Saturday, March 4, 2023

Books I Read in February

 January was a killer month for reading. I completed a total of 11 books through some strange miracle. I don't know how I did it but I am certainly not complaining. I think that might be a record month, as I honestly don't see how I'll be able to beat that!

In February, I read a solid 9 books (two were for publicity consideration so I won't be including them here). 

Let's take a peek at what I read: 

The Merry Dredgers by Jeremy Shipp

Yowsers! I wasn't prepared for how much I was going to like this book. I mean, I love everything that Meerkat Press puts out, but dayumn! This was just soooo good.

Phina is a rent-me-by-the-party princess living her best life with her grouchy sidekick cat Heracles, until she receives a series of postcards from her sister Eff who appears to have joined a community that's definitely not a cult. She asks Phina to check on her ex-boyfriend because she's had visions that someone from the retreat-thats-not-a-cult may have hurt him and typically what Eff sees tends to come to pass. Phina does some sleuthing and discovers that, yup, the dude was banged up pretty good in a hit and run, and relays this back to her sister. A few days later, Phina receives a call that Eff is in a coma in the hospital due to bad fall that took place just outside the retreat's grounds.

Head spinning with all sorts of worst-case-scenarios, Phina decides to locate and inflitrate this community-thats-not-a-cult's retreat in order to figure out what sort of nefarious and life threatening things this group is up to.

Set in an abandoned goblin themed amusement park and run by a rich guy who appears to want to relive his childhood to its fullest, Phina must hide her true identify and befriend as many of these odd characters as possible to uncover the truth about Eff's accident, but can she get to the bottom of things before they realize what she's up to?

It's incredibly voice driven and was an absolute blast to read. I started it last night and ended up finishing today in practically one sitting. It sucked me right in and I have no doubt you will be too.

Sing With Me at the Edge of Paradise by Joe Bauman

Oh gosh you guys. Why aren't more of you reading this book?!

The first sentence of the book's description says it better than I can: The sixteen stories in this collection surround queer men of various ages―teenagers, young adults, men in middle age―trying to temper their expectations of the world with their lived experience. Using the lens of the bizarre and fantastic, these stories explore discontent, discomfort, and discovery.

The stories all contain people in slightly strange and extraordinary situations. A man who can slip through walls begins to pull his boyfriend in with him, another who can identify other queers by the blue glow eminating from their hands, and a lover who regrows his grieving boyfriend's recently deceased father in his backyard. Houses randomly vanish into thin air, taking the families who are inside with them. Heads of households begin to grow fruits and vegetables under their skin when the ground can no longer produce them. Garden of Eden's begin to appear in unexpected locations, complete with their own Trees of Knowledge.

In Joe's deft hands, we are thrust straight into the heart of each of these tender and somewhat fantasical stories, sharing the characters' fears and confusion, suffering their rejections, experiencing their joys...

It was just wow. The blurring of reality and fantasy was just * chef's kiss *. An early favorite for me, and if you're into queer magical realism, you've got to trust me, it will be a favorite of yours as well.

Dog on Fire by Terese Svoboda

Ok, first thing you need to know is that Dog on Fire is going to make you work for it, but I promise you, it's worth the read. If the opening scene isn't enough to draw you in, I don't know what would. In it, our unnamed narrator is driving through a dust storm and sees her dead brother on the side of the road, standing near a hole with a shovel. In life, he dug holes for a living. After a sudden and somewhat mysterious death, he seems to be haunting her but she can't manage to grasp the message he's trying to convey, if there even is one.

The chapters begin to alternate between our narrator, who has recently returned home post divorce as a single mother, and her dead brother's crazy ass pseudo girlfriend Aphra, who appears to be stalking her and her son. Both women are trying to understand and come to terms with their brother/lover's passing, and are, in their unique ways, also working through some family trauma drama dysfunction stuff.

It's quite beautifully written, though I am fully aware that I might be in the minority here - I've seen it referred to as experimental but it's really not. Svoboda writes without the use of quotes to identify when someone is speaking (a la Cormac Mccarthy and Jose Saramago - two of my favorite authors, btw). The story is quite lush and layered. It's chewy... you're going to spend some time playing with it before digesting it.

And everyone is pretty unlikable and jerky to one another, yet it doesn't detract or distract from anything. In fact, I think it does the opposite. I think it helps the reader home in on what's driving the behaviors. And can sometimes be a mirror. I mean, people are sometimes ugly to each other and feel justified in their reasons for it, right? I mean, hell. Let's start to normalize ugly lit. haha.

And yeah, in case you were wondering, there IS a dog who is briefly, partially, on fire. Does the dog die? Reader, we just don't know. But I promise you it's a very small piece of the book, though the title would have you believe otherwise.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

This is definitely one of those books I would not have picked up on my own. The cover and the jacket copy just wasn't doing it for me, so big hugs to the bookish friends who thought I'd like it. I didn't just like it, you guys. I really loved it! You all know me so well!

Leave the World Behind is another slow burn of a novel. What is it with these lately? I mean, I'm not complaining. Honestly. I'm kinda into the whole prolonged tension thing and the twisty gut feeling of trying to figure out just what the fucking fuck is going on. This is a book that enjoys taking its time to get going but when it does, it really really does!

In it, a white Brooklyn couple, Amanda and Clay and their two kids, rent a house out in the middle of nowhere Long Island for the week. Things are off to a good start until one evening, there's a knock at the door. Who could it be? What might they want? Should they answer?

When they open the door, they meet George and Ruth, a black couple who introduce themselves as the owners of the house, and they have brought some strange news with them. There's been a blackout in New York, they were at the Opera when it happened, they decided to come here instead of braving the anticipated chaos in the City, and would feel much safer here, and could they please crash there for the night until they learn a little more about what is happening out there?

Of course, Amanda and Clay are suspicious. They have seen the movies and read the books... when a stranger knocks on the door at night, all kinds of bad things are bound to happen. Torture, murder, rape, you name it! But George and Ruth seem genuine and if something really is going on out there, shouldn't they band together until they know for sure?

They still have power, and water, and food. But the phones are dead, and the cable is out. The creeping fear of what might be happening around them keeps them rooted in the house the next day. What should they make of the hundreds of deer their daughter saw walking through the woods? What of that noise, that came out of nowhere, loud and horrible, that sounded like the sky cracking open, that sent hairline fractures through the windows and glass? What of their son's sudden onset of fever and vomiting?

The NPR review says it best: "Instead of a literary "beach novel" we've landed in an up-to-the-minute version of On The Beach, Nevil Shute's 1957 novel."

Leave the World Behind is a disaster story without the disaster. It's an apocalyptic story without an actual apocalypse. It's a horror story without any real horror. It's bound to get into your head. I mean, I keep tonguing my teeth, just in case.

The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay

I am convinced that nothing Tremblay writes will outshine my feelings for Swallowing a Donkey's Eye, and I'm ok with that, I've come to terms with that.

In his lastest, we meet two unlikely friends - Art Barbara, who is authoring a memoir, and Mercy Brown, who has made footnotes in the margins of the memoir and adds her own version of the stories Art tells at end of each chapter. Which, imho, does not translate well into audiobook format (yes, I listened to this instead of reading it. yes, I regret it but only slightly because I am not a fan of footnotes and marginala in actual books).

The memoir/novel is set in the 1980's and in it, Art is basically writing about his awkward high school years and the student club he created called The Pallbearers Club - which was supposed to help dress up his resume and get colleges to consider him, but ended up being more a failed venture than anything else. It appears not many teenaged kids find hanging out at funeral homes "fun". Although one good thing seemed to come out of it, and that was meeting Mercy Brown or... so he initially thought.

Turns out that Mercy miiiiight actually be a vampire that is feeding off of him without his knowledge and to make matters worse, he thinks she miiiiiight actually be turning him into one as well.

It's a different spin on vampirism and toxic relationships and it's definitely more cutsey than horror. The first part of the book, the part that focused on the club and Art and Mercy's blossoming friendship was honestly much stronger than the second half. Once the supernatural started to snake its way in, things became a little repetitive and dare I say obnoxious? Though those last few pages... that ending... really was something.

Pine by Francine Toon

This book was on my wishlist for ages and I finally purchased it off @pangobooks a few months ago. Then it lingered, patiently waiting its turn on my TBR stack for a few more. If you know, you know (insert shrug emoji).

Pine is a haunting, atmospheric story set in Scotland involving a grieving, tormented man named Niall and his 10 year old daughter Lauren. They are both dealing with the loss of Lauren's mother, Niall's wife Christine, who disappeared right after Lauren was born, never to turn up again. Life has been difficult for both of them - they live in a small town and the townfolk have always suspected Niall of foul play. Neighbors give a helping hand with Lauren while Niall works hard to put food on the table, but the two are well aware of the whispers and concerns.

After a night of trick or treating, he and Lauren are driving home on a dark road when a woman in a white dressing gown throws herself in front of their truck. Niall scoops her up, brings her home, bathes her, and refuses to answer Lauren's questions about who she is and where she came from. In the morning, the strange woman is gone, and Lauren seems to be the only one who remembers her.

The woman begins to appear to Lauren, and other townfolk, with more frequency yet whenever she's gone, they forget her too, though they discover rocks and debris in the shape of a circle left in her wake. This mystery builds slowly as Toon sets us up for another disappearance that takes place later in the book, that of a college student who was last seen in Niall's truck one evening. Suddenly, Lauren's starting to question who she can trust, and both storylines come crashing together in the way these things tend to do.

Unsettling in its isolation, Pine is low-grade spooky with just the right amount of supernatural tension. The reader knows there's something strange going on but like the characters in the book, we're left grasping at straws the whole way through and I think we're ok with that.

The Last Beekeeper by Julie Carrick Dalton

This one's going towards the top of the list. I ate this book up! I didn't intend to read it in one day but I just did not want to put it down. It was so captivating.

Set in the near future where bees have gone extinct, the government is rationing out food and setting up hand pollenation sites to try to stave off mass starvation. It's a strange time in which people who report bee sightings regularly go missing and are deemed to suffer from hallucinations.

The daughter of the last beekeeper carries a secret, one that she's helped keep ever since her father was sent to jail eleven years ago, and she's finally ready to return home to dig up his hidden research. When she arrives, however, Sasha's surprised to find her old farmhouse populated by a group of four untrusting squatters. Desperate to hide her identify, but just as desperate to understand her father's (and her own) role in what became known as The Great Collapse, Sasha slowly wins them over and soon finds herself with much more than she bargained for - a new family and something she hasn't felt in a very long time... hope... not just for herself but for the world's future.

Don't let this one pass you by. It's going to captivate you too. I promise.

No comments:

Post a Comment