I took her to a supermarket, I don’t know why, But I had to start it somewhere …

1o. Misadventures – Sylvia Smith

There are a lot of things to consider about this book in a larger context. Reading it was a bit maddening for me because all the chapters were so short that I was compelled to keep reading but the story itself was so flat that I spent time wondering why I continued and what I was missing (I’ve loved all my time spent in London and I enjoy dry humor and I kept thinking I’ve lost the inner translator I picked up while I lived in England. 42.). I pretty much never give up on reading anything, I can think of one book that I gave up on reading and eventually I’ll suck it up and get through the rest of the church and flower descriptions in Anne Rice’s memoir… However, not unlike Gillian Flynn’s novels, I see it a bit differently in terms of what it accomplishes. It’s an everyday woman story and it is always going to be important to document life and culture from all perspectives – not just those of the very adventurous or very wealthy or very addicted (there are reality shows for those things), even if the execution bores you to tears.

Belvedere studied sculpture at St. Martin’s College.

Belvedere studied sculpture at St. Martin’s College.

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Behold! The sacred cow

18. In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers – Caitlin R. Kiernan

This novella was my introduction to Caitlin R. Kiernan. She’s been recommended to me before and I’ve now read a few of her books, although I haven’t read Threshold, the novel directly related to this novella. In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers read like a sketch for a possible novel to me, like she was experimenting with side characters instead of trying to tell a complete story. It is a novella, but that doesn’t mean that fragmented ideas are going to tell the story for you; it really reminded me of seeing Hellraiser for the first time – I was interested, but I couldn’t quite figure the story out (mostly why I’d want anyone to escape Pinhead), was the point that mistakes were made? That puzzles will ruin your life? Why would anyone want to marry Julia?

Kiernan seems very much like a writer who works with impressions, atmosphere, and feelings rather than making her characters full as life, which is fine, but not really my cup of tea as a reader anymore. That sort of writing does seem to work best in short form, as I found when I read Kiernan’s The Red Tree. I’m hoping that reading Threshold will help this novella become more of a complete story to me.

Pammy and Twiglet cuddle for comfort against the outside of Twiglet’s home, soft flannel sheep sheets and bits of Timothy hay caress the pads of their little feet, they look the same but they are not.

Pammy and Twiglet cuddle for comfort against the outside of Twiglet’s home, soft flannel sheep sheets and bits of Timothy hay caress the pads of their little feet, they look the same but they are not.

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But I believe in peace…

6. The Waitress – Sinclair Smith

This was an odd one. There were a lot of jolts, for instance in one chapter there’s a piece of foreshadowing (and I could tell it was foreshadowing because Paula the main character was thinking that the story of the closed drive-in must not be that interesting, there’s no clearer way to indicate that a story will be important than to have a main character telling you it must not be) and then there’s a near-miss car accident. During the near-miss accident, main character Paula thinks that it’s great that she and the driver, Cookie, also a teenage girl, buckled up for safety, so there’s also some didacticism thrown in for good measure, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Main character Paula also says “Good heavens,” at one point and I’m pretty sure she made the motion of clutching pearls while she said it. Now, I know that slang changes over the years, so maybe in 1991 all the sixteen year olds said “Good heavens” in response to unfortunate things happening around them and Sinclair Smith was on the cutting edge and put that in her book published in 1992, but, it sounded very off, like a grandmother’s voice was coming out of a sixteen year old character and I don’t remember 1991 that way. I totally hung out at a high school while my mom took tickets at a variety of sporting events and I do not recall any teens saying “Good heavens” – I probably would have taken that back with me to elementary school to make me seem rad.

My favorite thing about this book was that the love interest was named Garth. I can only think of Dana Carvey in the eponymous role of Garth Algar, dressed-as-a-girl-bunny-Bugs Bunny enthusiast, in Wayne’s World (which came out the same year as this very book!). Garth didn’t hurl in this book, but I believe he should have. Because if you blow chunks and she comes back, she’s yours.

This is Horace. He’s standing in a shadowy, mysterious part of the couch. The Waitress is very blatant, very not-mysterious. Horace is an enigma wrapped in a riddle…and he never learned to read!

This is Horace. He’s standing in a shadowy, mysterious part of the couch. The Waitress is very blatant, very not-mysterious. Horace is an enigma wrapped in a riddle…and he never learned to read!

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Would you rather the Slaughtered Lamb?

15. Someone at the Door – Richie Tankersley Cusick

One of my all-time favorite stories that includes hitchhiking and being stranded in the wilderness with a killer on the loose is An American Werewolf in London. The rest of the movie focuses on what happens as a result of the hitchhiking and escaped killer, of course, so this comparison is utterly valid because without that ride in the truck with the sheep nothing would have ever happened. My comparisons are always air-tight.

“Especially for Girls Presents: Someone at the Door” has a similar set up – it has its own escaped lunatic, its own hitchhiker in the wilderness, and people in peril as a result of the escaped lunatic. It also has its own terrible boyfriend – Kurt (How in tarnation could you name a terrible boyfriend Kurt in 1994? Why? Oh wait, book Kurt is a rage-monster football player, like the one in Heathers, and not a suicidal rock icon, whatever.), an isolated house that’s both old and has one of those creepy past incidents, a very messy garage, and a dog named Bruce. Some typical Cusick-isms are on display here: there’s some histrionics (Hannah, geez, you’re a senior), shadows doing scary things, some yelling at the situation, and parents are out of town – in this case, they’re stranded by the gigantic and neverending snowstorm of doom! Speaking of the snowstorm of doom, at the time of my writing, it’s way below freezing with a negative temperature windchill – stupid winter.

Moving on in a way that winter rarely does, I enjoyed this story way more than I thought I was going to. For one thing, I refuse to open my door most of the time. My current dwelling came with a phantom doorbell ringer and since I refuse to participate in my own true crime novel (anymore), I won’t answer unless I am expecting someone or something. The phantom ringer seems to come at a variety of times, like 1:30 AM and 9:30 AM and 12:38 PM and seems to know exactly when I’m feeding Merricat her Critical Care, when I retire to read, and when I least need to be woken up. It’s creepy. I’ve started to assume that the person who lived here previously was a drug dealer and I feel like I may have mentioned this before – anyway, in the dead of winter when I don’t want to be creeped out, it seems like a bad idea to read a book about that exact thing happening…but I really liked it. It read extremely quickly, the characters acted in very consistent ways, and I totally dug the ending, it was very unusual for a YA book.

Fun fact: My copy of this was previously owned by – a different Rachel. Rachel T. I am Rachel S. Coincidence? Unlikely.

Mortemer and Belvedere lived in Iowa for one winter. It was a mild one, so there was no need for vigilance against escaped lunatics, but Mortemer was always a very vigilant pig.

Mortemer and Belvedere lived in Iowa for one winter. It was a mild one, so there was no need for vigilance against escaped lunatics, but Mortemer was always a very vigilant pig.

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If smiling is contagious, then we shall frown

5. Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn is very skilled when it comes to writing unlikeable narrators. I’ve read the three novels she’s put out so far and I honestly did not like any of the narrators. I didn’t enjoy things they had to say or appreciate their actions and I came away from all three novels thinking I didn’t like the books entirely because of the unpleasant reading experience. Having read all three two years ago, and having enjoyed the film version of Gone Girl more so than the book (which I guess I’ll discuss whenever I get around to reviewing it…), I feel differently about Gillian Flynn’s work now. I think that she’s done something that’s important and maybe it should have been clearer to me while I was reading – but I was, like, paying attention to the story. At least, in the case of Dark Places, I think she succeeded in doing something important and successful with an unlikeable narrator – adding another woman to the pile of unlikeable narrators. If you can think of a whole pile of unlikeable, truly unlikeable the whole way through – not just a later-redeemed shrew character, women narrators throughout the literary canon then good for you; I can’t, and as a person who fully embraces the idea of being “gratuitously difficult” (hat tip Shirley Jackson) and has done some reading and reader’s advisory, I wish I could.

On some level I wish I could ignore more easily, social conditioning tells me that when a woman is unlikeable, I should write her off, perhaps as, in the case of Dark Places, damaged goods…clearly she cannot be functional or successful in any way, because she isn’t “nice” or “accommodating.” When a male character is unlikeable, he’s supposed to be translated as a bit of a rascal or someone who “gets things done” and doesn’t have time for pleasantries – which is bullshit. Both genders are capable of pleasantries and being accommodating and also being absolutely terrible or functional. I think that it’s very important to continue to add understanding and thorough consideration to our culture’s concept of women and becoming more and more familiar with women who are not in any way likeable is an excellent contribution to have for Gillian Flynn (especially since her books have sold so well).

I found Libby Day to be a sad, bitter character who responded to the terrifying events of her youth in a sad, bitter way. She had a false ambivalence that she used as a barrier and she made no apologies for how she chose to deal with her situation. I in no way would expect anything different of her, and yet, still don’t like her and I had very little sympathy for her. She made her choices and some of them were creepy- although as a fan of pop culture and some darker materials I could also understand why she would both loathe and need the groups who analyzed every minute detail of the crime and asked her to come and speak at their basement-conventions. Everything that wasn’t from her perspective made me want to continue reading and get through the story to find out who was ultimately responsible and what really happened surrounding the murder of her family.

Danger, slightly grumpy before his true little-old-pig grumpiness set in. I have EOG (Early Onset Grumpiness), he may have caught it from me.

Danger, slightly grumpy before his true little-old-pig grumpiness set in. I have EOG (Early Onset Grumpiness), he may have caught it from me.

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Why am I sticky?

74. Just Checking – Emily Colas

Guinea pigs and I have several things in common – we cannot produce our own vitamin C, we have hair rather than fur, and we are at our best with a consistent routine. I came to this book hoping for some kind of insight into whether or not my personal tics that have occasionally made me seem a bit too particular in situations where I’m apparently not supposed to be so concerned about whether I sit in the exact same chair every time or the fact that someone put some kind of drizzle all over the plate underneath my sandwich when I specifically ordered a sandwich because I didn’t want to use a fork and there shouldn’t be anything sticky underneath a sandwich for fuck’s sake and now I have to leave because my brain is short circuiting are actually OCD. I have decided that they are not, but not based on this book.

I’m basing my “I don’t have full on OCD” armchair-self-diagnosis mostly on the True Life episode about OCD, that one David Sedaris essay where he wants to lick the light switch and has to rock a certain number of times before he goes to sleep, and a mild viewing of an A&E show that I can’t remember the title of. I’ve decided I just have anxiety, which I do, about many things. Don’t drizzle underneath sandwiches. That seems like it should be obvious unless you’re trying to force someone into a meltdown – why would anyone want anything sticky on their hands from underneath the sandwich?! I have eczema, I do not choose things that will deliberately force me to be sticky. That one nearly caused a public scene, and I had no idea it was coming or would seem as bad as it did in person, so it is stuck in my mental craw forever.

Just Checking for me was not an insightful reading experience. It felt like a slice of life with no purpose, no through line, nothing beyond the robotic reciting of events. The praise on the jacket promised much more, but perhaps those reviewers had the same specific concerns that Colas did. I found her to be a mite on the insufferable side even though I have some similar concerns. Really the whole thing disappointed me, because there are so many dude memoirs where their issues are meant to be funny or relatable, and I “just check” and worry about things all the time, but I couldn’t find any common ground here.

Pammy had a lot of beautiful little habits like not eating the parsley until the stalks were placed by her mouth – damn those messy leaves! - and eating celery stalks in little rows like she’s doing in this picture; I believe these were the result of being a pig who perhaps received too many treats and became accustomed to a different level of personal service...not my fault at all.

Pammy had a lot of beautiful little habits like not eating the parsley until the stalks were placed by her mouth – damn those messy leaves! – and eating celery stalks in little rows like she’s doing in this picture; I believe these were the result of being a pig who perhaps received too many treats and became accustomed to a different level of personal service…not my fault at all.

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Fire in the Hole

5. Sinner – Maggie Stiefvater

As soon as I saw that companion books were being written for the less-than-honorable characters in the Beautiful Creatures and Wolves of Mercy Falls series I was excited to read them. I often like the villain, well, “villain” as in, “not involved in the annoying teen romance that is the purpose of this series” and therefore allowed to not strain their heart strings – or mine –  characters better than the main characters in young adult series. Also, writing a decent contrary perspective is something that cool writers like Elmore Leonard do, and YA could use some more Elmore Leonard-ness. I cannot believe the last season of Justified is happening, I just love Boyd and Raylan so much… Okay, bad Elmore Leonard for TV digression, sorry. I really love Boyd and Raylan. No joke. Super sad to see Justified go.

Anyway, Sinner. Cole St. Clair was definitely the most interesting character in the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, and even though I know he’s from New York state, I constantly picture him as Ian the English guy from Lonely Planet with JNCOs and a black t-shirt. I know that image does not suit what anyone would be going for with a former rock star junkie werewolf, but, he’s no Trent Reznor and I don’t know enough about Andrew Eldritch’s personality and despite my usually reliable musical knowledge I can’t think of anyone else (maybe Al Jourgenson) who would be in a band named Narkotika on purpose. Maybe dude from Psychotica, but I didn’t listen to them and it seems to on the nose. Anyhoo, more digressions, I always liked Ian’s semi-maniacal enthusiasm for traveling, he seemed just as willing to please his audience by eating whatever was on offer, like that time in Mongolia he ate marmot – and then ate a sheep’s eyeball in a yurt because he was the honored guest. That’s crowd pleasing. He also had a clearly impressive sweater collection. Cole’s behavior was all over the place in this book and while I still like him, I don’t quite believe him as a character after this story. Occasionally, his behavior seemed too conscientious for a real man in his position and I kept wondering how old he is. I can’t remember it being mentioned. And I know he’s in a YA book, but this one straddled the line a bit in terms of him seeming more like a teen in terms of how he deals with relationships and yearning. Oh, the yearning for Isabel, who I no longer like that much.

Isabel now seems much more like a garden variety bitch model outside of Minnesota, but I guess that’s one type that dates rock stars and does not apologize to their cousins for constantly sending a stream of vitriol at them. Seriously, Isabel felt bad feelings for basically never saying anything nice to her cousin Sofia, but she never really apologized. She needs to apologize. Fictional character, apologize to your fictional cousin, NOW. Shoe shopping is not a sufficient apology for the emotional trauma you caused a young girl who clearly had experienced enough previous, divorce-based emotional trauma to use OCD-style living as a coping mechanism. I lost all my sympathy for Isabel through her treatment of others. And I’ve had relationships where I walked in on things that I misinterpreted because I was dating a suspicious character, so, we could have related. But she chose down and I chose slightly less down.

Anyway, both of them engaged in more adult behaviors than I would expect in YA while seeming like they hadn’t grown as characters…perhaps that is because this book is set in L.A. The secondary characters, as apparently writing those is one of Stiefvater’s strengths, were nicely drawn and enjoyable, although now I feel like I know better than to ask for their full stories. Unless they involve a scene where Isabel apologizes to Sofia.

Danger Crumples is expressing that Horace has something to apologize for if he ever turns around. Also, meet Horace. Maybe at some point you’ll see his face. He has one.

Danger Crumples is expressing that Horace has something to apologize for if he ever turns around. Also, meet Horace. Maybe at some point you’ll see his face. He has one.

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At night the ice weasels come.

7. When Midnight Comes… – Carol Beach York

I almost feel sorry for this book. I shouldn’t, it’s still more traditionally published and popular than my own work; the story just never went anywhere or did anything. It’s never been in love or on the tundra. It never had its fortune told. This book is a virgin that can’t drive. This book is stuck in a rut, a very short, vague rut, like Wilma, who should have been the main character.

Wilma, like many bedraggled, poor girls forced to visit their rich, pristine family members before her, is not happy. She dropped out of school. She dresses poorly – because she is poor – so clearly that reflects her mental state. Smart people always look super put together. At all times. That’s always been my experience and I’ve never noticed any other trends amongst the intelligentsia. Anyway, Wilma is dull and horrible and boring according to her aunt and her cousin Joan, and obviously to blame for the general sense of unease spreading throughout the Bridgeport’s home. Anyway, the cow that is Wilma is making little Charles ill, Mrs. Bridgeport an insomniac, Joan an anxious, slightly less bright social star, and she’s re-awakened little Emily’s fear of the dark. Or has she? If she had, this book would have been awesome, or, a lot more like Ghoulies. Possibly Carrie. I continuously thought that Wilma was meant to look like the book version of Carrie, I could tell that these characters were thinking “bovine” even if they didn’t say it. They’d never say it because they’re too busy hating her and wishing her away just because she’s not like them. Mrs. Bridgeport made her a shirt! And a dress! And Joan invited her friends over to meet her and then made no effort to include her in the giggling! They’ve done so much just by letting such a beast enter their home and infect it with her inability to be perfect and smart. It’s driven Mrs. Bridgeport to pills. Lots of pills. Well, not too many, she doesn’t want to go too far with sleeping. Also, there’s a grandfather clock that isn’t supposed to work stuck in the house and it does work – at night, sometimes.

The book is a like a field of missed opportunity. The privileged bitterness mounts and then they send Wilma away…and…nothing changes. Then the housekeeper leaves because her fortune teller friend says that the house is totally full of evil spirits and everyone should leave it. And then, scandal, Mrs. Bridgeport sees “SOON” written on the wall in red wax – but she can’t blame Wilma anymore – and, apparently they move. The next scene is one of those “now new people are moving in and charmed by this evil house they don’t know is totally evil” scenes. “Why did the previous family leave?” Well, I think they were needed at Stuffy Rich People Magazine to clutch their pearls and look down on those depraved poors. And, oh look, I’ve summarized the whole thing. Book report.

I seriously wish Wilma had been responsible for the evil spirits. I know that my sympathies were supposed to fall with the poor, put-upon Bridgeports since they took her in for a small vacation and then had a bad time, but it was impossible for me to care about nearly anyone in the family. I also think it was a total dick move on the part of the author to be so ridiculously superficial in every aspect of the story. Mount some dread, lady. Mount some dread.

“’SOON’? It’s no, ‘Welcome Home, Eleanor.’ That’s for sure.”

“’SOON’? It’s no, ‘Welcome Home, Eleanor.’ That’s for sure.”

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Megatherium and me

8. Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy – Melissa Milgrom

This book is glorious. I learned so much from it and took away so much more appreciation for sculpture and silicone and Damien Hirst than I would have expected.

Taxidermy and I have a complicated relationship. I’ve been going to the Museum of Natural History at the University of Iowa since I was a small child.  Mammal Hall, and Bird Hall, and Rusty the giant sloth, have tortured/inspired me. The wombat in Mammal Hall may have been a part of jump-starting my love of small, guinea pig shaped mammals (there is no guinea pig in Mammal Hall, there are a lot of terrifying mice though) and since I have yet to see a wombat in person, I’m happy I got the opportunity to see that one. My other favorite piece in there is the skunk that’s posed to spray with its back feet up in the air – nice one to whoever decided on that pose. Mammal Hall also includes a giant room full of skeletons, including an Atlantic right whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling, that I have always loved. Bones are my favorite thing to draw, and they’re just so damn important to understanding why vertebrates look the way they do and how they fit together. The main level of the museum also includes the terrors of my childhood – Rusty the giant sloth and that Devonian Coral Reef beast creature springing out of the wall. I thought Rusty was real for a very, very long time. I also thought that bones were inside the stuffed animals, even though there’s a very clear display on the ground floor of the museum that should have clued me in about that but it didn’t sink in until I read this book.

Rusty is a recreation of a Giant Ground Sloth. A terrifying, costumed for holidays, recreation that many people enjoy. He’s a pretty awesome achievement. In Still Life, I learned that taxidermists and naturalists recreate animals from other kinds of animals in competition and I did wonder what was used to make Rusty happen (and the Gigantopithecus in the basement). The competition discussed in the book takes place at a hotel that I drive by on my way to and from Mississippi, so that struck a chord too. Now I just need to visit the Dead Zoo (not mentioned, but it’s not like I can just go hang out with Damien Hirst’s official taxidermist in her clearly awesome set up) and the Museum of Natural History in New York to finish my appreciation tour. And I’d like to see one of Walter Potter’s works in person. Preferably one with guinea pigs, it’s unfortunate that the collection couldn’t stay together, almost as unfortunate as guinea pig taxidermy usually looks.

I still feel sorry for the Victorian-diorama stuffed guinea pig at After Life.

It is next to impossible to produce an effective guinea pig via taxidermy. That nose is not meant to be preserved, apparently, and it is one of their cutest features – just look at Peregrine’s beauteous nose for proof.

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