Saturday, June 1, 2024

What I Read In May

 So May is in the bag and with it went some pretty darn good reading! I clocked in a total of 11 books, which is a fairly good amount for me. The last four of those were read while I was on vacation from work... which, you know, is totally guilt free reading! Some of these were review copies, with a few books I finally bought that were lingering on my to-buy list. Let's check them out shall we?

Where I End by Sophie White

Holy shit ... what did I just read?! That was the most fucked up, horrifying, subtly hostile, mess-with-your-head thing I've read in a long time.

A nineteen year old girl is raised on an island helping her paternal grandmother care for her extremely ill, bedridden mother. She knows her mother no other way. Just a purely nightmarish burden that requires turning, lifting, feeding, toileting, and bathing day after excruciating day. She doesn't even see her mother as a mother. She dehumanizes her, referring to her as the bed thing and It. She resents It. She loathes It. She tires of It. And as she begins to develop feelings for a visitor she meets at the beach one morning, she begins to experiment with acting out against It while simultaneously uncovering a dark secret that's haunted her for as long as she's been alive.

At first, you think you're just reading a coming of age story about a teenaged girl who's starved for friendship, who's been cooped up her whole life and kind of been forced to grow up too fast. But around the 100 page mark, you realize nope, that's not what you're reading. Because it took a turn I didn't anticipate and just kept getting darker and more messed up the further I read.

Where I End made me PHYSICALLY uncomfortable but I loved it. I'd be afraid to recommend it to people... but I loved it. And if you've read it, you'll understand why.

Undead Folk by Katherine Silva

A short and stirring post apocalyptic novelette that is drenched in grief and revenge, and has one of the coolest covers I've seen this year.

Well worth the read and priced so you can't say no.

Eeeee Eee Eeee by Tao Lin

I think you have to be high to read this. I'm all for non-linear, stream of consciousness, experimental fiction but fuuuuck this guy.

I couldn't describe it if I wanted to.

What a let down.

What was the last book you were really excited to read but ended up falling flat for you?

 The Laws of the Skies by Gregoire Courtois

I was in B&N on Friday killing some time before a dinner date with the hubster, as I do, and I was so excited to find this book on the shelf there. It has been on my to-buy list for aaaages. And when @whatwanderingwindyreads told me I should make it my next read, you know I did!

The jacket copy tells you that no one will survive, so you know it's going to be a grim and searing read. But there's just no way to prepare for the level of sheer fucked-upness contained within its pages... You might think you're prepared, but nope. You're not. You're just not.

Keep in mind this is a group of six year olds on a camping trip with their teacher and chaperones. Not kids that are stranded on a remote island with no adult supervision. I had to keep reminding myself of this as the shit really started hitting the fan. They are only SIX years OLD. And it only took two days, not weeks and months, for the horrorshow to reach its crescendo. Two ... days.

Unsurprisingly, I read this in one sitting. I couldn't bear to put it down.

Holy hell. It hurt, didn't it?!

Smothermoss by Alisa Alering

Oh gosh. I requested this review copy because it sounded like something I would enjoy. I'm all for Appalachian fiction and weird fiction, and this promised to be both. But this was... it was something else entirely.

I mean... it was both Appalachian and weird. But it was also a whole lot of wtfery. It's full of strangeness and wonder but almost nothing made sense. So while I enjoyed reading it, I really had no idea what was happening.

There's an invisible rope that cannot be cut, monstrous handmade cards that appear to have minds of their own, a boy who may or may not be a ghost, a killer on the loose, and the stars of the story, Shelia and Angie - two sisters who have a very deep and mysterious connection with the mountain they live on and who are, in incredibly different ways, about to play a very big role in bringing peace back to their land.

It was atmospheric but also incredibly ambitious.

What were some of the weirdest, wtfery books you've read?

The Least of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones

I had this book sitting unread on my kindle for the longest time and just happened to think about it two nights ago. So I pulled it up yesterday morning and didn't put it down again until I finished it.

In The Least of My Scars, we meet William Colton Hughes, a serial killer who is placed on the strangest kind of house arrest, one where his victims are delivered directly to his front door.

For the last three years, he's lived in a series of interconnected apartments which he has rigged to meet his many needs and he wants for nothing. Until now. William starts getting antsy when the knocks on his door appear to come to a halt. He tries to kill the time by talking to the leftovers of his latest victim Kid Hoodie, dressing up in parts from his wet-dry vac, soaking in the sun from his apartment window, and meandering down memory lane until he figures out how to crack the code on ole Kid Hoodie's cell phone and discovers a woman who seems to have him all figured out.

Taking place almost entirely in his apartment, we are trapped inside the killer's head, which is a claustrophobic and immensely fucked up place to be. It's part crime fiction, part horror, and part bizarro, while also being entirely its own thing. It's also quite graphic so be sure to have a vomit bag handy if you're weak stomached. And hang on to your couch cushions because those final 20 some odd pages will give you whiplash!

Is there anything SGJ can't write?!

Walking Practice by Dolki Min

I eyed this one up at the bookstore when it first came out but didn't want to spend the full hardcover price, so I found it online for cheaper. And thank god I did because it ended up being just ok.

A gender fluid shapeshifting alien, fleeing their dying planet, crash-lands on Earth and uses online dating apps to have mind blowing sex with humans then eats them immediately afterward. While interesting in theory, it just got too wrapped up in the inner monologue stuff, which, ok sure, was necessary as a tool to get to know our narrator better, but man did it become a bit repetitive and tedious. It felt so bogged down. I really wanted to like it but i found it hard to pick back up once I put it down.

Themes of isolation, adaptability, trickery, and survival are threaded throughout. It's quirky, raunchy, and also a little endearing. So I'm not telling you to steer clear of it but if you never read it, you wouldn't be missing much.

The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball

I do love me some Jesse Ball.

I snagged this one at a used book store recently, but was a little worried going in. While I'm not usually a fan of the story within a story within a story (I still twitch every time I think about House of Leaves), Ball manages to pull it off in a way unlike any I've read before.

Our main character Selah, a municipal inspector and pamphleteer, witnesses a young woman get hit by a taxi and accompanies her to the hospital. When she wake up, she has no memory of who she is or what has happened and Selah pretends to be her boyfriend, bringing her home to his apartment and telling her stories to keep her awake through the night per the doctor's instructions.

The stories he weaves are wildly fantastical and quickly take on a life of their own. His characters begin to meet up with each other, sharing stories of their own, and those story's characters tell their own stories, and on and on. They quickly become deliciously intertwined, oftentimes providing a different view of the same interaction. I really enjoyed how they creatively nestled into one another.

If you enjoy experimental fiction and reading books by writers who take risks with traditional narratives, this one should be on your list!

The Scientist, The Spaceman, and the Stars Between Them by AL Davidson

I stumbled across this book through a re-tweet from the author announcing its release. Whoever says posting to Twitter isn't effective is dead wrong. I am positive I would not have had AL Davidson's book hit my radar otherwise. And I'm really glad it did.

It's a queer space rom-horror that intertwines alien and fungal terror for a ridiculously captivating read. Yes, maybe I'm coining a new sub-genre term. Just go with it, yeah? And hellooo... do you see that cover?

London and Temple have been apart more than they've been together since they started working with the Zeus Project. London's compromised health keeps them locked away in a remote outpost while they perform autopsies on deceased crewmembers who've suffered strange and worrying deaths, while Temple is captain of a team that's been sent to a distant planet to begin terraform procedures. In addition to their health issues, London is also suffering from anxiety, depression, and may be starting to go a little crazy... doors they know they've locked are starting to open on their own, they swear they hear movement and whispers in the lower level of the outpost, and the bodies that are being sent to them, which are without a doubt very dead, also appear to be somewhat alive, even though London knows that can't be possible.

This one is a bit of a slow burn, with a higher focus on the relationship between London and Temple, but once the weirdness starts up, the book gets kicked into high gear. It's an emotional, slightly gory, terror filled journey out amongst the stars....

Starlet by Danger Slater

Hollywood hopeful but make it horror. That's the best way to describe Danger Slater's latest novella Starlet. It's like an Alice in Wonderland version of the #metoo era in which an aging A lister preys on young up and coming talent in LA... but in a way that's totally disgusting and introduces a unique spin on the kind of violence that takes place behind closed mansion doors.

It's been so cool watching Danger grow and develop as a writer. I can tell he's having a lot of fun playing with traditional tropes and making them his own. There's a surprise around every corner and trust me, there's no predicting the places he's about to take you!

If you like your horror gory with a side of comedy, you need to get Starlet on your radar!

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

I know I'm late to the party on this one but I'm here now and that's all that matters.

Ooof. This one was a sneaky little thing, wasn't it? Set on an isolated dystopian island, things have a tendency to disappear. Well, wait, that's not true. The actual things don't disappear. But the islander's memories of the things do. They wake on random mornings, and realize that something else has disappeared. It's often not immediately obvious what that something is. Sometimes they stumble out of their homes, look around at their neighbors, and the sky, and the ground, before they realize that they've forgotten birds, or books, or flowers, or photographs. And then, to keep the Memory Police happy, they must purge their homes and lives of the things that disappeared from their memory. Because to be caught with the disappeared things means you'd be taken away, and interrogated, or worse. Many who are taken are never seen again. And god help you if you are unaffected, if you retain your memories, and are caught by The Memory Police... you are better off hiding and hoping they never discover you...

What a strange and beautiful book. It's less focused on the how and why, and is more tuned in to the ways in which everyone lets the disappeared things go. It's an interesting look at how memories shape us and how quickly we may be willing to let go of, and find comfort in, saying goodbye to the things that have left us, especially when it's also happening to everyone around us.

It's a story about loss, about fear, about the ease of just giving in, and about the unnecessary weight one assumes when attempting to carry the things our minds have already given up on.

Also, after I finished reading it I checked out some reviews on goodreads and saw one reader compare the disappearing to Alzheimer's and hell to the yes! Except it's the reverse. Because they know what they've forgotten and they are resigned to it. It's the people who are left with all of their memories intact that suffer the most here ...

The Night Guest by Hildur Knutsdottir

That was the quickest 200 page book I've ever read! I inhaled it in one sitting, the words literally flying off the page. For a horror novel, it wasn't nearly as dark as I had expected, but that didn't hurt the book in any way. I actually kind of liked the nonchalant approach Knútsdóttir took with it.

Our narrator Idunn is bone tired. She sleeps every night but isn't feeling rested, her arms and legs aching as though she worked out at a gym, which she wouldn't be caught dead doing. She's a bit of a self-diagnoser, and decides to go see a doctor to ensure she's not dying of some highly incurable disease. When everything comes back good, she convinces them to give her some sleeping pills, and in an effort to uphold her promise to be more active, purchases a smart watch to track her steps.

One morning, she realizes she forgot to take the watch off before going to bed and sees she's walked tens of thousands of miles when she thought she'd been sleeping. After continuing to wake with sore muscles and mysterious injuries, sometimes covered in blood that she knows is not hers night after night, her watch shows that she's been walking to the same spot, and she's not sure she wants to discover what it is that's out there...

We only know what Idunn knows, which isn't much. After her recent experiences with the health system, she's no longer in a rush to discover what's happening to her so we're left in the dark for most of the novel. And once the author finally shows her hand, we're still left scratching our heads a little. But I'm ok with that. A little "wait, wtf just happened" is totally good with me! I don't necessarily need books to be wrapped up in a nice little bow at the end. However, if you are a reader who does, beware... because you won't find that here.

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