Wednesday, January 31, 2024

What I Read in January

 New year, new reading challenge, new chance to break some of last year's reading records!

Kicking off the year with a not so horrible start from a total-books-read perspective, but MAN was it a rough start from a books-I-should-have-DNFd perspective.Things did not start out really great from a rating scale for sure. 

But I clocked in 10 books total (one of which I read for publicity purposes so I won't include it here). 

Check out which ones were flops and which ones were fabs:

The Shining Sea by Koji Suzuki

Why in the world is this thing shelved in the horror section?! It's the farthest thing from horror out there!

It's a story about a pregnant woman who attempts to drown herself in the ocean, ends up in a mental hospital, is unable or unwilling to speak, and has baffled the doctors there. She's an absolute mystery until another patient hears her humming an obscure song he knows, uncovers her identity, and helps the hospital collect information about her so they can figure out (1) why she tried to kill herself and (2) how to make her better before she delivers the baby.

It's not at all what I was expecting because I BOUGHT IT IN THE HORROR SECTION. The only horror here is the true horror I felt when I realized I had bought a book in HARDCOVER thinking it was going to reveal a deliciously weird, dark twist somewhere and there wasn't even the TEENIEST TINIEST fragment of horror in it.

What's HORRIFYING... is the sheer amount of cheating that takes place in this book.

I want my money back.

The Woods All Black by Lee Mandelo

Nope. Nuh-uh. No way. WTF did I just subject myself to?!?!

I was ok with the queerness and with it being set in backwoods Appalachia, but the monster porn? Yeah, no. That was a genre line I was not expecting to cross.

... My 2024 reading year is NOT off to a good start you guys...

The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada

Hello you strange little thing!

Easy to read, yet maddening abstruse, The Factory introduces us to three new employees as they acclimate to their jobs - a document shredder, a proofreader, and one who studies and catalogs the moss that grows around the property. We quickly learn that the Factory is much more than just its offices. It has its own housing sections, cafeterias and restaurants, bus and laundry services, museum, rivers and forests... it even appears to have its very own ecosystem of birds and beavers... and yet no one really seems to know what it is The Factory actually does, or how they contribute to the bigger picture.

We follow our three workers around as they chat with thier co-workers, struggle to get comfortable within the mind numbing limitations of their roles, and explore the property in search of answers they may never receive to questions they may never ask aloud.

Honestly, not much happens, but I'm not complaining.

This one will be a good fit for readers who've enjoyed Helen Phillip's The Beautiful Bureaucrat, Jesse Ball's The Cure For Suicide, and Olga Ravn's The Employees.

Ghost Station by SA Barnes

You guys, I was sooo close to DNFing this around the 30% mark... it was really slow and kinda boring and not meeting my expectations at all. But I had read and loved Dead Silence... so I talked myself into giving it more time to wow me. And I'm glad I did.

Ophelia is a psychologist who travels with space teams that have experienced trauma, with the intent of getting them to open up about their grief, help them process their feelings, and assess them for potential risk of ERS - a space based mental illness that, when left unchecked, could cause the sufferer to inflict severe harm on themselves and others. Ophelia is also running away from a past that continues to haunt her no matter where she goes.

The team to which she is assigned is headed out to a planet that used to belong to Pinnacle, her uncle's company, but has been abandoned for the past six years. All scans showed no sign of life. Their mission is to collect some samples and get the hab back up and running. But once on site, she can't help but feel there is something very 'off' about the place. Bad memories start to resurface, she finds unsettling objects left behind in the debris, and one of the crew members is starting to act strange...

Once the weird stuff starts up, the book really gets rolling, and the last third, gosh, it just flies by at whiplash speed. More psychological terror than actual horror, it'll definitely scratch your claustrophic stuck-in-space itch!!

Carnality by Lina Wolff

I have been waiting to get my hands on this book for quite some time so when it suddenly appeared on the shelf at the bookstore, I wasted no time in snagging it.

The book kicks off with an unnamed writer who has earned a three month long all-expenses-paid stay in Madrid. She visits the local bar and meets a man with a very strange story to tell. He is running from a ninety year old nun who is part of a shady underground TV talk show he recently appeared on. Instead of being reconciled with his terminally ill wife after admitting, and begging forgiveness for, his extramarital affairs on air, the nun is sending her henchman after him to collect her due. Feeling bad for him, the writer allows the man to crash at her place and finds herself pulled deeper than she could have ever anticipated into his dark and twisted story.

Carnality is chock full of sex, religion, humiliation, and violence. It's a book about how far people might go to receive, and provide, the salvation they think they deserve. And it's quite the little mindfuck! I loved every weird minute of it!

The Wild Dark by Katherine Silva

The Wild Dark is an overwhelming blend of post-apocalyptic, crime thriller, and paranormal fantasy in which 85% of the world's population are suddenly being visited by dead loved ones. The "affected" can only see the ghosts that are attached to them, but even more haunting than that is the knowledge that their ghosts were previously trapped in a forest, a purgatory of sorts, and now they are being hunted by otherwordly wolves who are intent on dragging them back to the other side.

The goverment and medical specialists are baffled, trying to explain away this phenomenom as hallucinations brought on by a highly contagious virus of unknown origins. However Liz, an ex police detective, and her deceased partner Brody, who cannot yet remember the details of his death or the events that led up to it, don't believe for a second that that's the case. They are hell bent on figuring out why this is happening in the midst of the ensuing chaos that erupts as a result of these two worlds - that of the living and of the dead - colliding.

I had a couple qualms with this one. First, random comma placements all throughout the book like whaaaah were a terrible distraction. Second, Liz gets romantically hung up on way too many dudes in this book. And third, there are waaaaay too many blackout scenes. As in Liz herself, PLUS various others that she travels with in this book, get hurt to the point of complete blackout. Over and over and over again. I mean, ok, suspension of belief is a must with this type of novel but c'mon. Once the story got going, it felt like every other chapter ended with a mini cliffhanger where someone passed out, and then the next chapter opened with them waking up in a strange place with new bruises, broken bones, and head injuries. Sigh.

I really really wanted to like this one more than I did. It was just ok for me. Great concept, less than average execution. And it looks to be the first in a series... which I do not anticipate following.

Kosa by John Durgin

Aw man, what is it with me and the horror books I've been reading lately? Either I am becoming totally numb and jaded to the genre or my expectations are just set ridiculously high. Add this one to the #meh pile.

A retelling of Rapunzel but make it horror. Only... it's not that horrorifying. True, there is a witch in the woods and some creepy cat things. There are some kidnapped children. There's some hair eating and some cannibalism. All the ingredients of a really good scary story were there but something about the writing style just fell flat for me.

I felt like I was reading a book geared more towards a YA audience than adults. The gory parts weren't gory enough. The jump scares felt more like peek-a-boo scenes. There was no real dread or tension.

I know I will likely be in the minority here, and I'm ok with that. Looking forward to seeing what you think if you get your hands on this one!

The Blondes by Emily Schultz

A pandemic in which your gender and the color of your hair determines whether you will turn rabid and brutually attack others? Ok, sign me up.

You're going to have to throw basic logic out the window for this one though because the virus only affects blonde females. And not just natural blonde females. It also affects dyed blondes. But if you shave your head and pubes, you might trick the virus into passing you by. Which, what? That makes like zero sense since the virus is supposed to interact with your genes and cutting your hair or dying it won't change your genetic markers but whatever, here we go, we're committed and we're going along for the ride...

So blonde women catch this virus and begin going mad, ragey and bitey, killing people left and right. In no time, the body count is in the hundred thousands A DAY and the world shifts into pandemic mode. Our red headed protagonist Hazel finds out she is pregnant on the day of the inital outbreak and the rest of the book follows her as she decides to find a place willing to terminate the pregnancy while also trying to locate the baby daddy so she can let him know. Of course, neither of those things are going happen without a fight, especially when the government begins to lock things down and segregate anyone who may have been exposed or is at risk for The Blonde Fury.

I love that Schultz wrote a book in which a virus specifically targets the hollywood standard for beauty, the C'mon Barbie let's go party people of the world. What was once coveted is now feared.

And while it's dark due to the subject matter - pandemic times, unwanted pregnancy, maritial affairs - it's also darkly humorous and at times a little cheeky. Hazel has the most hilarious nicknames for her unborn baby and ends up spending some incredibly uncomfortable time in close quarters with her baby daddy's wife. It gently balances hope and compassion and optimism while also showcasing the horror and fears of the unknown.

Withered by AGA Wilmot

AGA Wilmot puts an interesting spin on the haunted house genre in their forthcoming novel Withered. Be prepared, this one might pull on your... (ahem) ... heart strings!

Eighteen year old Ellis and their mother Robyn are moving back to her old hometown on the tail of their father's untimely passing. The house came cheap and the local teens waste no time explaining to Ellis that it's because the place is haunted. Their mother doesn't believe it, chalking it up to small town chatter. But as Ellis grows closer to Quinn, a pretty girl they quickly develop feelings for, who has also recently lost a family member, they discover there might be more to the rumors than just... rumours.

Neighbors begin to show up, begging Robyn to let their sick and elderly rest on the lawn, claiming "she" will care for them. Others claim to see their dead loved ones hanging around the property. And Ellis begins to notice odd bumps behind the wallpaper that, when pressed, appear to give off heat and throb beneath their fingers. And what of the strange voice they hear claiming "I am not what I seem"...

Withered does a nice job layering in topics of grief, eating disorders, fat shaming, queerness, and mental health, which do not necessarily tie directly into the creepy, haunted housey stuff but does help us invest more deeply into the characters and root for them more loudly as the battle between the living and the dead is brought, literally, to their front porch.

This one is best for readers who are in the mood for something with less scares and more heart.

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