children in peril--and modern life, particularly the use of technology to try to track and protect against the witch. However, the writing is fairly clumsy, which may be the fault of the writer, the translator, or both (the novel was originally set in the Netherlands but relocated to the US for the English translation, and the end was also changed, according to the author's afterword). There were plenty of times where I wasn't quite sure what was happening exactly, or why it was happening, or why people were behaving the ways they were. Olde Huevelt introduces some wonderful themes--the fairy-tale imagery, the notion that evil lies within all of us, the isolation of the small town--but he has trouble bringing it together into a cohesive whole. Too often, we are told about the townspeople's terror rather than made to feel it. It was a fun story, but I don't think it was quite a successful one. 3★

83RidgewayGirl
Apr 23, 2017, 10:21pm Top

It's interesting that the setting changed in the translated version. Was any reason given? One would think that those who will read a book in translation would be fine with a Dutch setting. My instinct is to disapprove strongly.

84sturlington
Apr 24, 2017, 6:41am Top

>83 RidgewayGirl: No real answer, but I think he couldn't resist tinkering. He probably should have resisted, as I suspect he mucked up the ending.

85sturlington
Edited: Apr 26, 2017, 11:41am Top


24. Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Cover notes: A gorgeous and unusual cover--you have to see it in person to get the full effect--that is, like the book, sinister and unsettling in an undefined way.

If you are of a certain age, you likely remember the video store as a regular stop on the errands run. And if you grew up in a small American town, you may remember the locally owned video store as a peculiar confluence of people and culture in a place where there wasn't a whole lot else to do. I have fond memories of our local video store and the woman who owned it, who always made hilariously bad movie recommendations. I could have worked there one summer as a teen but didn't, and now I wonder if that's the reason I missed out on a writing career.

Anyway, this book is not about a video store, although it does begin there. Jeremy is working in a small-town Iowa video store, biding his time while he figures out what to do with his life. A couple of customers returning videotapes remark that extra snippets of film footage have been added to the movies. Jeremy investigates and is thrown off kilter by what he sees. He shows the movies to his boss, who happens to recognize a house glimpsed in a snippet of footage, and she drives there to check it out.

You may think you know where this is going. You would be wrong.

This little book is exquisitely written, a meditation on many things, including loss, grief, family, small-town life, Midwest culture, and death (perhaps the "universal harvester" of the title, or does that refer to some piece of farm equipment?). It is about all the things in life that we can't really know, and as such, there are a lot of unknowns left for the reader. It is in many ways disturbing, unsettling, off kilter, but it is also meditative and mournful. A short book, it will take very little time to read, but you will be left thinking about it long after you're done. 4★

Weirdly related recommendation: The Last Days of Video, another book about small-town video stores by another North Carolina writer.

86sturlington
Apr 26, 2017, 9:33am Top


25. The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket

I love all of the covers for these books.

Continuing the series as a read aloud with my son. I enjoyed installment 3 more than installment 2, perhaps because the orphans seemed pluckier and more independent here, or perhaps because there was so much discussion of grammatical errors. We also just watched this section of the Netflix adaptation of the series, and it was excellent.

87RidgewayGirl
Edited: Apr 26, 2017, 11:39am Top

>85 sturlington:} I'll be reading that. Excellent review!

88sturlington
Apr 30, 2017, 10:38am Top


26. The Prestige by Christopher Priest

Cover notes: I love this cover, and in fact, I bought the book because of the cover. The design is unique, compelling, and perfectly in keeping with the story inside.

In the late 1800s, two stage magicians engage in a obsessive and destructive feud, culminating in the development of a magic "trick" that has perilous consequences.

I saw the film long ago, and then recently decided to buy the book (mainly for the awesome cover). I don't think it spoils the book too much to have seen the movie first. In fact, I was glad to know a couple of the secrets so I could focus on the writing. The book is told from multiple points of view, both in the past through diaries and memoirs, and by the two magicians' descendants in the present. None of the narrators know the full story, so the reader has to piece it together. I enjoyed the style of the writing for the most part, even though I don't usually like epistolary books, but I felt the writing style captured the sensibility of late-Victorian writing. The book had a much more gothic feel than I remember there being in the movie, which I quite liked--a strong sense of the uncanny. Perhaps Angier's section was a touch long-winded, though, and the ending did feel abrupt after spending so much time with these characters. 3.5★

89sturlington
Edited: Jun 1, 2017, 2:35pm Top


27. In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Cover notes: The cover is very nice, spooky and atmospheric. What is it about typewriter font that seems threatening?

Nora, a crime writer, is invited to a hen weekend (bacherlorette party) for her former best school friend, whom she hasn't seen in ten years. The party is taking place in a strange, isolated house in a dark, snowy wood, and something very bad happens there, which Nora can't quite remember afterward.

Ware is very good on suspense and atmosphere, and that's primarily what kept me reading, as well as the hope of a terrific payoff--which unfortunately I didn't get. Here we have a group of rather stereotyped characters in an unbelievable situation doing unbelievable things. For this to work, we need a greater depth of characterization to help explain their decisions, and some unexpected but ultimately believable twists. However, the characters remain one-dimensional until the end, and the surprises turn out to be not all that surprising. The situation seems contrived: there are secrets that the characters are keeping from one another that would either be very easy to guess and just common sense or that would have been impossible to keep secret for a decade--yet the whole plot hinges on them. I am also not a fan of "amnesia" as a literary device. I can definitely see this becoming a mediocre movie, but it reminds me that I'm probably better off avoiding books that have been compared to Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. 2.5★

90RidgewayGirl
May 4, 2017, 5:03pm Top

...I'm probably better off avoiding books that have been compared to Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train.

I keep learning this lesson. There always seems to be some new crime novel marketed with great excitement and high production values as that, and they are never good.

91dudes22
May 4, 2017, 5:14pm Top

As I liked neither Gone Girl or The Girl on a Train, I'll be avoiding this as well.

92mamzel
May 5, 2017, 12:19pm Top

Funny how those comparisons work against titles, isn't it? I found reading Gone Girl to be a totally unsavory experience so when I heard TGoaT was similar, I had no desire to read it. Any book likened to either of those two I will avoid as well.

93sturlington
Edited: May 8, 2017, 11:16am Top


28. Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand

Cover notes: I really like this moody, snowy cover. The flare of sunlight through the trees picks up a theme in the novel having to do with photography, light, and dark. However, most of the book is set in Iceland, which we are specifically told is very desolate, so where is this forest exactly? Nowhere in this book, as I recall.

Trying to evade trouble she stirred up in Maine (in the novel Generation Loss), Cass Neary accepts a shady job to evaluate some photographs of questionable subject matter in Finland. Just before she is about to leave, she receives from Iceland a photo she took of a long-ago boyfriend, so she goes there next to track him down. And then the murders begin.

As in Generation Loss, this sequel puts Cass in an isolated, desolate setting, the exterior landscape reflecting the interior character. However, this novel is different in tone: less gothic, more noir, with a touch of the weird as it relates to Norse mythology. The writing is good and carries the reader along, Cass is still an intriguing antihero of a character, but the mystery is more straightforward and less surprising here, although some of the business related to Odinists and heavy metal music lost me. I've enjoyed these two thrillers and will probably get around to reading the last in the trilogy. 3.5★

94sturlington
May 8, 2017, 11:16am Top


29. The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Cover notes: This cover really doesn't do anything for me. Seems unimaginative.

Four women friends go on a whitewater-rafting adventure trip, but an accident leaves them lost in the Maine backwoods, where they run into unexpected dangers.

This was a quick page-turner of a survival story that I enjoyed. The four main characters were neither idealized nor one-dimensional, but seemed like real people, and their friendships were nuanced and realistic. The narrator, Winifred, seemed especially relatable; she's in a midlife slump, wondering what her purpose is and mourning some losses, when she's thrust into this life-or-death situation. Some reviewers noted that the characters made stupid decisions, but other than their initial decision to go on the trip in the first place (and if they hadn't gone, there wouldn't have been a story), I don't agree. In fact, their choices seemed like ones I would make under the same circumstances, and although a couple of the plot elements strained belief, on the whole I thought this was an engaging and exciting thriller. It reminded me quite a lot of a similar story I "discovered" last year: Lost Canyon by Nina Revoyr. 3.5★

95sturlington
May 14, 2017, 3:45pm Top


30. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Cover notes: This is a spooky, atmospheric cover that implies an old-fashioned ghost story. The story itself did not live up to its cover, sorry to say.

This story switches back and forth between 1908 and the present day. In the past, a young mother loses her daughter in a tragic accident and then tries to use magic to bring her back from the dead. A short time later, she is found horrifically murdered. In the present day, people in the same small Vermont town are disappearing, including the mother of two girls who live in the same old farmhouse. There are rumors that something haunts the woods behind the house.

I never really connected with this book or its characters, unfortunately. I found some of their decisions unbelievable, and I wasn't sure what to make of the so-called villains of the piece, whose actions seemed particularly far-fetched. The story never really spooked me or even built up suspense for me either. Really just felt meh about it. 2.5★

96RidgewayGirl
May 14, 2017, 4:41pm Top

I've read one book by Jennifer McMahon and was really disappointed. The writing seemed to indicate a better book than the one that was actually there.

97sturlington
May 14, 2017, 5:36pm Top

>96 RidgewayGirl: That's an apt description of how I felt about this book.

98sturlington
Edited: May 21, 2017, 11:53am Top


31. The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford

Cover notes: Love this cover. The contrasting colors are really effective, and the images evoke both the nostalgic and sinister moods of the book.

A boy growing up in the a small Long Island town in the 1960s discovers that a serial killer is stalking his neighborhood.

This is a quirky coming-of-age story with a nostalgic small-town feel and an undercurrent of the sinister, as well as the supernatural. Ford is great with characters, especially the dysfunctional but still affectionate family of the unnamed narrator. The narrator has a hobby of writing little stories about his neighbors, and we get to know them and their eccentricities that way. He and his older brother have also recreated their neighborhood in their basement, a model made out of junk called Botch Town, where their odd younger sister moves the figures in a way that eerily predicts real-life events. The story is a mix of short vignettes about a pivotal year in the boy's life and the ongoing plot of the siblings' efforts to catch Mr. White, a creepy man in a white car who they suspect is murdering people. They have the help of an older neighborhood kid who moved away but mysteriously reappeared. Mixed in are nostalgic stories with a realistic edge: the horrors of middle school; dealing with an alcoholic, depressed mother; the antics of a Halloween night; an exuberant Christmas party; rambling through the nearby woods. There is an epilogue that feels tacked on and probably wasn't necessary, but otherwise this is a little gem of a book. 3.5★

99sturlington
May 22, 2017, 10:44am Top


32. Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg

Cover notes: I am a sucker for covers with houses on them, particularly gothic mansions, because I love books that have such a contained setting. This cover, with its gates shutting out the world and their decrepit, overgrown appearance, is definitely a draw.

A young girl, Green, grows up in a commune living in a crumbling estate near the moor and ancient standing stones, but the utopian community isn't as ideal as it's made out to be.

The story is told in three parts. The first part is about Green growing up in the commune, which introduces the members of the commune, particularly Green's domineering biological mother, Freya, and her little sister, Blue, who I believe Freya kidnapped as a baby. We also learn about their strange beliefs about outside world and the so-called Bad that's out there, and explore Green's contained world of the rambling estate, its grounds, and the moor that surrounds it. Green seems genuinely unaware of her world's creepiness: the child abuse and neglect, the constant drug use and drinking (even by children), the squalor and lack of food, the lack of education (none of the children learn to read or write). The reader, however, is wondering what hold Freya has over the other adults in the house that keeps them compliant with all this. They are surely all damaged psyches, but because Green's perspective is necessarily limited, the reader doesn't get as full as picture as we'd probably like, especially of Freya, who often seems more witch or angry goddess than human (although there is nothing overtly supernatural about this story). Green doesn't recognize any of this, but then, as she points out, the commune is the only world she knows; the Outside is an entirely alien place. Eventually, a crisis destroys the commune, and the second part is told by Green as a young adult, first homeless and rapidly becoming an alcoholic, then living with a former founder of the commune, who is apparently her biological father, and his new wife. She feels drawn to return, though, and when she learns that Freya has died, she does go back to the now deserted, crumbling house. Finally, Green fills in the missing part: what happened to bring everything to an end, and it is disturbing indeed. The epilogue, too, is creepy but fitting. I enjoyed this quick read, although I was left wanting to know a bit more about the people--particularly the adults--who Green grew up with and why they were drawn to this cult-like community. 3.5★

100sturlington
May 25, 2017, 10:06am Top


33. The Girls by Emma Cline

Cover notes: Love this iconic image that so clearly evokes the novel's time and place, the newspaper graininess of the photo overlaid with primary red and blue. And it's nice to see a female face on a cover for once.

In the summer of '69, a teenage girl, Evie, becomes caught up with a cult based on the Manson family.

But it is a mistake to think this is a novel about Charles Manson. The title says exactly what this novel is about: the girls (and women) and the trap that our society sets for them, the trap of defining our self-worth and identity solely through the presence of a man. All of the female characters in this novel have fallen into this trap: Evie herself, her mother, her father's girlfriend, her friend Connie, the teenage girl she meets as an older woman, and especially the girls living with Russell (the Manson character). And the men themselves, concerned only with themselves and their own desires, are universally unworthy of this female subjugation. Well, not all men. There is, briefly, Tom, who is able to see the commune with clear eyes and tell the truth about it, but Evie wills herself to blindness nevertheless.

When that trap is taken to extremes, when the girls relinquish their sense of self so completely that they will do anything their man tells them to, it inevitably ends in violence, but who are the victims? Other women, primarily, and young boys--not just the one who is murdered, but also the boy, Nico, living at the commune. This is a modern American fable.

But Evie herself is not in thrall to Russell as these other girls are. The person who captivates her is Suzanne. When she first sees Suzanne, Evie thinks she is completely free, that she does not care what anyone else thinks about her. Of course, we later see that this is very much a false impression, but this is what attracts Evie to Suzanne in the first place. And we wonder, as we see Evie in her middle-aged incarnation, lonely and alone, if she had just managed to break herself free from the trap and find herself a Suzanne who had also gotten free, might she have found happiness? 3.5★

101sturlington
Jun 1, 2017, 8:45am Top

If you want to take part in the Rooster Summer Reading Challenge, I made a list so we can rank our favorites here: http://www.librarything.com/list/11079/all/Rooster-Summer-Reading-Challenge-2017...

102sturlington
Edited: Jun 1, 2017, 2:22pm Top


34. Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

Cover notes: I read this on the Kindle, so I didn't get the chance to inspect this cover in person. It's a nice cover, though. Decrepit barns and overgrown fields always make for a compelling cover, in my opinion, and here the art is relevant to the story, although it may not seem so at first. I also like how the paintbrush is emphasizing the word "demon" hidden in the title.

Pandemonium takes place in a world pretty much like our own, except that there are "demons" (entity actually unidentified) that possess people. The narrator was possessed as a young boy but believes the demon never left his head, so he is seeking help with that. I don't want to say too much about the plot because I think part of this book's pleasure lies in the discovery. I enjoyed this read, although I found it light. The characters are well done, and there are plenty of fun pop-culture references. The story moved along at a nice place, although I would have appreciated more information about who or what the demons are exactly and how they came to be in the world. It's always good when a premise is interesting enough that the reader wants more, rather than less. 3.5★

103sturlington
Jun 1, 2017, 2:32pm Top


35. The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

Cover notes: This is a fabulous cover, although it's hard to see it online. The dust jacket is a semi-transparent overlay on top of the hard cover, so that some letters in the title are emphasized. I of course tried to make those letters spell something, and they do, which relates directly to the theme. Clever. The overlay lends a misty, snowy aspect to the art, and then there are the ominous ravens. I'm not sure why birds on book covers are so attractive, but they are.

A married couple are on a ski vacation in the Pyrenees when they become caught in an avalanche. They manage to rescue themselves, but when they return to their hotel, they find the resort village is entirely deserted. They try to leave the village but cannot, and things get stranger from there.

A slight book with an interesting premise, although most readers will likely figure out what is happening here before the characters do. I enjoyed the setting, which had a high creep factor, and the subtly slow progression of the story. I thought the dialogue sounded fairly stilted, especially at first, and I was not crazy about the omniscient narrator inserting observations into the narrative. This is a short book, though, and a quick and atmospheric read, although not immune from some heavy-handedness. 3.5★

104RidgewayGirl
Jun 1, 2017, 5:45pm Top

>101 sturlington: Thank you! I've done so. I've just started The Night Ocean and it's so very interesting so far.

105sturlington
Jun 1, 2017, 5:54pm Top

>104 RidgewayGirl: All of the books I haven't read are available at my library, which makes me happy and means I might actually read a fair number of them.

106RidgewayGirl
Jun 1, 2017, 9:53pm Top

>105 sturlington: I'm going to have to buy at least one of the titles.

107sturlington
Jun 2, 2017, 3:35pm Top


36. I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

Cover notes: This is the third book in a row I've read with a cover design that plays with the title, and again it works very well here. These covers that take a few risks with design stand out for me but not in an obvious, attention-seeking way. I also like the sense of driving into a snowstorm that the cover gives.

An unnamed narrator is on a car ride with her boyfriend, Jake, to visit Jake's parents for dinner at their remote farm, but she's thinking of ending their relationship for reasons she can't quite articulate. No spoilers!

This is the third new book I've read this year that is strange and unsettling in a subtle but effective way, and that plays around with the form of the novel to subvert the reader's expectations. I generally enjoy this type of novel when it's well done. Of those three (the other two were Ill Will by Dan Chaon and Universal Harvester by John Darnielle), this is the one I liked the least. In fact, I was prepared to assign it a low rating, but after giving it some thought and doing some rereading, I concluded that this was actually very well written. Many of the things that irritated me about the story--the strange shifts in location, the stilted dialogue, the stream-of-consciousness narration--made sense once the entire story had been revealed and were certainly deliberately crafted choices on the part of the author. To me, the overall story felt a little too ungrounded, too many strange things happening one after the other, and then the end came off as slightly gimmicky. But it was indeed creepy and suspenseful without being overtly scary or horrific, and I appreciated that. 3.5★

108RidgewayGirl
Jun 2, 2017, 4:32pm Top

I've got a copy of Universal Harvester in my possession. And of course I'm intrigued by the sound of I'm Thinking of Ending Things.

109sturlington
Jun 2, 2017, 5:18pm Top

>108 RidgewayGirl: Both books are pretty short, so not a huge time sink if you end up not liking them.

110virginiahomeschooler
Jun 2, 2017, 7:53pm Top

>82 sturlington: I picked this up at the library the other day, but I haven't gotten round to it yet. I love that books get translated into English, as I'd never be able to read them otherwise (other than perhaps a preschool level book in French or Spanish), but why alter the setting?

111sturlington
Jun 3, 2017, 8:31am Top

>110 virginiahomeschooler: I think the author couldn't resist fiddling with it. It's still a fun read. Hope you like it.

112sturlington
Jun 16, 2017, 8:38am Top


37. Marlena by Julie Buntin

Cover notes: Abstract cover is abstract.

After her parents divorce, Cat moves with her brother and mother to a small town in northern Michigan, where she immediately connects with her neighbor, Marlena. Marlena has problems: a dad who cooks meth, a younger neglected brother, an addiction to oxy. And in less than a year, she'll be dead, under suspicious circumstances. Cat will spend years trying to deal with the fact of her death.

This is a coming-of-age story with such a genuine narrative voice and such well-delineated characters that it takes on all the appearance of truth. It didn't take me long to get caught up in Marlena's tragic story, and through Cat's eyes, we receive fresh insights on the nature of family, friendship, addiction, and getting older. By the end, I felt real compassion for Cat, damaged as she was--I wanted her to be okay. 4★

113sturlington
Jun 16, 2017, 8:49am Top


38. Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Cover notes: This is a variant cover (on the left) that I received as part of the Nocturnal Reader's box, a mystery book box for readers of dark fiction--which makes this a collector's item. I'm glad to have it, as I don't think I would have shelled out for such a short standalone book otherwise, although I think the art on the original cover (on the right) is much more interesting.

A nicely done little story about a girl named Gwendy who receives a "button box" from a mysterious stranger named Richard Farris, which changes her life. The button box is actually a box with buttons on it, but while Gwendy can guess what those buttons might do when pressed, she never really knows. The button box also dispenses rewards for its keeper: money, success, happiness. But it also comes with responsibilities.

There are questions. Who is Richard Farris (note the initials)? Why does the button box need a caretaker? Has the black button ever been pushed? There could be a novel in these ideas, and this could be its prologue. Yes, it's short, but it was a tight story that offers a lot for the reader to ponder. 4★

114lkernagh
Jun 18, 2017, 1:26pm Top

>113 sturlington: - Love the covers and your review has made this a BB for me!

115sturlington
Jun 18, 2017, 2:00pm Top

>114 lkernagh: Hope you like it, but if you are a King fan, I believe you won't be disappointed.

116sturlington
Edited: Jun 25, 2017, 7:42pm Top


39. The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

Cover notes: Really a beautiful cover, stark and simple and arresting. It has an absolutely Lovecraftian feel, but still seems modern.

When Marina's husband Charles checks out of the mental hospital after having a breakdown and disappears with only his clothes left behind at the shore of a lake, she retraces his footsteps in the hopes he might still be alive. Charles had recently published a successful book about H. P. Lovecraft and Robert Barlow, which was later exposed as based on a hoax perpetrated by L. C. Spinks, who also wrote an erotic diary purported to be by Lovecraft about Barlow but was yet another hoax.

This book really hit all of my buttons. It's about writers and writing and books, and so many American genre writers of the early twentieth century and their associates turn up as characters that it's like being at the most fascinating cocktail party. (William S. Burroughs was my favorite of them, absolutely.) There are stories nested within stories within stories, and no narrator can be trusted. In the end, fact and fiction become inextricably blurred, but this is largely the point. I loved it. 4★

117sturlington
Jun 28, 2017, 11:07am Top


40. Little Heaven by Nick Cutter

Cover notes: The interior of the book features several arresting pen-and-ink drawings by Adam Gorham, including a two-page spread that shows all of the main characters, so why go with this rather generic image rather than some unique artwork by him? I guess because it's dramatic, but it doesn't do much for me.

A woman hires three mercenaries to take her to a religious commune in the remote New Mexico wilderness to check on her nephew. Besides the crazy cult leader and his followers, the four encounter bizarre monsters and an ancient evil entity.

The violence and gore in this horror novel was way over the top, sometimes so much so that I was rolling my eyes (that scene with the snake!). If you are at all squeamish, this is definitely not the book for you. I thought the story was entertaining and the characters were interesting, but something essential yet nebulous was lacking. The book was about a hundred pages too long, for one thing. For another, it seemed so much like an homage to Stephen King that it lacked its own panache--I always had the sense that I knew what was going to happen next, even when the crazy stuff started going down. Nevertheless, I was mostly entertained and would give this one a lukewarm recommendation for readers who like this sort of thing. 3.5★

118sturlington
Jun 28, 2017, 11:16am Top


41. Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

Cover notes: The cover has a Hitchcockian vibe to it, which I like. The book also has a Hitchcokian vibe (and a Stephen King vibe and a John Carpenter vibe, etc.).

This story takes place during one night in a twenty-story luxury hotel on a remote California beach where masked killers are stalking everyone trapped inside.

This is basically a book that wants to be a movie, or it's a well-done gimmick--take your pick. It's told from the point of view of the security monitors and cameras in an exclusive hotel that hasn't yet opened, hence the title. Sometimes the text is laid out in columns to mimic the views of side-by-side monitors, but not so often that it becomes annoying. Essentially, this is a slasher movie in book form. There just isn't a lot to it, in terms of character or story development. But it's an entertaining and quick read, if you don't mind over-the-top violence and if you are not all that concerned about knowing why things are happening. 3.5★

119RidgewayGirl
Jun 28, 2017, 9:56pm Top

You liked The Night Ocean a little more than I did, but I think my enjoyment was tempered by loving A Separation more.

120sturlington
Jun 29, 2017, 10:03am Top

>119 RidgewayGirl: This challenge has been good for discovery of new books. Unfortunately, the writing style of A Separation didn't agree with me, so I gave up on it.

121mathgirl40
Jul 1, 2017, 11:42am Top

>117 sturlington: Glad to hear the warnings about this book. I still think I'd like to try Nick Cutter, as I've heard good things about his books, but it's nice to know ahead of time about the violence and gore. This means that I will avoid any audiobook versions, as I can at least skim through the gory parts more quickly in print.

122sturlington
Jul 1, 2017, 12:23pm Top

>121 mathgirl40: Oh, I think avoiding the audiobook is a good idea! I have a pretty strong tolerance for gore in print, but hearing it read would be way too much for me.

This is the first Nick Cutter book I read. I've heard that all of his horror is pretty out there when it comes to gore. I'm not sure if I'll try another of his books because of that.

123sturlington
Jul 1, 2017, 12:38pm Top


42. Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

Cover notes: Ordinarily, book covers with birds appeal to me, and green parrots are an important component of this story, but this cover is so very yellow.

Detective Claire DeWitt returns to New Orleans to track down a man who went missing during Hurricane Katrina.

I enjoyed Claire's distinctive narrative voice and her unusual approach to detection. Rather than follow logic, she follows instinct, based on synchronicity, dreams, visions, and the obscure methods of a French detective Sillette. This story, set in New Orleans a little over a year after Katrina, is also appropriately dreamlike, as the clues take Claire to various abandoned and storm-ravaged areas of the city, as well as into memories of her past. While I didn't find the mystery itself all that surprising, I enjoyed the journey of getting to the solution very much. Along the way, Gran had some interesting observations to make about the nature of the detective, as well as about guilt and atonement. 3.5★

124sturlington
Jul 9, 2017, 2:27pm Top


43. The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

Cover notes: Like the story itself, this cover is pleasing but not too challenging. The ghost doesn't haunt a house, but a barn, so I'm not sure why there's a house in the picture. I would love to have that coat, though.

In post-World War I England, Sarah Piper is working for a temp agency and is hired by an earnest, good-looking young ghost hunter to be his temporary assistant. They go to investigate a haunted barn, the other assistant shows up, and sparks ensue.

I certainly would not call this horror, even though it was shortlisted in the Horror category for the ALA Reading List Award, which was how I came to pick it up. It is romantic suspense, heavy on the romance. As a ghost story, I felt this was fairly predictable and not at all scary. I just never felt the menace of the ghost--a servant girl who committed suicide after being gang-raped. Surprisingly, it works much better as a romance. I'm not a fan of romance, generally, but the chemistry between Sarah and Matthew felt genuine to me. If you enjoy romance with a dash of supernatural, this would be a good choice. If you enjoy being scared and could care less who goes to bed together, this is not your book. 3★

125lkernagh
Jul 10, 2017, 10:32am Top

>124 sturlington: - Great review and like you, I would love to have that coat!

126christina_reads
Jul 11, 2017, 3:41pm Top

>124 sturlington: Glad you reviewed this, as I've been curious about it but not curious enough to pick it up. :) It seems like I might enjoy it...I'd definitely be more excited about the romance than the horror aspects.

127sturlington
Jul 11, 2017, 4:08pm Top

>126 christina_reads: If you like the romance angle, I think it will appeal to you. My lower rating is more because I'm not so much of a romance fan, but I still found the book to be entertaining.

128sturlington
Jul 14, 2017, 4:26pm Top


44. The Widow's House by Carol Goodman

Cover notes: Usually, I like houses on the covers of books, but this stock photo really doesn't do the house in the book justice. It's octagonal! With an oculus! Maybe it would have been better to go with the apple theme instead...

Because they are experiencing financial and marital troubles, Jess and Clare decide to make a change and move back to the town in the Hudson River Valley where Clare grew up and she met Jess in college. Fortunately, they luck into a position as caretakers for their former professor's decrepit old mansion. Unfortunately, the house is pretty thoroughly haunted--or so it appears to Clare.

This was an enjoyable suspense novel, albeit a bit slow in the middle but with some surprising twists toward the end. By making allusions to the Charlotte Perkins Gilman story "The Yellow Wallpaper," it casts aspersions on Clare's reliability as a narrator and whether we as readers can trust her depiction of events. We never do get definitive answers, but I liked this aspect of the novel. Since all of the main characters are writers, there is commentary on imagination and storytelling. The octagonal house was nicely gothic, with its foggy lake and old barn, and the book had a wonderful sense of place. All in all, a good ghost story that may have been a more appropriate read in autumn. 3.5★

129sturlington
Jul 24, 2017, 11:39am Top


45. Bleed by Ed Kurtz

Cover notes: I actually like this stark, simplistic cover. It's a better cover than the book inside. Really, something like this needs to be published in mass market paperback format with some sort of over-the-top pulpy cover, to help readers know what to expect.

When Walt buys a fixer-upper of a house, he notices a red stain on the ceiling that starts to turn into something else.

This was the first disappointment I've received in the Nocturnal Reader's box. While Kurtz does take this premise in unexpected directions, it's essentially a gorefest, with one-dimensional, B-movie-type characters who exist only to die in grotesque ways. So many people connected to one man disappear and no one comes to investigate--really? Also, this book could use a thorough copy edit. 2.5★

130sturlington
Jul 24, 2017, 11:48am Top


46. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Cover notes: Vintage Crime has a much better cover for this reissue, but such is the lottery of ordering from Amazon that I wound up with this strange thing. I suppose it's meant to look like the movie title screen, but because it's turned sideways--the better to emulate a movie screen, I guess--I feel like I should be opening the book sideways too. It doesn't work for me.

A drifter becomes obsessed with his boss's wife, and together the two plot murder!

It's fun to read these early examples of a genre and see where all the tropes and cliches originated. This short, down-and-dirty story with hopeless, desperate characters no one would like launched the noir genre. The whole thing has a gritty, greasy feel, which so many writers have tried to emulate since. Particularly memorable for me was the penultimate scene, when the woman is killed in a car accident; the visceral horror of that final image is hardly matched by contemporary writers. 4★

131sturlington
Jul 24, 2017, 11:55am Top


47. Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell

Cover notes: I'll buy any book if it has a cover illustration by Edward Gorey.

Eccentric lawyer Julia travels to Venice for some frivolous fun with an attractive co-traveler but winds up being arrested for murder; back in London, professor Hilary Tamar and an assortment of Julia's quirky lawyer friends have to solve the case at a distance.

This was a fun, quick, frivolous mystery that I'll likely not remember too well in a few months but that I enjoyed as a vacation book. 3.5★

132christina_reads
Jul 26, 2017, 10:48am Top

>131 sturlington: That does sound like a fun one!

133sturlington
Jul 27, 2017, 12:11pm Top

>132 christina_reads: I think she wrote four in that series in all.

134sturlington
Jul 27, 2017, 12:11pm Top


48. Coraline: The Graphic Novel

This is the graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman's young adult novel. Coraline and her parents move into a flat that is part of a strange house with an overgrown garden and eccentric neighbors. Bored, Coraline discovers a door that goes to nowhere, except it does lead somewhere--a parallel world where her "other mother" waits for her.

Gaiman has a gift for combining fairy tale and horror elements and making everything just dark enough and fit together just right. As with most of his stories, this was an absorbing and satisfying read. I liked the art a lot, particularly as it was done before the movie so the visuals were fresh. 3.5★

135sturlington
Edited: Jul 27, 2017, 12:42pm Top


49. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

Strangely enough, this novel reminded me strongly of another lesser known classic novel I read last year, Black Sun by Edward Abbey. Both novels were considered minor classics by authors I had heard of and wanted to read. I bought both books because they came in beautifully designed reissued trade paperbacks. Both Abbey and Bowles know the places they write about intimately--the Arizona desert in Abbey's case and the Sahara in Bowles's--and are particularly well gifted in capturing that strong sense of place on the page. And both books degenerate into an unexpectedly offensive male fantasy. (Read my review of Black Sun for more details on that one.)

In The Sheltering Sky, a well-off married couple and their friend go to North Africa--not as tourists, but as travelers--to escape their ennui and find some meaning in their lives. (These people are idle rich; where do they get their money? Bowles never says.) All are poorly equipped for the journey and make extremely bad decisions. It is immediately apparent that the husband, Port, is a selfish prick and we feel no sympathy for him when he becomes ill with typhoid. (He didn't even bother getting immunized before going abroad.) The traveling companion, Tunner, is also completely self-absorbed and rather adolescent in his behavior. The wife, Kit, is a woman completely without agency, who lets things happen to her and then decides afterward how she feels about them. But even with such a character, and even though we know the desert is slowly driving her insane, it is still almost impossible to accept her actions during the final third of the book, and even more impossible to accept that her feelings about what happens to her as depicted are what an actual woman would feel. She seems to exist solely to depend on men and to feel grateful to them for their existence and willing to let them do whatever and to like it.

Here is where the male fantasy comes in. Both Abbey and Bowles have created women who think and behave as they would like to imagine women would behave, not as women actually do. The net result for this female reader is a growing sense of disgust with the writer. This attitude toward women seems much more common in older novels that have been labeled as "classic" than in contemporary novels by male writers, perhaps because men now realize that women are in fact people and should behave as such, or because those male writers who still depict women this way are no longer lauded by critics. Nevertheless, this novel has pretty much turned me off completely on reading classic books written by men, and I guess my education of the white male psyche as depicted in literature is pretty much complete anyway. I did major in English.

By contrast, my discoveries of classic books written by women have been, for the most part, a sheer delight, an unearthing of really good writing that I wasn't before exposed to, or exposed to only in limited qualities. At this point in my reading life, it seems a much more sensible use of my time to continue finding and reading the women writers that my education neglected. In the meantime, this novel sits side by side on the shelf next to the Abbey, waiting to be donated--they seem to deserve each other. 2.5★

136RidgewayGirl
Jul 27, 2017, 1:16pm Top

Excellent review of The Sheltering Sky and I can't agree more with your experiences reading certain "classics."

137sturlington
Jul 27, 2017, 1:24pm Top

>136 RidgewayGirl: Thank you. It was the straw that broke the camel's back (heh heh).

138rabbitprincess
Jul 27, 2017, 6:31pm Top

I second >136 RidgewayGirl:! Won't be picking up those books anytime soon.

139sturlington
Aug 1, 2017, 2:28pm Top


50. Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Cover notes: This book is just beautiful. It is so hard to picture Borne, and while I don't think he looks exactly like this cover image, it does manage to convey his many possibilities. And when I take off the dustjacket--which of course I always do before reading the book, to protect it--I find that as much attention has been paid to the design of the interior cover. This book could double as a piece of art.

A fable disguised as a dystopia, set in a ruined City on an unnamed Earth, where Rachel scavenges for supplies to give her lover, Wick, who makes biotech to sell to other survivors. The City is ruled by a gigantic bear, Mord, a bio-engineered relic of the once-powerful Company, and a woman known only as the Magician schemes to take over. Then, Rachel finds some strange biotech, which at first she thinks is just a plant, but he grows and changes and shows his intelligence. She names him Borne, and although she loves him and thinks of him as a child she is raising, she does not know what he is exactly, or how dangerous.

This is a story about what a person is and how a person is made. It is a fairy tale, with a quest and a battle and possibly a happy ending. What I enjoy about VanderMeer's writing is the strangeness of his imagination, and yet how he makes that strangeness accessible to readers like me. Although I did not enjoy Borne as much as I did the Southern Reach trilogy, I found it thoroughly absorbing, a compelling story set in a strange and magical, yet familiar, world. 4.5★

140sturlington
Aug 25, 2017, 10:07am Top


53. The Fisherman by John Langan

Cover notes: The cover is a nineteenth-century painting, Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, and even though it's entirely the wrong location, the stormy, black ocean perfectly fits the mood of the novel. I appreciated the way the painting is wrapped around to the back cover, as well.

After having suffered tragic losses, Abe and Dan take to fishing for consolation. Following a hard winter, Dan suggests fishing at a new place Abe has never heard of: Dutchman's Creek. On the way there, they stop at a diner for breakfast, where they hear from the cook a long, strange, and unbelievable story about the place. This novel has the story-within-a-story format, not one of my favorite conceits, but it works here because of the old-fashioned style of the storytelling: part Washington Irving, part Herman Melville, part H. P. Lovecraft. Needless to say, Abe and Dan don't heed the warnings and go on to Dutchman's Creek, where they encounter something terrible. I can't say that I completely understood what was happening at the end, but the unusual and horrific imagery of the final scenes more than made up for that. A solid horror tale. 4★

141LisaMorr
Sep 8, 2017, 9:25am Top

Catching up on a few threads here and there and as expected, lots of BBs from yours!

Foxlowe, I'm Thinking of Ending Things, Gwendy's Button Box, Borne and The Fisherman are all going on the list.

I was happy to see that neither The Sheltering Sky nor Black Sun are on the 1001 list and neither are the authors - so absolutely no reason to even contemplate reading them.

142LisaMorr
Sep 8, 2017, 10:26am Top

P.S. I think I need to check out the Nocturnal Reader's Box you mentioned!

143RidgewayGirl
Sep 8, 2017, 12:20pm Top

Thanks for bringing my attention to I'm Thinking of Ending Things. That was a lot of fun to read.

144sturlington
Sep 8, 2017, 2:36pm Top

>143 RidgewayGirl: Have fun! I think you'll find some good reads there.

>145 I'm glad you liked it. It's one of those books I find myself still thinking about now and then.

145RidgewayGirl
Sep 9, 2017, 10:21am Top

Well, it's certainly a book that, when I turned the last page, I debated starting it all over again and reading it in light of what I now knew. I found a copy of this book right after you'd reviewed it at a charity booksale and I'd intended to read it and then donate it back for next year's sale. I've decided to hold onto it for now, though. I do want to take a second look at it.

146sturlington
Edited: Sep 20, 2017, 7:22am Top


54. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

Cover notes: Love it. It works on a lot of levels.

This book is hard to review. It reminded me quite a bit of Catch-22, and like Catch-22, I think I would benefit enormously from a second reading, but I'm not about to embark on that any time soon. Unlike Catch-22, it's difficult to know what is exaggerated satire here and what is reality. North Korea is such a black box, and while some of the events depicted here seem to strain disbelief, that whole country and its regime strains disbelief. It's as if someone set out to create a fictional dystopia in the real world. So I just accepted all of it. Even if I couldn't quite wrap my mind around this book, I deeply appreciated it. The writing was excellent, the central character was an effective North Korean "everyman," and the satire was piercing, especially when directed against the United States. 5★

147sturlington
Sep 20, 2017, 7:35am Top


55. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Cover notes: There are two covers or this book, one with a spoon (which was the cover on the library copy I read), and this one with the tree. I think this cover is gorgeous, and I love how it evokes the tree in the book, where the people tied pieces of cloth to take away their ailments--such a wonderful image.

An English nurse goes to rural Ireland, hired to watch over a "miracle" girl who seems to live without eating, but the nurse suspects a hoax.

It took me a good long while to get into this book, but in the end, I found it to be very moving. The characters were well drawn. At first, I really didn't like Lib, the nurse, nor was I supposed to. She was snobbish, judgmental, and dismissive. But as we spend more time with her, we come to see her also as lonely, guarded, a victim of tragedy, and in the end, a person who shows bravery when faced with a difficult moral choice. This story comes down very hard on religion, which wasn't an issue for me. Although I was sometimes a bit shocked by Lib's attitude toward the lower class Catholic Irish she found herself living in close quarters with, I tend to agree with the ultimate stance the novel takes on how harmful religion can be. As always with Donoghue's historical novels, this was well-researched and strongly evoked its time and place, while adding just a veneer of the nineteenth-century gothic. 4★

148RidgewayGirl
Sep 20, 2017, 8:07am Top

I loved The Wonder. I like prickly, unpleasant heroines and I do love how Donoghue writes her characters as inhabiting the time and place they're in - they have the attitudes and prejudices of their time, rather than having the main characters be modern people dressed up in old timey clothes. Donoghue really does her research.

149sturlington
Sep 20, 2017, 9:27am Top

>150 I really liked the way she brought me along with this character and gradually let me get to know her. Not all writers have the ability to do that.

150mathgirl40
Sep 20, 2017, 9:13pm Top

>139 sturlington: I'm finally catching up with my favourite threads and am happy to see that you liked Borne so much. I recently picked it up in a Kobo sale.

151sturlington
Sep 22, 2017, 6:28pm Top

>152 I hope you like it too.

152sturlington
Edited: Oct 6, 2017, 3:54pm Top


56. Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub

Cover notes: This is a limited edition of the story, released by Cemetery Dance, with interior pencil illustrations. It's a handsome little book that I received in the Nocturnal Readers' box.

A short Halloween story, presented in the classic tale-within-a-tale format. I enjoyed this for the most part, although I have to confess that I was not quite sure what was going on at the end there. The narrative voice was interesting, and the story was both spooky and different enough from the tried-and-true ghost story that it kept my interest. I think Straub's shorter writing is stronger than his novels, for the most part. 3.5★

153sturlington
Edited: Oct 11, 2017, 8:49pm Top


57. The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

Cover notes: For some reason, I really, really hate the cover image of this book. It is a visceral reaction (that bison's head is dripping with blood, by the way). I'm glad I bought the book used, because it is not staying in my library solely due to the cover.

Pepper is committed against his will to a mental hospital after being arrested, because the cops don't want to bother with the paperwork. There, he discovers that some kind of monster--a man with the head of a bison--is stalking the patients, coming down through the ceiling in the middle of the night. After a couple of deaths, Pepper gathers together his fellow inmates to track down this devil on the abandoned second floor. Certainly, there are shades of the minotaur and the labyrinth here.

But all is not as it seems on the surface. The staff are aware of the monster and even protect him. Perhaps he isn't a monster at all, but just a man, another one of them. And as Pepper gradually gets to know the other patients, he realizes that a) they are, indeed, mentally ill, and b) the mental health system is failing them all.

This is not so much a horror story as an indictment of the bureaucratic New York City mental health system--although the horror really lies in Pepper's situation, being confined to such a place for no apparent reason and with no immediate way to get out. LaValle draws his characters carefully, showing them as human while making their mental illnesses seem real. The choice of narrative voice is an interesting and engaging one; although there is no narrator character, the story is told in a folksy, conversational way, like a story heard in a bar, complete with humorous asides. Though this was not a scary book, it was a gripping one. 4★

154sturlington
Oct 16, 2017, 8:16am Top


58. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

Cover notes: This is a gorgeous, lush cover. The image of the almost-androgynous woman, who seems more like a statue than a person, merging with the flower uses beauty to effectively evoke the horrific aspects of Grenouille's obsession.

From the moment Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born, he is rejected by those who come in contact with him--especially women--because he has no natural scent. He also has the gift of perfect olfactory memory: he can detect any scent and remembers each one forever. As he gets older, he relentlessly pursues the ideal scent by thrusting himself into an apprenticeship at one of the most well-known perfumeries in 18th-century Paris. When he has learned everything he could, he sets out on a solitary journey, which results in him spending seven years in a cave and awakening to the realization that he himself has no true odor. He realizes that he can create and put on odors to evoke different reactions to him, making him practically invisible or respectable or whatever the case might call for. He also teaches himself how to distill pure scents from living beings. These realizations lead him to conceive of creating the purest possible scent, distilled from the virginal girls he murders. When he puts on this perfume at last, the effects on the people around him are monumental and shocking.

It's a good story, but I couldn't connect with it for many reasons, and I had to force myself to get through this short book. The author has taken on the considerable challenge of describing an absolute alien, inhuman character, but the reader then has no one to identify with, and I felt unable to submerge myself in the story. The writing is often quite good, but even though the story is short, I felt it could be shorter still; there were many parts that seemed too drawn out and repetitive. I also found the trope of virginal girls having some sort of idealized quality to be a bit trite. The ending is indeed shocking, but perhaps it would have been even more powerful if this had been a shorter story. 3★

155sturlington
Oct 26, 2017, 4:14pm Top


59. Come to Dust by Bracken MacLeod

Cover notes: Just uninspired.

For some unexplained reason, dead children come back to life possessing vampiric-style powers in this horror novel. The protagonist and his resurrected niece find themselves first kidnapped and then on the run from a Christian doom cult trying to eradicate all the "deadophiles."

I tried to read MacLeod's previous novel, Stranded, but I found his writing clumsy and ham-handed. I did finish this one, but not with an improved opinion of the writing. The story progresses quite rigidly from one plot point to another, without bothering much to provide broader context for this phenomenon, and the theme of prejudice is hammered home unrelentingly but not really treated with a lot of thought. I mean, these undead kids are creepy and dangerous, and we're given no real reason to sympathize with them other than they're little kids who shouldn't have died. Earlier in the year, I read Suffer the Children, which treats a similar premise with more depth and more real horror. 2.5★

156sturlington
Oct 26, 2017, 4:20pm Top


60. Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Cover notes: Gorgeous cover, really matches the dreamy surreality of the text.

One night, a young Native American boy sees his dead father in their house, in full dance regalia. As the boy keeps watch for his father over subsequent nights, he comes to realize that his father's spirit is not benevolent. This was a beautifully written novella, almost like a long prose poem, that combines fantastic imagery with subtle but chilling horror. The ending genuinely shocked me. 4★

157sturlington
Nov 3, 2017, 2:54pm Top

61. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (reread)

No cover--I read this on the Kindle, and it was the movie tie-in edition.

This is the latest, and probably the last, of my Christie rereads. Along with And Then There Were None and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, I think this represents her most ingenious and best-known mysteries. This time I did remember the overall solution, although not the details. I think what surprised me about this was how workmanlike it was, even more so than the other two. Characterization--other than directly pertaining to the crime--was nonexistent. The unique setting was also not really taken advantage of, other than to provide the isolation needed for the mystery. I enjoyed reading this and thought, as always, that it was very clever, but when you think about it, the plot consists almost entirely of Poirot sitting in a train car and talking. I am looking forward to seeing the movie; with such a skeleton, the actors really have a lot of latitude to make the characters their own. 4★

158christina_reads
Nov 6, 2017, 11:13am Top

>159 A well-timed review for me, as I'm planning to reread Murder on the Orient Express this month as well! Like you, I remember the overall solution but not much else, so I'll be interested to see how it holds up to a reread. I'm also excited to see the movie, even though the casting has caused a raised eyebrow or two for me. (Looks like the real star will be Kenneth Branagh's mustache...)

159rabbitprincess
Nov 6, 2017, 6:28pm Top

>160 I can't suspend disbelief re Branagh's facial hair. Poirot would NEVER wear moustaches like that! They'd get food in them all the time!

160mathgirl40
Nov 6, 2017, 9:09pm Top

>155 sturlington: Nice review. I've been wanting to read more Victor LaValle. I'll have to keep this one in mind for next year's ScaredyKIT challenge.

>160 mathgirl40: I'm curious about Branagh as Poirot, but honestly, I have a hard time accepting anyone other than David Suchet in that role.

161christina_reads
Nov 7, 2017, 6:19pm Top

>161 christina_reads: Branagh's is so obviously fake, too! I'm not sure I'll be able to get past it.

>162 Same! I love Kenneth Branagh, but I'm definitely not sold on him as Poirot.

162sturlington
Nov 7, 2017, 6:22pm Top

We should have a thread to discuss the movie, if anyone else is planning to see it. I have literally no expectations, although I plan to enjoy the costumes.

163LittleTaiko
Nov 7, 2017, 10:18pm Top

I’m hoping to see it this weekend with my book club. I’m a bit apprehensive about the moustache but excited about the rest.

164sturlington
Edited: Nov 9, 2017, 11:19am Top


62. The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories: Volume Two

Cover notes: Deliciously creepy!

This was a surprisingly good collection of unusual horror stories. I only skipped reading two of the older, longer ones, by John Metcalfe and Thomas De Quincey. The most memorable (and horrific) were, I think, the contributions by Michael McDowell, Isabel Colegate, and M. E. Braddon. There were also a few darkly funny stories that I appreciated, by Bernard Taylor, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, and Robert Westall. This entertaining little volume makes me want to pick up the first volume, as well as some of Velancourt's reprinted novels. 4★

165whitewavedarling
Nov 9, 2017, 11:43am Top

>166, I'm writing this one down as a BB--it's too hard to find good horror stories that aren't just the usual ones re-packaged! Have you come across Inflictions? I think that's the last horror collection I came across that really impressed me. In any case, I'm glad to add this one to the list of ones I need to look up!

166sturlington
Nov 9, 2017, 12:53pm Top

>167 No, I haven't seen that one--will check it out.

In the Foreword, the editors make a point of noting that these stories have rarely been reprinted or anthologized. I found most of them to be refreshingly different from the same old-same old.

167mamzel
Nov 9, 2017, 4:23pm Top

>54 sturlington: I read this book when it first came out and it comes back to haunt me frequently as a reaction to today's news.

>159 rabbitprincess: It looks like there are a lot of great character actors in that movie. I can't wait to see it and won't reread the book. I can't remember the ending and want to enjoy the surprise anew.

168lkernagh
Nov 12, 2017, 10:50am Top

Stopping by to get caught up and to make note of the reading you have been doing. Wonderful reviews!

169sturlington
Edited: Nov 19, 2017, 10:45am Top

I saw Murder on the Orient Express yesterday. I enjoyed it. I liked how Branagh played Poirot--with quite a bit of humor, but also with an attempt to divine his character and worldview. The mustaches were played a bit for laughs. The movie added a bit more action than the book had, which may not please purists. The scenery and costumes were beautiful. Michelle Pfeiffer stole the movie, though, in my opinion, and that's pretty formidable considering Judi Dench and Willem Dafoe were on screen too.

170sturlington
Nov 21, 2017, 2:15pm Top


63. Queenpin by Megan Abbott

Cover notes: I read this on the Kindle, but this pulpy cover is exquisite and perfectly captures the novel's sensibility.

Written in the vein of 1950s pulp noir, this is the story of a woman gangster, Gloria, who takes the young unnamed narrator under her wing and teaches her the job--mainly how to never show what she's feeling. Too bad, the girl falls in love (or just extreme lust) and betrays her mentor. There is one point about midway through, after a particularly gruesome scene, when Gloria says to her protege (and I have to use the spoiler tag because there is a dirty word and also it's a bit spoilery): "Don't worry. We'll find someone else for you to fuck." This line literally made me gasp out loud, not only because, coming when it did, it was so perfectly bad-ass, but because it crystallized the whole story in one instant. We knew then that Gloria was turning the narrator into herself, and that would eventually lead to the downfall of one of them. It's a tightly plotted novel with a great sense of style, and it makes for a fast, entertaining read. I only wish the other characters, particularly the boyfriend, had been as well-drawn and interesting as Gloria was. 3.5★

171sturlington
Edited: Nov 21, 2017, 2:24pm Top


64. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Cover notes: Meh, a faceless woman. And I don't particularly see what this image has to do with the actual story. But then again, the title didn't make much sense either.

Ok, this is truly it! No more thrillers in the vein of In a Dark, Dark Wood for me. Here's the plot: While Anne and Marco are at a dinner party next door, their baby--whom they left at home asleep with the baby monitor on--is kidnapped. The pace is fast, the writing is simplistic, the characters are almost universally unlikeable. And even though I tore through it in a couple of days--which I put down to the very, very basic writing, which spells out every thought and motive and leaves virtually nothing up to the reader's imagination--this book did not sit well with me. It was hard believing these characters would do the things they did, and it all seemed to be in the service of the all-important plot twist. These are not stories; they are gimmicks.

Now, I confess that I really hated Gone Girl when I read it, but now that I've encountered a few of the many copycats that have followed it, I appreciate it more. Gone Girl at least was trying something new, and it had real characters and a real story, even if the characters were all repulsive and the twists were almost unbelievable. It had substance, and now that I've read Gillian Flynn's other novels, I have a better sense of what she was trying to do and the risks she was trying to take. The books that have followed have just tried to cash in on a trend without really saying anything. They are all cut from the same forgettable cloth. They have also become rather easy to spot--which makes it easier to give up on them. 2.5★

ETA I do see that in the four years since I've read, I've upped my rating for Gone Girl from 2★ to 3★.

172DeltaQueen50
Nov 21, 2017, 4:33pm Top

I have trouble with thrillers all the time. I get lured into the idea of an exciting story, but usually the author goes so overboard or asks too big a leap of faith to keep the story in the realms of believability that I get exasperated. I keep saying no more thrillers, but then I get lured in again!

173sturlington
Nov 21, 2017, 5:18pm Top

>174 I know what you mean. You get sucked in, and then when it's over, you're wondering what you read that for. They always seem to lose it and go overboard, if they are going for the twists. I love a good twist, but it has to happen naturally.

174RidgewayGirl
Nov 21, 2017, 8:56pm Top

I think that The Couple Next Door is easily one of the worst books I've read this year, if not the worst.

175sturlington
Nov 22, 2017, 8:13am Top

>176 I saw your review after I read the book. I wish I had seen it before.

176VivienneR
Nov 23, 2017, 11:12am Top

Thank you all for taking one for the team! This one was on my watchlist. Like Judy, I've noticed it takes an exceptional writer to keep up the thrill factor without going overboard. I rarely abandon books so when the story deteriorates from a promising start I will finish it, but then I'm doubly annoyed about the waste of time as well as the disappointment with the story.

177dudes22
Nov 24, 2017, 5:21pm Top

I was one of the ones who didn't like Gone Girl either and I've tried to avoid the copy cats ever since.

178sturlington
Nov 24, 2017, 5:26pm Top

And I just finished another thriller that made me angry for entirely different but even more infuriating reasons. Review will come when I calm down.

179RidgewayGirl
Nov 24, 2017, 6:59pm Top

>180 I am already excited to read your review!

180DeltaQueen50
Nov 25, 2017, 5:26pm Top

Pulls up a chair and waits for the rant. ;)

181sturlington
Nov 27, 2017, 8:35am Top


65. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Cover notes: I'm in favor of books that show girls' and women's faces, since so many covers obscure them. This photo captures Devon's determination and also her isolation, I think.

Sixteen-year-old Devon is an elite gymnast with a shot at the Olympics, and everyone and everything in her life revolves around that goal. When someone she knows is killed by a hit-and-run driver, this carefully constructed world starts to unravel.

The story is told from the point of view of Devon's mother, Katie, and what I found most interesting about it was not the thriller aspect but rather the family dynamics that develop when a child has enormous talent. Family is a bizarre thing--you may not know the people you live with nearly as well as you think, but still you find yourself doing the unthinkable just to protect them. It is not only Devon's family that comes under the microscope here, but the families of the ancillary characters as well: her coach, the wealthy gym booster, the other gymnasts' parents. It feels deliciously uncomfortable to be peering into these families' lives and realizing that what is holding them together isn't necessarily love, as we would assume, but something much darker.

The other thing this book made me think about was the nature of childhood. To compete at an elite level in gymnastics--and, I presume, in many other realms--a lot must be sacrificed, including childhood. I found myself wondering at which point her Olympic dream became Devon's and not just her parents', and whether she was actually able to choose that path, since she had to begin training at such a young age. Her younger brother, also, was being deprived of a childhood in service of her dream, not through his own choice, although he does go along with it. Is it really worth it? It somehow seems so artificial and, ultimately, damaging.

Not so much a thrilling thriller as a glimpse into a world that I don't often see and a book that did make me think. 3.5★

182sturlington
Nov 27, 2017, 9:00am Top


66. Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia

Cover notes: A striking cover that again shows a girl's face--I think it is eye-catching, different, and very appropriate for the book.

When the story begins, eighteen-year-old Hattie is running away from her small Minnesota town to New York City, but is stopped at the airport and returns home; a couple of weeks later, she is dead, stabbed to death in a remote abandoned barn. The story is narrated by three characters--the sheriff investigating the murder, Hattie's English teacher, Peter, and Hattie herself--and it jumps around in time to describe the events leading up to the murder. This review will contain unmarked spoilers.

Mejia is a good author, she has depicted her characters well, and her skill ultimately made this book so much more infuriating than I think it would have been if it were simply another bad thriller. Hattie is a precocious but otherwise normal teenage girl, trying on various identities and figuring out who she wants to be, and not only is she brutally murdered because of this, but at the end, it is used against her to justify her own murder. Peter, her teacher, is a character I loathed almost from the beginning, but I think we are meant to sympathize with him. He estranges himself from his wife simply because she becomes wrapped up in caring for her dying mother--showing no empathy for the pain she is going through--and begins flirting with Hattie online, neither of them knowing who the other is. They start an online affair--bad enough--but when Hattie figures out who Peter is and reveals herself to him, he only weakly tries to get off the damaging path he is on. After a few protests, he continues the affair physically, rationalizing it in so many unconvincing ways: Hattie just turned eighteen and is an adult, he can't help himself, she wouldn't "let" him stop. Hattie is naive and inexperienced, and unless your age also ends in "teen," you have no justification for sleeping with one. None. Peter is the adult, he can help himself, he is fundamentally selfish and terrible to his wife, and I just despised him. Honestly, I kept reading not because I thought he killed Hattie, but because I wanted to see if he would get some comeuppance.

Major spoiler alert! No, he doesn't, not really, and the sheriff--who up until the end I had actually liked--seems to become sympathetic to Peter and his "plight," to the point where he concludes that Hattie's playing at different roles was what got her killed and that maybe she deserved to be murdered. No, she did not. She didn't deserve to be taken advantage of by an adult, either, or treated like a possession by her football-player boyfriend. I have read this kind of thing before (including in the news), but I expected a bit more nuance from a female writer (which maybe I shouldn't have), and Mejia's talent only made the whole thing more gross--particularly in light of the current exposure of pervasive sexual harassment, especially directed at young women. I finished this book feeling angry and wondering when adult men will actually be held as responsible for their actions as all girls and women, no matter what their age, are. 2.5★

183dudes22
Nov 27, 2017, 5:22pm Top

You should think about making that a category in one of your challenges - books with face covers.

184sturlington
Nov 27, 2017, 6:25pm Top

>185 What's funny is that I very rarely see them, especially with women's faces. But I do seem to read things in weird clumps.

185sturlington
Dec 7, 2017, 7:00am Top

Book to film adaptation recommendation: Alias Grace on Netflix. Just incredibly well done.

186pammab
Dec 7, 2017, 10:01am Top

>156 sturlington: The scent novel sounds incredibly creepy. I am uncomfortable just reading your review.... I can see why it might not work for you or everyone!

187pammab
Dec 7, 2017, 10:07am Top

>184 sturlington: Very enjoyable review to read, even though I won't be reading the book (I imagine I would have a similar reaction).

188sturlington
Dec 7, 2017, 10:56am Top

Nonfiction: Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace

I picked up this book for an editing class, but after finishing the reading assignment, I devoured the rest. I've read a lot of writing and style manuals in my time, and this one is very different--and I think, much more practically useful--than any other one I've read. The principles are simple, elegant, and easy to internalize, but once you start applying them to your writing, or the work that you're editing, they result in instant and vast improvement. This techniques given here are intended primarily for writers of nonfiction--particularly academics and their ilk--but I think they could be applied to any kind of writing. I will say with certainty that this is a terrific manual for cutting through bureaucratic, pedantic writing that I think we're all way too familiar with. Finally, the last chapter analyzing Thomas Jefferson's pronoun choices in the Declaration of Independence from an ethical point of view was fascinating. I cannot recommend this book enough to writers and editors. 5★

189sturlington
Dec 7, 2017, 11:20am Top


67. News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Cover notes: When my husband spied this book, he said the cover reminded him of a book he might have seen as a child in his grandmother's house. The cover does have that old-fashioned quality about it that perfectly matches the style of the story-telling.

Captain Kidd makes his living traveling from one small Texas town to another, reading the news of the world, bringing stories of far-off places to rural people who need escape and entertainment. At one of his stops, he is persuaded to escort a young girl, recaptured from the Kiowa Indians, back to her relatives near San Antonia. Ten-year-old Johanna has lived with the Kiowa for four years, the only life and family she remembers, and she seems almost feral. As they journey, a bond begins to form between the old man and the young girl, strengthened by the adventures they share, including one memorable gunfight. But if you expect this novel to be maudlin or sentimental, banish that thought. This is a simple story well-told with well-defined characters who you will truly come to care about--a heart-warming read perfect for the holidays. 4★

190DeltaQueen50
Dec 7, 2017, 4:33pm Top

>191 Totally agree with your summary of News of the World, the author could have so easily have veered into over-sentimentality and ruined the story. This was a special read and a great time of the year to be reading it.

191rabbitprincess
Dec 7, 2017, 6:57pm Top

>190 DeltaQueen50: Darn, my library doesn't have that one! It sounds good though. Perhaps I shall have to try interlibrary loan.

192dudes22
Dec 7, 2017, 8:24pm Top

>191 rabbitprincess: - I just took a BB over on Judy's thread for this. The cover kind of reminds me of the cover for The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin:

193MissWatson
Dec 8, 2017, 3:54am Top

>190 DeltaQueen50: Thanks for this review, that's a BB.

194pammab
Dec 12, 2017, 12:07am Top

195sturlington
Dec 19, 2017, 7:51am Top


68. The Cove by Ron Rash

Cover notes: Woman from the back. Meh.

The time is World War I, and Laurel is living with her veteran brother, who has lost an arm, in an isolated backwater in the Appalachians, shunned by the superstitious townsfolk because of her birthmark. She finds a man hiding in the woods who cannot speak and takes him in. Of course, he is harboring a secret. Rash's writing here is lovely, which helps disguise the fact that not much happens in this slim book. In fact, the story feels a bit contrived, moving slowly but inexorably toward its inevitable conclusion, which I didn't much care for. A pretty book, but not a terribly impactful one. 3.5★

196sturlington
Dec 19, 2017, 7:57am Top


69. Normal by Warren Ellis

Cover notes: I like the stark design of this cover, but I think it would have been even better if those specks were actually little bugs. Because there are bugs in the story.

In this short novel, futurists who can no longer deal with the implications of the future they are creating--one where everyone is under surveillance--are sent to an isolated mental hospital in Oregon. I liked the ideas expressed in this book, although I did think at many points that the writing about technology was muddy and could have been clarified. I did think the novel was a bit gimmicky, though, and I didn't get a sense of any of the characters as real people. Interesting, but could have been further developed. 3★

197sturlington
Dec 22, 2017, 9:06am Top


70. Sanctum by Denise Mina (I read it under its US title, Deception)

Cover notes: Another woman from the back. Very meh.

A well-written noir about a woman psychiatrist who is convicted of murdering a serial killer, told by the point of view of her husband, who is trying to clear her but gradually unearths her secrets. The most remarkable thing about this novel is that the husband as narrator is completely unlikable and somewhat unreliable, yet Mina still makes him compelling--sort of like that compulsion to look at a car accident. I'm not sure about the "twist" ending; it seemed to come out of the blue. 3.5★

198RidgewayGirl
Dec 22, 2017, 2:00pm Top

>199 Yeah, that was a weird one. I read it years ago and my main memory of it is a vivid recollection of how the au pair treated a yeast infection.

199rabbitprincess
Dec 22, 2017, 10:58pm Top

>200 Ewwww... maybe this won't be my next Mina!

200sturlington
Dec 23, 2017, 9:48am Top

A day late to post this, but the sentiment applies.

201sturlington
Edited: Dec 26, 2017, 3:40pm Top

A nonfiction detour: Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and and '80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix. Not only a fun book to browse through, but also an instructive and often humorous history of the horror genre. It's embarrassing how many of the books whose covers are featured here that I have read. This was a Christmas present. 4★

202VivienneR
Dec 27, 2017, 12:32pm Top

The Winter Solstice blessing is beautiful. Best wishes and good reading for the new year.

203sturlington
Edited: Dec 28, 2017, 12:40pm Top


71. Valancourt Book of Horror Stories: Volume One

Cover notes: Another deliciously macabre image. The two books make a set, for sure, and once I had one, I did have to have the other to feel complete.

Read Volume One after Valancourt Book of Horror Stories: Volume Two, and I think it was the weaker of the two. The first volume seemed to contain a more traditional selection of stories. Although sufficiently entertaining, few were surprising. Standouts were the stories by Michael McDowell and Christopher Priest. 3.5★

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