Saturday, December 3, 2022

Books I read in November

Wow, this year flew by in the blink of an eye. A few more weeks and it'll be Christmas, then we're ringing in 2023. I don't now about you but I'm just not ready...

I don't know how I did this, but I managed to read a total of 10 books in November. 10! I hadn't realized I completed so many and am quite pleasantly surprised. Looking back I realize that  I read quite a few of them in nearly one sitting.... 

So let's take a peek at which ones they were: 

Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth

I got a huge kick out of this book, and can only wonder if I would have liked it more if a particular part of the plot was not spoiled for me in advance. Do yourself a favor and stay away from the reviews until you've read it!

Abby is about to lose her shit. And honestly, it shouldn't really matter since her husband Ralph is totally losing his, except that someone's got to get up and go to work to keep the lights on and the food on the table.

The two of them recently moved into her mother-in-law Laura's house to help pull her out of a severe depressive episode. Only she ends up offing herself in the basement and now she won't leave them alone. For Ralph, she's physically full-body manifesting downstairs. For Abby, it's more a feeling than anything, but she's determined to help shake Ralph out of his dark obsession before it completely consumes him by doing only what a Good Wife can do....

This book is dripping with sarcasm and splattered with maladjusted adults who've survived traumatic relationships. Abby is a deliciously refreshing, foul mouth and minded protag. And Laura is most definitely the MIL from HELL, in every sense of the word.

But beware! Motherthing should not be confused as a horror novel, though I see it's shelved with that genre. This is definitely not a scare-you-till-you-scream story. Have you ever watched the Michael J Fox movie The Frighteners? It's kinda like that... a dark comic fiction that just happens to contain a vengeful, spiteful ghost.

A big thumbs up from me!

Jackal by Erin E Adams (audiobook)

I think listening to this book on audio was the right choice. The narration and pacing were perfectly paired for my car ride back and forth to work.

In Jackal, we meet Liz. A thirty something year old black woman who's reluctantly returning to her hometown to celebrate her best (and maybe only) friend Mel's wedding. The service is taking place in Mel's brother's backyard, which butts up against the woods, a place Liz has no interest being near. During the reception, Mel's young daughter Caroline goes missing and the book quickly takes a turn towards darkness.

We learn that Caroline is one of many black girls who have disappeared into the woods - Keisha, a girl Liz befriended in school, was lost there during a bonfire party and found days later cut from neck to pelvis, with her heart removed. As she begins her search for Caroline, Liz doesn't have much time to decide who she can trust and begins to wonder how much truth lies in the strange rhymes their parents taught them when they were growing up about the woods and the shadows they hide...

Many reviewers are quick to point out how this book defies genre, but I think it's more fitting to call it genre BENDING. It's got the feel of a thriller, mixed with the intrigue of local lure and legend, and an increasingly unreliable narrator. How can you not love this?

Monster by A Lee Martinez

Good lord. insert a hundred eye roll emojis here.

The 2009 me who bought this from Borders in hardcover really liked A. Lee Martinez. I clearly remember reading Gil's All Fright Diner back in the day and looooving it, it was a quick favorite of mine back then.

But 2022 me... eh. Not so much.

I can appreciate what he's doing here - hitting the campy 'strange and magical beings are among us but most of us are too low brained to see it' urban fantasy fiction really hard, taking Men in Black down a notch and turning the sunglasses and suits into cryptobiological animal control guys and replacing those red light pens with automatic memory loss - but honestly, I think I'm over it. It just didn't hit the same this time.

If you're into fiction that likes to have fun, but isn't LOL funny, the stuff that I'd classify as "brain candy", you may really enjoy it. Maybe my days of digging fiction by writers like A Lee Martinez, Christopher Moore, and Charlaine Harris are behind me, and I think I'm ok with it...

Echoland by Per Petterson

I devoured this novella in a matter of hours. I love Per Petterson's writing. I fell hard for him when I first read I Curse the River to Time years ago, and have enjoyed everything I've read from him since.

Echoland is Per's debut novel (and second book, following his story collection Ashes in my Mouth, Sand in My Shoes) but is newly translated into english and when I saw it at the bookstore, I knew I had to have it.

It follows Arvid as a 12 year old boy, vacationing with his family at his grandparents' house. He's curious and a bit rebellous and spends the time bicycling around the town with his friend Mogens, avoiding the odd tension between his mother and grandmother, and his mother and father. He fishes, swims, and smokes as he works through a range of new and confusing emotions.

Per handles language so poetically - we experience every moment, breathing the salty air, feeling the roughness of the sand on our skin, the pelting of the rain on our face, the vibrations of the bike's wheels against the road...

It's familiar and frustrating and fraught with tension and it's just so gosh darn gorgeous.

The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill

I hadn't realized this was the same author who wrote When Women Were Dragons, which I attempted to listen to on audio and ended up DNFing earlier this year. If I had known, I think I would have been a bit hesitant to pick this one up, and that would have been a shame because I loved it. This just hit different!

A gorgeous modern day retelling, The Crane Husband is narrated by a fifteen year old girl who's left to care for her six year old brother after their father passes away and their flightly mother prioritizes her art and abusive lovers over them both. After watching all of these men quickly rotate in and out of their lives, she barely bats an eye when her mother brings a crane to her bed. But unlike those before him, the crane appears to have staying power, her mother having fallen under his spell to the detriment of them all. Fearing for their continued survival and her mother's health and safety, our unnamed protagonist begins to take matters into her own hands.

Fans of dark fairy tales and lush prose that ebbs and flows will find a lot to love here.

Tinfoil Butterfly by Rachel Eve Moulton

Eep! Into the pile of my favorite reads this year you go!

I INHALED this book... it was just sooo good. And surprisingly... it didn't go to the places I thought it was going to. Quite a few times, it actually felt like the author was having fun at my expense, setting me up where I could literally feel the anxiety and anticipation building up inside me as I read, only to realize it wasn't taking the turn I had expected and traveled down an entirely different path. And that's not a bad thing. It's creepy, and unsettling, and never lets you get completely comfortable.

It's a story about how much you have to lose of yourself before you realize it's time to find yourself again and the hell you have to go through to get there. The less you know going in, the better... trust me!

The Doloriad by Missouri Williams

Thank god I'm done with this thing! A 240 page book that felt like it was 500 pages long, the Doloriad is an extremely dense read and required all of my mental energy. It sounded like it would be right up my alley, and I had high expectations, which made it a bigger disappointment than it probably should have been.

I mean, wouldn't you want to read something like this:

A family somehow survives an apocalyptic event that kills off, from what they can tell, the entire human race. In order to keep the species from dying off completely, the Matriarch and her brother begin to repopulate, and teach their children to repopulate with each other. They attend "school", they plant and harvest food, and they even watch old VHS tapes to remind them of the old days. When she learns of the potential of another small group of people on the other side of the forest, she rushes to send her crippled daughter Dolores out into the woods to meet them, hoping to break the cycle of incest. But when Dolores comes back the next day, everything the Matriarch built begins to quickly crumble.

That sounds pretty fricken good, doesn't it? Only it really wasn't. Told in paragraphs that stretch multiple pages in length, sometimes shifting perspective without any advance warning, and sometimes told from the perspective of Saint Aquinas, a character in the only TV show they watch as they gather weekly around the Matriarch's television set, The Doloriad is a hot mess of a debut.

If I could go back and DNF when I had thought to, I would. I held out hope, and in the end, it didn't pay off.

Jubilee by Jennifer Givhan (Audiobook)

I recently saw the author post that the audiobook version was on sale on Chirp, so I snagged it because I really liked her newest novel River Woman, River Demon. This one didn't hit the same. I think it just suffers from never-gonna-match-up-to-the-first-book-I-read-by-the-author syndrome. But Bee and her little Jubilee were good company in the car regardless.

So. The story. In it, a bleeding and half conscious Bianca shows up at her brother's house with a baby strapped in the backseat. Only, it's not really a baby. It's a baby doll. And its name is Jubilee. Told in two parts - Before Jubilee and With Jubilee - we learn pretty early on that Bianca has been through something unimaginable but, reader, it will take you a loooong ass while to find out just what that something was. What we do know right up front is that Bee appears to believe that Jubilee is alive, her living breathing daughter.

I sort of expected this to take a dark, creepy turn because... you know... baby dolls can be mighty creepy and River Woman was kinda dark, but ultimately the two books share only one vein in common - shitty relationships / questionable men. I don't mean to spoil anything for you, but I also don't want you to sit on tenterhooks like I did, waiting for shit to get reaaaally weird. There's no strange hocus pocus or demonic goings on here. Just a girl with some shit she needs to work through.

All in all, a pretty decent read that I should tag with some spoilery trigger warnings - abuse, suicide, mental health, abortions/miscarriages.

Lark Ascending by Silas House

I wasn't as crazy for this one as I thought I would be. It's a fairly good cli-fi read, but just seemed to fall a little flat for me.

Fires burn up a good portion of the United States and a militia group with a strong religious bent called The Fundies take advantage of the chaos to pull themselves into power. You either convert to the new government power or die at their hands. Most people are like 'fuck that' and begin to seek refuge elsewhere and Lark and his family end up on an overcrowded yacht headed to Ireland. The trip is a devastating one in which Lark loses both his mother and father, and those passengers who survived the ocean voyage are gunned down as the boat nears the shore.

Lark somehow miraculously makes it to land unscathed and begins the grueling journey on foot to locate Glendalough, a "thin place" once visited by his mother, rumored to be one of the last camps providing asylum there. Along the way, Lark gains two travel companions - a dog named Seamus (now a rare species that've mostly been killed off in this new dystopian world) and a local woman who's familiar with the lay of the land and the threats that populate the current landscape.

So the burning questions are do they make it to Glendalough and does the dog die (Oh how I HATE books that have dogs in it just so they can kill them off)... but you won't hear a peep out of me on those points. You'll have to read it for yourself if you want to know.

There's a lot of walking, a couple run-ins with some baddies, but for the most part it's stark landscapes, very little conversation, and a lot of scavanging for food and seeking cover in the forests. Not as dark as The Road, but not bright and cheery either, Lark Ascending is tender and touching, but also at times just as slow and stagnant.

Pew by Catherine Lacey

This is a book that had lingered for a long time on my to-buy list and when I finally purchased a copy quite a few weeks back, I continued to let it linger in my tbr stacks until I saw @messy_aussie_reader
review it on instagram.

Set in an small unnamed Southern town, a family attending church one Sunday morning finds a stranger of indeterminate age and gender napping on their preferred pew bench interprets it as a sign and decides to take them in. Although their presence and refusal to speak rattles the townfolk a bit, everyone is eager to meet them. In lieu of a name, the town calls them Pew. The sense of unease that followed them into the community is compounded by Pew's continued silence, and as everyone prepares for the upcoming and eerily foreboding Festival of Forgiveness, some decisions need to be made on what risks Pew may introduce to their way of life and what role, if any, they may play.

While Pew may choose not to speak with the townsfolk, to us, dear reader, they are a verbose narrator whose mind never seems to stop assessing, critiquing, and exploring. They appear to be hyper sensitive to the inner workings of others, bothered by their own body, and upset at the lack of memories they carry. And they remain a world of curiousities and secrets, because even leading up up to the few final pages of the novel, we know nothing more about them than when we first started.

An enjoyably weird novel that, while having fun with itself, also deals quite seriously with the way we react to and tolerate ambiguity and social disengagement.

Sister, Maiden, Monster by Lucy A Snyder

Holy FUCK you guys! I was hoping I was going to like this one but I wasn't prepared for how much I would absolutely LOVE it. I DEVOURED it. I didn't want to put it down, it was just that fricken good. I stayed up reading past my bedtime because I had to know how it ended.

Told in three parts by three different women who become irrevocably connected to one another through a pandy-apocalyptic event, we're introduced to a horrible new virus that tears through the planet like nothing we've ever seen. If you catch it, you're going to end up so fucked up you'll wish it killed you. Because to survive it means you're ushering in the end of the world as we know it and unlike R.EM. claims it will be, shit ain't gonna be fine. You are all soooo fucking far from fine!

Oh the things this book does and the places it goes! The body horror! The cow brains! The Cleaving! And that weird ass crazy ending! If this wasn't on your radar already, it is now. If you aren't sure it's for you, you're wrong, it is! If you don't like it when you're done reading it, do I even know you and how are we even friends?

Have you read any of these? If not, have I convinced you pick any of them up? 

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