Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

R.I.P. IX — More stuff I’ve read

RIP 9 Peril the First
Today we’re going to discuss the Amazon Kindle freebies read in connection with R.I.P. IX. Amazon freebies are always hit-and-miss as far as quality goes. The books I pulled out of my library of Kindle freebies were no different. Let’s start with Awakening: Children of the After #1.
Awakening: Children of the After #1Siblings Jack, Samantha, and Will emerge from the family security vault six months after their father left them inside and told them not to come out until he returned. Upon reaching the last of their stores of food and water, they decide to take a chance and open the door upon a devastated Chicago. The rest of this short novel follows their trip across town in search of (a) food and water; and (b) the way to Grandma’s house outside the city. While the story is reasonably well-written, it has one fatal flaw: The author decided to switch perspectives continuously between the three children; and reading about the same event three times from three POVs (one of which is that of a 7-year-old boy) is annoying. Given that annoyance, my minor intrigue into the mystery of what happened to the world isn’t sufficient to warrant seeking out the other books in the series. 2 stars (out of 5).

The Bird EaterThe Bird Eater by Ania Ahlborn is good on atmosphere, not so good on character development. 20 years after being orphaned, Aaron returns to his childhood home in Northwest Arkansas to grieve the death of his son and the collapse of his marriage. He moves into his aunt’s old house, itself abandoned for the last 20 years, and starts making repairs, with the idea that he would sell it and be done. Then odd bits of vandalism begin, often accompanied by a quick sighting of a young boy.

As Aaron begins asking questions, trying to find out who this boy is, he learns his old home is considered haunted or possessed or just plain evil by the townsfolk. Naturally, Aaron scoffs at the idea, but when one of his childhood buddies turns out to be an amateur ghost-hunter, he becomes a little more open-minded. Throw in the now-married childhood sweetheart who never got over her crush on Aaron, and the recipe is complete for a Ozark Peyton Place by way of Dark Shadows.

While this book isn’t totally awful, I quickly grew tired of the two-dimensional characters and heavy-handed Portents of Dread that permeate the narrative. And I wasn’t satisfied with the skimpy explanation of the origin of the evil the author eventually provided. It’s almost like she remembered near the end of the book “Oh, yeah, I have to give the reader some kind of closure, don’t I!” Kudos for the pervasive gloom and some genuinely terrifying moments. 2 1/2 stars.

The BarkeepThe Barkeep by William Lashner isn’t exactly your standard-issue thriller. Justin Chase tends bar in one of the city’s more trendy nightspots. It’s more trendy because Justin is behind the bar. He has a following. He also has a father in prison for the murder of his mother; and an older brother who resents him because his testimony was instrumental in the conviction of their father. Then one night a man with the unlikely name of Birdie Grackle walks into the bar and tells Justin he was the one who murdered Justin’s mother. He had been hired to do so. And would Justin like to know who hired him? Enjoyable noir-ish fluff. Bartender psycho-analysis dispensed with pseudo-Zen philosophy and a dry vodka martini, blended with beautiful women, fisticuffs, and mayhem. I liked it. 3 stars.

In the DarkI’ll tell you right up front I didn’t finish In the Dark by Brandon Massey because I didn’t like either of the main characters and the story wasn’t interesting enough to put up with people I didn’t like. Len and Olivia Bowden have finally purchased their dream home: a classic Victorian in an upscale historic Atlanta neighborhood. But they’ve hardly begun to unpack when the home’s former owner knocks on the door, bluntly states the house was stolen from him, and gives them three days to leave or else. He utters some kind of weird chanting and makes odd hand gestures before Len shuts the door on him; and Len thinks: “Voudou? Nah, no such thing.”

Regardless, secure in the knowledge that their purchase of this foreclosure was legal and aboveboard, the Bowdens ignore the old man. After that, I assume bad stuff started happening, but I quit reading at around page 80. Why? Len was wimpy and hid nekkid RIP 9 Portraitpictures of his college girlfriend (who wasn’t Olivia, by the way) in the bottom drawer of his desk. Olivia treated her husband like she thought he was stupid and wouldn’t tell him why she was so afraid when Len described the chanting and gestures made by the old man. This marriage has severe communication and trust issues. And while that might be realistic, in this setting it made for two extremely unlikeable people. So, when I don’t like either of the main characters, and the story isn’t good enough to tolerate unpleasant people, it’s time to bail. And that’s exactly what I did. 1 star.

Want to read more R.I.P. IX progress posts? Click that badge over there to go to a whole list of them!

Posted in Book review, Book stash, Books, Reading

R.I.P. IX — What I’ve read so far…

RIP 9 Peril the First
Constant readers may recall I committed to “Peril The First”, which means I pledge to read at least four books in the mystery, gothic, horror, dark fantasy, etc. genre between September 1 and October 31. At this point in the challenge, I can safely say, “Been there, done that.” Books read and finished so far in this challenge total 14. I’ve sort of been concentrating on books in a series recently. I’ll give mini-reviews of just a few here. You can click on the book covers to read the full review.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenHollow City

Hollow City was read as part of this challenge. I’m including its predecessor here (but not in my challenge count) because you can’t read one without the other. Picking up immediately where its predecessor left off, Hollow City follows the further adventures of Jacob, Emma, and the rest of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children as they search for a cure for Miss Peregrine’s condition. Their search leads them to one timeloop and another, and ultimately to war-ravaged London during The Blitz, where they encounter more danger, not only from the bombs but from the hollowgasts and wights who have been pursuing them ever since they left Wales. Another cliffhanger ending left me scrambling to find out when the next book will be published. (Late 2015? Waaaaaaaaahhhh!!!! Who does this guy Ransom Riggs think he is? George R. R. Martin?)

The TalismanBlack House

The Talisman was a re-read, mainly because The Black House had been sitting on my bookshelf for several years (and through several moves), glaring at me with baleful eyes. I wouldn’t have felt right responding to that glare and picking it up without refreshing my memory and renewing my acquaintance with young Jack Sawyer and his epic quest through the Territories to find the Talisman and save his mother. As it turns out, a re-read wasn’t strictly necessary, because The Black House isn’t strictly a sequel. One could read it without having read The Talisman, although the story is richer if one has. The Black House catches up with Jack, now in his late 30s, after he left the LAPD and retired to rural Tamarack, Wisconsin. A child murderer has surfaced in this sleepy little village, and local law enforcement requests Jack’s assistance on the case. The murderer (who is revealed to the reader fairly early in the book) isn’t any ordinary human being. He’s a dark and twisted personality straight from the Territories themselves; only Jack’s forgotten almost everything that happened then. This novel has a shaky start, but eventually finds its feet and delivers a solid, satisfying read, and maybe even a happy ending for Jack.

WoolShiftDust

Wool was read before the start of the challenge, so it’s not included in the count. Its sequels, Shift and Dust, were read after the challenge started. These three novels, taken as a whole, constitute one of the most original SF/post-apocalyptic/dystopian scenarios I’ve encountered in a lifetime of reading. To preserve the joy of discovering them for yourselves (and to avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read them), I’ll give you the set-up for Wool only: Several thousand people live underground in a self-sustained silo. No one goes outside because the world is poison. No one knows why or when the world was poisoned; they only know “the gods” did it; and anyone who expresses a wish to know more is granted that wish and sent outside to die. Then Juliette is appointed sheriff; in this position, she becomes privy to certain information previously unknown to her, and she begins to suspect there’s more to the ancient stories than she’s been told. RIP 9 PortraitGood stuff, people. Really. You should read them. By the way, if you’re an Amazon Prime member and have a Kindle, you can borrow them free of charge through the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library program. No, Amazon doesn’t pay me for this plug: I’m just that impressed with the selection in their lending program.

Stay tuned for another blog entry about a few more of the books read for R.I.P. IX, coming soon! And click that badge over there to be taken to a list of many more blog entries about this reading challenge.

Posted in Book stash, Books, Life in general, Project planning, Reading

It’s that time of year again: Readers Imbibing Peril 9 AND FrightFall Read-A-Thon!

I’ve been away from this blog for a number of reasons, not the least of which was dealing with an injury from a car accident and its attendant miseries. Nothing major, but enough to warrant hiring an attorney and going to the chiropractor several times weekly for the last several weeks.

My poor baby
My poor baby

Ugh. Luckily, my car wasn’t totaled and the body shop was able to make it just as beautiful as it once was. And the upside, if there can be one, was that the time my doctor took me off work was productive in the reading department. I’ve already met my Goodreads books-read goal for the calendar year (which was 52), and now am trying to see how many books above that goal I can reach.

Toward that end, I’m hereby pledging participation in two of my favorite reading challenges. They’re my favorite because they take place in my favorite season, Autumn, and they involve one of my favorite genres, the spooky story.

RIP 9 PortraitFirst, R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX (RIP IX), hosted by your friend and mine, Carl, over at Stainless Steel Droppings. (Every time I reference his blog, I promptly remind myself to read those damn Harry Harrison stories, and then just as promptly forget to put them on my list. Maybe this time will be different.) This is an annual challenge to read something in the Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, or Supernatural genres, or (as Carl says) “…anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.” As usual, there are several sub-challenges within the challenges. I plan on tackling Peril The First and Peril on the Screen. If you click the badge over there, you’ll be taken to the sign-up post with lots more information about the challenges.

FrightFall 2014One of the best things about RIP is it coincides with Seasons of Reading‘s annual FrightFall Read-a-thon, which involves reading at least one “scary” novel during a specified week. Two birds with one stone, one might say. This year, the FrightFall Read-a-thon is the first week of October. Click the badge to the left for details and sign-up instructions.

By the way, the Estella Society is coordinating with RIP 9 to host a read-along of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Carl has the details in the RIP 9 sign-up post linked above and, of course, you can get the information directly from the Estella Society’s blog post. I read that book too recently to participate in this read-along, but by all means, if you’ve never read it, or if you haven’t read it in recent memory, I encourage you to visit Ms. Jackson’s legendary haunted house. It’s worth every shiver.

Regardless of which challenge you choose, come join us! We’ll have a spooky good time!

Posted in Book review, Life in general, Miscellaneous

Wrapping up the High Summer Read-a-thon

High SummerI finished five books. Five! Okay, I started one of them before the High Summer Read-A-Thon got started, but I’m counting it anyway.

First finished was Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. Borrowed from the library, and returned already. I thought it was amazing, but no review yet.

Then came Night Film by Marisha Pessl. I loved this. I have yet to write a review because I’m still thinking about it, but I loved it.

Next was Imago by Octavia Butler. As disturbing as the preceding books in the Xenogenesis series. I haven’t written reviews for any of this trilogy, either.

The Widow File by S.G. Redling was a fun and quick-paced genre thriller. Click the title to get to the review.

And finally, The New Madrid Run by Michael Reisig, a train wreck of a post-apocalypse thriller that kept me reading in large part because the premise was amazing, but I couldn’t believe how awful its execution. Click the title for my review.

The New Madrid RunThe Widow File

ImagoNight FilmAngle of Repose

I find it curious that I was able to whip out reviews for the books that impressed me the least, but am at somewhat of a loss to write about the books that actually made me think. Oh well. If you want to read more wrap-ups of this read-a-thon, click the High Summer Read-A-Thon badge at the top of this post.

Save

Posted in Book review, Miscellaneous

Once Upon A Time 8: Catching Up

Once Upon A Time 8 Journey Banner

I’ve decided the Once Upon A Time 8 book challenge category my reading falls into best is “The Journey”, because I don’t know what I’ll be reading next. My library holds are coming in fast and furious now, for some reason; to keep my “good library patron” street cred, I have to pick up the holds — physical and electronic — within just a few days of being notified they’re available, and then read and return them within three weeks. This past week, the library notified me that my turn had come on three separate requests, so I’m busy busy busy reading them, and none of them qualify as folklore, fairy tale, fantasy, or mythology.

That said, I’ve gathered the reviews below for the three qualifying books I have read since the beginning of this challenge. These are all part of George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” cycle. I’ve done my best to review them without spoilers for those of you whose only knowledge comes from the HBO series, Game of Thrones.


 

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. Some big (and unexpected) events that I totally didn’t see coming, and one I did because I’d already seen it on television.

War is still raging throughout Westeros — a storm of swords, indeed — and an ancient threat from the North has manifested. Lots of blood and death and sex and violence. The constant action and shifting viewpoints make this a relatively fast read for all its 1100+ pages; I finished it in less than two weeks, reading mostly while on my daily train commute and several hours on weekends.

That 1100+ pages bit is significant. I rarely tackle epic fantasy such as this because of the sheer volume and the fear that once I get started, my completionist nature will force me to finish long after I’ve lost interest in the series. It’s a credit to Mr. Martin’s talent that I’m still fascinated with the world he’s built.

Bring on A Feast for Crows!


 

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4)A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a bit of a slog. Lots of story elements from some major and more minor players; lots of death, including one I didn’t even notice had happened until another character mentioned it and one that happened completely offstage (I assume it will be covered in the next book); and one character I really like had deadly stuff happen but may or may not actually be dead — I’m really not sure. And then there’s the return from the dead of a major player. Ick. Still enjoying the series because Martin can certainly tell a story, but I’m ready to get back to the dragons now.

Theory and speculation: Just to preserve my thoughts at this point in the series. I believe Jon Snow is Robert Baratheon’s legitimate son, and the rightful heir to the throne. Here’s how I think it happened. Robert married Ned Stark’s sister Lyanna in secret right before the Civil War that deposed the Targaryens and set Robert on the Iron Throne. During the war, Lyanna died in childbirth (in “a bed of blood”, according to A Wiki of Ice and Fire) but before she died, believing the child to be in danger (from Targaryens, probably), she made Ned promise to take the child and raise him, saying the child was his own bastard. Now that all the major players in this speculation are dead, though, it’s anyone’s guess who Jon Snow’s mother might be.


 

A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire #5)A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first reaction upon finishing this book? “Curse you, George R. R. Martin!”

Lots of stuff going on with Danaerys and her dragons. Theon reappears, causing me to wonder if he’s going to redeem himself. I never particularly liked him, especially after Winterfell, but no one deserves to receive the kind of treatment he’s gotten from The Bastard. Not even Joffrey. Okay, maybe Joffrey, although he’s long since been dealt with, so that’s rather a moot observation. Plotting and conniving and political maneuvering, and a rather unexpected backfiring of same, takes place in King’s Landing. Another character I thought was dead isn’t, and this one I was glad to see return. More plotting and maneuvering going on at The Wall. And an ending twist that caused me to throw the book down in the last pages and curse GRRM to the skies.

When’s the next in the series scheduled to be released? Oh. We don’t know. *sigh* Now I know how my friends who read The Wheel of Time felt.

View all my reviews


 

Once Upon A Time 8If you’re interested in seeing what other folks have read during this challenge, click the banner at the very top of this post. If you think you might want to join in, click the badge next to this paragraph to read all about the challenge. I hope you join us!

Posted in Book stash, Life in general, Project planning

Once Upon A Time VIII

My reading buddy Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting another reading challenge/read-a-thon/read-along type thing that I was participating in by accident. I say “by accident” because somehow I missed the initial announcement on his blog (sorry, Carl). But I know about it now; and I hereby declare the last three George R. R. Martin books I finished (books 3-5 from The Song of Ice and Fire) qualify for one of the challenges.

Once Upon A Time 8What is this challenge, you ask?

It’s the “Once Upon A Time” Challenge, and you can read all about it by clicking that badge over there to the right. But I’ll give you the quick and dirty version right now.

Four categories of book: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy, Mythology.
Choose a challenge (go read Carl’s post for details on the various challenges), choose a category or four, choose a book or several, and read them!

The challenge began March 21 and will end June 21, so you still have time to get at least one book read. Like I said, I’m counting The Song of Ice and Fire books toward one of the challenges. A blog post will be coming about that in the next few days. Right now I’m trying to justify fitting my current read (The Twelve by Justin Cronin) into one of those categories…I’ll let you know if I can come up with a plausible rationalization. If not, I have plenty of other books to choose from once it’s finished.

Posted in Book review, Book stash, Life in general

Review: The Historian

The Historian
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Plenty of previous reviewers have summed up the gist of this novel: a young woman — a teenager, actually — goes in search of her missing father, and along the way discovers a horrifying family connection to Vlad Tepes and Dracula. Okay, that’s an over-simplification but, really, others have done better with the plot synopsis, so I’ll leave that bit to them and tell you this, instead:

R.I.P. Review SiteI stand here in awe of the way Elizabeth Kostova structured her story: Layer upon layer of epistolary documents, each describing another, older, deeper layer, and filled with rich historical detail like decadent buttercream at the center of a sponge cake, until at last we reach the heart of the mystery, buried deep in the 15th century and hidden in the remote reaches of eastern Europe.

Wow.

I acquired The Historian in 2007, and it sat on my bookshelves for six years before I finally read it. Kostova’s second novel, The Swan Thieves, has been sitting on the shelf since 2010. I don’t think I’ll wait nearly as long to read it.

View all my reviews

The Historian Read-along

This book was read as part of R.I.P VIII, Peril the First Challenge. Click that badge up there that says “Review Site” to see other participants and their reviews.
Peril the First

Posted in Book stash, Life in general, Miscellaneous

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VIII

Readers Imbibing Peril VIIILast year around this time, I re-read Stephen King’s IT as part of a group read-along sponsored by Softdrink, and, through this read-along, was introduced to Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings and his annual R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge. Constant readers may also recall that last year about this time I was in the midst of preparations for the Big Atlanta Move, and therefore did not take part in R.I.P. VII, although I really wanted to. (I did contribute a blog entry to help folks find books they might want to read for the challenge.)

True to the word “annual”, Carl is again hosting R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, the VIII of its kind, and this year? I’m all in! I’m so in, in fact, that I’m going for the top challenge:
Peril the Firstin which I pledge to read four, count’em, four books of the scary-ish variety between September 1 and October 31 (although Carl says we can start now if we want).

My chosen four are:

  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I’m taking my own advice from last year’s blog entry and pulling this one out for a re-read.
  • Breathers by S.G. Browne. I loved Browne’s writing so much that I ran out and bought Breathers before I was even half-way through his other novel, Fated.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I bought this one maybe a year or two before the movie was released, so it’s been sitting on Mt. TBR for several years. Time to dust it off and take a road trip.

And finally:
The Historian Read-along

  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Another book that’s been languishing on Mt. TBR for several years. RIP VIII is the perfect time to read it because it’s also been chosen for a read-along by The Estella Society. These folks are new to me, so I look forward to making their acquaintance as we explore the Dracula myth together.

So, my reading material has been planned for the next two months. I need to finish up my current read (A White Wind Blew by James Markert) before I get started. I may be able to do that today, since I’m home rather than at work (feeling a little puny, but nothing serious). Of course, I could spend the rest of the day catching up on writing reviews of the over 30 books I’ve read since last October, too. Yeeesh. Self-induced guilt trip. I think I’ll read instead.

Should you care to join us, click on any of the badges above to be magically whisked away to the host blogs where you can sign up. And, of course, stay tuned here for progress updates.

Posted in Book review, Miscellaneous, Work in progress

The “official” IT-along update

I’ve been waiting a month to tell this story.

I’m currently on page 427, and taking an leisurely trip through Derry. As you may recall, this is my third time through IT. As such, it no longer holds any real scares for me, and I’m actually reading more for nuance of character and those little details one often misses during that first breathless read.

But the first time, oh, the first time…

…was in late fall 1991. I was 29 years old, soon to turn 30, certainly old enough to know better, but still young enough not to care.

It was late afternoon/early evening in Northern California, still light out, still gorgeous weather, with a slight nip of autumn in the air, just enough to warrant wearing a cozy sweater while I sat in the back yard of my friend’s house. We were getting ready to go out for the evening, and she was inside the house finishing her makeup and hair. I relaxed on the patio, reading. Although relaxed is probably not the right word, because I was reading IT.

I took IT everywhere with me that fall because I could hardly bear to put IT down. That evening was no exception.

The neighborhood was silent. A slight breeze rattled the dying leaves on the backyard oaks. Other than the occasional bird calling out softly, the only noise came from the rapidly turning pages as I crept along the Barrens and ran through the streets of Derry with our heroes, Ben and Stan and Bill and Mike, Richie and Bev and Eddie. I barely noticed as the light began to dim and the sun began to sink behind the surrounding hills.

Then, I caught movement, just at the edge of my peripheral vision.

I looked up from my book. A solitary white balloon floated delicately over the wooden fence. It wafted down to the grass, and bounced once, twice, three times across the lawn, trailing a white ribbon behind it. Then the breeze caught it and sent it aloft again, over the fence on the other side of the yard, where it drifted upwards and away, until it was out of sight.

Holy crap on a stick. Heart racing, I threw IT down and ran for the house, barely remembering to open the sliding glass door before barging through. Sliding it shut as quickly as I could, I locked the door behind me, and stood with my back against it, guarding the house and all its inhabitants from Pennywise the Clown, who was standing outside behind me with his bright red nose pressed up against the glass, a multi-colored bouquet of balloons in his white-gloved hand; I knew he was there, I just knew it, even though I refused to look. I reached to the right and pulled the drapes shut without looking; then, and only then, did I step away from the door and dare to take a breath.


My friend poked her head out of the bathroom and asked what all the commotion was. I told her. She laughed and reminded me it was homecoming at Auburn High School that night.

Oh. A homecoming balloon. Not Pennywise. I felt a little foolish.

But not too foolish. Because we all float. Yes, we do. We all float down here.

Posted in Book review, Book stash, Miscellaneous, Work in progress

IT-along progress

I know I’m not due for a blog post about IT for another week or so, but here’s a few random thoughts anyway, taken from my Goodreads updates. No spoilers, I promise.

9/1/12 — On page 34. Deep breath. I’d forgotten how quickly this book starts with the bad stuff. And doubly forgotten about the gay-bashing murder right at the beginning. And, considering when it was written, I gotta say I’m proud of the way King portrayed the police officer involved in the investigation. It would have been so easy — and so in keeping with period — to make him a stereotypical small town homophobe in uniform.

9/2/12 — On page 175. And the gathering begins. I love how King introduces his major characters, and by extension some of his minor characters, through the device of the phone call from home and their preparation for the trip.

9/8/12 — On page 262. Ben’s encounter with Henry on the last day of school, and his encounter with Pennywise the winter before. At this point, I don’t recall if Henry and company get their comeuppance. Given the nature of IT, I should probably feel bad if they do because, after all, they’re just kids. Bullies. But kids. Right now I’m not feeling that charitable.

Sundays are good days for IT-along updates, so you’ll probably see one a week for the next several weeks. As we get further into the book, it may be more difficult to avoid spoilers, but I’ll do my best.