Shannon (sturlington) follows her bliss in 2016 Part 2

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Shannon (sturlington) follows her bliss in 2016 Part 2

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Edited: Aug 19, 2016, 7:14 am

For this year's challenge, I am following my reading bliss. That means I'm not going to set hard number goals, and I'm not going to commit to any CATs, although I will note any matches I do happen to read. I pledge to read what I want when I want. I'm going to follow my desires and the fates (i.e., randomness) in picking my next read in the hopes that one great book will lead to the next in a serendipitous fashion.


5★ - Mind-blowing or vastly entertaining. Highly recommended.
4★ - Powerful, important, or great fun. Recommended.
3★ - Entertaining but likely forgettable. Take it or leave it.
2★ - Flawed. Not recommended.
1★ - Just plain bad.

Edited: Dec 29, 2016, 10:43 am

Category 1: Something Old

These will be books I already own, either from the bookshelf or the Kindle, mostly classics.

Total read: 16

January: The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes (3★); Black Sun by Edward Abbey (3★); The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (4★); The Scarlet Plague by Jack London (4★); Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende (5★)
February: Dracula on audio by Bram Stoker (5★); Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2★)
March: The Secret Garden on audio by Frances Hodgson Burnett (2★)
April: The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (2★); Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (4★); Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (4★)
May: Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (3★)
June: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (4★); Lexicon by Max Barry (4★)
July: none
August: The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen (2★)
September: none
October: Breakfast of Champions on audio by Kurt Vonnegut (5★)
November-December: none

Edited: Dec 29, 2016, 10:43 am

Category 2: Something New

These will be new books I can't resist buying and Early Reviewer wins.

Total read: 23

January: The End Is Now edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey (3★)
February: Bad Wizard by James Maxey (3★)
March: The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (3★); The Unseen by Alexandra Sokoloff (3★); The Cipher by Kathe Koja (3★); The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (3★)
April: The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy (2★)
May: Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives edited by Sarah Weinman (5★)
June: Sweetheart, Sweetheart by Bernard Taylor (3★); The Grownup by Gillian Flynn (4★); Springtime: A Ghost Story by Michelle De Kretser (3★); The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison (3★)
July: Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott (3★); After Midnight by Helen Nielsen (2★); Vanishing Point by Michaela Roessner (3★)
August: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (4★); Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest (3★)
September: none
October: The Vegetarian by Kang Han (4★); White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi (4★); The Fireman by Joe Hill (3★)
November: Experimental Film by Gemma Files (3★); Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard (4★)
December: Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch (2★)

Edited: Dec 29, 2016, 10:44 am

Category 3: Something Borrowed

These are books I borrow from the library and my Little Free Library.

Total read: 27

January: The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (4★); Lost Canyon by Nina Revoyr (3★)
February: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (4★); I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (3★)
March: Far North by Marcel Theroux (4★); Lock In by John Scalzi (4★); Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (4★)
April: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (4★); Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton (3★); Ammonite by Nicola Griffith (4★)
May: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (4★); The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor (3★); The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (4★)
June: none
July: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (4★)
August: Heartsick by Chelsea Cain (4★); Descent by Tim Johnston (4★); Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta (3★); Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (3★)
September: The Caretaker by A. X. Ahmad (4★); Confessions by Kinae Minato (3★); The Three by Sarah Lotz (4★); Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (4★); Bird Box by Josh Malerman (4★)
October: Disappearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay (4★)
November: Devil's Wake by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due (3★)
December: Doc by Mary Doria Russell (4★); The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney (4★)

Edited: Dec 29, 2016, 10:44 am

Category 4: Something Blue

Since blue is my favorite color, these books are favorites: rereads of old favorites, new books by favorite writers, recommendations from favorite people.

Total read: 8

January: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (2★)
February: none
March: Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood (5★)
April: The Wave in the Mind by Ursula K. Le Guin (3★)
May: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (4★); Amphigorey Again by Edward Gorey (4★) -- reread
June: End of Watch by Stephen King (3★); Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula K. Le Guin (5★)
July: The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin (4★)

Edited: Dec 29, 2016, 10:45 am

Category 5: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.

These are books I read with my 8-year-old son.

Total read: 9

February read-alouds: The Westing Game (4★)
March read-alouds: Matilda (5★); The Bad Beginning (4★)
April read-alouds: Five Children and It (3★)
May read-alouds: The Reptile Room (3★)
June/July read-alouds: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (4★)
August read-alouds: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (4★)
September-November read-alouds: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (3★)
December read-aloud: The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman (4★)

Edited: Dec 29, 2016, 10:45 am

Category 6: The Hope Chest

These are nonfiction, cookbooks, and other miscellaneous reads.

Total read: 5

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (4★)
Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale (3★) and Woe Is I by Patricia T. O'Connor (3★) for editing class
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (4★)
The Snarling Citizen by Barbara Ehrenreich (4★)

Edited: Dec 29, 2016, 10:46 am

Where in the world am I?

Here's where I will post my world and US maps showing where the books I'm reading take place.

visited 18 states (8%)
Create your own visited map of The World

Polar Regions: Little Black Lies (Falkland Islands)
South America: Daughter of Fortune (Chile)
Africa: Who Fears Death (Sudan); The Three (South Africa)
Australia: Springtime: A Ghost Story; Lexicon
Asia: The Caretaker (India); Confessions (Japan); The Vegetarian (South Korea)
Eastern Europe: Dracula (Romania); Far North (Russia)
Western Europe: I Remember You (Iceland); Let Me In (Sweden); The Nightingale (France); Dear Mr. M (The Netherlands); The Nutcracker (Germany)
United Kingdom: The Wasp Factory (Scotland); Sweetheart, Sweetheart and White Is for Witching (England)
North America: Experimental Film (Canada); United States: lots


visited 21 states (42%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

Edited: Oct 5, 2016, 2:50 pm

1. Less than 200 pages: Black Sun
2. Senior citizen is the protagonist: The Scarlet Plague
3. Survival story: The End Is Now
4. About an airplane flight: Far North
5. About a writer: Negotiating with the Dead
6. About the environment: The Water Knife
9. Adventure: The Dead Lands
10. One-word title: Dracula
11. Title has a musical reference: The Ballad of Black Tom
12. Title uses wordplay: Little Black Lies
13. Read a CAT: Olive Kitteridge
15. About/by indigenous person: Ceremony
16. Food is important: The Vegetarian
17. Published before I was born: The Maltese Falcon
18. Features a theater: The Bad Beginning
19. Debut novel: The Library at Mount Char
20. In translation: Let Me In
21. Focus on art: Broken Monsters
22. Coming-of-age story: Matilda
23. Comics: Amphigorey Again
24. Self-published: Bad Wizard
25. Want the protagonist's job/hobby: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Edited: Jul 26, 2016, 4:14 pm

2. Women in science: Vanishing Point
3. Less than 10 years old: Gold Fame Citrus
4. Short story collection: Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives
5. Women in nontraditional roles: Lost Canyon
6. Published before 2000: The Westing Game
7. African-American author: Bad Feminist
9. Different genre by the same author: I Remember You
10. Award winnner: The Cipher
12. Women in combat: The Nightingale
13. By/about a woman: The Unseen
14. New-to-you author: The Expendable Man
15. Set in Latin America or Asia: Daughter of Fortune
16. African author: Who Fears Death
17. Made into a movie: The Secret Garden
18. Set in Europe, Australia, or NZ: Springtime: A Ghost Story
19. Female critter: The Book of Phoenix
20. Author over 60: The Heart Goes Last
23. From your "to be read" pile: Ammonite

Edited: Jul 8, 2016, 2:46 pm

Favorite read of May: Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives
Most disappointing: The Book of Phoenix

Challenges completed: 4 out of 5

June challenges:
I Do, I Do (RandomCat): Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives (completed early); The Silent Wife
Stephen King and family (HorrorKit): End of Watch
Cover Art (SFFKit): Four Ways to Forgiveness
Australia and New Zealand (GeoCat): Springtime: A Ghost Story; Lexicon
F and R (AlphaKit): The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

Okay, open for business!

Jun 3, 2016, 11:04 am

Happy New Thread!!

Jun 3, 2016, 11:50 am

Happy New Thread! I know I say this every time someone starts a new thread - but - I love taking the time to look through all the books read so far. I see a few I still have on my TBR and a couple that are on my wishlist. Looks like your bingo cards are moving right along too.

Edited: Jun 3, 2016, 12:11 pm

>12 VictoriaPL: and >13 dudes22: Thanks. Yes, it's a good time to look back, maybe catch some more book bullets.

Jun 3, 2016, 5:11 pm

Happy new thread! Love the photo for Something Old. Looks like you've been doing some great reading.

Jun 3, 2016, 5:20 pm

Yay! New thread time!

Jun 4, 2016, 1:16 pm

Well, this is some fangirl news right here. Does this mean I have to subscribe to starz?

Jun 4, 2016, 10:08 pm

Happy new thread!

Jun 5, 2016, 7:08 am

Happy new thread! :)

Jun 6, 2016, 9:47 am

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

These connected stories, centering on the irascible character of Olive Kitteridge, provide a microcosm of life in a small Maine town over several decades.

Even though this book was filled with suicide, mental illness, and the decline of old age, I enjoyed it, mainly because it is such a finely drawn character study. It is wonderfully refreshing to read about a female protagonist who isn't nice. I liked Olive for her brash tongue and her inability to suffer fools, but I also liked her for her flaws, for her interior debates, and for the small but significant changes she makes as the book progresses. But Olive isn't the only character--she barely appears in some stories--and even the minor characters sparked with life. This is a book about ordinary people trying, and often failing, to deal with life.

I listened to this. The narrator, Sandra Burr, did a terrific job of sorting out the different voices and infusing the narration with an authentic-sounding (at least to me) Maine flavor. 4★

Categories: Something old | Literary fiction/Short stories (audiobook) | GeoCAT: North America | RandomCAT: Color Your World | BingoDOG: Read a Cat

Edited: Jun 8, 2016, 9:53 pm

>20 sturlington: I have this audiobook but despite starting it a few times, I haven't been able to get interested yet. I should try again! By the way, is that the cover of your audiobook? Mine looks like this so maybe I have a different one?

Jun 9, 2016, 6:42 am

>21 leslie.98: That's the same cover as mine. I used whispersync to listen to it so I showed the cover of my Kindle copy.

Certainly give it another chance. I will say though that even though i listened to this, I think it may be better to read it. The story jumps around in time and there are a lot of characters.

Jun 9, 2016, 8:40 pm

>22 sturlington: I didn't get it as a Whispersync so I don't have a Kindle copy but knowing that it has these features (jumping around in time & lots of characters), maybe I will take my time with it (take notes maybe?)...

Jun 9, 2016, 9:20 pm

>23 leslie.98: Yes, take your time. I'm actually watching the HBO miniseries now to supplement.

Edited: Jun 11, 2016, 7:10 pm

Happy new thread! I have Olive Kitteridge on Mt. TBR - I was holding off until the hype went away, but then, of course, forgot that it was there... :)

Edited: Jun 13, 2016, 10:23 pm

Sweetheart, Sweetheart by Bernard Taylor

David returns home to England to the surprising news that his twin brother and his brother's wife have both recently died in separate freak accidents, and David has inherited their cottage. He moves in with his fiancee but soon begins to feel a presence there with them, and she's jealous.

Another entry in the 1970s horror category, a genre I'm affectionately fond of. This ghost story was not as enjoyable for me as something like Burnt Offerings. Despite one rather gnarly sex scene with a ghost, Taylor never really "goes for it" with this story. He keeps the horror at a pretty low simmer, and the ending twist was, I thought, rather predictable. I also was not fond of Taylor's overuse of dashes and ellipses. Still, I always enjoy the -- what's the word I want? innocence? -- of these early horror novels. They make good summer reads. 3★

Category: Something new | Horror/Ghost stories

Edited: Jun 13, 2016, 8:00 pm

I am currently on a ghost story kick. On a recent trip to the bookstore, I bought two books solely because they are ghost stories and have gorgeous covers.

Springtime: A Ghost Story is very short -- more of a novella really -- and set in Australia so I will likely read it soon and count it for the GeoCAT. May let The Hundred-Year House sit until fall as it looks autumnal to me.

Jun 13, 2016, 10:07 pm

It does look very autumnal! Nice! :)

Edited: Jun 14, 2016, 11:54 am

End of Watch by Stephen King

In the final book in the trilogy, Bill Hodges receives a bad diagnosis and Brady Hartsfield, aka Mr. Mercedes, has returned to consciousness with frightening new powers.

For me, this was a so-so end to the trilogy. I thought Finders, Keepers was the best of the three, with Mr. Mercedes a close second. It seemed to me that with this book, King had gotten a bit tired of his experiment with writing crime fiction and of these characters. It's clear that this will be the last of the Bill Hodges books since Bill dies from his pancreatic cancer, as expected from the early pages. Also, King brings the supernatural into this book, giving Hartsfield the power to enter other people's minds and control them like puppets via the mechanism of a video game. It's not clear whether his powers are awakened by his brain injury, experimental drugs used on him, or some other means, and King doesn't really seem to care about an explanation for this turn. What is clear is that even supernaturally enhanced Hartsfield is not nearly as much of a manic, terrifying nutjob as real Hartsfield was in the first book. The danger posed here never seems that real, and King moves his characters from point A to B to C almost indifferently. I read books now mainly to see if the author can surprise me, and there really are no surprises here. Not to say that this is a bad book -- it's not, just meh -- and completists will want to finish off the trilogy. But is it as good as, say, Revival, King's most recent straight-up horror novel? Not even close. (Pretty cover, though.) 3★

Categories: Something blue | Crime/Horror | HorrorKIT: Stephen King and family

Edited: Jun 16, 2016, 2:24 pm

Note: both these books are short stories. I bought them in book form because I also liked the book objects, but pricing may be more commensurate with their length as an ebook.

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

In just a few pages, Flynn takes all the tropes of the classic ghost story and subverts them. She gives us a terrific narrator who could certainly carry a full-length novel; a weird and creepy house; a weird and creepy kid; a heavy dose of unreliability; a nifty twist; and an ambiguous ending. I enjoyed it! This story could easily have been expanded--I would have eaten it right up. Originally published as "What Do You Do" in the anthology Rogues. 4★

Categories: Something new | Short story/Ghost stories | AlphaKIT: F

Springtime: A Ghost Story by Michelle De Kretser

I will freely admit that I bought this lovely little book for its cover. This is indeed a ghost story, but a very subtle one. Frances has just moved to Sidney from Melbourne with her new lover, Charlie, who left his wife and son for her. Now doubts are emerging but they are always an undercurrent, subsumed into Frances's observations of her everyday life: dinner party chats, visits from Charlie's son, walks with the dog between the river and back gardens. Here she sees the "ghost," a figure of a woman in the garden of a house she can never identify, which somehow personifies her unease about the turns her life has taken. Like all good ghost stories, there's a bit of a surprise at the end. An unexpected and enjoyable little book. High 3★

Categories: Something new | Short story/Ghost stories | GeoCAT: Australia & New Zealand | Woman BingoPUP: Set in Europe, Australia or NZ

Jun 16, 2016, 2:37 pm

It's too bad that the third Bill Hodges book reverts to the supernatural. I'll be reading it anyway, though.

Jun 16, 2016, 2:38 pm

Happy new thread! I always enjoy a review of what has gone before, and in this case even got some more for the wishlist!

Jun 16, 2016, 2:39 pm

>31 RidgewayGirl: Well, you do have to complete the trilogy. It's a fast read, like pretty much any King book. Good for a plane ride.

Jun 16, 2016, 6:57 pm

>30 sturlington: Ah, that's what The Grownup is about! Bought it on spec as a Christmas gift (friend is a Gillian Flynn fan) but never thought to look at the cover blurb.

>29 sturlington: Just picked up End of Watch from the library today! Excited to finish the trilogy.

Jun 16, 2016, 7:19 pm

>34 rabbitprincess: I'm interested in what you think of it. Just remember I'm hard on King in my reviews because he's one of my favorite authors.

Jun 18, 2016, 1:17 pm

Happy new thread Shannon! I see you are making great progress with your Bingo reading (and your category reading)!

Ooooohhhh.... I loved my read of Olive Kitteridge. Glad to see it was a good read for you.

Jun 24, 2016, 9:04 am

Lexicon by Max Barry

Members of a shady, secret organization can control people using only words, but when one of them gets hold of a bareword, which has the power to compel everyone who sees it, an internal war breaks out.

A cinematic page-turner of a book. There are chases and shootouts galore. The story moves at a dizzying pace between past events and what's happening now, and into and out of the heads of various characters. Unlike many reviewers, I didn't find these shifts at all confusing. On the contrary, I thought Barry handled them eloquently, and I never felt lost in the timeline or point of view. My favorite character was Eliot, not one of the two protagonists but, I felt, the most deeply developed and relatable of the characters. I wish the story had focused more on him and his relationship with Emily rather than being what it was, which at heart is a love story. Love stories are invariably tricky, because if the reader doesn't wholly and completely buy into the romance, then the major characters' decisions seem rather pointless. No, I didn't buy the love story here. Harry comes across as someone incapable of feeling deep love--in fact, that's a major plot point--and Emily's version of love, as consistently portrayed, skews much closer to dangerous obsession. I mean, she's stalker-ish. By focusing on the love story, I think Barry omits the most interesting part of his premise, which is the organization of "poets" he has created. Who are they? What are their origins? What are their goals? Barry avoids answering these oh-so-interesting questions and leaves the reader wondering, if we don't know what the stakes truly are, then why should we care. This deficit keeps a good book from being a truly great book, unfortunately. Low 4★

Categories: Something old | Thriller | GeoCAT: Australia and New Zealand

Jul 1, 2016, 7:34 pm

I have a couple of reviews to add for June, but I wanted to note that Lexicon is read #50 for the year. As we're at the halfway point, this puts me on track to read 100 books (or more) this year, which I think is very respectable.

Jul 2, 2016, 9:27 pm

>38 sturlington:
Spot on - congrats!

Jul 5, 2016, 8:52 am

>38 sturlington: Yes, congrats!

Jul 8, 2016, 2:29 pm

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling

Reading this aloud to my son several years after my first reading, I've increased my rating by a star as it was highly engaging and much more fun to read aloud to an impressionable young boy than it was when I was reading it only to my old and jaded self. 4★

Categories: Baby carriage | Children's books/Fantasy

Edited: Jul 8, 2016, 3:01 pm

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

This is a psychological study of a long-term relationship coming apart, not really a thriller, as advertised. It is told in alternating points of view: hers and his. She, Jodi, is a rather cold and distant character, highly controlling of her environment, who seeks to avoid conflict and confrontation, even though she knows her longtime partner (but not spouse), Todd, is a habitual cheater. As a character, Jodi is hard to like, but she becomes more sympathetic as we learn more about her and her past because we understand why she is the way she is. He, Todd, comes across as someone not in control at all, but rather someone who drifts into situations, motivated by a compulsion to cheat, or lets the women in his life make the decisions for him. He is entirely unsympathetic, even as we come to know more about him, and frankly seems like an immature doofus. We have to wonder why Jodi stayed with him so long or what she ever saw in him. Things come to a head when Todd's very young girlfriend gets pregnant and insists on his marrying her, and he agrees without ever seeming to really agree. (He doesn't ever really do anything; he's maddening.) At the end, there is a slight twist, but as it is based on coincidence, I didn't find it very satisfying. It's a short book but comes across as long-winded for what it has to say, and I wasn't sure how--or if--Jodi was changed by the events of the story. 3★

Categories: Something new | Domestic suspense | RandomCAT: I Do, I Do (June)

Edited: Jul 9, 2016, 9:10 am

Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula K. Le Guin

It is in our bodies that we lose or begin our freedom, in our bodies that we accept or end our slavery.

I cannot say that this is Le Guin's best book--that honor still goes to The Left Hand of Darkness, I think--but this is quite possibly her most beautifully written and most emotionally affecting book. That I can say.

Set on neighboring planets, Werel and Yeowe, this collection of four novellas is a study of relationships: between a man and a woman, between men and women, between enslavers and enslaved, between natives and foreigners. As we read these stories--which, at their cores, are all love stories--we learn the history of a civilization that mirrors our own in uncomfortable ways. Le Guin has structured this book perfectly, beginning with a slow and subtle introduction to this society and gradually building to an emotional crescendo.

The first two novellas could be paired with each other, as could the last two. In each of the first two stories, an unlikely relationship forms between a man and a woman. Thrown together by circumstance, they move past their initial assumptions and prejudices, and first see, then come to love, the other. The first story, Betrayals, is quiet, reminiscent, and almost elegiac in its tone, told from the point of view of an older woman in self-exile who believes that her life is essentially over when she rediscovers love. Only a bit of Yeowe's turbulent history is revealed; once a planet of slaves, there was a long and violent revolutionary war, and the planet's inhabitants dispelled their enslavers back to Werel and won their independence. In the second story, Forgiveness Day, more is revealed about these two planets' societies, particularly the strict separation of men and women and general oppression of women on Werel. An envoy from the federation of planets called the Ekumen, a young woman, arrives on Werel and shocks her bodyguard, a former soldier, with her behavior. But when they are kidnapped together, they come to know each other as people and, eventually, to accept each other on equal terms.

The second two novellas are also a pair, more closely related. A Man of the People tells the story of another Ekumen envoy, providing a rare glimpse of life on Hain, where he is from, and how historians are trained. Once he arrives on Yeowe, he becomes aware of the societal oppression of women and is drawn into the women's liberation movement, which he subtly affects as he can from his position as an influential outsider. The final story, "A Woman's Liberation," is the most powerful and emotionally wrenching of the four. Le Guin reveals without flinching the brutal history of these two planets, as experienced by one woman, who is first a slave, then liberated, then enslaved again as a "use woman," a sexual slave, then escapes to Yeowe, where she thinks she will be free. There she finds a still total oppression of women, and she eventually joins the underground liberation movement, where she meets the Hainish envoy. As their love grows, she is able to let go of her past, to forgive herself and her people for their history. She is able to fully become who she is meant to be, to help bring about true liberation and document the history so the past won't be repeated. And she is able to love, as an equal. This was such a powerful, moving piece of writing that I can't do it justice in describing it.

For those longtime fans of Le Guin's science fiction, this collection has an added bonus: a supplemental brief history of Hain, a tantalizing society that we have before only glimpsed in her work, and the history of the Ekumen. This is a book I am sure I will return to again and again, the product of a great (and underappreciated) writer at the height of her abilities. 5★

Categories: Something blue | Science fiction/novellas | SFFKit: Cover art

Edited: Jul 26, 2016, 4:12 pm

June Wrap-Up (finally!)
Favorite read of June: Four Ways to Forgiveness
Most disappointing: End of Watch

Challenges completed: 5 out of 5

July challenges:
Good times! (RandomCat): Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore; After Midnight
Graphic novels/children's horror (HorrorKit)
Change through transformation or adaptation (SFFKit): City of Mirrors; Vanishing Point
Central America and Caribbean (GeoCat)
K and A (AlphaKit): Bury Me Deep

Jul 8, 2016, 9:55 pm

I really need to read more Ursula Le Guin. I've only read The Wizard of Earthsea so far. Great review of Four Ways to Forgiveness!

Edited: Jul 9, 2016, 9:15 am

>45 mathgirl40: She is one of my favorite writers of all time. Though most of her science fiction takes place in the same universe, it's not strictly a series so you can come in at any point. I think The Left Hand of Darkness would be the best starting place.

Jul 10, 2016, 9:02 pm

>41 sturlington:
I'm in the middle of an audiobook reread and it's so nice to have it read it to you. Not sure I could get my mum to read Harry Potter to me, so your son is lucky!

Jul 12, 2016, 3:51 pm

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

The last book in The Passage series provides a satisfying ending to the trilogy. In keeping with the previous two installments, The City of Mirrors is massive and covers a long period of time, again focusing on the stalwart survivors we have gotten to know so well over the series, now returned to Kerrville, Texas. Although the threat of the original Twelve had been eliminated in the previous book, the first victim of the virus--and the most powerful of the original vampires--remains. He is Zero (Timothy Fanning), and he is holed up a ruined New York City. Zero's back story is long enough, and interesting enough, to be a novel in itself. Knowing it gives this villain dimension and helps us understand his obsessions. He is also patient, naturally, given his extended lifespan. I won't say more, for fear of giving anything away--only that this book contained all the nerve-wracking suspense, depth of character, and epic scale I have come to expect and love in this series, and it offers satisfying closure for all of these characters whom we have stuck with through so much. High 4 ★

Categories: Something blue | Horror/Post-apocalyptic | SFFKit: Change through transformation

Edited: Jul 12, 2016, 4:04 pm

I took an online grammar course this summer. It was surprisingly enjoyable and surprisingly challenging. I haven't taken a class in a very long time, and I thought this one would just be a review of stuff I already knew--it wasn't. I now have proof positive that I am one of those word nerds who thinks grammar is fun! Besides the text--which was A Writer's Reference (recommended for anyone who writes for school or professionally)--I read two more mainstream books for the course.

Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale: An entertaining book that will help you review the parts of speech. It also helps tease out what makes writing good and what makes it clunky by looking at such intangibles as lyricism, voice, and melody of writing. A good read for writers, editors, and anyone who likes language. 3★

Woe Is I by Patricia T. O'Conner: A lighthearted approach to problematic issues with grammar and usage. This is a quick, fun read and should also be handy reference, with chapters on easily confused words, cliches to let die, and common grammar snafus. 3★

Categories: Hope Chest | Nonfiction/Language

Edited: Jul 13, 2016, 4:34 pm

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Is there a genre for nerdy guy chick-lit? Because that's what this is, basically. And it's well done for what it is--light-hearted, optimistic, fun. In tone and in its obvious reverence for anything techy, geeky, or of pop culture, it reminds me of The Martian and Ready Player One. All the characters are nice, smart, talented, quirky, adorable, and happy just to be doing what they do. Yes, it's a fantasy, an agreeable one. Not my usual thing, but I can't find fault with it. (Also, I love the way the little books on the back of the cover glow in the dark.) 4★

Categories: Something borrowed | Fantasy | RandomCAT: Good times! | BingoDOG: Want the protagonist's job or hobby

Jul 13, 2016, 4:30 pm

>50 sturlington: I am not going to read your review yet because I am about to start reading this book in a few days, but I am pleased to see you liked it!

Jul 15, 2016, 11:11 am

The Gunslinger -- Can I just say that I am really looking forward to this? I'm thinking a Stephen King theme for my categories next year.

Jul 15, 2016, 11:14 am

That would be a cool theme! Also please include more photos of Idris Elba ;)

Jul 15, 2016, 11:18 am

>53 rabbitprincess: You can't have too many photos of Idris Elba. How perfect is this one?

Jul 15, 2016, 12:08 pm

>54 sturlington: Oooooooo! :D

Jul 15, 2016, 9:52 pm

>150 sturlington: - I fully support "nerdy chick-lit" becoming a thing. That would be completely in my wheelhouse.

Jul 20, 2016, 4:46 pm

Taking a book bullet for Four Ways to Forgiveness; I've enjoyed every Le Guin I've read so far. And Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore looks good too.

Nice to see your review of The City of Mirrors - I finished re-reading The Passage last week (first read in 2010) and started The Twelve on Sunday and as soon as I'm done I plan to jump right into The City of Mirrors.

Jul 20, 2016, 6:04 pm

>54 sturlington: Well, ok then.

Jul 24, 2016, 3:50 pm

Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott

In 1930s Phoenix, Marion has been left alone by her doctor-husband, who has gone to work in Mexico as a sort of rehab for his heroin addiction. Naive Marion gets mixed up with a couple of party girls (who are also lesbian lovers), and through them, meets a married businessman who seduces her. As she learns more about her love, Marion starts shedding her naivete, and when violence ensues, she finds out just what she's willing to do.

It took me a while to get used to Abbot's writing style; she likes to string together long sentences linked by multiple ands. Once I got into the rhythm of the writing, the novel rocked right along. As it was based on true events, the story did feel a little thin in places, since it had to be stretched to fit the actual circumstances. I didn't agree with all of Marion's decisions, but I admired her growth as a character. This novel does underscore all of the ridiculous restrictions women had to live under during that time. 3★

Categories: Something new | Crime/Domestic suspense | AlphaKIT: A

Jul 24, 2016, 4:05 pm

After Midnight by Helen Nielsen

Marriage ends in murder: when the husband is found stabbed to death and his wife passed out drunk in the bedroom with the murder weapon on the other pillow, naturally she is the prime suspect. Gadabout lawyer Simon takes on the case when he notices the widow's -- shall we say, wiles -- and sets out to prove her innocence.

I picked this novel up on the cheap for the Amazon Kindle because I had read one of Nielsen's stories anthologized in Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives. Overall, I thought this was a rather weak and cliched story with no true surprises. Although Nielsen's mouthpiece character does make a case at one point that women should be viewed as people, there were far too many cliches about women littering the story to suit me, and the overly quick romance between the protagonist and his client was rather distasteful. 2★

Categories: Something new | Crime/Domestic suspense | RandomCAT: Good times | AlphaKIT: A

Edited: Jul 26, 2016, 4:15 pm

Vanishing Point by Michaela Roessner

Thirty years ago, 90 percent of the world's population suddenly vanished in the middle of the night, and those who are left are still searching for the cause as well as trying to move on from the catastrophe.

This one was a mixed bag for me. Here's what I enjoyed: It had a strong sense of place, making particularly good use of the well-known Winchester Mystery House and the surrounding environs. The characters were well-done and believable people. It presents a more benevolent view of post-apocalyptic society than most books in the genre, offering a vision of a rather attractive communal society; yes, there are threats, but humankind has not devolved utterly in the face of catastrophe. Solving the mystery of why everyone vanished (no spoilers!) keeps the story moving.

Here's what I didn't enjoy: I found the writing very choppy and in need of editing; in many places, it felt like an early draft rather than a polished work. This is science fiction, and the science seemed--to me, at least, without a lot of technical knowledge of these things--very hand-wavey; I wanted to believe, but a lot of it sounded like gobbledygook. The pacing felt off, too slow at the beginning and then so fast at the end that it was somewhat hard to follow.

So a middling book, likely underread but of interest to those who have plowed through all the well-known titles in the post-apocalyptic genre. 3★

Categories: Something new | Science fiction/Post-apocalypse | SFFKit: Change through transformation | Women BingoPUP: Women in science

Jul 27, 2016, 8:07 am

>61 sturlington: - I do like the cover art, but will probably give this one a miss.

Edited: Aug 3, 2016, 10:17 am

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

Two years ago, Detective Archie Sheridan was kidnapped by Gretchen Lowell, the serial killer he had been tracking for a decade; she tortured him and nearly killed him. Now addicted to painkillers, estranged from his family, and still engaged in a highly dysfunctional relationship with Gretchen in prison, Archie is called back to work on another serial killer case. He agrees to allow a young reporter, Susan Ward, shadow him on the investigation and write a profile about his experience.

This was a well-written psychological thriller. Archie and Susan are both compelling protagonists, only now realizing the extent of their own damage and working to overcome it. The story proceeds at a slow burn with a couple of well-placed twists toward the end. The backdrop of Portland, Oregon, is used to great effect. As usual with these thrillers, I found the actual villain less than compelling, but the oddly fascinating Gretchen Lowell made up for that. This book has often been compared to The Silence of the Lambs with good reason, but Cain offers a fresh take on the dynamic between killer and cop. 4★

This book is the first in a series.

Categories: Something borrowed | Thriller/Crime

Edited: Aug 29, 2016, 3:48 pm

July Wrap-Up
Favorite read of July: The City of Mirrors
Most disappointing: After Midnight

Challenges completed: 3 out of 5

August challenges:
Camping (RandomCat): Those Who Wish Me Dead
Gothic (HorrorKit): The Great God Pan (also AlphaKIT); Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Series (SFFKit): Binti (also GeoCAT)
Sub-Saharan Africa (GeoCat): We Should All Be Feminists
G and S (AlphaKit): The Gap of Time

Aug 3, 2016, 10:38 am

>63 sturlington: One of my favorite series. Glad you enjoyed it!

Aug 3, 2016, 12:15 pm

>63 sturlington: I'll take a BB for Heartsick, sounds really interesting.

Aug 3, 2016, 3:31 pm

>63 sturlington: - I was going to try and get to the second one this year, but it doesn't look like that will happen.

Aug 5, 2016, 10:20 am

Descent by Tim Johnston

On a family vacation in Colorado, an eighteen-year-old girl goes for a run on a deserted mountain road, accompanied by her younger brother on a mountain bike, when the worst thing happens. The boy is left injured, and the girl has disappeared, plummeting her family into a nightmare.

This book was so much more than the escapist thriller I was expecting. It never goes in the expected direction. Johnston's writing style is spare but evocative, and he does a remarkable job of breathing life into the wild mountain setting and all the characters, large and small, allowing the reader to fully inhabit this book's world. While the subject matter is undeniably rough--there is rape, there is minor animal abuse--the story itself has a quality of myth, addressing themes of fate and chance and what it means to be a hero. This book enthralled me, and I'm sure it will stay with me for a long time. High 4★

Categories: Something borrowed | Thriller/Crime

Aug 5, 2016, 10:21 am

It's only August, and I already have more than five candidates for my top 5 books of the year! It's going to be tough to choose, especially if I get some more good ones in, but it also means that this has been a very good reading year so far.

Aug 5, 2016, 2:24 pm

That's a good problem to have!

Aug 5, 2016, 2:29 pm

Aug 5, 2016, 5:18 pm

Very glad to hear this has been a great reading year for you! :)

Aug 5, 2016, 6:11 pm

>69 sturlington:
Wow, that's impressive! And I'm a little envious, I have to admit. :)

Aug 5, 2016, 7:54 pm

Why not make it the top 10?

Aug 5, 2016, 9:34 pm

>74 dudes22: I usually only have a top five, but if I have enough contenders, I will expand to top ten.

Aug 9, 2016, 10:43 am

If you like the kinds of books I do and you haven't been watching Stranger Things on Netflix, get thee to a television. This series constantly references Stephen King's books plus tons of great movies by John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, others we remember from the '80s. And it has Winona Ryder!

Lots of people are talking about the nostalgic feelings it recreates, which it certainly does, but I think even better is that it hearkens back to a type of story that we don't see so much anymore. It's horror but not dark, in that the characters come across as real, human, and basically good people who end up working together against evil. This is a pervasive theme in Stephen King's older books, and something I love about them. This show gives you characters you can root for.

If you have watched Stranger Things and loved it, here's a list of books to read that generate a similar feeling as the show. I've already read most of the books on the list, and I count at least half of them among my favorites.

Edited: Aug 9, 2016, 11:47 am

At about the halfway mark, I'm afraid I had to abandon The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende, which was my book club's choice this month. Maybe my response to it was colored by having read the excellent Daughter of Fortune earlier this year, but I found the story completely unengaging. Reading it felt like being talked to in a monotone. There seemed to be no emotion there at all. Disappointing. 1★ for abandonment/no categories.

Aug 10, 2016, 7:06 pm

Must be in a sour mood, because I have abandoned yet another book. The second in one week! Authors fear me.

Well, it's easy enough to abandon books from the library. Always another one in line...

Aug 12, 2016, 10:27 am

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

An essay based on a TED Talk given at a conference with an African focus, this rallying cry for feminism is aimed primarily at Nigerian or African audiences who do not share the history of Western feminism. To readers who have been steeped in feminist theory for decades, it may seem a bit basic, but it is clearly and strongly written and would make a good gift for young women who may not know what feminism really means. I especially appreciate how Adichie tackles the negative connotations associated with the word "feminist" and her use of anecdotes to support her points. 4★

Categories: Hope chest | Essay/TED Talk | GeoCAT: Sub-Saharan Africa

Aug 19, 2016, 2:51 pm

Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta

A boy witnesses a murder and is sent to a survival camp for troubled teens to hide from a pair of cold-blooded killers (who are also brothers!), which of course doesn't work.

A pretty good thriller for summer reading that starts out stronger than it ends. The remote setting in the Montana mountains is an effective setting, and the characters are mostly engaging. However, the baddies' pure evilness does wear thin over time, and the "twist" seems a bit far-fetched. Entertaining, but unlikely to be memorable. 3★

Categories: Something borrowed | Thriller | RandomCAT: Camping

Aug 19, 2016, 3:11 pm

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

This a retelling of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, not a play that I'm very familiar with or can remember studying. Fortunately, there is a summary of the play before the novel begins, and what an absurd story it is! Winterson just rolls with the absurdity, inserting a completely appropriate sense of magical realism into the contemporary time and setting by employing a series of fairy tale-esque locales, including a fantastic video game about angels. Her characters feel like real people while yet maintaining their archetypal qualities (Shep, the older shepherd and father figure; Clo, the clown; Perdita, the lost girl). The narration is fun and engaging and doesn't take itself too seriously. I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read, including the little endnote on the theme of forgiveness. Bonus: gorgeous cover! 4★

Categories: Something new (Early Reviewers win) | Retelling | AlphaKIT: G

Aug 19, 2016, 3:20 pm

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

In the far future, Binti defies her tribe by leaving her home in Namibia to study at a prestigious university on a distant planet, but on the way, her ship is attacked by aliens.

I think this would have worked better if it hadn't been a novella. Okorafor's vision of the future, especially its technology, is compelling and captured my imagination right away, but she doesn't go into enough detail to truly satisfy. Binti is an intriguing character, good at mathematics and "harmonizing," who stands apart because of her adherence to tribal customs, including covering herself in a paste made from red clay and flower oils, which turns out to have very special properties. Binti is the sole survivor of the attack on her spaceship by the jellyfish-like Meduse (other than a pilot, who is completely unseen and probably unnecessary). Her learning how to communicate with the aliens and coming to understand them deserves far deeper treatment, and her status as survivor doesn't get nearly enough attention, even though Okorafor has addressed similar themes in her other work. Conceived as part of a series of novellas that Tor is publishing, this story deserves a lot more depth than it gets, but it's still an interesting and quick read. I'm not sure I'll continue with the series, though. 3★

Categories: Something borrowed | Science fiction/novella | GeoCAT: Sub-Saharan Africa | SFFKit: Series

Aug 19, 2016, 7:37 pm

I read a different book by Koryta (So Cold the River) and I found it to go over the top at the end, going from almost scary to silly in just a few pages.

I'm currently reading Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler in the same Hogarth Shakespeare series. It's an interesting idea.

Aug 19, 2016, 10:22 pm

>83 RidgewayGirl: I like the idea of retelling Shakespeare and it helps that the authors are good at what they do. I'm hoping to read Margaret Atwood 's contribution.

Aug 26, 2016, 11:41 pm

>50 sturlington: I just read this. I agree with your thoughts, and "nerdy guy chick-lit" is a good way of summing it up!

Aug 29, 2016, 7:41 am

Here's a great piece about Ursula K. le Guin being published by Library of America. She's a feisty old broad, and I mean that in the most affectionate way.

Ursula Le Guin Has Earned a Rare Honor. Just Don’t Call Her a Sci-Fi Writer.

Aug 29, 2016, 3:31 pm

>86 sturlington: Thanks for the link! I love her books and it is great that she is being honored this way.

Aug 29, 2016, 3:40 pm

The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen

Stephen King has said that this is a horror story that has haunted him all his life. The influence on his novels and others (including H. P. Lovecraft) is undeniable, but despite all the apologists, it is hard to see this story as anything other than an expression of fear and othering of women, especially women who assert their independence. There are two female characters, neither of which gets to speak for herself. One is a meek victim who is violated without much sense of guilt or remorse; consider these words by the doctor who performs brain surgery on her without her consent, causing her to literally lose her mind: "As you know, I rescued Mary from the gutter, and from almost certain starvation, when she was a child; I think her life is mine, to use as I feel fit."

The other woman never actually appears on the page, but is only talked about. She victimizes men, with their consent, at least at first. She also terrifies every man in the piece, but she didn't particularly terrify me. Helen is a woman of independent means, who does what she wants when she wants, who indulges her own pleasures, and who cannot be controlled; therefore, she must be destroyed.

I often find that these Pan-inspired stories are seething with misogyny. Compare with Harvest Home. 2★

Categories: Something old | Gothic horror/Short story | HorrorKIT: Gothic | AlphaKIT: G

Aug 29, 2016, 3:46 pm

Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest

Southern gothic mystery, with swamps, ghosts, abandoned hospitals, family secrets, etc. Entertaining enough, but extremely lightweight--not YA really, but I felt like this would have appealed more to a younger reader. The family secrets plot is very convoluted and doesn't quite hang together. There is an excellent scene near the beginning that takes place in a bathroom at a summer camp, but it never connects to anything, unfortunately. 3★

Categories: Something new | Southern gothic | HorrorKIT: Gothic

Edited: Sep 27, 2016, 10:35 am

August Wrap-Up

Favorite read of August: Descent
Most disappointing: The Great God Pan

Challenges completed: 5 out of 5

September challenges:
Translations (RandomCat): Confessions (also AlphaKIT)
Paranormal (HorrorKit): Broken Monsters; Bird Box
International (SFFKit): The Three (also HorrorKIT)
South Asia (GeoCat): The Caretaker (also AlphaKIT)
C and M (AlphaKit): see above

Sep 2, 2016, 2:00 pm

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

I read this aloud to my 8-year-old son. I think we both enjoyed it more than Sorcerer's Stone. There seemed to be more going on, and the characters were more fun (especially Lockhart). I also feel like we got a bit more invested in Hogwarts and all the characters (except for Hermione, who's absent a distressing amount of the time). On to the next, I suppose. 4★

Categories: Baby carriage | Children's fantasy - series

Sep 5, 2016, 1:54 pm

The Caretaker by A. X. Ahmad

Former Indian Army Captain Ranjit Singh, after being court-martialed for a mission gone terribly wrong, is self-exiled to Massachusetts with his family. He is barely scraping by on Martha's Vineyard, working as the winter caretaker for the rich summer residents of the island, when a chain of events gets his family picked up by Homeland Security and puts Ranjit on the run for his life. This is a well-told conspiracy story with an intriguing hero and an interesting glimpse of Indian culture. An unexpected page turner for me, picked up on a whim at the library. 4★

Categories: Something borrowed | Thriller | GeoCAT: South Asia | AlphaKIT: C

Sep 5, 2016, 5:31 pm

The Snarling Citizen by Barbara Ehrenreich

Although these essays by Ehrenreich all date to the early 1990s, I found them to be entirely relevant even a quarter of a century later, depressingly so. All of the social problems and attitudes Ehrenreich artfully skewers here are still very much with us, and even her writing about the Clintons seems completely on-point. Nothing ever really changes, and that's the depressing part, but Ehrenreich's writing is so entertaining about it: sardonic, drily witty, and absolutely true. We need feminists like her more than ever now, who are unapologetic about being right up in your face and saying it's okay not to want to be like men; in fact, men shouldn't even want to be like men! This was an unusual pick by my real-life book club--I had to buy a used paperback--but it felt like just the right read for right now. 4★

Categories: Hope chest | Nonfiction/Essays

Sep 5, 2016, 5:39 pm

>92 sturlington: A BB for me. Yet another series!

Sep 5, 2016, 5:53 pm

>94 clue: The first book does stand alone, if that helps.

Edited: Sep 8, 2016, 10:19 am

Confessions by Kinae Minato

After her four-year-old daughter is found dead under suspicious circumstances, a middle school teacher puts into action a plan for revenge.

This book started out very strong. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, who fills in more details surrounding the girl's death and subsequent events, beginning with her mother's account as told to her entire class. I couldn't put it down for the first half or so, but when we get to the final two narratives, it starts to falter. The stories become repetitious, and the twists come out of left field, seemingly thrown in more for shock value than anything else. But really, this is a story about mothers and their children. There are a couple of very bad mothers in this book, and their children are also very bad. Hmm, not sure I'm buying the blatant mother-blaming here. In terms of learning more about Japanese culture from the inside, this was an interesting read, but as a thriller, it fell short for me. 3★

Categories: Something borrowed | Japanese/Horror | RandomCAT: In translation | AlphaKIT: C and M

Sep 12, 2016, 10:30 pm

>89 sturlington: I had similar feelings toward Four and Twenty Blackbirds, but I'm still thinking I might read the sequel. I'm hoping that the weaknesses were linked to this being Priest's first novel. I did like very much a couple of her steampunk novels, written later in her career.

Edited: Sep 13, 2016, 7:56 am

>97 mathgirl40: I agree. First novel problems. I did like Boneshaker better, although it also had that YA feeling, by which I mean that it would appeal more to younger readers.

Edited: Sep 21, 2016, 2:10 pm

The Three by Sarah Lotz

Four planes crash simultaneously in different parts of the world, three children survive and behave strangely afterward, and conspiracy theories run rampant, including a cult of Christians who believe this signals the End Times.

This book had quite an interesting structure: a nonfiction book-within-a-book made up of interviews, newspaper articles, chat logs, and the like that gradually unfolds the aftermath of Black Thursday, as it quickly came to be called. This story is rife with ambiguity: Is there really something off about the surviving children, or are folks just going nuts and trying to make sense of a senseless coincidence? I am comfortable with the ambiguity, although I think the end of the book does offer a pretty clear resolution, if you read between the lines. For the most part, I read through this at a fast clip, wanting to see how things would turn out, but I do think the unusual structure lent itself to a tad too much repetition and the whole thing could have been edited down without losing much in the process. Some of the scenes included didn't seem to advance the plot all that much. Those were minor flaws; this for me was a very readable thriller, and different enough from the norm to keep my attention. 4★

The author is South African, and careful readers will note that her Americanisms aren't entirely accurate, but we'll forgive that as well.

Categories: Something borrowed | Science fiction/Horror | SFFKit: International | HorrorKIT: Paranormal

Note: I can't get the touchstone for this one so I linked directly to the work page instead.

Edited: Sep 21, 2016, 2:15 pm

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

In Detroit, a young boy is murdered and the top half of his body attached to the legs of a fawn, kicking off a hunt for a serial killer-avantgarde artist who is definitely operating outside of the mainstream.

It took me a while to immerse myself in Broken Monsters. The story is told from several points of view, and Beukes takes her time introducing all the characters. Connections between them don't become clear until the end. This is not just a police procedural about an investigation into a string of bizarre murders; it's also an examination of urban decay and, I think, literal decay between the edges of our reality and other places. Appropriately set in the infamously apocalyptic city of Detroit, Broken Monsters is the written equivalent of all those haunting photographs of the abandoned city, which are mentioned frequently in the story. 4★

Categories: Something borrowed | Horror/Crime | HorrorKIT: Paranormal | BingoDOG: Focus on Art

Edited: Sep 27, 2016, 10:35 am

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Suddenly, people who see mysterious creatures turn violent and attack one another or themselves, so everyone who survives must barricade themselves indoors and not open their eyes outside.

First of all, the premise for this book is ridiculous. Malerman handles this by not making the story at all about the "creatures" but instead about the effects of having to avoid seeing them. Also, this is a horror story, not a survival story, so Malerman glosses over the niceties of staying alive in such an environment. As a result, he keeps the tension high and the pace quick, with several genuinely creepy moments, and the story works on that level as long as the reader doesn't get overly concerned about the details. Not deep, but a nice, creepy little read. 4★

Categories: Something borrowed | Apocalyptic/Horror | HorrorKIT: Paranormal

Edited: Oct 28, 2016, 8:47 am

September Wrap-Up

Favorite read of September: No winner (I liked everything I read, but nothing stood out above all the rest)
Most disappointing: Confessions (but it wasn't that bad)

Challenges completed: 5 out of 5

October challenges:
Something that scares you (RandomCat): The Fireman
Hauntings (HorrorKit): Disappearance at Devil's Rock (also RandomCAT)
Retrofuturistic (SFFKit)
East Asia (GeoCat): The Vegetarian
W and I (AlphaKit): White Is for Witching (also RandomCAT and HorrorKIT)

Sep 28, 2016, 2:06 pm

Reading Resolutions

With a quarter of the year left to go, it may be too early to consider reading resolutions for next year, but I'm reflecting anyway. Here are some of my thoughts and intentions.

1. Use the library more.

I borrowed a lot more books from the library this year than I have since I was in college, I think, and it's been really great! I like getting books from the library because I can try out unfamiliar authors or genres, and I don't feel as guilty if I just want to quit the book, like I do when I outlay money. Next year I'm going to try to do most of my reading from the library and the TBR pile. (See my next resolution.)

2. Read books when I buy them.

I find that I enjoy books more if I read them soon after I bought them, and if I let them sit, the excitement wears off over time and they take on the aspect of chores. Fortunately, I did not buy a lot of books this year, and my TBR pile is relatively small. Those books in my pile that I don't read this year I'm going to read next year, using the AlphaKIT to pick. And I am sincerely going to try not to buy books unless I intend to read the book right away and I really want to both read and have that book.

3. The Kindle...

My enthusiasm for reading on my Kindle has definitely waned. I don't even like to read library books on the Kindle because you don't get as much time. The Kindle is good for certain types of reading, though: a) books that are so big and heavy I don't want to lift them physically; b) older, out-of-print books (especially genre) can usually be had on the cheap; c) vacation reading. Fortunately, a) and b) books are perfect for c). The Kindle is also good for book club picks that I can't get from the library. I'm going to try to stop impulse buying for the Kindle, as I never seem to get around to reading the backlog, and again, only buy books right when I intend to read them. I recently cleaned out my Kindle and I like it now with just a small selection on it, just in case I get stuck somewhere without a book...which never happens, by the way.

4. Read better books FOR ME.

This year, I read a lot of good books (rated 4 or more stars), and I loved them, but it made me more impatient with the few sub-par books I did finish. I primarily read for immersion, to get caught up in a story. I want to give myself permission to put down a book that isn't giving me what I need. It doesn't mean the book is bad, just that it's not the right book for me at that moment. That's why I want to cut down on the number of books I buy, and I also want to reduce books I request from the Early Reviewers' program. I got a couple of real duds this year, and I felt guilty for not wanting to finish them. Reading should not be guilt-inducing!

5. Get out of my comfort zone.

If I'm giving myself permission to abandon books with...well...abandon, then I should be okay with stretching myself and trying new authors and genres. I tend to OD on a genre and need a break from it for a while. Last year, it was SF; this year, it was horror/thrillers. So I'm going to try to read a little more broadly next year.

Sep 28, 2016, 3:41 pm

Great resolutions! Will be interested to see where your reading takes you next year.

Sep 28, 2016, 3:44 pm

Sep 28, 2016, 3:47 pm

>103 sturlington: I have been thinking about requesting less Earlier Reviewer books as well and for the same reason.

Sep 28, 2016, 3:48 pm

>106 VictoriaPL: The problem is that they look so tempting when the list comes out! Maybe I shouldn't look at all, but I have gotten some really terrific books through ER. I'm thinking a safe bet would be to only request books by authors I already know I enjoy.

Sep 28, 2016, 4:10 pm

1 & 3 Why is it that you can borrow a print book for a month and an ebook for only 2 weeks? It has never made any sense to me. It's frustrating when listening to an audio book. I have to log on in the morning and try to check it out again before anyone else finds it.

2. I should adopt this too.

5. Too many books...too little time!

Sep 28, 2016, 6:24 pm

>108 mamzel: At my library we can renew ebooks if they are not on hold for someone else. I wouldn't read nearly as many if I couldn't do that.

Sep 28, 2016, 6:43 pm

>108 mamzel: - in our library system, e-books are the same amount of time as a physical book (3 weeks). And if there's no one waiting for it, you get a notice 3 days before it expires that you can renew it.

Sep 28, 2016, 6:59 pm

>108 mamzel: In my library system, I get e-books for longer than paper ones (3 weeks vs. 2)! Plus, I just don't turn on the wifi of my Kindle if I haven't finished by the deadline so I can keep it longer *grin*

Sep 28, 2016, 7:43 pm

>111 leslie.98: I do that too but sometimes it's inconvenient. We get ebooks for two weeks. Paper books are for a month with three renewals if there are no holds!

Edited: Sep 29, 2016, 9:27 am


Edited: Oct 5, 2016, 2:47 pm

The Vegetarian by Kang Han

This is a haunting story about a South Korean housewife who, after dreaming of blood, refuses to eat meat--who, in essence, chooses to efface herself as the only way she can assert any control over her own body and life. The woman, who is not even named until well into the book, never gets to tell her story, except in brief recollections of her dreams early on; she is noticeably silent. The story is narrated instead by three people related to her and adversely affected by her tiny rebellion, all of whom never see her as a human being, but rather as a blank thing onto which they project their own needs, desires, and fears. Her husband views her as a compliant tool to make his workaholic life run more smoothly--someone to prepare his meals, take care of his clothes, and provide sex when needed; when she is no longer useful, he discards her. Her brother-in-law comes to notice her through her vegetarianism, but only as a sudden obsession, a thing that he wants to paint and penetrate, but never a person he wants to know. Finally, her sister comes closest to understanding her, but only because she sees herself reflected in her sister's self-effacement. This book is chilling and disturbing--especially because the woman's decision to give up meat may seem so minor, especially to those of us living in Western cultures, yet has such horrific repercussions. 4★

Categories: Something new | Literary fiction | GeoCAT: East Asia | BingoDOG: About food

Oct 14, 2016, 9:20 am

White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

Miranda Silver is the ultimate goth girl, pale with jet black hair, waif-thin due to an eating disorder that compels her to eat chalk--she could have stepped from the pages of an Edward Gorey book. She has a rather creepy relationship with her twin brother, Eliot. Her mother was recently violently killed, leading to Miranda having a mental breakdown, and her father is lost in his own dream world of grief. Despite all this, Miranda is accepted to Cambridge, where she meets and eventually becomes lovers with a refreshingly normal girl named Ore, a black girl adopted by white parents. Oh yes, Miranda also lives in a malevolent, conscious house that harbors the spirits of her female ancestors and greedily wants her as well. She probably should have known better than to bring Ore home.

This is quite a strange book, very slippery, difficult to nail down what the story is exactly. The writing is more interesting than the story anyway, slipping almost without delineation between different narrators and different times. The effect is hallucinatory, dreamlike. Of course, the question in these stories is always, what is real? I think at heart this is a real haunted-house story; there are some supposedly sane characters who are also affected by the house and who sensibly get themselves out. Like a funhouse in a carnival, the house here is full of illusions, shifting its interior space in order to confuse and ensnare its occupants, but it is conscious, it is acting; it is not just a figment of a mentally disturbed mind. At least, that's not how I read it. On a second read, I might change my mind.

I have seen this book compared to one of my favorite ghost stories, The Haunting of Hill House, and I have no doubt that Jackson inspired Oyeyemi. The main characters in White Is for Witching may have different names, but they clearly correspond to the ghost hunters of Hill House. Hill House too was ambiguous; it also wondered whether houses could be alive, whether they could want someone and act accordingly. I think Jackson's novel is the cleaner story, but Oyeyemi here plays with Jackson's ideas with interesting results. I have been reading more Nigerian authors lately, and it seems to be a real deficit to not be more familiar with the folklore of that area of Africa; I know just enough to recognize that I'm missing quite a bit, which I think would greatly deepen my understanding of and appreciation for this book. 4★

Categories: Something new | Horror/Ghost stories | RandomCAT: Something that scares you | HorrorKIT: Hauntings | AlphaKIT: W

Oct 23, 2016, 3:24 pm

The Fireman by Joe Hill

A highly infectious spore called Dragonscale, which causes those who are infected to spontaneously combust without warning, has spawned a pandemic and brought about a collapse of society, as the healthy are tracking down and massacring the sick. When Nurse Harper Willowes becomes infected, shortly after learning she is also pregnant, her husband tries to kill her; she barely escapes with the help of a mysterious man, the Fireman, who hides her with other infected at a summer camp, where she learns that Dragonscale can be controlled.

I felt so torn over this book. The concept is unique for an apocalyptic novel. The characters are, for the most part, relatable and well-developed. The overall societal collapse and the development of a cultlike atmosphere at the campground are both chilling. The climactic scene at the campground is extremely exciting (shades of "The Lottery"). But...

At over 700 pages, this book is way, way too long. In fact, this book may have finally put me off long novels for good. Quite a lot of the beginning could have been cut, and the road trip at the end seemed unnecessarily drawn out and anticlimactic. The transformation of Harper's husband from doting to full-on maniac strained believability quite a bit, as did the unrealistic portrayal of the final stages of Harper's pregnancy. The romance seemed clumsy and forced. And while I enjoyed the allusions to the works of Stephen King (Hill's dad) in N0S4A2, I found the frequent allusions to The Stand here to be heavy-handed and out of place, especially the echoing of character names.

I think this could have been a five-star book, if it had been more focused and true to its center. Unfortunately, as it stands, it is a disappointment. 3★

Categories: Something new | Horror/Apocalyptic | RandomCAT: Something that scares you

Edited: Oct 23, 2016, 5:07 pm

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut


I thought this book accomplished an amazing thing. It portrayed humanity in all its grotesqueness, stupidity, irrationality, insanity, and cruelty, and yet still convinced me that we are, each of us, "unwavering bands of light." This was the perfect read at the perfect time for me, still as relevant in 2016 as it was when it was written. And John Malkovich did a fantastic job as narrator. 5★

Categories: Something old | Classics/Satire

Oct 24, 2016, 12:13 pm

>117 sturlington: - Definitely adding this to my wishlist. I've only read one book by him previously and really enjoyed it. Thanks for the reminder that I should read more of his work.

Oct 26, 2016, 6:34 am

>117 sturlington: I may have to revisit Vonnegut as I read Slaughterhouse 5 a few years ago and wasn't wholly impressed. May have to give him a second try.

Edited: Oct 28, 2016, 9:35 am

Disappearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay

A mother gets a phone call in the middle of the night: while hanging out with his friends on a clandestine late-night trek to Split Rock in a nearby state park, her young son has disappeared. As she and her family deal with the shock and grief, Elizabeth frantically searches for answers--which start to appear in the form of pages from a diary she didn't know her son kept, dropped without explanation on her living room floor. From his own words, she starts to piece together what happened on the night he vanished. Meanwhile, people around town have started seeing a mysterious "shadowman" peering in their windows late at night.

Since this is Paul Tremblay, there aren't going to be any clear answers to that question. I'm calling this a ghost story, although even that is not quite clear. Elizabeth, though, is clearly haunted by the specter of her missing son, and the visitations--whatever their explanation--are downright creepy. This book starts out a bit slow but gradually picks up momentum until it becomes unputdownable. Tremblay uses modern technology, such as webcams and social media, to good effect here. Although I found this book a little more confusing and a little less compelling than Tremblay's previous A Head Full of Ghosts, it was still a creepy Halloween read. 4★

Categories: Something borrowed | Horror/Ghost stories | HorrorKIT: Hauntings | RandomCAT: Something that scares you

Oct 28, 2016, 9:07 am

>116 sturlington: I've been contemplating this one, thanks for the review!

Edited: Dec 4, 2016, 11:44 am

October Wrap-Up

Favorite read of October: Breakfast of Champions
Most disappointing: The Fireman

Challenges completed: 4 out of 5

November challenges:
Debut book (RandomCat):
Diversity (HorrorKit): Devil's Wake
Time travel (SFFKit)
North Africa (GeoCat):
N and Y (AlphaKit):

Nov 9, 2016, 9:55 am

Experimental Film by Gemma Files

Strange book. I liked the writing and the point of view character, but this book never really grabbed me. The opening incident of the woman disappearing from the moving train intrigued me. A lot of the esoteric details about Canadian film lost me. The Lady Midday vengeful pagan work goddess didn't do much for me it all. (This book won the Shirley Jackson Award this year.) 3★

Categories: Something new | Horror

Edited: Nov 19, 2016, 6:45 am

Devil's Wake by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due

Readable and engaging zombie apocalypse that follows a multicultural group of teens as they make their way through Oregon to California in a bus, looking for a place to take them in. The tone is definitely older YA, and even though this is a zombie novel, it's not that gory or explicit. I found it to be an entertaining, light read, but I felt it ended abruptly and didn't follow up on some of the more interesting threads, such as the origins of the zombie plague; it felt like it was setting up for a sequel. 3★

Categories: Something borrowed | Horror/Apocalyptic | HorrorKIT: Diversity

Nov 28, 2016, 3:47 pm

Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard

When flight attendant Jackie Burke is stopped by the ATF carrying $50,000 and a small baggie of cocaine, it sets into motion a chain of events. This is the book that the Quentin Tarantino movie Jackie Brown was based on, although set in Florida rather than California. Elmore Leonard trademarks include a cast of quirky characters and a lot of snappy dialogue. A fun, quick read. 4★

Categories: Something new | Crime/Noir

Dec 4, 2016, 8:22 am

>125 sturlington: Glad you enjoyed this one. I've read about half a dozen of his books so far and this one is my favourite of those. The dialogue is definitely one of the best features about it.

Dec 4, 2016, 11:40 am

>126 AHS-Wolfy: It was really a light, escapist read that I needed right now. And I enjoyed rewatching Jackie Brown afterward and comparing the two. Jackie Brown is probably my favorite Tarantino movie.

Edited: Dec 4, 2016, 11:42 am

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

Mr. M is an elderly writer in decline most well known for his bestseller about a teenage couple who, forty years ago, may or may not have murdered their teacher, who had had an affair with the girl. The boy--now a middle-aged man--is stalking Mr. M and his family decades after the fact for reasons that remain murky. This was a ponderous, sluggish, rudderless book, difficult to get through. None of the characters became real or relatable for me. It seemed to mostly be about the writing of a story based on real events with an unknown resolution, an exercise that was probably more interesting to the writer than to the reader. Compared with The Dinner, this novel seems more artificial, less shocking, and the "twist" more contrived and unsatisfying. 2★

Categories: Something new | Literary fiction

Edited: Dec 29, 2016, 10:41 am

November Wrap-Up

Favorite read of November: Rum Punch
Most disappointing: Experimental Film

Challenges completed: 1 out of 5 -- November was a very bad reading month for me; lost my focus entirely due to current events.

December challenges:
Our Gifts (RandomCat): The Nutcracker (also GeoCAT)
Short stories (HorrorKit): Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories (just a few; not reviewed)
Reader's Choice (SFFKit)
Western Europe (GeoCat): Dear Mr. M
T and E (AlphaKit):

Dec 6, 2016, 9:20 am

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

The problem with reading a fanatically beloved series is that even a so-so opinion feels like heresy, but so be it. This installment was just okay for me. It felt very much like a middle book, setting up situations and characters for later on. I liked Lupin well enough, but he wasn't enough to carry the book. My son seemed to enjoy it--I read it aloud to him--and we will soldier on, I suppose. 3★

Categories: Baby carriage | Children's fantasy

Dec 18, 2016, 3:57 pm

Taking the morning to play catch-up on all the threads in the group. I have enjoyed getting caught up will all of your reading and love your reading resolutions!

Dec 22, 2016, 9:04 am

Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Doc tells the story of Doc Holliday's time in Dodge City, when he met the Earp brothers. Russell has a way of bringing history to life and making all her characters talk and act like real people, rather than legends (even the horses are characters in their own right). It's obvious she's done her research. This was a thoroughly absorbing story and a real pleasure to read. It was also a bit of a whodunnit, a nice bonus. I'm looking forward to the sequel, Epitaph, which tells the story of the fight at the OK Corral. 4★

Categories: Something borrowed | Historical fiction

Dec 22, 2016, 9:33 am

Doc was the first book by Mary Doria Russell that I read and I loved it so much. She has a way of humanizing every single character that makes for an emotionally engaging book.

Dec 22, 2016, 9:40 am

>133 RidgewayGirl: Haven't read a bad book by her yet, although I've only read three. I have Epitaph and A Thread of Grace waiting to be read. Have you read The Sparrow? That blew me away.

Dec 22, 2016, 9:50 am

No, but I have it on my tbr. I loved A Thread of Grace, although many reviewers seemed to be upset that it wasn't The Sparrow.

Edited: Dec 22, 2016, 2:47 pm

>132 sturlington: I like MDR a lot and and have both of these on my TBR. Want to get to them soon!

Dec 22, 2016, 2:09 pm

I read The Sparrow and it's sequel Children of God last year for the SFFF. My intention is to get to Doc and Epitaph next year.

Dec 22, 2016, 10:11 pm

>132 sturlington: Thanks, I've taken a bullet on that one and added it to my wishlist.

Dec 23, 2016, 6:08 pm

>132 sturlington: Thanks for the recommendation. I really liked The Sparrow and Children of God and will have to add this one to the wishlist.

Dec 23, 2016, 9:49 pm

I hope you all enjoy it!

Dec 24, 2016, 10:04 am

I used one of her books for my "writes in different genre" square on one of the Bingo cards.

Dec 27, 2016, 3:31 pm

Eternal badass. RIP.

Dec 28, 2016, 10:57 am

>142 sturlington: This makes me sad. She was only 60! What will Gary do? Why her instead of Woody Allen or Roman Polanski?

Dec 28, 2016, 11:12 am

>143 RidgewayGirl: someone on Twitter said that David Bowie had discovered an alternate universe and was populating it one by one. I like to think this might be true. We've lost so many icons this year, I feel bereft.

Dec 29, 2016, 10:38 am

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

This novel follows two characters--only slightly connected--who are both from Oklahoma City and are both struggling to get past unresolved mysteries from their youth. Wyatt, now a private investigator living in Las Vegas, returns to Oklahoma City as a favor for a friend, to find out who is harassing a woman who recently inherited a bar; the trip brings up buried memories, because when Wyatt was fifteen and worked at a movie theater one summer, he was the only survivor of a mass shooting and robbery there, and has since struggled to figure out why. Julianna never left Oklahoma City; she is a nurse who is obsessed with what happened to her older sister, who disappeared from the State Fair that same summer. These two characters' paths occasionally cross, but their stories are separate and are both engrossing. With three mysteries in one, this novel is understated but not slow-moving, with well-defined characters and a fascinating subtext about how we inadvertently touch so many other peoples' lives as we go about living ours. 4★

Categories: Something borrowed | Mystery

Note: Chosen for Jan 2017 RandomCAT (search and rescue) and AwardsCAT (best of lists).

Edited: Dec 29, 2016, 10:40 am

The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann

Read aloud to my son for Christmas. This is the basis for the famous ballet, the story of Marie, who receives a Nutcracker doll for Christmas that subsequently comes to life, battles a seven-headed mouse king, and takes Marie on a tour of a fairyland made of sweets. My son pronounced it "weird, but very descriptive, so I could picture it in my head, so I liked it." I thought it was entertaining, but surreal and dreamlike. 4★

Note: This edition is from the Penguin Christmas Classics series, and the books are just lovely. I'll have to collect more of them.

Categories: Baby carriage | Christmas stories | GeoCAT: Western Europe | RandomCAT: Our Gifts

Dec 29, 2016, 10:42 am

December Wrap-Up

Favorite read of December: Doc
Most disappointing: Dear Mr. M

Challenges completed: 3 out of 5

Year-end wrap-up coming forthwith.

Dec 29, 2016, 11:51 am

Ok, off to find a copy of The Long and Faraway Gone.

Dec 29, 2016, 12:47 pm

>148 RidgewayGirl: I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Dec 29, 2016, 12:58 pm

I probably won't finish any more books this year, so here is my year roundup.

My best category was Something Borrowed with 27 books, followed by Something New with 23 books. All told, I finished 88 books, which is a very good reading year for me.

Through book settings, I visited 18 countries and 21 US states.

My top 5 were:

1. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay -- a really unusual horror story that pays homage to a lot of horror classics
2. Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende -- just an enthralling work of historical fiction
3. Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula K. Le Guin -- honestly, can she write a bad book? this one took my breath away
4. The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin -- a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to his literary vampire-apocalypse trilogy
5. Descent by Tim Johnston -- not your typical thriller, this novel about a father's search for his missing daughter reminded me a lot of Cormac McCarthy

Honorable mentions go to:
* Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman, a well-curated collection of 20th-century noir stories by women writers
* Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins -- a surreal novel about a climate-changed southwestern US
* Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut -- still appropriate for these times we live in
* Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout -- perhaps not a likable character, but a very relatable one, at least for me
* Dracula by Bram Stoker -- a reread that, while often purple in prose, still holds up

Dec 29, 2016, 1:07 pm

>147 sturlington: New writer to me and my library has a copy so I'll pick it up soon. I've done a quick look at the author because I live in the OKC region and I'm surprised I haven't heard of him before. He has a few other books and all have received notable nominations. Look forward to reading it!

Dec 29, 2016, 1:09 pm

>151 clue: I hope you like it. I think the book had a strong sense of place. I really enjoy books that are very much grounded in their settings.

Dec 29, 2016, 1:38 pm

> 152 Me too. For any that are interested in it, I just saw it on Amazon for Kindle at 1.99.