Sunday, June 30, 2024

What I Read in June

 You guys, when I take a ten day staycation from work... look at all the books I can read!!! I think I broke a personal record, finishing a total of 14 books in June : )

Check out what I read, and spoiler alert - one of them is currently the best book I've read so far this year!!

Good Dogs by Brian Asman

Saw this one on netgalley and requested a copy because I really enjoyed his book Man, Fuck This House. And I'm so glad I did. What a fun spin on the genre!

Delia is a werewolf, though not in the sense that we've been led to believe. She wasn't bit or turned. She has a genetic disorder that makes her susceptible to The Change. She isn't a slave to the full moon. But she does change on a regular cycle. She leads a normal life as a human for most of the year, but during those change cycles, she has little to no memory of how she spends the nights as her wolf-self. Forced out of fear, and a care for others, she broke away from home and connected with other lycanthropes who, like her, are also ostracized and misunderstood.

As the unofficial den mother, it becomes her responsibility to relocate the younger members of the clan when one of them breaks through the barrier of their isolated hunting grounds and kills a human. They move to a ghost town their clan's founder purchased for just this type of crisis. But as they settle in, Delia and the others discover they are not the only ones there. And the thing that is stalking them is ancient and out for revenge.

It's a creature feature slash found family horror novel with a whole lot of blood and gore and a ton of heart, one where the werewolves are actually the good guys, which made for a very unique reading experience. There's tons of character backstory (yes, even for the 'monster'), and a great boss scene towards the end that kept me at the edge of my seat!

If you liked Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf, you will dig Good Dogs. Brian's focus on the human side of the change is very similar and just as touching. While they might not remember what they do each time they change, their non-wolf selves struggle with the guilt and shame of what they are unable to control.

You guys, really. This book is sooo good.

The World We Once Knew by Micah Castle

This was a book I was keeping an eye out for and when I noticed it was pretty cheap on kindle, I snagged it. And then once I had it, I couldn't wait to read it, LOL.

It's the 2700's and Jay is a digital clone of himself, awakened from rest and thrust into a humanoid-ish body called a HUSK by the owner of transport spaceship that's gone dark. He's chosen Jay specifically for his previous work as a detective way back in his original life on Earth, and is paying Jay to board his ship and determine why it fell off the grid.

When Jay enters the ship, he discovers dried black ooze everywhere and the dead bodies he locates are also covered in the stuff. Even more disturbing, during his search of the cargo hold, he finds the sole surviving crew member. She's leaking the viscous fluids from her eyes, nose, and mouth, already on the edge of death and not talking any sense, and worse yet, in there with them is the thing that's laid claim to the ship.

From there, it's a race against time - Jay has only so many hours of oxygen in his tanks, and now he's being hunted by an alien lifeform that is somehow causing the entire ship, inside and out, to become overgrown with strange and pollenating plant life. Can he escape the claws of the monster he's trapped in there with? Does he have what it takes to survive? Or will he withdraw too deeply into the memories he's not supposed to have retained that appear to be triggered by the dust of the inky dried goop...?

What a great little eco horror space novel! Even with the obvious foreshadowing throughout, I didn't fully figure out the ending until the jaw dropping reveal. The only complaint I have revolves around my inability to clearly picture some of what was going on. The descriptions didn't always work for me and I struggled to visualize what Jay was looking at or experiencing within the confines of the ship.

Viral alien takeover for the win!

The Harpy by Megan Hunter

I broke my own rule of knowingly reading books about infidelity but this one just sounded too interesting to pass up.

A searing look at the terrifyingly controlled ways in which a woman can lose her shit when faced with a cheating husband. The mental and physical anguish, the things she envisions him doing to the other woman and her doing to get back at him... oh. my. god. This book created so much anxiety in me... I can't even.

I read it in a matter of hours. The entire thing held me captive, right up until the ending. When the unraveling really kicked into high gear, the author lost me a bit. It went too far too fast, especially considering the slow and deliberate pacing we experienced throughout the entire book leading up to those last few pages.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Unformed Landscapes by Peter Stamm

#arc from #BEA back in (cough cough) 2017 if my #goodreads shelf can be trusted.

I pulled this one down randomly when browsing my bookshelves for what to read next. I guess you could say it called to me. I had recently finished a few horror novels and was looking for something a little different. This one definitely fit the bill, but was slightly #underwhelming when all was said and done.

Unformed Landscape is a beautifully written story in which we meet 20-something year old Kathrine, mother of a young boy and wife to a second husband in a less than happy marriage. When she discovers that her husband has been peppering her with harmless lies for the entirety of their relationship, she decides to up and disappear on him, and her son, in order to take stock of her life.

On a journey of supposed #selfdiscovery, she pulls out some money and travels around, attempting to take advantage of a few of her male friends, sometimes forcing herself upon them whether they were in a relationship with other people or not, and when that doesn't work out the way she planned, she heads out on an impromptu skiing trip with three women she meets on a train. As her money begins to runs out, she finally decides to head back to her mother's because, well, what else is she supposed to do?

Honestly, I found Kathrine to be ridiculously selfish and either not aware of, or just not caring about, her impact on others as she attempted to find herself. So while I really enjoyed Stamm's style of writing, which was quite flowy and breathtaking, I wasn't a fan of our main character at all.

Walk the Vanished Earth by Erin Swan

Holy fuck this was good! Like, the best book I've read so far this year good!

Normally, I struggle immensely with epic multi-generational storylines but this one was so well written and the order in which it unfolded sucked me in so hard, right from the start.

I wasn't sure what I expected going into it but I definitely wasn't expecting it to blow me away like this. And it's a debut to boot!


I disagree with the comparison to Station Eleven. This hits you in the feels so much harder. This is goosebumps all over my body good. It's historic, it's futuristic, it's apocalyptic and catastrophic, it's cli-fi and survival fiction. And it works!

If this is not on your radar yet, you've just been put on notice. You need to get yourself a copy. You can thank me later!

Harvest by Jim Crace

This is another oldie that had been sitting on my shelf unread for years, and I finally decided to pull it down. The edges of the pages were all yellowed, but when I bought this book it was brand new... so that should tell you how long it sat there!

In Harvest, we enter The Village, a section of land inhabited by a small group of laborers, most of whom are related to one another by either blood or marriage. They live happy, uninterrupted lives, planting and plowing and tending to their livestock. But on the day of the Harvest, there are two plumes of smoke that appear in the sky - one black, coming from a camp of newcomers who just set up at the edge of the property; the other white, coming from the Master's haybarn. Neither are a welcome sign and both bring a hell of a lot of trouble for the group.

The novel takes place within the confines of one week and our narrator Walter Thirsk - who was, once, many many moons ago a newcomer himself - keeps us abreast of the problematic gossip and tension related to both concerns as he navigates his own assumptions vs what he hears. Who will the Master and his neighbors blame? Will the outsiders be allowed to remain? And what of the Master's map-maker, another new face here, who is hanging around and charting the lay of the land?

Though it might not sound like it, there's a LOT going on in the book, yet it's told in such a slow and careful way that it feels like it takes us forever to get finally get to it all. What amounts to almost 250 pages in his hands could have been done in half that by anyone else. Although, would I want it to be? I dunno. If you've read Crace before, you'll know this is pretty common for him.

While I was reading it, I wanted it to move faster, like I could actually feel new gray hairs sprouting and growing, but now that I'm done, I kind of appreciate how he got us there. I think I like the ideas Jim Crace writes about more than I actually like his writing, if that makes sense?

Are there authors you choose to continue to read because you like what they write about, even if you might not totally be into how they write about it?

Whether Violent or Natural by Natasha Calder

This has been on my to-buy list ever since seeing it in the bookstore on the New Fiction shelf. Isolation AND pandy fiction, how could I say no?!

But honestly, it was a bit of a strange one for me. It was more chewy than I had anticipated - I picked it up thinking it would be a quick read about two people who were surviving a pandemic on a remote island, but it was really so much more than that.

Kit was a deliciously unreliable narrator. You know right from the get-go there is more to this situation than she is letting on. How did she get there? How long has she been alone? Why is she ok with letting this guy Crevan, who apparently just showed up out of the blue one day, boss her around and take charge of her and her bunker-den hideout place, but she's not ok when he rescues an unconscious woman from the ocean? And she came across as weirdly immature, which bothered me until you get closer to the end of the book (spoiler no spoiler but there's an interesting little twist) and then you kind of get why.

The pacing was a bit uneven, quicker when there was a bit of action, which was few and far between, and sloooower during the moments where she got stuck inside her head, which happened more frequently. It was definitely more isolation fiction than pandy fiction and the atmosphere was what made it all work - the whole situation was downright eerie, there was loads of tension, and we know we're being fed a bunch of half truths, so we're actively trying to figure out just wtf is going on while also giving in and going along for the ride because, what choice do we have?

Saint the Terrifying by Joshua Mohr

Oh hell yaaass! This book is pure fire. It's an immediate favorite indie read, and ranks right up there with Termite Parade as my favorite Mohr novel. And I'm already jonesing for the next book in the trilogy.

I love the way he writes his lead characters. They are complete pieces of shit yet they have so much heart that you just can't help rooting for them and and they just keep redeeming themselves and there's a part of you that wishes you knew them in real life. Like, these guys and gals are where it's at. They live on the edge and aren't afraid to bruise their knuckles or bloody their fists or gnaw off a fucking finger. They'd do anything to protect their own. And they are all just so perfectly badass.

Mohr hits a homerun with this one. It's all gritty LA punk scene, drugs and eyepatches, machetes and glowing reindeers, Viking bloodlines, and hallucinations in a Whole Foods. And it breaks the 4th wall the entire time which is just... mwaaaah! Chef's kiss!

This is a book you have to experience. Go pre-order it. You won't want to miss it. And if you've never read a Mohr before, now's your time to sneak a few in before it releases.

Delinquents and Other Escape Attempts by Nick Rees Gardner

Delinquents and Other Escape Attempts was the perfect book to follow Joshua Mohr's Saint the Terrifying. The drug addiction and personal redemption theme was especially strong with this one!

Instead of the LA punk scene, in these interconnected stories Nick's characters were just spinning their wheels in a small Rust Belt town, surviving day by day, through a series of parties, rehabs, recoveries, and relapses.

They get their hands on a blueprint of a rocket ship and try to build one of their own to escape their addictions. They trade pills to seek better highs, or decide enough's enough and try to get clean. They couch crash broke and penniless, or they 9-5 it for as long as they can and try to keep what's left of their sanity. They attempt to leave their hometown, only to find themselves pulled back in. Time passes or it doesn't.

Nick writes with such authenticity and familiarity - we all knew people like this. Or maybe we were people like this. Broken people, sad people, fucked up in the head people, people who wanted more from the world, from their town, from their lives...

This one is publishing with Madrona Books, a newish small press publisher you should watch out for!!

Failure to Comply by Cavar

(Mid way check in: this book is breaking my brain.)

Honestly, I am not sure what I just read. I believe this is taking place in a near-future post eco-collapse environment where a government agency referred to as RSCH took advantage of the chaos and began instituting extreme new social, educational, and gender rules and norms for its Citizens. Individuals are fitted with permanent AR contacts that record and upload memories directly to RSCHs infrastructure and are used as a means to monitor conformity. Any deviation to the social or dietary regimens is met with strict retraining, amputations slash body modifications, or axeing (which I think is a form of kidnapping) in the hopes of rehabilitating the person. Though, depending on the level of deviance, I think some people are just disappeared.

It's written in a highly experimental format that plays with language and structure A LOT. Part fragmented novel, part poetry, part found footage/transcripts/government postings, it was really difficult to follow. I mean, Cavar makes you WORK for it, you guys. And I don't even know if I got it. I could be really far off base here. My head was literally SPINNING throughout the entire thing.

Early reviews are all glowing, so this could totally be a me-not-you thing, but as someone who tends to dig experimental fiction, I'd be really surprised if I'm the only one who will struggle with this.

Pick this one up if you have an appreciation for sci fi authoritarian dystopia with trans and disability representation. For a vibe check, if you like the concepts in Darin Bradley's Dystopian Cluster series (Chimpanzee, Totem, and Noise), or the writing style of Blake Butler, this may also be for you too.

If you do end up checking it out, I'd love to know what you think!

Skien Island by Aliya Whiteley

I saw this appear in exactly one #bookstagram reel, thought it sounded cool, realized it was by the author of The Beauty (which I loved!) so I bought it and read this in one long afternoon. I could not put it down.

The book revolves around Skein Island, an invite-only resort. No men allowed. The chosen women get to stay for a week, free of charge, a temporary reprieve from their husbands, children, stresses and pressure of their every day lives. An opportunity to center themselves. The only thing it costs them is a declaration, a hand written story from their lives, that will be secreted away into the island's library.

Marianne receives one such invite. But it puts a bad taste in her mouth because it's the very same place her mother visited seventeen years ago, and from which she never returned. Though initially uninterested, she makes the rash decision to go after a terrifying encounter with a strange man one evening.

Once there, it doesn't take long before Marianne learns that there's more to the island, and it's reclusive owner, than meets the eye. Years of women's stories and the secret the island has been harboring will soon be violently pushed to the surface.

It was ALMOST a 5 star read, you guys. Once the good stuff gets going, there were a few weird moments where I felt like Whiteley bent things in an odd direction that kind of irked me, but otherwise... so sooo good! I don't know why it's not on more people's radar. Go and get it. Seriously!

Now I'm off to get the rest of her books...

The Inhabitants by Beth Castrodale

Another book inhaled in nearly one sitting and it was oh so good.

An inherited Victorian home complete with elusive housekeeper, a handsome and mysterious neighbor who makes you herbal tonics to get the artistic juices flowing, and your young daughter suddenly developing a relationship with a new imaginary friend... uhm, yeah, you better run, bitch!

But of course, you don't. Because if you did, there would be no book. You do what normal people would do and rationalize the weird things away, quite easily at first - the stress of the recent breakup with your baby daddy, and the move, and being out here in the woods, alone, must be messing with your mind - until things just start stacking up, slowly at first, sure, and then all of a sudden, quite quickly, and then who are you kidding, now it's too late, and man you should have ran when you had the chance!

Obviously that's an oversimplification of Castrodale's The Inhabitants. There's so much more to this book and rather than trying to write it all out, what I will say is that if this isn't already on your to-buy list, if it's flown under your radar up to this point, you've got no excuse now. Be prepared to get your hands on it, and let it work its slow burning, atmospheric, keep you guessing till the end, badass magic on you!

If you peel back the many layers, at its core, I believe The Inhabitants is really a story about the incredible bond that exists between a mother and her child, the impact grief and trauma can have on us, and the power of the past when you fail to exhume your ghosts properly.

Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun

The premise of Black Moon is a simple one. Suddenly, almost everyone is infected with incurable insomnia. It only takes a few days for people to start hallucinating and struggle to communicate clearly. A few days more and they are outside wandering around, lost and babbling nonsense, but they can start to sniff out a sleeper. The longer they go without sleep, the more aggressively they go after the sleepers when they stumble upon one actually sleeping. Kind of like zombies, only they aren't dead and they won't eat your brains, they will just beat you to death in an attempt to release your sleep.

Through a series of alternating chapters, we follow a few of those who haven't been affected, and one who is but is in a place that believes it can help the sleepless begin to sleep again, and travel with them on their individual journeys as they try to find their families, or attempt to leave them behind, in this new hellscape.

While I liked it overall, it felt too much like of a knock-off of Nod. And the length of time in which the people appeared to still be alive and functioning, if you could call it that, seemed a little unbelievable. I'm no expert but I would think that no one would be alive after nearly a month of no sleep. I mean, ok, yes, I googled how long a human body can go without sleep so you won't have to, ha, and the longest recorded length of time was 11 days, so there's no way to know for sure, but a MONTH? To still be alive and walking around, even if you're completely out of it and zombie-like? Eh. I mean, I'll give Calhoun some credit, because towards the end of the book, the sleepers were seeing more and more dead bodies laying around, but even still, I couldn't suspend belief and buy into it, and that kept pulling me out of the book.

A decent read if you're into pandy fiction and don't mind if you never learn what triggered the pandemic or whether society is able to recover from it...

Weather by Jenny Offill

Another stunner from Offill.

The blurbs do a better job of describing the book than I can so excuse me while I recycle some of their words here:

Clipped and glittering.
Subtle and powerful.

And a fellow reviewer used the term emotional atmosphere.

Yes to all of that.

There's tons of anxiety and existential dread, obsessive self talk and doomsdaying, all while our narrator spends her time mothering, wifeing, sistering, procrastinating, and jobbing.

It's short but deceptively heavy. It's intellectual but not preachy. It's deep but quite humorous.

It's a thumbs up from this reader. Go and read her if you haven't. I think you'll dig her.

And may you be a survivor.

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