Sunday, October 22, 2017

Something on Sunday, 10/22

Did anyone besides me and my sister grow up on live action Disney movies like Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Escape to Witch Mountain? Do any of you remember the sublime spookiness that was Bette Davis's last role in Watcher in the Woods?  Wait, don't answer that.  I'm horribly afraid you're going to say no.

Watcher in the Woods was a creepfest for 12-year-old me about a family that moves to a remote village and the two sisters start having odd things happen in their old house.  It turns out the the daughter of the house's owner (creepy old Bette Davis who lives in the cottage out back) disappeared years ago and no one knows what happened to her.  Younger sister Ellie keeps spacing out and saying things she doesn't mean; older sister Jan keeps seeing and hearing things.

The end is a little messy, and there's an extended release version with an ending that is explained a bit more thoroughly and is thus a true HOT mess.  Like, alien crystals on a maybe-spaceship?  I literally have no idea.  The original ends great; watch that.

OR! You could watch the Lifetime Original Movie remake! With a girl who looks like Jennifer Lawrence and Amanda Bynes had a love child, who hooks up with a guy who appears to be made of plastic, so smooth and pale is he. And a Welsh village where no one has a Welsh accent.  And with ANGELICA HOUSTON in the Bette Davis role!

You read that right; Angelica Houston is chewing the scenery, tipping her hat to Morticia Addams, info-dumping with her hand literally pressed to her forehead for the drama of it all, and giving us the best Welsh accent in this movie.

The plot is similar; the explanation is completely unrelated, the story is both boring and nonsense, and I have come to think that someone (possibly my sister) should do a podcast reviewing Lifetime Original Movies.

That's what I did with my Sunday.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Something on Sunday, 10/15

Sunday again, huh?  Well, it's been a surprisingly good reading week, given that I worked two jobs, attended a committee meeting, a kid's birthday party, and a small, casual get together.  I took the weekend to just sit and read, and now I'm going to dig into another week with a HUGE to-do list in front of me.

Quick review of one awful book I read this week will be my Something on Sunday: The Cresswell Plot, by Eliza Wass. I picked it up because it's about a reclusive family that functions like a cult and the main character is a girl who doubts they are the Chosen Ones.  Castella Cresswell wears homemade clothes and has been promised in marriage to her brother (as  all her brothers and sisters have been paired up).  Everyone in town knows they're weird.  But maybe she wants things to be different.

I love a good wacky cult.  I love an escape from the cult story, and I love a good not-sure-I-want-to-escape-from-the-cult story.  This was neither, and both.  Every single character changed everything they thought and felt from scene to scene.  You can't grow as a character if you don't have a character to begin with. 

And it wasn't just that they were full of contradictions.  Like "I want to escape, but what if Father is right and the rest of the world is going to hell, and also I love my family and don't want to leave, but god the abuse sucks."  Yeah, that's all okay.  But she will literally run away one minute and then start screaming in the woods, and then tremble with fear, and then wish she had blue jeans to wear and a boy to kiss her, and then threaten to hit her sibling with a club, and then, I don't know, join drama club? 

It made no sense, is what I'm saying.  Hard pass.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Something on Sunday, 10/8

It's been so long since I posted ANYTHING, but I wanted to get in on Jenny's plan and take advantage while coming back.

Since last I posted, I started a new job, realized it was not the track I wanted to be on, and quit said new job. I will have worked there exactly four weeks on my last day (which is this Friday). 

I am applying for more jobs in the world of librarianing, which I am nervously dipping my toe in.  I'm looking forward to a little time off while I job hunt, though.  If it lasts long enough, I want to do NaNoWriMo.

So I've made a mess of trying to do the career thing, but that's not me. What is me, and what's great, is that everyone in the whole process has been SO KIND. Everyone at my old job (where I'm still part-timing) was so supportive, and the person who replaced me is the literal best, and we now have a TV night with old coworkers and her.  There were hugs and tears when I downscaled my hours.  And the new job was patient when I freaked out a little, and nice to me while I calmed down and worked there, and unendingly supportive when I gave my notice.  They have also found a fabulous person to replace me, so really, everyone in this story literally comes out on top. 

I'm still figuring myself out, but I really feel valued by everyone around me right now, and even while the wider world falls apart, I continue to be so grateful for my good fortune.

In other news, I've read 100 books exactly so far this year; 42 of them have been in the "short works" category that I count as graphic novels, novellas, and children's chapter books (not YA or longer kids books, but the short ones, often with lots of illustrations). The other 58 have been book-length works--novels or nonfiction.  A good shot at making my 120 (which I consider a solid showing) by the end of the year.

If I end up with a month off work, I promise to read for at least an hour every day.  Cross my heart!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another

Why do I keep reading Stephen King? Why? I have catalogued my problems with him many times before, but I keep coming back.  I blame The Colorado Kid, which I liked even after I'd started to realize what was wrong with Stephen King.

Gwendy's Button Box is another novella, and it's definitely tightly written, which is excellent.  It was apparently begun by King, but he wasn't inclined to finish it, so it was finished/cowritten by Richard T. Chizmar, about whom I knew nothing.  Apparently he's primarily a short story writer, which is not usually my thing (though horror stories are much more up my alley than literary ones).  I can see how the ending isn't very King, but other than that, it's quite cohesive as a story.

Gwendy is 12 when she meets a strange man in the park who gives her a box.  It's got buttons on it and a couple of levers.  The box has strange powers that he doesn't explain well, and dispenses gifts that seem straightforward but aren't.  And then he is gone, and Gwendy is the owner of the button box, and we follow her for the next ten years.

Some of the moments that King does--an old man connecting with a teenager, a kid's life woven into the fabric of her town--are lovely; he's so very good at his job.  The hallmarks of his storytelling are all here.

Including this girl. Gwendy is a likeable character, a good person but not perfect (except, of course when she is, but no spoilers). But when Stephen King starts writing women, I should know better.  I wasn't on the alert for it here, so I ended up getting frustrated when he talked about how Gwendy was too embarrassed to be seen in public in a bathing suit--even a one piece--until she got hot.  There is no relationship with her body that isn't about being looked at by men, either desirably or undesirably--even though she's a track star, even though she's a soccer player, even in memories of childhood before boys were a thing.

The bad guy in the book is a creep in her class who is clearly evil by virtue of his teeth and his smell, who touches her inappropriately and who she slaps away ineffectually.  Maybe that's supposed to be a 1970s thing, but when the creepiest guy in your class, whom you've never spoken to outside of school, pulls up in front of your house to leer at you and ask you to go driving with him, and you're Gwendy the gorgeous straight-A athlete, you don't make up excuses.  You tell him to go away.  Maybe you do it nicely, because you're not a jerk, or maybe you do it meanly, because he's a creeper, but you do not act like you owe him something.  There are times when that exchange happens--on a date you agreed to go on; on a deserted street; places where the creep has the upper hand.

This wasn't a characterization choice; she is not meek at all.  It's just a lack of knowledge of what to do with a female character, and a need to set her up to be assaulted later.  It wasn't anywhere near the worst feminist WTF I've had even this month, but sigh.  Just, sigh. Oh, Stephen King.  I'm still trying.

Read for R.I.P. - Readers Imbibing Peril!  I love the fall!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Odd & True

I have been eager to read a Cat Winters book for ages. Each one sounds so interesting--historical YA fiction set in the Pacific Northwest! Diverse characters and fantasy elements! But the pile gets bigger and best laid plans and so on. When Odd and True showed up on Netgalley though--sisters fighting monsters!--I figured, here's my chance.

My expectations based on the cover copy were of a bit of a rip-roaring adventure, but the book was actually very much about the relationship between the sisters and how two different people can live in the same family and have completely different experiences.  It's also about the stories we tell ourselves and the power they have over us.

The story is told from two points of view, in two timelines.  Tru's story begins on her fifteenth birthday in 1909, when her sister, who has been gone for two years, climbs through her window and asks her to run away with her. Tru isn't sure why their aunt sent Od away, but she's sent letters from the circus, and she tells Tru now that she's been making a living as a monster hunter, just as their mother and grandmother had done in all the tales Od told her sister through the years.

She begs Tru to run away with her, but Tru is doubtful. Because of childhood polio, she walks with a brace and a heavy limp; making her way in the world promises to be hard. But the tea leaves her sister taught her to read years ago have been showing her monsters--maybe it's her duty to fight them?

Odette's story starts in childhood, on the night her sister Trudchen is born.  We see all the stories that she's told her sister, but we see them as they really happened, with the drama and flourishes stripped away--living with their mother in a remote California canyon, visited occasionally by a charming but absent father and their loving uncle Magnus.

Tru is never quite sure whether Od's stories are true or invented, or whether Od herself believes them or not, is the core mystery of the novel, and I found myself wavering back and forth.  Even as I learned more and more of Od's own story, and as Tru tries to get more information out of her sister, my guess--is Od making this up? is she imagining things?--kept changing.

Tru is such a lovely character. She's practical and realistic, and combined with her physical limitations--she can't walk fast or for very long and is in pain most of the time--this makes her very doubtful of Od's plans.  But Tru is so brave and determined that nothing stops her.

And the loyalty of these sisters, in the face of what seem like insurmountable odds--natural and supernatural--is absolutely the core of what made this book such a pleasure.  It's what I always hoped I'd find when I finally picked up a Cat Winters book. Time to go start another one!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Red

There is no one but Smart Bitches, Trashy Books to blame for the 500% increase in romance novels on my Kindle.  The problem with breaking in a new genre is that you don't know how to find the gems; I'm good at finding the right fantasy and sci fi books for me, but I never had the context for romance before.

But now, I have a neverending supply of romance novels highly rated by smart feminists with good taste, and I am rolling in it.

This is where I read this review of The Red, by Tiffany Reisz. I don't know that I've ever read published erotica before; there's plenty of that in fanfic, whether you're looking for it or not. But the review was glowing, and I was curious, and the book was on Netgalley, so now I'm reviewing erotica, which....does that change the rating on this blog?

I have specific critiques that would get kind of X-rated, so let's skip that.  I'll say that I really liked the structure, how the protagonist and her lover came to an agreement--a sexual relationship for a year that includes whatever he wants, in exchange for enough money to save her art gallery (called, titularly, The Red), delivered in the form of art. I loved how much pleasure the deal gave her, and the balance between Malcolm's demanding dominance and his desire to bring her happiness.

My main complaint came toward the end, so I'll be vague for spoilery reasons: I found the relationship at the end to be way TOO alpha-male takes what he wants. I think the book tried to pull off a switch where my goodwill was transferred from one situation to another, and the switch didn't quite work for me.

But we're talking last-ten-pages quibbles. If what you're looking for is a fun, sexy story that's a little bit fantasy and a little bit kinky, this is a really nice starting place.  It reminded me of the things I like about sexy fanfic, but it managed to do those things while getting me invested in characters I've never met before, which I think is pretty impressive.

There. I reviewed erotica. But I think, new rule: no Netgalley requests that I'd be embarrassed to talk to my coworkers about!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

R.I.P. XII: My List

My last RIP post was mostly about books I've read and(/or) recommended.  But one of the most fun things about reading is planning--I can plan to read a hundred books in a week, even if I can only read about two.  So: of all the scary books I want to read, which ones are in the line-up for this fall?

Well, after being reminded of how excellent Grady Hendrix is, I got all excited about a book from his backlist called Satan Loves You, which for some reason I could only get in paperback. So now I have this physical book on my shelf, which is just kind of...weird. Almost spooky.  On the list it goes!

Ooh, I've been wanting to read Gwendy's Button Box, because I have mostly given up on Stephen King novels, but I'll still give a story or novella a shot.  Bloat is my problem with King, so this is a good chance to avoid that. And there's a coauthor named Richard Chizmar about whom I know nothing. But I found a copy at the library, so here we go.

I've been meaning to read Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country, and this seems like the perfect time!  Brenda really liked it, and it's a Lovecraftian story that centers on race, which I think is always going to be really interesting (and probably my favorite approach to Lovecraft, because of the bone-deep squick that is his own approach to race).

Also The Deep, because Nick Cutter is a horror novelist I've heard I should definitely try. Also, to paraphrase my summary of Dept.H: horror in a deep sea science lab.  What's not to love?

Is my list too long yet?  Well, let's throw two more on, because I have Stephanie Kuehn's When I Am Through with You out from the library, and I've got a Netgalley advance copy of something called Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda.  I've started the latter, and the beginning is so heavy-handed that the book is either awful or it's going to be OFF THE RAILS, and my money is strongly on the latter, in the best of all possible ways.  As for the former, Kuehn is always creepy, in an unreliable-narrator-may-be-a-monster kind of way.

God, I'm so excited to get started.  Bring on RIP!