Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Thrilling and Chilling and All Kinds of Creepy

So let's talk Lovecraft.  I have never read H.P. Lovecraft before, but it's one of those things that one picks up by osmosis if one spends enough time in certain circles.  Purple prose, Cthulu, racism, Arkham, the Old Ones, tentacle people from horrific fishing villages.  That kind of thing.

But I'd never read anything by Lovecraft, in spite of the fact that he's one of Brenda's absolute favorites, so I was interested when I saw a review copy of The Zombie Tales of H.P. Lovecraft on Netgalley, and I picked it up.  And to my actual surprise, I kind of loved it.

Surprise because I figured it was one of those things that had to be overhyped, you know?  Like, it's old, so maybe you recognize it for the precedents it set, or because you can see its influences down through the years.  But you don't actually enjoy those books, right?  The overwritten ones with interjections like "the horror!" in the middle of sentences?  They aren't actually successfully building atmosphere, are they?

But yeah, they are.  These stories are really surprisingly readable, not the rambling concatenation of fifty-cent words that mean "horrifying" that I was expecting.  Most of them are stories about generalized dread that build to a final, punchy reveal at the climax--a reveal that you've already figured out, but that still packs a bunch when it's laid bare and bald the way he does.

So let's see, which Lovecraftian milestones do we hit?  Purple prose: check, though not as much as I expected.  Cthulu: nope, not in this zombie-themed collection, more's the pity; ditto Old Ones.  There's a hint of the tentacle people in one of the stories, a delightful one about a man whose shy friend marries a woman of questionable background and ends up having his body gradually usurped (ooh, that one ended creepy). Arkham: yes, we spend plenty of time there, at Miskatonic University; the linked stories about Herbert West, Reanimator take place in that area.  Now that's a creepy one; I think I got the most creepiness out of the fact that the narrator is West's assistant, and as his doubts creep in, you wonder at how a person finds themselves involved in digging up a potter's field to try new reanimation substances.

Which brings us to racism.  Only a couple of instances here, just because it doesn't come up.  But honestly, one of those instances was literally one of the most offensive things I've ever read.  Basically, one of the corpses that Herbert West strives to reanimate is a black man who was killed in an illegal boxing match.  The way the narrator describes the body is the most outrageous, offensive thing I've ever read. 

Honestly, this is why it took me so long to review this book.  I meant to write this post a week ago, but I felt like I needed to address this, and to talk about how moments like this affect a book.  About how the fact that the book is nearly a century old would normally affect my reaction, but this is beyond the "times were different; atmospheric racism" defense.  About how to like problematic works. About a controversy that's I'm following on my Tumblr about a fanfic I've been loving, wherein the villain uses a racial slur, and how that author was failing her readers.  About social justice and all kinds of things.

But I just don't feel qualified.  So many great people are saying all these things, and I am a good solid step behind.  So I'm just going to go with how much I liked this problematic thing, and say this: there are a total of 2 racist moments in this book, one horrific and the other just icky.  There is no defense of this. 

But this book is also horrifying and creepy and atmospheric and evocative and full of meticulously crafted moments of dread.  And on the whole, I really, really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Over My Head

I have a half-written post about H.P. Lovecraft, but while my opinions of the book are quite straightforward (and generally positive), and my opinions on the racism in the book are very straightforward (and holy WTF!?! negative), my opinions about how to write about those things together is not clear and I'm not up to it tonight.

But this week I also finished a charming little novella by William Ritter, a sweet little Jackaby story that's worth reading if you're a fan, called The Map.  On Miss Rook's birthday, Jackaby takes her on a little adventure.  It's slight and sweet and delightful, with all the best parts of the Jackaby stories--strange creatures and esoteric mythology and odd places, but especially Jackaby and Rook.

In this short format, their banter--which is a bit anachronistic when you're trying to build up the historical part of the historical fantasy--works beautifully.  And since the story is so small, stepping briskly through all its paces, you don't get bogged down in exposition or in trying to make the adventure bigger than it is.  Reading this, I think I would love to read a book of Jackaby stories for Ritter's next one--case files, like Holmes and Watson.  I think that would work better for the strengths in this series than a longer novel like Beastly Bones.  

So I offer you this, and I'll give you more on Lovecraft (and hey, could there be two books more different in tone?) shortly, when I feel ready to wrap my brain around Real Issues.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


I'm in the middle of many things, and I've gotten out of the habit of blogging from the middle.  And to be honest, I'm not yet sure what I think about either of the books I'm reading.

Vengeance Road, by Erin Bowman, sold itself to me by promising something like Charles Portis's True Grit, which was a delightful book.  I got Vengeance Road from Netgalley, and it's definitely working on the same template--a teenaged girl on her own in the West, trying to avenge her father's murder.  It's got the language down, and I love that Kate's a practical girl, doing what's needful toward her goals.

I would say that this book is a bit more emotionally complicated than True Grit is, but it's also a bit less stylish.  Maddie's voice permeated that book, and a lot of its appeal was her vast competence, even in areas she knew nothing about (where she knew to hire the right men and manage them properly).  Maddie was distant and odd, and that's a large part of her charm.

Kate, on the other hand, is much more recognizably human.  She's practical, but not always completely rational.  This works in favor of the story, actually, because it's about the cycle of revenge, and how damaging it is, and the messes in Kate's life are a big part of that.  I guess I was expecting the story to be a bit more cleanly adventurous, rather that emotionally and ethically messy.

I make it sound preachy, but actually, this is what I love in a story--when the things that are taken as given as "good" and "bad" are thrown into question.  The tension between the real world's ethic of turning the other cheek and the great storytelling history of revenge being justice makes this a complicated and authentic story; to get her father's killers, Kate has to become a killer herself, and there's no way to do that without hurting people along the way.  This is something I wish more stories addressed, and this one really does stare that in the eye, which I admire a great deal.

But I'll admit, I feel a lot more satisfaction when Kate's using her rifle or drinking whiskey.  The more allies she gathers and complicated plans they put into motion, the more contemporary this story feels, which let me down a little bit, what with Kate's great voice, and her straightforward intent.  There's a hint of romance that feels very contemporary, and very YA, too, I'd say, and I could almost do without it.


So this is unusual.  I got sick this week, and never posted this entry, and then I finished the book.  It makes for an incoherent review to jump in here at the end, but how I felt about this one changed as I was reading. 

My expectations were definitely for something unusual and interesting.  From the beginning, it was promising, and that's what I was feeling when I wrote my thoughts above; there was a promise of something really interesting and unusual--in terms of plot, yeah, but mostly in terms of character.  Kate is singleminded and focused and suffering badly.

But as we get further in, the story conspires to bring everything back to the mean--it's a good story, a very good YA Western adventure, but I had hoped for something more, and I don't think it was.  There's a nod at the end to how romance doesn't just magically fix everything, but even that nod kind of undermines its own point by having things, eventually, be wrapped up neat. 

The book's truly about revenge, and about how revenge makes you hard and cold, and that's lonely and not healthy.  But while the beginning had some promising treatment of some of the themes--what makes revenge seem so appealing, and how loneliness can make you cut yourself off more to protect yourself--it ended up feeling very much like a "love can heal you" kind of feeling.  There were a couple of interesting twists that felt shoved in there at the end. 

I'm not completely sure how I feel about the treatment of the Apache characters here.  While on the one hand, they are treated quite respectfully as individuals, they do fall into a strong stereotype: impassive, spiritual, threatening the White Eyes who would harm Mother Earth.  There's that magical, all-knowing sense of "otherness" that makes Liluye feel more like a prop than a character.

I liked the book, but I didn't love it.  My hopes were too high.  I guess I'm still looking for that magical Western that I want, somewhere between True Grit and Six Gun Snow WhiteRapunzel's Revenge.  There are some promising leads this fall: Walk on Earth a Stranger, Silver on the Road.  But if you have other candidates, let me know!


Wednesday, September 09, 2015

This Is the Way the World Ends

I don't track how books end up on my to-read list, but I vividly remember where I first heard of Katie Coyle's Vivian Apple at the End of the World.  It was in Rookie magazine, in a round-up of book recommendations, and I remember it so vividly because it was, at the time, impossible to find.  Vivian Versus the Apocalypse, as it was called at the time, had only been published in England, and I waited for almost a year to see signs of it around here.

I was excited to get a copy from Netgalley, but since it was a PDF I couldn't read it on my kindle, and so another year or so has gone by.  But I've cracked the PDF problem (mostly), and I joined Vivian Apple on her cross country trek in the face of the Rapture just as the sequel, Vivian Apple Needs a Miracle, hits the bookshelves.

We open with Vivian at a Rapture's Eve party; her parents are Believers and members of the Church of America, like almost everybody, it sometimes seems.  The party is a blast, but when she gets home to find her parents gone and two holes in the ceiling, she knows she's living in a different world.

Vivian and her friend Harp, between one thing and another, end up on a cross-country trip, seeking a movement of non-Believers called the New Orphans, Vivian's estranged extended family, and possibly the secret compound of the head of the Church of America, whose name is Beaton Frick.  Along the way from Pittsburgh to California, they encounter dangerous zealots trying to earn their way onto the "second boat to heaven," old friends in new life situations, and adults ranging from scary to cold to loving.

The best part of this book was Vivian herself; she spoke not only to actual-17-year-old me, but also to 30-mumble-year-old me who looks back on that 17 year old and wishes she could smack some sense into her.  Vivian is a good girl, a poster child, but always a little discontent with it.  Following the rules never quite got her what she was looking for; she's not even sure what that is.  In the aftermath of the Rapture, she starts out looking for the structures that she knows how to navigate, and only gradually does she find herself to be someone who can take action outside of the system.  This is kind of a theme in my life and my personality (no Rapture yet here), so I really loved that Vivian didn't start out as unstoppable. 

I loved Harp, too.  I love that sometimes she's the sidekick and sometimes she's the chief action-taker--you could write this book as Harp's story, if you wanted to.  She and Vivian each have moments of shining and moments of weakness, and they carry each other through them. 

I would have liked this book more, but the honest truth is, I've read too much dystopia.  Vivian's great, real, convincing--the end of the world is less so.  This book absolutely fails as process dystopia.  There are holes, and in the battle between my finely honed disaster preparedness plan and my richly experienced suspension of disbelief, the part of me that's ready for civilization to collapse walked away shaking its head. 

If only 3,000 were raptured total across the country, how do things collapse so thoroughly?  Heck, how does word get out so fast?  If gas is $14 a gallon and it costs $50 to go to Taco Bell, how come everyone you meet has a fridge full of the same food they've always had?  If the Church of America really believes that God is going to save just Americans, how does the rest of the world feel about the diseases and natural disasters that are sweeping the world?

The ending was pretty satisfying, actually--not entirely closed-ended (both in that there's a sequel, and in that there is room for belief and disbelief in the explanations for the apocalypse), but with a lot of good explanation and more to explore.  But it opens itself up to more questions--not the kind that the sequel will answer, but the kind you want to ask the author about, the kind that my mind keeps calling "holes."

I think I'd say this book is quite successful as a fable.  You can't look at the worldbuilding very closely at all or it falls apart, but if you don't look too closely, if you see the whole world as a set for Vivian to learn and love and live and grow, it's a really charming and fulfilling story.  It's the epitome of a young adult book. 

And I'm going to read the sequel; I guess I'd call that a thumbs-up.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Your October Read

I've mentioned before that Aarti's A More Diverse Universe event is coming up in October, which I'm very excited about.   There's another October reading event coming up, one that I don't usually participate in, but which is very popular: R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril.  It's RIP X this year, and it's being hosted by The Estella Society--basically your classic scary October reading event.

Doing both seems like way too much committed reading, but if you are going to give it a shot, I've got the perfect book for you.  And even if you're just doing one, or the other--heck, even if you're doing neither, you should really check out Tananarive Due's Ghost Summer.

Short stories aren't usually my thing.  I feel like you can't get at the meat of something with a short story, and I often need things spelled out for me in places where shorter fiction prefers to hint.  Anthologies tend to be uneven; collections by a specific author tend to be repetitive.  I know a lot of people who disagree with at least some of these premises (hi, Brenda!), but that's me.

But I like Tananarive Due (I discovered her during Diversiverse a few years ago), so when I saw this collection on Netgalley, I thought I'd give it a shot.  My new Netgalley rule is only authors I know or books I've been waiting for; she's a trusted author, and I was in the mood for just her brand of creepy.

These stories--I couldn't put this book down.  Every one was a little different, so many of them were moving, and some tore at my heart. They're all somewhere on the spectrum of horror and fantasy, some of them loosely connected--the mythology of one town; stages in the life of one character--others just thematically close, grouped according to these things. 

I finished this a few days ago; the ones that have stuck with me most are the ones about children.  Any horror book with children in it is going to have some creepy stuff--the survivor of the zombie apocalypse, the kid who's immune to the fast-spreading disease, the boy who gets more out of ghost hunting than he bargained for.  But the balance between the poignancy of innocence and the reality of fear and the raw simplicity of survival--these are not Stephen King's children, who embody Goodness and Innocence; they're kids written by someone who knows kids.

I think the one that upset me most was about a boy who lives in a lab, where the adults take his blood and only visit him in hazmat suits and slowly lose their hope and their sanity, as he gradually learns more and more about the world.  The first set of stories, about a town called Gracetown and some of the odd things that happen there, includes "The Lake," which I read as a standalone during last year's Diversiverse.  In this town, the odd happenings are sometimes simple and sometimes fraught; sometimes dangerous, and sometimes just the kind of thing that happens to every ten year old in town. 

I also loved that this book was often about the experience of being black.  Whether it was a primary theme (in "Ghost Summer," where a ghost hunting boy learns secrets about his town from a hundred years ago) or a part of the environment (in "Removal Order," when residents are ordered to evacuate, what might it be like to be the one who stayed?), from straightforward ("Free Jim's Mine" is about an emancipated slave and what he had to do to survive) to metaphorical (in "Carriers," the characters are isolated and disenfranchised because of their biology--not race, right?), these stories carry so many experiences and such a vision of the world. 

I loved this book.  It's one of those ones that's readable and ponderable and admirable and enjoyable.  So for October--for A More Diverse Universe, for RIP X, for that time of year when you want something vaguely creepy but not outright scary--pick this one up. 

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Roomies in a Hall of Mirrors

I started Peter Cline's 14 immediately after I finished The Fold, because I found out from the afterword that they're sort of set in the same world.  Same mythology, I guess you'd say.  I'm ashamed that it took me so long to read it, when I got a copy from Netgalley ages ago.  My excuse is that I thought it was a book of short stories, for some reason, and I have to talk myself into short stories.  

I'm so glad I had this waiting in the wings, because it's just what I wanted when I wanted more of The Fold. It's got a similar structure, but what made it worth reading was a different take on the mundanities around the mystery. Which is really what I'm in it for; the actual solution to the mystery isn't really the point.

Basically, our hero Nate is cruising along in life, not really doing anything and with no real passion or purpose.  He's got a low-rent temp job and nothing driving him.  When his roommate situation ends, he needs a new apartment, and ends up hearing about this nice, cheap place available in a building called the Kovach building.  

Nate moves in.  He meets the neighbors, who seem nice.  His apartment is great and super-cheap, which he can't quite figure out.  And when he asks the super about it, he gets hazy answers.  And when he asks the other residents about it, he finds out that everyone's been wondering this for a long time.  So Nate gets curious, and his new friends and neighbors get curious, too, and they poke around at the building.  

And things start to get weirder.  

There are doors with padlocks.  There are the weird apartment layouts.  There's that one wall that's always cold.  There's the elevator that never works, with a machine room that takes up half the roof.  And there are the weird green cockroaches with extra legs...

This book is about the unfolding of the mystery, and it's all about the ride.  The end point is a ripping yarn, but it's not about the mystery, it's about the detectives, and how this oddball group of neighbors--Tim, retired and ultracompetent; Xela, the artist; Veek, computer expert; Debbie and Clive, den parents; and of course Nate--put their particular skills together to find something enormous that's been hidden in plain sight for years.

This book is another one that I've mostly cast in my head.  Xela is Riley from Sense8 (which you need to go watch right now if you haven't), only with blue hair.  I think I picture Riley with more blue highlights than just the little ones she has.  Anyway, this girl, with solid blue hair, is my mental image of Xela.

Veek is Indira Varma, who played Idris Elba's estranged wife on Luther (again, go, now, watch it) and Oberon's paramour on Game of Thrones (ditto).  Veek's a bit younger, and not like any other character I've seen her play, but she's got this tough core that covers an emotional fragility that seems just right.  Also I think she's gorgeous.

There are a ton more characters, and I'm afraid I don't have links for all of them.  But casting helps a lot, because, as I said, there are a ton more characters.

I'm not sure if I liked this better than The Fold or not.  Nate was not as interesting as Mike, in that he didn't have super-genius powers, but he did have at least a little more character development.  The wider cast seemed a bit more well-rounded, and the sense of camaraderie really made the story worth reading, I think.  This book isn't changing my life or anything, but it was a quick, fun read.  I think I'm officially a Peter Cline fan.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


Busy couple of months coming up, book-wise!  I've got a couple of read-alongs set up with friends, along with an exciting blogosphere event.  This means a lot of my reading slots are (gasp!) accounted for.

Book club at work is reading Across the Nightingale Floor.  Ben's proposed this book every month for the--what, six?--months that we've had this club, so we finally gave in and picked it for him.  I haven't started it yet and know very little about it, but it seems promising.

Then we've got Justin Cronin's The Twelve, which is the sequel to The Passage, which I LOVED, in a classic-Stephen-King kind of way.  I read The Passage ages ago, but by the time the sequel had come out, I had forgotten a lot of the details in the (big, dense) first book, so I never got around to reading the second.

But now Lily's boyfriend Christian tells me that it's not a continuation, but more of a companion book/prequel, so I'm no longer afraid of the information I've forgotten and I'm excited to dive in. Lily and I are going to read it at the same time because of the intense scariness.  Maybe I'll talk Lily into co-blogging with me--although she blogs for work, so she might not think of it as fun.

Elizabeth and I were going to co-read The Count of Monte Christo this month, but I think we're going to put it off a few weeks, since we both have a lot of other books in the pipeline.  Still, that's on deck; I've wanted to read it for ages and a readalong will get me off my butt.

And then of course, Aarti's A More Diverse Universe is coming up in October!  This is very exciting; I have a long list to pick from for what to read, and I just finished a book that I want to recommend to anyone who wants to read something properly Octobery and creepy for their Diversiverse selection.  See forthcoming blog post for that one--it's really great.

And that's just the list that other people are expecting me to read.  Let's not even get into the ARCs, the new releases that I'm insanely excited about, and the recently discovered authors that I now want to consume all at once.  I am so pleasantly, painfully glutted with books and books and books and delightful books.  Picture my dreamy, sated, cat-in-the-cream smile right now.   Mmm.  Books.