2. Walkers – Graham Masterton
Druids! Lunatics! Lunatics who think they are Druids because they harnessed the power of ley lines by reading about them while cooped up in an insane asylum versus a muffler shop owner – this book was not what I expected. I also did not expect it to be set between Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was wacky. And strangely vulgar in places. I now know things I did not want to know about fishnets. I can now visualize what it looks like to find a drowned two headed dog in a bag floating in a pool. Eek.
The main strength of this book can be found in the many, many descriptions of gross things and its full commitment to the wacky premise. The main weakness of this book is that the characters sound like British people imported into their setting when I’m supposed to believe they’re American. For example (and I’m currently reading another Masterton book set in the 1950s U.S. that bothers me for the same reasons) no one born in the U.S. has ever said “Hallo” (that’s just not our tone) to me in Wisconsin or referred to their trunk as a “boot.” A different kind of boots tend to take precedence in Wisconsin, especially during the freakishly cold, neverending winter that happened this year. Masterton is a British author and he has the same problem that was repeatedly brought up to me while finishing my MA in England – we use different words for things – it’s not a huge problem…but because of my experience, everything that didn’t ring true to U.S. custom stuck out like a pack of sore thumbs waiting to be scraped on concrete. I spent quite a few workshop sessions explaining what things like “twin beds” were or explaining how we can buy two liters but don’t regularly use the metric system and that hindered my ability to receive a critique that had something to do with my writing instead of my culture. Of course, I was there during the Iraq War and U.S.icans were not popular, and that put me at a disadvantage in more situations than I expected. I was also twenty-two, which seemed like a good secondary excuse for some people not to take me very seriously. One thing that I can take away from that experience and reading this is that translating cultural norms was not as important to the editors of this book as it was to my workshop and I, like many readers, would appreciate someone going the extra mile in terms of cultural research – I certainly would never confuse a biscuit with a cookie if I was writing a novel set in England and I’d put the spare tyre in the boot if need be. So, you can be as wacky with your premise as you like, but if your dialogue sounds wrong every time people meet, it’s going to hurt my ability to believe in homicidal maniacs having the ability to move through the walls and make that “Sssssssshhhhhhh” sound as described.
Danger Crumples, his own brand of Druish princess.
19. Prisoner of Time – Caroline B. Cooney
When I started this book nearly a year ago, I was sitting in the depressingly low lit semi-basement of O’Hare, waiting to get on the tiny plane that would take me back to Moline, Illinois. There was a woman behind me who was speaking very loudly on her phone about how she wasn’t sure if she should be flying into Moline or Cedar Rapids, Iowa in order to allow her son to conveniently pick her up. Her son lives in Davenport. Davenport happens to be across the Mississippi River and a little to the left from Moline, but she clearly did not know the area well (Cedar Rapids is about an hour and a half from Moline) and made sure that everyone around her knew she didn’t know how close she was to the border between Iowa and Illinois. What I don’t get is why her son didn’t make her aware of how close Moline is to Davenport before she even left to visit…perhaps she wasn’t listening or didn’t care at the time. I felt very much like the title of this book was appropriate to how I was feeling listening and waiting to get on the plane. This whole conundrum, and the other helpful people who tried to point out to her that she was very, very close to Davenport in Moline, distracted me from realizing that I was reading a book that’s the fourth in a series. To be fair, it’s perfectly acceptable to stop explaining who everyone is and what’s going on when you get to the fourth book. If you tend to acquire books in a random fashion like I do, well after their publication dates, this can escape you and hinder your ability to get into the story. For the trip I was taking, I chose books based on their size (and all of them were by Caroline B. Cooney, 90s YA is an excellent size for travel).
Prisoner of Time is pretty melodramatic and there are a few logic jumps that just don’t ring true – I’d like to think there’s a process for hosting foreign exchange students that doesn’t involve bringing them home like stray cats and saying, “Hey, Mom, this girl from England’s going to live with us!” as that doesn’t seem organized- but time travel is time travel and sometimes it’s the only thing that will guarantee a progressive girl from the 1890s her independence. Or not, I think she went back, I can’t quite remember – I hope that lady’s son managed to get her across the river into Iowa without incident.
Murderface managed to get from Mississippi to Iowa on several occasions, which also involves crossing the Mississippi River a few times. Thankfully, we didn’t have to caulk the wagon and float across.
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27. Pronto – Elmore Leonard
Thaddeus and Harry Arno have some things in common – they both had ornery dispositions in their old age (although, really, sixty-six and possibly five [I've never been able to figure out how old Thaddeus was when I got him, but I had him for four and a half years] are not all that old), they’ve both traveled, they both had girlfriends, and they were both protected by people whose names begin with “Ra.” Granted, I am no Raylan Givens, but I could potentially be for Halloween, and Thaddeus wasn’t skimming off the books of Jimmy Cap and pursued to Rapallo, Italy. This is the first novel of Elmore Leonard’s to feature Raylan as a major character and several incidents from it have ended up on Justified in some form. I have to say though, I did not know that there was a television version of Pronto until I was double checking that this is the first Raylan book and Wade Messer from Justified was Raylan! It’s very hard for me to picture, so I’ll have to track that down. Apparently his hat was not right though. That’s an important detail. Of course, Olyphant’s hat isn’t right either, but it looks good. And I like James LeGros as Wade Messer, he and Dewey Crowe are seriously amusing together.
As far as I know, being in captivity and finally getting to live with Pammy prevented Thaddeus from a life of guinea pig crime. Living with me did not stop him from whistling louder than any other guinea pig I have ever had at seven AM to be fed, enjoying large amounts of Swiss chard, and establishing himself as pig-in-charge when Belvedere passed away. He was an excellent successor to my first family of guinea pigs and he was certainly a big part of the second since he made it obvious that he loved Pammy very, very much. He and Pammy had been in a cage together where Mr. Cheese and I used to buy our guinea pig food and they clearly remembered each other when reunited at my apartment, although they did not get to live together until a few months after Pammy was spayed (she had ovarian cysts, I wouldn’t have bothered with major girl-pig surgery just so they could live together, they were already touching noses through their grids). Thaddeus weathered pneumonia, being covered in essential oils to fight off two fungus situations (he was referred to as “Jersey Shore Thaddeus” during that time period because of the shiny, overly perfumed pig he became), and he is the second guinea pig that I’ve had that was allowed by the universe to die of just old age. On Christmas night. He also had an excellent sense of irony as in 2012, I thought he might not live through Christmas because he had begun losing weight rapidly around October. I managed to sort him out mostly then, and for all of 2013 he was off and on the weight loss train but always, always peppy and interested in eating his food, his treats, and his supplemental Critical Care. Always. He was pretty demanding. On Christmas morning, I knew he didn’t look like himself. I’d been debating about whether or not to put him down once he really couldn’t keep any weight on and started to have some trouble getting around; and just like several pigs before him, he made the decision for me. Thaddeus was a glorious pig.
Here he is with Pammy behind him, adorable as always.
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70. Gone South – Robert R. McCammon
I’ve been looking at this book on my mother’s bookshelf for a long time and it’s one hell of a novel. I did not expect a single thing that happened in it; I didn’t know I was going to be reading such a tense, fantastical story that included some Elvis, some serious amounts of sweating, a fairy tale garden, drug dealers, obstinate ladies, and a conjoined twin. I felt like I understood it better after having lived in Mississippi (it takes place in south Louisiana) and I definitely know where the areas that the story took place are on a map – mainly it reminded me that there are some things about living in the South that I cannot explain to anyone. It’s retained its sense of wildness and a weirdness that is heavily on display in Gone South. And living there truly demonstrated to me that there are some things that can never be fixed, some things that will work themselves out regardless of how much I worry, and some things that are just doomed. My darling Duncan was one such doomed individual and you can see her sweet little profile in the photo below, she’s with her mother Murderface. She died four years ago today, the first of my herd of eight to pass, of cancer. She was only nine months old and time was obviously not on her side. No it wasn’t.
I think about Duncan a lot and regardless of whether or not I want them to, some of my pigs’ death days sneak up on me. I’m pretty sure one of the currently living pigs’ death day is soon to come and so the death days are reminders of what I’ve gone through and what I will go through again and again, as long as I choose to keep these little rapscallions. Granted, the benefits of having guinea pigs for me far outweigh the non-benefits. Lost my words there a bit. Oh well. Anyway, another reason that Duncan’s death day is weighing heavy four years on is that Ned Vizzini committed suicide recently. He was only a year older than me and was living a chunk of my dream career- he’s had four books published, he allowed a movie to be made of one horrifically affecting novel (that meant a lot to me), and he was writing for television. He also may have had enough money for his family to live on at any given time. And some people have to write- regardless of whether or not it’s ever going to get anywhere that anyone notices- and some people get paid too. It’s hard to understand where that kind of accomplishment would go south on you. But maybe he lost his anchors or maybe he was being pressured to just “get over it” too much, as that seems to happen to people with serious depression. I definitely lost my anchor and, just a quick public service announcement, try not to choose anchors that can die.
Murderface and Duncan Hills, brutally cute, also brutal reminders of how short the lifespan of guinea pigs can be. Happy Holidays, Mr. Hobbes!
69. Twilight – William Gay
I picked this up at a thrift store on Magazine Street that no longer exists as far as I can tell and used to have a silver rocking horse hanging above it. I’ve never really been sure what it was called. Mr. Cheese and I had a lot of fun there, they had a new stuffed Gizmo in a bird cage and this lovely calendar from a Chinese restaurant with especially lovely rabbits on it…it’s also the place I bought Mr. Cheese his second sugar urn, i.e. a sugar bowl that, for the un-tea-cultured poors like me, looks more like an urn than it does a sugar bowl. He found his first one in Iowa.
Anyway, I bought this book because the description made it sound like it was going to be a southern gothic version of Phantasm. There’s a funeral director doing questionable things with the bodies and a young man who must stop him. Well, it’s not like Phantasm. For one thing, there’s no Reggie character. And it not being like Phantasm has sort of clouded my judgment. You see the sentences, they are pretty. I am rarely in the mood for pretty sentences, if ever, so I can appreciate this for what it is – a well written story about a young man who has gone into the local wilderness trying to get to a sheriff before he gets killed by the local psychopath (who was hired by the funeral director). There’s some poetically written nature, some Odyssey-like characters, and some mysteriousness that reminded me a bit of The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale but not as nasty- but it just wasn’t working for me as a reader. Especially when the actions that started the story were resolved in two sentences, at the very end, and the sentences came from a character who was supposedly important throughout the book but didn’t end up doing anything but resolving the starting action. It’s a journey story and usually I really like those, but I just wasn’t able to get into this one once I realized it wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be.
“No Tall Man? No ice cream truck? Why even bother writing a creepy funeral director character if he’s not pursued by a team of misfits and the resolution to his story basically occurs off-page?” Pickles has my back, because I put words in her mouth, but still, she would have my back.
56. City of Devils – Justin Robinson
Long time, no see, eh? Let’s just say that moving, starting a new job, renewing my ongoing battle with eczema (Now on my neck! Very visibly! You can’t see me!), most of my allergies, and trying not to engage with the fatalist part of my brain every second has been distressing. However, October is my favorite month and this book was FUN and I’m trying very hard.
When reading a book that engages heavily with pop culture, as this one does, I cannot help but think back to every writing workshop I’ve brought part of Night of the Squirrels to with the “But will everyone get it? Why are you referencing anything at all if everyone won’t get it?” questions. I get why people ask that. I get why workshops are concerned with that- they typically seem designed to make everyone’s work as accessible and therefore generic as possible. Some people don’t like pop culture, won’t appreciate references, have no sense of humor, etc. That’s fine. They’re fine. I believe the generic story with broad emotions and no pop cultural references humans are already being catered to very handily by several writers. Not me. Not Justin Robinson in City of Devils.
I do have to say I was initially skeptical when a vast variety of monsters were mentioned and I was especially skeptical when one of the characters was a gremlin named “Brows.” Full disclosure, probably not a surprise, I adore Gremlins (and Gremlins II) and I don’t want to see anybody mangle anything about either of those films, including the gremlins that scared me to death when I was little. Hi ho. Thankfully, Robinson has enough respect for this subject matter and the necessity of red herrings in mystery stories and not leaving loose ends (or maybe I should say stringy, pulpy ends as I was pretty happy with how the pumpkin-head, not the Henriksen movie one with too big scapulas -more like Jack from Return to Oz, ended up being more than just a lawn visitor). Maybe he also has a Gremlins lunchbox. Even if he doesn’t, I really appreciate having a solid example of how smoothly references can work to truly deepen the possibilities of appreciation in a funny, original story.
The meshing of horror movie monsters (the werewolves vs. wolfmen distinctions were particularly amusing to me) with noir tropes and humor in sweaty post-war L.A.’s secretive studio system and underworld really worked for me. I was expecting it to be like what the movie Dylan Dog wanted to be and it easily met and exceeded that expectation, which makes it seem like I’m lowballing but I had high hopes for the Dylan Dog movie. City of Devils was more fun. I am also now concerned about the whereabouts of a toad.
If Thaddeus ever eats after midnight and becomes a Gremlin of the scariest kind, his name will be “Bolt.” I will not allow him to move to L.A. though, not even Louisiana, where I have spent many extremely sweaty days and nights.
I know that no one can live forever, but I’m very sad to hear about Elmore Leonard’s passing. He’s definitely leaving a seriously impressive body of work behind, including Out of Sight, which was such a thoroughly solid and fun reading experience – so rare – that I just wanted to read it again when I was done the first time. I was planning to post my semi-positive review of Mr. Majestyk tomorrow, but I guess I’ll post it today because of all the authors I could have been planning to review, I chose Elmore Leonard again. And that’s probably not significant – but regardless of any missteps, the man was a national treasure and a master of dialogue.
14. Mr. Majestyk – Elmore Leonard
So it’s been slim readin’s around these parts this summer and that may continue for a while. At least the next two months or so. I finally got myself a real library job that’s suited to my wants and talents and that involves one aspect of librarianship I have no experience with…this last part seems like an odd reason to hire me, but I’m glad they did. Unless it goes horribly wrong somehow- I’ve only been applying for five years and I have a mere nine full years of experience to my name in the field, I’m always filled with uncertainty. And I’m definitely not alone in that when it comes to employment. Anyway, good news makes me nauseous, and right now I’m trying to move, and that also makes me nauseous – so, reviewish time!
My path through Elmore Leonard’s works so far has been totally haphazard and I enjoy his writing a fair bit; however, sometimes I’m just not into it. Mr. Majestyk was interesting, like reading an action movie, but I wanted more. The female character was no Karen Sisco, I can tell you that. I don’t even remember her name and I totally read this book this year. This year! I remember that there was one other female character and she could have easily traded places with Bridget Fonda’s character in the film Jackie Brown (I have read Rum Punch, that was slow compared to Out of Sight) except that she reads instead of endlessly watching TV.
I feel like Mr. Majestyk could have said “Get off my lawn” at some point. I’m also not sure what kind of melons he had. I would like to know about the melons. They could be honeydews or my nemesis from childhood breakfasts at places where they didn’t know my preferences cantaloupes aka muskmelon aka creeping bad taste in the back of my throat. If I don’t know if I like your produce, I’m not sure I can side with you, vengeful farmer Mr. Majestyk. Although I certainly understand the issues of spoilage, from a harvesting and a use standpoint. Speaking of: Seriously, plastic-box packaged salad providers, if I have to toss half the butter lettuce when I open the lid and peel back the plastic, which is always on the same day I bought the package because the guinea pigs demanded a new treat- you got the use-by date wrong and I hate you (this has happened to me three times now). And Ozymandias will eat your souls when he finds you. The boy needs his butter lettuce. He can’t have romaine, man, he’s susceptible to bladder stones.
“Tell me more about these melons; Pammy is bogarting all the parsley.” – Thaddeus
47. Hater – David Moody
David Moody is a hit or miss author for me thus far. I was totally underwhelmed (“if that’s a word, I know it’s not ’cause I looked it up,” hee hee, Sloan) by Autumn and so I chose not to read the rest of the series. It probably got better. Hater and Dog Blood were both recommended to me before I knew that they were by the same author – and I have to say, I was much happier with the pacing, the characters, and the setting of Hater and its sequels. There’s an end of the civilized world for everyone. Some of them are more interesting than others and more action packed.
I’ve read that Guillermo del Toro has the rights to Hater, although not much seems to be happening with it. The recent World War Z adaptation made me think of what would happen if you forced the Haters from this series to mate with the dead on a global scale, and I’m not sure that’s necessarily good. World War Z was all right, as nearly the universe is aware by now; not much like the book I love so very, very much, but tense to watch and it followed an interesting journey. It was actually kind of nice to see so many location changes in a zombie movie, especially when each one was ruined in short order. I guess the global scale was the part of World War Z the film writers thought was useful.
Belvedere was really, really good at biting people in places where there wasn’t much between skin and bone. He’d be good in a epidemic biting plague.
39. Twisted – R. L. Stine
For the most part, I have been enjoying acquiring and re-reading the work of luminaries of the 1980s and 1990s YA pulp-paperback-size book boom. It’s been fun finding the patterns that R. L. Stine, Caroline B. Cooney, and Richie Tankersley Cusick (especially these three, oh, the 90s) use and reliving some of my own middle school patterns of devouring stories rather than really engaging with them. As I may have mentioned previously, I spent a long period reading practically nothing but literary fiction. When I started working at a public library, I was reminded that I enjoy genre fiction and that I had a shitload of reading options and I’ve gone back to the devouring pattern – although the two books I’m reading right now necessitate some concentration. Spooky. Anyway, Twisted was my first hop back into the “Really? This is all there is to this story?” feeling. Some stuff happens that’s vaguely interesting, but I called the twist on the first page. And I can be kind of an oblivious reader because of the devouring pattern, so I am always surprised when I get the twist…especially on the first damn page. Bummer.
Oh, and speaking of pulp-paperback-sized book booms, guess what? Point Horror is back! With Defriended, ooh, ominous and timely… If Scholastic and I were friends, surely they would hire me to write some of these and I would kick ass at it and be so, so terribly committed. The random horror story is practically my reason for living. And I’ve managed to lampoon or honor nearly everything I like about random horror in the two books I have available from the Night of the Squirrels trilogy – Dawn of the Interns and Day of the Robots (the last in the trilogy will take care of the rest).
“Is the call coming from inside the house?” – Pammy, inquisitive, sort of bearded.
“It always is if the writer’s phoning it in.” – Twiglet, hiding her face because I assigned her this technically sad-joke dialogue.
40. Summer of Night – Dan Simmons
About two days before I started reading this book, I got stuck behind a rendering truck on a two-lane highway. I currently live in a town where dead animals are processed. The rendering truck picks them up and takes them to the plant where they are minced. And I am familiar with the smell of animal death as I have a specific burial place for my little pig family and the pig family members rarely pass away less than an hour from the burial place. To be fair, only two pigs have ever been less than frozen en route to the site; but that smell does not go away and few things make me feel more guilty than gagging over the smell of my little friends. So, when the rendering truck was chasing after several main characters, it was easy for me to be absolutely horrified. And strangely enough, Summer of Night is set along a stretch of Illinois that I am utterly familiar with from driving up and down I-74 on a regular basis. I once stopped in Brimfield to clean winter shit off my windshield, I drive by Bradley University in Peoria every time I go to or return from Mississippi (and very recently I was driving by on my way to and from Ohio), and the Spoon River rest stop tends to be my last call before I’m all the way home. It’s also a location where I stare at my gas gauge and wonder if I’m going to have to pay exorbitant Illinois gas prices before I can cross the bridge into Iowa (side note, I-70 is a total shitstorm of dips and holes, we do in fact need massive infrastructure spending, I-55 is like a beautiful red carpet in comparison). My familiarity with the scent of animal rendering and the area made reading Summer of Night pretty fun. It’s the first Dan Simmons book I’ve made it through – I’ve only tried to read The Terror, and I have now put it down twice even though I really want to read it. That one creeps too slowly.
Anyway, I really, really liked this book. I’ve read some other books about haunted schoolhouses and teenagers in earlier decades facing evil, and I’m happy to say that Dan Simmons made the narrative perspectives work and didn’t spend so much time having the kids ruin and change clothes . However, I may never forgive Dan Simmons for one of the death scenes. It was a really awesome way to go, but I wanted that character to see it through to the end. And it was totally cliché to kill that character even if it happened in an awesome way.
Ozymandias and Danger Crumples eagerly await an update on Duane’s research into the Old Central School’s bell. Surely the rendering truck won’t find them on this decade-appropriate chair.
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