2016 Wrap-UP: The Learningest Books I Read This Year: Science, History, Memoir and Plain Old Truth!

So far in 2016 my ratio of non-fiction to fiction is fairly even, at 40 fiction versus 43 non-fiction reads. Here’s a list of the learningest, the frightening, the fascinating, from the invisible influence of the tiniest element of all living species to future disasters that could devastate an entire coast to the infinite space of the cosmos.

Why TF would anyone live in the PNW?!?

Cascadia’s Fault by Jerry Thompson/Eruption by Steve Olson/The White Cascade by Gary Krist

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Besides a volcano and an avalanche, the best disaster book I’ve read this year hasn’t happened yet. When the “big one” hits along the Juan De Fuca plate, San Andreas ain’t got nothing on the devastation (and ensuing tsunami) that’ll come knocking on the West coast’s door.

“From what I’ve tasted of desire/I hold with those who favor fire”

The Circus Fire by Stewart O’Nan/Killer Show by John Barylick/Fire in the Grove by John C. Esposito

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What’s the first thing you do when you enter a public space? Head for the bar? Check out the babes? Find a bathroom?

After reading all the horrifying books I have about fires this year, the first thing I do is look for the exits and make contingency plans. Always have an out, is the dark lesson from these devastating tragedies. Or stay home and read a book, duh.

Damn, Chicago! 

City of Scoundrels by Gary Krist/Chicago Death Trap by Nat Brandt/Ashes Under Water by Michael McCarthy

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Disaster and intrigue abounds in that famous Midwest city from blimp crashes and theater fires to ferry wrecks and race riots, all tinged with that famous deep dish Chicago politics. And yes, I’m from Illinois, but NOT Chicago. There are other cities there too. Go Cubbies!

Please God Let me Die in my Sleep

Dark Tide by Stephen Puleo

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This year I’ve read about people being immolated, suffocated, drowned, blown up, volcanoed, and avalanched in terrible ways. Death by molasses, however, is hands down the most agonizing death I’ve encountered thus far.

I read this so that I could say that I read this

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

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A text that changed the world. Groundbreaking. Illuminating. Startling. Controversial. Historical.

But a compelling read? Not so much. Unless you like pigeons.

I’m Famous – My Life is Interesting

On her Own Ground by A’lelia Perry Bundles

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How can anyone see that cover and NOT want to read this book? Black female entrepreneur in the early 20th century? She was a badass at a time when it was not only near impossible, not to mention dangerous. C.J. Walker took on the world with a laugh and a fierce drive to succeed. She deserves all of our attention.

Seriously, I don’t Remember Reading This

The Success Equation by Michael J. Mauboussin

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Uhm…what was this about? I think this was an audiobook I listened too. Obviously it wasn’t a very successful book (*knee slaps!*)

Blinded by Science! (In a good way)

Hey, remember that time when we were all pooping ourselves to death? This was a year for reading about tiny things that determine your destiny, like bacteria and viruses and that most fascinating chunk of matter of all, the gene.

Bring on the nature vs. nurture debate!

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One of the most accessible and informative of all the science-y books I read this year was The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee, which would send me on a trip into a curriculum that started with The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin to The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins to Human by Michael S. Gazzaniga. What a memetastic ride!

The Most Important Book I Read This Year

However enlightened or progressive you think you are, there are some things you just can’t know. Books are important for developing empathy, for seeing each and every person around you as a human being deserving of space and consideration and respect. Sometimes a bomb will drop on your head and you won’t know what to do.

When that happens, I turn to books.

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This book is blunt and factual. There’s no literary aspect to it. No flowers or pretty metaphors. It’s a primer aimed to enlighten anyone with questions about transgenderism and it explains in simple language the fluidity of gender identity and expression. It’s important, because even though the world has gotten scary in the past few months, there is still a progression towards acceptance that can only be achieved if we all educate ourselves on how to be better people.

We all deserve to look in the mirror and be certain that person matches who we are in our hearts.

 

 

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray – A Pageant

They’re a bunch of girls. How dangerous could they be?”

A plane full of beauty queen contestants crash on a deserted island. Also, fake pirates, an evil corporation (literally named “The Corporation”), illegal arms deals, murder, an Elvis-loving dictator, dancing, giant snakes, exploding hair remover, and a troop of diverse beauty queens who will discover the power within.

Sounds ridiculous. Sounds like a blast.

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After reading rave reviews on the audiobook, I decided to give the book, somewhat outside the range of my typical reads, a shot. I was not disappointed.

Bray is a clever, inventive author, and infuses a story that could have been silly and easily dismissed with wit, charm, and a whole cast of fully-realized characters. Although she seems to have worked from some sort of diversity checklist (Lesbian? Check. Transgender? Check. Person with disability? Check.  Add two POC and bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes), the characters are rich and fully realized.

A lot of my warm feelings for this book are influenced by the narrative performance. Bray reads her own book, which I didn’t realize until after an hour or so of listening, and I was stunned at how excellent she was. Her voice is enough to give instant characterization, and the range of accents, from Cockney to Indian British to nasally Midwest to Valley Girl is fantastic. She also does an uncanny impression of one former Alaskan Governor/VP hopeful (thinly disguised as an ambitious ex-beauty queen) right down to the rambling mixed metaphors and “you betchas!” *gun fingers*

The book espouses a positive, feminist message about the power and abilities of women and the obstacles they face in society. Sometimes that message is blunter than my grandma’s machete, but it gets the job done. If you’re up for a good laugh and solid story, this is the book for you.

*I discovered while perusing my Amazon wish list that I added this book five years ago. Fate has a hand!

2016 Wrap-UP: Booknado 2016!

2016 marks the 4th year that my sister Dallas and I have made our annual list of books to read based on certain themes. At the end of the year we rank the books by favorites. This year the list included pirates, sentient wolves, vengeful Japanese ghosts, the world’s dullest marriage, avalanches and volcanoes, mind vampires, tiny people, wilderness, revolutionary beauty products, lots of horses, and one obnoxiously haunted house.

Our rankings are below, beginning with the books we enjoyed the most to the bottom of the bin, Dallas’ rankings in parentheses.

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    (Dallas – 2) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (A book you read when younger that you don’t remember) A classic that’s a classic for a good reason. I enjoyed returning to a book I read when I was too young and dumb to understand it the first time.
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    (Dallas – 3) The White Cascade by Gary Krist – (a disaster book) I always love me a good disaster, especially in the mountains.
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    (Dallas – 4) On Her Own Ground by A’Lelia Perry Bundles – (book based in the state you were born: Missouri)The fascinating story of a black female entrepreneur in an era when such a thing was thought impossible. That is also possibly the most bad ass picture I’ve ever seen.
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    (Dallas – 6) Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg – (book based in the state you were born: Wyoming). A heartfelt ode to the wilderness of Wyoming. Thoughtful and evocative.
  5. 295
    (Dallas – 1) Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – (a book read when younger that you don’t remember). This was a first read for me, a fun tale of adventure and treasure.
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    (Dallas – 5) No Apparent Danger by Victoria Bruce – (A disaster book) Two volcanoes, one that killed over 20,000 people. A somewhat truncated version of events and the lessons we humans seemed determined never to learn.
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    Micro 
    by Michael Crichton (finished by Richard Preston) – (book the other person hasn’t read) Honey, I shrunk the grad students! That’s all. *Dallas read House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski and ranked it at #8. She doesn’t want to hear about your love life, man.
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    (Dallas – 7) Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons – (book from the 50 Scariest Reads list) Disappointing, considering the caliber of the writer and the prestige of the book. Mind vampires = super evil, also racist. Normal people = heroes.
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    (Dallas – 9) Wolfen by Whitley Strieber – (book from the 50 Scariest Reads list). Sentient wolves and a couple of absolute dipshit detectives who miraculously don’t die about a million times.
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    (Dallas – 10) Suicide Forest by Jeremy Bates – (book from a list we don’t remember) Yeah, idiots lost in the woods and at some point it stops being fun.
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    (Dallas – 11) Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – (books from a list we don’t remember) Overrated literary pretentiousness.
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    (Dallas – 12) Ring by Koji Suzuki – (book on both of our Goodreads list) Thank god the movie borrows only the few good elements from the novel and leaves the rest of that tripe on the cutting room floor.

*Funny how we ranked the final four books exactly the same. It was a tough choice choosing the baddest of the bad, but the utter inanity of Ring evidently trumped the douche-couple by that much.

Coming Soon…NEW LIST FOR 2017! What will we call it? What awful books will we force each other to read, and which ones will we suffer through together?

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Leaving Under My Tree

It’s Top Ten Tuesday, the book meme hosted by the fantastic Broke and the Bookish!

This week’s theme is: Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Leaving Under My Tree!

I decided to go way, way back into the annals of my Goodreads and Amazon lists and discover what I’ve added so long ago that I can’t remember why or how the book entered my field of vision. I picked out a few that I may have forgotten about over time, but still want to read.

  1. Carrie by Stephen King
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    Although my stance on the “King” of horror is decidedly ambivalent (please, someone punch me for that pun), I do enjoy a lot of his earlier works that I’ve read, such as Misery, Firestarter, and IT. Because I can never be effulgent about King, I will simply state that should the book fall into my hands, I wouldn’t mind reading it.

  2. 30 Rock and Philosophy: We Want to go to There by William Irwin and J. Jeremy Wisnewski
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    I want to go to this book while I’m workin’ on my night cheese and take it behind a middle school and get it pregnant.
  3. The Sundial by Shirley Jackson
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    Shirley Jackson wrote a claustrophobic, apocalyptic novel about a bunch of weirdos cloistered inside a house like a doomsday cult, and I haven’t read it!?!

  4. Anything by Haruki Murakami
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    First, because I need to do a better job at reading diverse books, and second, because I want to buy a ticket on the Murakami train.
  5. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
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    Ditto on the read more diverse books. I also learned in Shirley Jackson’s new biography by Ruth Franklin that Ellison was a close friend of Jackson and her husband  and collaborated with them during the writing of this book. An important work in the advent of the Civil Rights Movement. 

  6. The Sweet Hereafter by Russel Banks
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    I watched the film “The Sweet Hereafter” several years ago and it wrecked me. Simply devastating. I’m interested to see how the book and film (directed in a highly stylized manner by Atom Egoyan) differ. 

  7. When the Mississippi Ran Backwards by Jay Feldman
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    This book has it all: murder, intrigue, an earthquake, Thomas Jefferson, and the nastiest river you ever accidentally fell into. Seeing as how I spent a good portion of my life living just north of the New Madrid Fault line (pronounced “MAD-rid,” not “MUH-drid”), this looks like a fascinating slice of history. 

  8. Columbine by Dave Cullen
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    Man, I sure ask Santa for some depressing stuff. I think I’ve been avoiding this read because it will be difficult. The legacy of Columbine is rooted in the minds of anyone who remembers that afternoon when the tragedy played out in real time over televisions. 

  9. Open City by Teju Cole
    8526694Diverse books! This book is on my Amazon wish list at least twice as well as my Goodreads and Litsy #TBR shelves. Obviously, the universe wants me to read this.
  10. Hex by Thomas Heuvelt
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    Dear Santa: If I don’t get this book soon, I’m breaking up with you.

 

2016 Reading Wrap-Up: The Weirdest, Scariest, and Grossest Books I’ve Read This Year!

From the “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” vibe of Micro to the classic demoniac puking of My Best Friend’s Exorcism, a tribute to all of the nasty, creepy, nauseating, perverted, horrifying literature I’ve ingested since January 1, 2016:

Most Likely to make you skip dinner: 

The Troop by Nick Cutter

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A mash-up of Cronenbergian body horror and Freudian nightmares, this book will worm its way into your skin with its grotesque imagery. A Lord of the Flies mentality only increases the horror.

The “Consumerism KILLS!” Award:

The Store by Bentley Little/Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

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You’ll find everything you never knew you needed, whether it’s the array of dangerous and illegal merchandise in The Store or that haunted torture chair perfect for your reading nook. The price is only your soul!

More Baffling than your GPS

The Ritual by Adam Nevill/Ring by Koji Suzuki

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Our wonderful human brains are wired to constantly evaluate our environment and make predictions, like whether that jerk is actually going to stop at the stop sign. It’s why we love mystery stories and why a good twist always startles and excites us.

Some stories, though, are better left untwisted. The Ritual begins as a morons lost in the woods story and takes a hard left into territory better left unexplored, and to this day I’m still thinking about whether I liked it or not.

The Ring is a rare case of the movie improving upon the book. Because nothing kills atmosphere like misogyny and transphobia. God, this book was so bad!

Overrated, like Buffalo Wild Wings

Annhilation by Jeff VanDerMeer/Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons

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Seriously, B-Dubs (as the kids call it) isn’t that great.

I’ll never understand the phenomenon of Annihilation. I saw it pop up on “best of” lists everywhere after I read it. It’s not even mediocre. It’s bad. The characters are sketchy, and despite the propulsive nature of “Area X,” the book is boring. It reads like an outline for a longer book. I read the second book, Authority, and somehow made it through, but finally came to terms with bailing on a book in the middle of Acceptance. My boat was not floated.

Carrion Comfort was disappointing because it was both hugely hyped and written by the brilliant Dan Simmons. The writing and characterization was solid, but the plot seemed to follow a by-the-numbers Evil vs. Good scenario that didn’t allow for ambiguity.

Proof that “L’enfer, c’est l’autres”

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi/The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum

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Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn! – Robert Burns

A true story and a novel based on a true story, both books will have you up at night with despair at the cruelty we can inflict on others. Pain reverberates out like a shockwave, down through centuries and bloodlines. Brutality is delivered with a laugh. People die in service of (always) false gods and despair. As Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, “no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.”

Grooviest Creature

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

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One of the most inventive horror stories to come along in a while, our very sight betrays us. If we don’t look, we stay alive. But the temptation to look…the scariest things you see are with your eyes closed.

Squarest Creature

Wolfen by Whitley Strieber

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Semi-sentient wolf creatures with terrifying claws and feelings. Proto-Twilight Werewolves. This is the result of half-ass anthropomorphization. What’s scary about creatures is that they kill without discrimination, without intent, without remorse. But give them a love story and suddenly they’re just big fluffy cuddlebears (with teeth for shredding people like pulled pork.)

By the Power of Shirley Jackson!

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

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Anyone who pays tribute to my personal Jesus Shirley Jackson is deserving of accolades. Tremblay, who also happens to sit on the board of directors for the Shirley Jackson Awards gives numerous shout-outs to the Great One in Ghosts, from the protagonist’s name to certain plot elements. Unreliable narrator and questionable existence of supernatural elements? Sounds familiar…

The “You Deserve to Die You Idiot” Award

Suicide Forest by Jeremy Bates

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How can a story with such a bitchin’ setting be so lame? Honestly. How did you expect to hike Mt. Fuji with sneakers and a package of Japanese noodles? Is there a staircase to the top? Why do you suck so much, young people? I wish this book were a little better, because I enjoyed watching you die.

Fire and Ice: Best Dystopian Nightmare

Swan Song by Robert McCammon

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Sister Creep, makin’ it happen!

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I have a terrible deformity caused by radiation poisoning!

No, I don’t feel fine.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Shirley Jackson!

I dont fangirl out over authors. But when I do, it’s over Shirley Jackson.

A year of reading isn’t complete unless I throw Jackson into the mix, whether it’s an old standby or a set of previously unpublished works or a fresh adaptation of her work. I had the great fortune of reading all of the above, as a treasure trove of new material was recently published.

To honor my favorite writer of all time on her 100th birthday, here’s a recap of my year with Shirley Jackson: a little haunted, a little ritualistic, and a lot of love for all the creepy weirdos in and out of fiction.

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within. It had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm and doors were sensibly shut. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

– The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The paragraph above might be the greatest opening lines penned in human history.

I am unabashedly unashamed in my love for Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, so much so that I memorized the first paragraph and recite it at random to anyone who asks (or doesn’t ask.)

I read the novel at least once a year, and for the past two, have listened to the audiobook read by Bernadette Dunne, who does a fantastic job evoking the individuality of each character (and sounding uncannily like the actress who played Eleanor in the 1963 film, The Haunting.) Her reading style also evokes the essence of the time in which the book is set: A late 1950’s vibe where everyone was optimistic and cheery and upwardly mobile and any unsightly dirt, be it mental illness or aberrant sexuality, was discreetly swept under the rug.

Discovering the audiobook led to a trilogy of media experience, whereby each piece complements the other. The source, the actual book, is a masterful ghost story where the scariest hauntings are the ones that take place inside the head. Eleanor Vance is a troubled character, desperate to belong, intensely lonely and prey to imaginative fancies. Like the protagonist in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, Eleanor’s “oddities” might find a community today among all the other weirdos that congregate thanks to the internet (including book-obsessed weirdos like myself), but in that time and era, it was an unacceptable thing for a woman to want something outside the strict prescriptions of society.

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The 1963 film directed by Robert Wise, The Haunting, is one of those rare gems, a film that’s just as good as the book. Like Marion Crane’s famous drive in Psycho, Wise and actress Julie Harris set the tone for Eleanor’s fraught state of mind. The film, while probably not scary by today’s standards, is a tightly wound ghost story that remains faithful to the source, and I can’t help but wonder how Shirley Jackson felt in her secret heart of hearts about it.

Speaking of Jackson’s secret heart of hearts…

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

In one of her essays, Jackson spoke of a “heaven-wall-gate,” the concept of something wonderful lying behind a wall, something her characters strive for, only once they discover the gate, they find it locked.

Jackson’s fiction is full of walls, both literal and figurative, from her first novel, The Road Through the Wall, to the infamous gate of Hill House (only that’s the one gate that should stay locked!).

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A brand new biography of Jackson was published this year, drawing from excerpts of letters previously unseen and unknown. Franklin does a masterful job of portraying Jackson as a woman with a foot on either side of the “heaven-wall-gate.” Although Jackson could easily reconcile herself as a mother of four rambunctious children, doing battle with daily domestic duties, as well as the writer who created worlds in which all the angles were just a little off, it was difficult for others to accept this. The expectations for women didn’t conceive of a woman who would want to dance outside the domestic ballroom.

Although the ending is strangely rushed (much like Jackson’s too-short life), the book depicts a woman of enormous imagination and desires, a life full of both tragedy and joy.

 

Shirley Jackon’s “The Lottery”: The Authorized Graphic Adaptation by Mile Hyman

Whenever anyone dares to tell me “that’s how we’ve always done it,” my standard answer is usually “we used to shit in the woods too, but we don’t do that anymore.” A more helpful answer might be to refer the offender to Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, an infamous story about a sinister ritual conducted in Sidestreet, U.S.A (if you haven’t read the story, stop right now and go read it immediately).

The Lottery is one of those stories often fated to the syllabi of college and high school English classes everywhere, destined to be underappreciated and overanalyzed until all meaning is wrung out.

The graphic adaptation adds a fresh coat of paint to the old, infamous story, and it’s written by Shirley Jackson’s grandson, Miles Hyman.

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The art is deceptively simple, the colors muted, and the faces indistinct and blurry. It’s a rural community that could exist anywhere. The Lottery’s universality is its suckerpunch. The book adheres to the story faithfully (although there’s a naked woman thrown in there because, dudes). There are some beautiful panels focusing on the instruments of the lottery: the black box, the slips of paper.

I don’t know that this new representation is strictly necessary, but it adds a fresh dimension to the old familiar story, which remains perfection.

Let Me Tell YouNew Stories, Essays, and Other Writings

The bummer about loving authors who are long gone is that the possibility of them producing new material is close to nil (unless you can find an especially talented medium)

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Aggie’s reaction upon hearing that Shirley Jackson was more of a cat person. 

The latest collection of Jackson’s unpublished material is a joy to read. Not every story is The Lottery, but they all help to fill in the colorful outlines of Jackson’s oeuvre. “Garlic in Fiction” might be the greatest writing/food analogy of all time, and “Mrs. Spencer and the Oberons” is a paranoic masterpiece.

The book also includes that bane of readers everywhere, the unfinished story. The eponymous story is short, with no conclusion, but it’s like a little bite of cheesecake. You don’t need the whole slice to enjoy it (of course, we want all the cheesecake!).

*doors that close by themselves

  • Another much read, much beloved book is We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Next to Eleanor, Merricat is Jackson’s greatest character creation, an odd, imaginative young woman who gets a little murdery now and then.
  • I’m a little embarrassed about my backwards path to discovering Jackson’s work. It began 1999’s The Haunting which retains just enough details from the book to make it a travesty. The first time I read The Haunting, I wasn’t impressed. I was also forced to read The Lottery in school, underappreciating it along with the rest of my dull freshman English class. But Jackson was like a spot of black mold on my heart: she kept growing and growing until she was in the walls and everywhere and it was too expensive to get her out.
  • The Haunting of Hill House is also on Flavorwire’s 50 Scariest Book list.

 

The Couple Next Door by Sheri Lapena -The Review

You’re dangerous [name redacted], with your plans and your schemes

Regarding the above quote from Sheri Lapena’s The Couple Next Door:

I get it. Dialogue is a tricky business. If writers mimicked verbatim the way people actually speak, we’d get something like Ulysses but written by a Valley Girl who never finishes her sentences.

But seriously?

The bittersweet aspect of audiobooks is that sometimes a line that reads fine on the page sounds like a basement bargain James Bond villain when read aloud.

If that was my only quibble with The Couple Next Door, I could live with that, if the story and characters had been compelling. But unfortunately the only thing that kept me hanging on was my biological inability to bail on a mystery.

I just gotta know.

[spoilers abound in leaps and bounds!]

The books opens on a dinner party where nobody is having any fun. Or are they?

Ann sure isn’t. She is battling post-partum depression and is anxious about leaving their baby alone next door while she parties with the couple sharing their duplex, even though the baby monitor is by her side and she’s taken turns with her husband checking on the baby every half hour.

Even though these two couples are ostensibly friends, they clearly find no pleasure in each other’s company. The other woman, Cynthia, is of course gorgeous and blatantly flirting with Ann’s husband, Marco.

The character of Cynthia remains a caricature of a salacious jezebel throughout the book. She doesn’t like babies. She’s an exhibitionist. She’s manipulative and cruel. She has no desire to be a mother, the biggest sin a woman can commit (according to the book). Next to, of course, leaving your baby alone in what is technically the same house (multiple times the paper thin walls are mentioned).

When Ann and Marco finally depart this miserable party, they return home only to find the baby is missing. Cue plot convolutions, cardboard characters, transparent red herrings, and a superfluous case of dissociative identity disorder.

There’s so much about this book that doesn’t make sense, beginning with the cover:

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Why is it called The Couple Next Door when the cover is of one person with bizarrely backlit hair? (source)

The title doesn’t make any sense, because ultimately, what couple is it referring to, and from whose perspective? The abrupt POV shifts in the book are messy, and one entire storyline, seemingly extraneous once the kidnapper is revealed, turns out to be a catalyst for the supremely idiotic ending. It almost felt added as an afterthought, as though a reader would get to the penultimate page and think: “I would really like this book if it added one more nonsensical shock to the batter.”

Minus the final scene, the tidiness of the ending where everything turns out just right reminds me of a Scooby Doo episode. “Jinkies! It was [name redacted] all along!”

I nearly expected the criminal to shake their fist and shout “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that meddling author!”

The one character to even give half a care about is the baby, because she’s innocent, and even if she ends back up with her parents, she’s stuck with a couple of moronic losers for the rest of her life.

*eavesdropping

  • In order to demonstrate that a character is a sociopath, the author repeatedly stressed that he is a “businessman” because apparently all businessmen are Patrick Bates.

Booknado 2016: December – Cascades of Horror

Theme: A Disaster!

Once, while taking a bus trip from Galesburg, Illinois to Columbus, Ohio, I overhead the people in the seats ahead of me rhapsodizing about the luxuries of train travel (especially as compared to a crammed greyhound bus where the passenger beside me took up her seat and half of mine.)

“You can drink,” one person said. “And smoke!” I don’t think this was necessarily true, but the implications were clear. Trains, of the clean, modern, Amtrak variety, were comfortable and fun.

Say it ain’t so.

Trains were a miracle of modern travel in the mid 1800’s up until the invention of the automobile in the early 1900’s. They revolutionized the way goods and people were transported and opened up the Western frontier to civilization. For example, the city of Seattle, populated by less than 10000 people in 1880 would see over 237,000 residents in the space of just 30 years.

Two of the best train disaster books I have read (and I’ve read three) took place 43 years apart, bracketing that golden age of train travel. In The Angola Horror, author Charity Vogel points out that train travel in 1867 was decidedly unglamorous, citing the filthy conditions, the floors varnished in tobacco spit, and the poor heating systems that would ultimately compound the tragedy that took place on a bridge near a little hamlet called Angola in New York.

When the bridge collapsed, causing two passenger cars to plummet into the ravine below, the stoves heating the cars tumbled along with the occupants, starting fires that quickly raged into blazing infernos. People lucky enough to survive the fall were promptly burned to death. 49 people would lose their lives, and identification of the victims, charred beyond recognition, proved nearly impossible.

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Fast forward four decades, and despite their dangers, trains had cracked opened the impenetrable wilderness that stretched to the Pacific Ocean. Railroads had even blazed a path through the range known as the “Last Mountains,” the Cascades. But nature proved to be an unforgiving and vehement adversary. In February of 1910, the worst snowstorm in decades assailed the Cascades, numerous snowslides stranding a passenger train and mail car in a tiny stop named Wellington, nestled high in Stevens Pass. For a week, railroaders labored to clear the tracks while the stranded trains waited, parked beneath an intimidating slope 1000 feet high and stubbled with the remains of burned out timber.

As the temperature fluctuated and the wind howled, the inevitable (in hindsight) happened. A tsunami of snow roared down the mountain, sweeping away the trains with sleeping passengers and crew inside, in what became the deadliest avalanche in history. 96 people died.

Both books investigate a time when modernity was accelerating our lives into the future, dispelling old fears and creating new ones. Some lives ended in fire, some in ice, and as we banish one method of death, we invent a new one. Automobiles and airplanes relegated trains to the sideline as a mode of transportation, bringing fresh horrors of their own. Still, these little slices of history remind us of the prices we pay for our convenience.

*forecast calls for snow

  • Although Wellington is no more, there’s a trail along the old rails for anyone wanting to experience a piece of history. It’s only 2 1/2 hours from me, so I plan on checking it out next summer.
  • Booknado 2016 is in the history books! 2017 is currently being written. What wonders does it hold in store? I wonder…

 

 

Top 10 Tuesday – Top 10 New-to-me Authors I Read in 2016

Okay, so I’m trying on this whole blog meme thing. Boy am I behind on the times (example: I just learned to screencap on my phone about two months ago).

Top Ten Tuesday meme is courtesy of The Broke and the Bookish and I thank them for their wonderful, entertaining, and very bookish blog!

So here goes the Top 10 New (to me) authors I read in 2016! (in no order whatsoever

  1. Nick Cutter – The Troop

Gross. Deliciously gross. Don’t eat when you read this guy. Although the similes get a little ham-fisted after a minute, the gut-churning descriptions and vivid characterization leaves that perfect combination of nausea and excitement on the palate. I already have The Deep on my TBR, hoping Cutter can stand next to Dan Simmons as my go-to gore writers

2. Robert McCammon – Swan Song

Apocalypse, killer characters, nuclear holocaust, a 1000 page tome and McCammon might be the best of the old 80’s/90’s horror writers I’ve never heard of. Word is he has a decent werewolf book, The Wolf’s Hour, so I’ll be giving that a shot.

3. Alexandra Oliva – The Last One

A well-executed concept that deftly switches back and forth between a survivalist reality TV show and a character who may or may not be deaing with a pandemic, Oliva’s writing is competent and her storytelling never boring.

4. Charles Darwin – The Origin of Species

Yep, that dude who invented a theory of evolution that revolutionized science and the world as we know it. Or whatever. Darwin likes pigeons and can also wax poetic while laying out a crazy detailed theory that shook up the world (and helped us understand our fear of snakes). Everyone knows Darwin, but how many can say they read him?

5. Paul Tremblay – A Head Full of Ghosts

This book came to me by happenstance (my mom) and it turns out not only did it win last year’s Bram Stoker Best Novel Award, it’s a pretty interesting book. Lucky for me, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock was just around the corner.

6. Josh Malerman – Bird Box

In a culture overstuffed with dystopian futures and apocalyptic scenarios, Bird Box was a refreshing, spare story of an unknown apocalypse with an emphasis on character and story over a need for exposition. I can’t wait to see what else the guy writes

7. Michael Lewis – Moneyball

Being a Cub’s fan, this was a good year in baseball for me (being a Brown’s fan evens out that karma a bit). Michael Lewis made a story about statistics engaging, so he’s got my vote.

8. Mary Beard – The Fires of Vesuvius

I accidentally read this book, thinking it would focus on the famou 79 c.e. eruption, but it was more of a history lesson via archaeology, which Beard taught with a down-to-earth humor. I was so impressed that I followed it up with her S.P.Q.R, and I learned I never want to live in ancient times, mostly because the streets are running with human waste.

9. Adam Nevill – The Ritual

Yep, I’m a sucker for those idiots lost in the woods. Nevill evokes a haunting atmosphere and isolation, even as the story takes a left turn at weirdsville and never looks back. I’d like to check out his other books.

10. Stewart O’Nan – The Circus Fire

Normally a fiction writer, O’Nan brings to life a horrific tragedy to ensure that it’s legacy and lesson are not forgotten. Truly, more horrifying than any fiction I’ve ever read.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi – A Review

WARNING! You will have the song Helter Skelter stuck in your head starting…now!

You’re welcome.

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Aggie may be a lover, but she ain’t no dancer

During the course of reading this book, I kept trying to imagine how it would feel to be so in thrall to another person that I would go to great lengths, to the point of murder, to please him. What kind of person, I wondered, would kill in devotion to a prophet who preached an apocalyptic race war? Would they have a predisposition to murder? Daddy issues? Broken moral compasses?

Obviously, that type of person exists. The young women (and occasional man) who followed Charles Manson’s instructions to the horrific extreme are testament to that. Were they latent psychopaths in search of a cause? Or impressionable young people with an emptiness that Manson filled with his own desires and compulsions?

Were they very different from you and me?

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