Sunday, October 1, 2023

Books I Read In September

 Ok, alright, okay! I read a whopping 13 books in September and I'm feeling really good about that number. 3 more than last month, and probably the best I'll be able to accomplish for the remainder of the year. 

Wanna see what I read? I've listed 12 of them below (I read one for publicity purposes, and so I didn't review it)

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary is #book5 of my #bookblurbreadingexperiment And it was a really really good one!

I had read Andy Weir back before The Martian blew up. I really loved that book, but his other two releases just didn't sound like anything I was in a rush to pick up when they first came out. However, Andy blurbed Blake Crouch's Abdanon (the 4th book I read in this reading experiment) and I figured what the heck, I would buy it and finally give it a go. And I am sooo glad I did.

It's another +400 pager and I was afraid it was going to be a slow read but I chewed through it in a matter of two days. Space fiction, when done well, is becoming one of my go-to escapist genres. Andy does a great job of writing intriguing characters, especially ones who can keep you engaged when they only have themselves for company. And I love how he keeps the science at my level, lol.

And omg, Rocky! He's got to be the coolest alien life form ever to have been written! I loved him!

I'm actually a little disappointed that I waited so long to read this one, and honestly, if it wasn't for the book blurb reading experiment, god knows when or if I ever would have!

Sadly, it looks like this is the end of the line for the experiment though. The authors who have blurbed this book are Blake Crouch (who I just read and am not interested in reading more from him), Ernest Cline (who I've already read and... eh...), George R R Martin (no thanks) and Brandon Sanderson (again, no thanks). The blurbers are getting further and further away from the kind of fiction I enjoy reading.

But I'm not heartbroken about it. This experiment turned out to be much better than I could have imagined. It started with Hye-Young Pyung' The Hole (loved!), got me reading Lauren van den Berg's Find Me (really loved), Justin Cronin's The Ferryman (which I would never have picked up on my own, and loved), and now this one. 3 out of 5 ain't bad!

And because I really enjoyed it, I think I'll restart this experiment in a few weeks, but this time with a small press book! And we'll see how far that one takes me!

Disturbance by Jenna Clake

I took a chance on this one while browsing the bookstore a few weeks ago. I hadn't been aware of it previously, read the back cover and it sounded creepy enough for me to cough up the cash for it. And while it is a biiiit creepy, the creepiness definitely could have been played up a bit more.

In Disturbance, we have a 26 year old woman who recently escaped an abusive relationship. She's moved to a new town and the apartment she's living in seems to have a personality of its own - complete with strange scratching sounds, footsteps across the ceiling above her (though there are no apartments above her), doors opening on their own, lights that seem to explode at random, and a frequent, chilling feeling that there is someone else in the room with her.

Unable to help herself, she begins spying on her next door neighbor, a teenage girl named Chelsea, and begins to believe that she's also a victim in an unhealthy relationship. After she catches Chelsea and her bff performing some strange witchy ritual in the front of their building one evening, she becomes friendly with the girls, sharing relationship advice and, in the interest of cleansing the negative energy around her, learning how to cast spells of her own. Spells which might actually be backfiring on her...

When you get right down to it, it's a story about healing and forgiving oneself, letting go of the memories that haunt us and exercizing our inner demons, with a little teenage witchcraft thrown in for fun.

I read it on my back deck yesterday afternoon. It's a quick, but somewhat understimulating, read. Not one I'd recommend you run out and buy, and if you already have, it'd be ok to let it linger in the tbr pile for a little longer. You're not really missing much.

The Bird is Gone by Stephen Graham Jones

I honestly have no idea what I just read but I couldn't put it down. Partly because it was so lusciously written. But also because, let's be frank, I was afraid if I took a break from it, I would lose all momentum and what little I did have connected would break apart in my brain and the storyline, if you could call it that, would become gobbledygook.

had life rotten
nod at the rifle

My Abandonment by Peter Rock

This was gifted to me through my Sidebar goodreads group as part of our secret santa exchange back in 2011. Yes, I am only now just getting to it. That's how wide and vast and deep my actual tbr list is you guys! You think I joke, and yet...

I decided to pull this one off the shelf because I was still kind of hankering for some good isolation fiction. The book is narrated by a young girl named Caroline who lives in the middle of a forest park with her father. They've nestled down inside a cave and live a quiet life, only traveling into town once a week for essentials. They hide all proof of their existence and only engage with other homeless groups for trade purposes, strictly adhering to her father's paranoid rules to escape attention. Until a jogger happens across Caroline in the forest one day and brings their isolated, and illegal, lifestyle to a crashing halt.

Not sure this actually hit the spot for me. It fell kind of flat, at least for the first 2/3rds of the book. While I enjoyed the writing overall, Caroline as a narrator came across as quite emotionless. While she shared her fears and concerns, or told us she was thrilled or excited, as a reader I wasn't feeling it. It was almost as if everything was happening AROUND her and not TO her, like she was an outside observer. Clincal, removed. Just reporting the facts. Though, once you get deeper into the novel, you discover how she and her father came to be in the situation they were in and then ok, it starts to kind of make sense right?

While you could predict how it would end, I mean helloooo the title is kind of a spoiler, My Abandonment is a slow, safe read for those who are simply seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of real life.

The Haar by David Sodergren

I bought the ebook for two bucks yesterday and read it in one sitting the other day. It's a great don't-fuck-with-old-ladies story where the bad guys didn't stand a chance and never saw what hit 'em.

It's set in a small Scottish seaside fishing village that's under threat of a billionare land developer. He's throwing crazy money at the residents to buy them out but eighty-four year old Muriel ain't budging. No amount he offers could entice her to give up her home, the one that her 12 years gone husband built just for her, where all her best memories reside.

Feeling hopeless and tired one foggy morning, as Muriel is walking the beach, she notices a unique sea creature that has washed up on the rocks and decides to rescue it. She's never seen anything like it before and believes she may have discovered a new species. As she's settling it into her bathtub, there's no way for her to predict the bloody havoc this little blob of goo will wreak on her behalf, or the sheer amount of love she will develop for it...

A little bit "feed me, Seymour" with a sprinkle of The Shimmer from Annihilation, and the salty taste of Our Wives Under the Sea, The Haar is a deliciously wicked, strangely charming, atmospheric tale of what people are capable of when they feel cornered and are suddenly out of options. The sea, it will provide!

Open Throat by Henry Hoke

Oh gosh you guys. I wanted to love this book so much more than I actually did. I mean, I really liked it but I didn't capital L love it. I think I might have hyped it up in my head a little too much?

It's told from the POV of a gender queer mountain lion who lives in the wooded area below the Hollywood sign. They watch over the homeless, contemplate the conversations of passersby, and explore their own feelings and desires throughout the book.

It's more charming than I was anticipating and quite endearing. And even a little heartbreaking. It's also a breeze to read, clocking in at just under 150 pages. Did I mention it's written in a uniquely cheeky and innocent way that just pulls you right in? And yet... it didn't totally blow me away. But I'm ok with that because it was still a heckit good read.

Study For Obedience by Sarah Bernstein

Not gonna lie. This was one of the chewiest books I've read in a long time. Bernstein's writing is quite dense. Her style reminds me very much of victorian literature, of which I am soooo not a fan, with long run-on sentences and page length paragraphs, while somehow also feeling very comtemporary. I can't explain it.

In the book, upon her brother's request, our narrator decides to pick up and move into his mansion, in a country where she doesn't speak or understand the language, in order to help him keep the place orderly and tidy. As soon as she arrives, the town suddenly begins to suffer strange incidents with their livestock - an ewe is found caught up in fence wire with a dead fetus half-hanging out of it; dairy cows go mad and need to be put down, stuff like that.

The brother, who is ridiciously eccentric, heads out of town for a period of time leaving our protagonist on her own, and during his absence she comes to the conclusion that the townsfolk blame her for the bad luck that has fallen on them and have begun to ostracize and fear her. Now let's not forget, she can't directly communicate with any of them, so she's intuiting this from their odd behavior whenever she's around - like when she signs up to volunteer at the farm, and everyone avoids the area, busying themselves with work as far away from the farm as possible; or when a woman in a cafe screams when she observes our narrator throw some spilled salt over her shoulder after a server accidentally knocks over the salt shaker at her table; and when a shopkeeper hides in the fetal position behind the counter while she enters the store and attempts to buy some goods.

Bernstein goes out of her way to make sure we question our narrator's motivates as well, though. Is she innocent of their distrust? Being a bit eccentric herself, she doesn't appear to be helping things with her own strange behaviors. And as the weirdness around them continues to escalate, her brother's health begins to take a turn for the worse and the eerie, unsettling feeling we began to feel continues grow and spread. 

To be clear, I didn't love it. She made me work hard with every page I turned and I'm not 100% certain I understand what happened at the end, though the overall storyline itself was quite intriguing. I mean, this sounds really enticing right? I've got you wondering what the heck is going on. But whether it's actually worth the read is the issue... because I still have no clue what the heck was actually HAPPENING!

I guess if you like long, meandering, victorian style language with very little actual dialogue and a lot of internal retrospection, and don't mind knowing quite what is going on, this might be just the thing for you! It wasn't for me, though.

The Seep by Chana Porter

In The Seep, we're dropped smack in the middle of an already established alien invasion. These are not your garden variety little grey 'take me to your leader' aliens, though. These particular aliens are bodiless particles that seep into your skin and brain, and take all your pain away. They are more like an essence, doping people up like a drug, and appear to be non-violent. Most people are cool with it and coexist with it, but others have created Seep-free communities, preferring to avoid all contact with it and those polluted by it, continuing to live the old way.

It sounded so good... but just didn't deliver. All of the characters were flat as cardboard, with writing that barely scratched the surface, there were weird random time jumps, and the most annoying part of the whole reading experience is that we're kind of just continiously floating on the periphery of this earth changing and life altering event, never fully being brought up to speed. Like, where did these aliens come from? Why are they chilling out inside the people of earth? Do you have to give them permission to enter you? What's their MO?

So nope. Not a fan. And, can I just tell you that I'm getting tired of the reading rut I've found myself in lately... all these meh reads back to back to back are wearing on meeeee. The only real positive was that it's a wickedly quick read. You can knock this thing out in one sitting if you wanted to. But honestly, why would you?

The Only Safe Place Left is the Dark by Warren Wagner

Ok, now this is more like it. It's a down and dirty, read it in one sitting, queer zombie novella unlike anything you've ever read. And those poor zombies! They are people who contracted a new virus that keeps them alert and aware as they rot away to nothing, but it also takes control of all of their motor skills, so they can't help but chase after you screaming at you to please kill them and run like hell and then apologize to you for the gorefest they are about to unleash on your bodies.

And in this chaotic new world, there's Quinton, an HIV+ gay man who has been holed up in a cabin for decades, far removed from this horrorfest until a group of hillbillies break in, destroy his meds, and threaten his safety. Forced out into the zombiepocalypse to scrounge up as many bottles of the life saving medication as he can before going to back into hiding, he meets another HIV+ guy named Billy who is on a similar mission, and the two head off towards the Mayner Pharmaceuticals warehouse where they hope to hit the motherload. Instead, they discover much more than they bargained for.

Bloody but with a bunch of heart, The Only Safe Place Left is the Dark is a perfectly quick, cheeky read for a wet rainy afternoon.

Anecdotes by Kathryn Mockler

Anecdotes released on the 19th. This was a lovely collection of short and flash fiction that's grouped into four distinct sections:

The first part includes strange flash fiction about parks, a personal audience, a murdery job interview, and a laptop that gets stolen on the day the world ended.

The second is a series of interconnected autofiction that follows a young girl manuevering through childhood into adulthood as she deals with first loves and her first period, underaged drinking, unhealthy relationships, creepy professors and blackout sex.

The third section is a collection of cheeky and random one liners.

And the final section is a grouping of flash fiction where The Past, The Present, and The Future are main characters who are constantly caught up in turmoil.

While it's clear Mockler had fun with some of the content, it's also humbling and reflective of today's laissez-faire attitude around politics and climate change, and stingingly honest about some of the dangers we face as young women in a world that is still very much a man's space.

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and am glad I requested a copy from Book*hug Press and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for writing that has a powerful sense of voice!

Dark Park by Kathe Koja

Kathe's head spinning follow up to Dark Factory, Dark Park sits on the shoulders of filmmaker Sergey as he attempts to track Ari and Felix after the blow up and come down, to get as deep into the 'woo' - the buzz, their celebrity - as he possibly can. It bounces between Sergey's notes to himself and chapters in which our old Dark Factory crew meet up, hide away, hole up, or head out. Consider it akin to found footage, a 'where are they now' toe-dip back into the chaos and fandom that continues to follow our fierce young clubbers.

A cool snippet from the book that stuck with me:

“You know the difference between xronos and kairos?”
“You know I don’t.”
“Xronos means linear time. Kairos means the, the propitious time, the right time –”
“So they could be the same time?”

Your Shadow Half Remains by Sunny Moraine

I am kind of torn on this one. It's not bad, by any means, but I think I expected to like it more than I actually did. I mean, c'mon... when you compare it to Bird Box?? That book absolutely blew me away. How can anything come close?!

The similarities between Your Shadow Half Remains and Bird Box stop at the "don't look directly at it" premise. In this case, the "it" you can't look directly at are other people's eyes, not strange alien wind things. Because here, if you look someone directly in the eyes and they are infected, things will go very very badly for you. Like you'll go crazy and start eating them badly.

So we follow our narrator Riley around her little isolated home in the woods after she throws her cell phone into a lake, a house that belonged to her grandparents, that became hers once their lives endled in a bloody mess, a mess she hasn't had the motivation to clean yet. She's been surviving on her own for a long time, ordering what she needs online, ignoring the news updates on the virus, enjoying her peace and quiet until a strange woman named Ellis greets her at the end of her driveway. The woman claims she's new around here, having recently moved into a house down the street to escape the strict rules of her old development.

Starved for human interaction, but also scared shitless to be around another person again, Riley and Ellis develop a tentative relationship, visiting each other with blinders on, but Riley's having a hard time trusting her. Ellis talks a lot but doesn't seem to be sharing much, and ever since she's made herself known, Riley's been experiencing strange and worrying things that seem to be escalating in dangerous ways - she catches glimpses of human shaped silouettes outside and footprints in the grass outside her window, she wakes one morning to her computer wires cut, and one evening she notices writing on the walls in her hallway. Is it Ellis? Is it someone else out there? Or worse, is it her, sabotaging herself without her knowing?

Needless to say, Riley's an unreliable narrator, and Sunny Moraine does a pretty decent job of creating doubt and loads of tension as the story progresses. It's an interesting spin on a familar horror trope and it kept me reading, page after page, trying to figure out just wtf was going on out there in those woods!

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