33. Darkest Heart – Nancy A. Collins
It’s recently come to my attention that I still know every single sound in the movie Interview with the Vampire by heart. It was on HBO the other night, presumably in anticipation of that Vampire Chronicles TV series I’ve heard minimal amounts of things about and so I watched it for the first time in ages with Finny, and Peregrine, when Finny got tired of me telling him when a noise I didn’t like was about to come on – like when Louis first dies and when that one prostitute is making that snapping noise at Lestat, and there’s more…there’s always more. I believe the main reason I know it by heart is that I used to listen to it when it was on Pay per View and I couldn’t see it (scrambled), but the sound was perfect. Apparently that’s not what other people were “watching” on scrambled Pay per View but that’s fine.
Anyway, vampires have been of interest to me for a long time, and my mom found Darkest Heart at a library sale and got it for me. It turns out it’s the last in the Sonja Blue series, and I read it first. It did make a little bit of a difference. I wasn’t entirely invested in the character as a vampire who also happened to be a “badass vampire hunter,” perhaps I’ve been tainted by Blade. But I did see a certain familiar conflict between vampiricism and humanity (“Oh, Louis, Louis, still WHINING, Louis!” – best part of the whole movie, unexpectedly) and the plot and action were fast paced (Sonja is not as mopey as Louis, even though I’ve always loved Louis, [named one of my own characters after him – a broody, angry poet werewolf] Sonja is like the Slayer to Louis’ Neutral Milk Hotel) and made it clear that there’s a toothsome quality to the series. I’ve since read more Sonja Blue books and enjoyed them, but I haven’t stumbled across the first one just yet.
“Yes, please, tell me more about all those noises I don’t even understand in this movie.” – Peregrine
61. Daring Greatly – Brene Brown
In a world where many people are constantly being asked to complete the workload of three people without complaint and it seems clear that the only people who truly matter are people with money, it can be hard to find solid ground mentally.
I have seen many articles about persons in my age group that maintain the sentiment that there is something wrong with my generation because we’re not all thriving. We’re not buying what we’re supposed to. We’re not behaving as our predecessors behaved. We’re finding, at a higher rate than the past few previous generations, that we will not be making more in our lifetimes than our parents did and so what monetary class we were born into is likely to be the monetary class we die in, or we can always go lower, that’s an option too. We’re not quite “daring greatly” after being saddled with large amounts of debt in order to try greatly to find gainful, full time employment.
There are some examples of people who have done really well, who are anomalies amongst the BA-having, underemployed masses. And it’s fun to have those examples pointed out to you as though because you are smart, you should be just like those examples, when that’s very unlikely to happen for you. Paring down your goals to basically just survival feels embarrassing when you graduated from college with hope, got as Master’s degree with hope, went for a Ph.D. in your research field with hope. It’s humiliating to know that even though you made serious efforts to better yourself and pursue something you found truly worthwhile, the opportunities aren’t there after you graduated and you will be greeted with comments like “You should’ve gone into engineering,” when you have no aptitude for that and there are certainly unemployed STEM graduates feeling just as embarrassed for hoping as you are.
Reading Daring Greatly was an interesting experience for me because it came at a time when I thought I was on my way to, well, daring greatly. I’d shrugged off what I thought was the baggage I needed to shrug off, surely now was the time for some minimal self-help and then lots of happy times would follow instantly. I, of course, forgot that I’m a human with depression who works in public service full time. Oops. Even still, I appreciate what Dr. Brown has to say. I think there is a lot of validity to her views on vulnerability and I was happy she showed her work because I honestly have a lot of trouble reading material that could be considered “self help” without a nice level of bitter detached cynicism. One thing though, being courageously willing to put yourself out there in some scenarios can also lead to you becoming the non-vulnerability-interested’s scapegoat, so, it also pays to remember that not everyone can face the truth of some situations.
Duncan, daring blurrily to show her sweet little giraffe nose.
Filed under Books, Review
48. Long Lankin – Lindsey Barraclough
Every once in a while, less so nowadays, someone creates (or illustrates, damnit, Stephen Gammell) a story for young people that will scare them half to death. It will stick in the back of their minds, jumping to the surface when they hear a noise, see a creepy tree, or are walking all alone, late at night, past a graveyard. Long Lankin is a scary fucking book. Reading it made me jumpy and paranoid during the daylight and frankly, a story about post-World War II era British children and folklore should not have managed to accomplish that task. The last thing that made me that jumpy was The Blair Witch Project (saw it in the theater, pre-most of the hype or at least I had no access to hype, didn’t think it was real though, still scary. No corners).
There’s a level of scarcity and secrecy in Long Lankin that just puts a damper on the mood and pushes it into a murky, stifling place. Children aren’t allowed to know what they need to know and there’s an exciting amount of dramatic tension at play as a result. Another contributor to the effectiveness are Barraclough’s lush descriptions. She does an excellent job describing how rooms feel when the windows have been nailed shut for years and I can even feel my breath hitch thinking about the stale air (of course, as an allergic-asthmatic, that’s always going to be a sticking point of terror for me). And that classic British damp is ever-present, rotting away the shingles and leaving room for creepy beasties to get through.
The one thing that didn’t work for me was the ending, but it’s quite the journey to get there, so overall it’s a worthwhile read.
Pickles dramatically reenacts my experience reading Long Lankin. Did you hear that?
31. They Thirst – Robert McCammon
Some of the territory this book covers is familiar- if only listening, and, say, heeding warnings were revered qualities. They’re not in this book and they don’t seem to be in real life either. If only.
Anyway, this is McCammon’s take on the ensemble vampire story, and he chose a large amount of space to work with, which works to his disadvantage. It’s lengthy and wordy and a little flat in a way that reminds me of They Live (They live, they thirst. They’re doing so much!) and it’s not going to show you anything new if you’ve already read any vampire books, or, say, The Stand and Salem’s Lot. It’s one of McCammon’s early novels, and having read the later-written Swan Song first, I can see attempts at what he will achieve with an ensemble cast and a slightly out of the way supervillain. I am inclined to give some points for effort, although certain characters that become important are completely out of left field when they suddenly appear (Ratty…) and others with potential are too flat to invest in because there are so many people to follow (Andy and Solange, in particular). The main aspect that interested me was the Hammer Horror throwback of the castle.
Mortemer and Belvedere in their own ensemble drama. Father and son, scampering over a quilt on a double bed, scampering in search of a good hiding spot… to take a nap.
10. Broken Monsters – Lauren Beukes
Outsider art, taxidermy I don’t have to see, serial murder, solid female characters – well, solid characters in general, and some very unexpected surrealist imagery…it’s like Beukes had several of my reading habits in mind when she started writing.
Each character has a different angle on the central story and brings a different part of Detroit’s atmosphere in as well. It was really fun reading a book about Detroit that brought in the broken parts but also did some taking to task of the pretentious humans making artistic lemonade out of ruins.
There’s a lot to Broken Monsters. A lot of detail, a lot of tension, a lot of pieces that normally would have made me cringe treated with enough information and deference that I can tell she did a lot of research, essentially it provides a lot of reasons to follow Beukes as an author.
Merricat giving that look that means “I know you didn’t say what you wanted to say about scenes that reminded you of True Detective’s antler graffiti in this review.”
3. An Unquiet Mind – Kay Redfield Jamison
“A Memoir of Moods and Madness” and a stone cold classic for anyone interested in mental health, An Unquiet Mind is also an engaging read. Jamison’s experience with manic behavior was extremely interesting to me – her description of running rather endlessly around a parking lot during the process of earning her degree and using “we’re psych students” as the reason when questioned stood out in particular. It sort of suits the trope of going into psychiatry because one has psychological issues, but, that doesn’t have to be true. It’s very possible to ignore your own symptoms regardless of what you’re learning about or what level of professional development you’ve achieved. Brains are tricksy.
One thing to remember while reading An Unquiet Mind is that, especially if you don’t have anyone to catch you or clean up the giant mess you may have made while manic, this is definitely not an instructional manual for what to do if you are also experiencing manic or depressive episodes. It’s a memoir, and it has helpful examples, but it is not a self-help manual. You may recognize yourself, you may end up being a little envious of some of the things Jamison has gotten to do, you may not even care about getting to stay in England for long periods of time to write (I miss it). It always amuses me that I know the struggle to publish as an academic writer exists, but when you read material from people who have ended up with published work, when they discuss writing their proposals it’s just like a given that it’s going to happen- of course it did, but, somebody should write in one of their failed projects too, give the folks at home something to relate to on the other side because there’s a lot of failed academics out there who probably assumed their work was going to get published too… (Full disclosure, I am not an academic writer. I’ve just seen a lot of stressed out academics as a librarian and I’m guessing not all of them had a streamlined path to publish their research. And I’ve read or skimmed a crapload of extremely dry articles, so I wonder if the academic writers with stronger writing voices are getting shafted.)
Twiglet, a stone cold classic anchor pig.
34. Parasite – Mira Grant
Mira Grant likes to write about what people are eating for breakfast. I noticed it in the Newsflesh trilogy, and I noticed it in Parasite. Also, she likes to include the possibility of cold cuts, luncheon meats as they are known in some circles, as a possibility for breakfast, which for me is as alien as the idea of eating a tapeworm to remain healthy…which is also a very basic way of describing the source of dramatic conflict in this book. The tapeworm has already been eaten, but, the person who ingested it has an entirely different personality than they did before the car accident that caused them to eat it for survival and indebted them to a giant, creepy corporation that wants everyone to have tapeworms. Gross. Post-accident Sal (nee Sally) is super scared of cars even though she doesn’t remember her accident. She also enjoys the luncheon meats and having other conflicts of personality that make her vacillate between being a super lame scaredy cat and an ingenious detective as a character. I had a hard time with this. I also had a hard time with many of the other characters. They felt manipulated to me- perhaps by their own tapeworms. Also, this book is, like, super long and it shouldn’t be.
Pammy and Thaddeus enjoyed a nice carrot, some pellets, and a helping of hay for their breakfasts. Thaddeus whistling for me to dish out said breakfast at 7:30 AM on days when I did not have to be up that early was more thrilling than the cliffhanger ending of Parasite.
26. Schoolhouse – Lee Duigon
1988, a time when horror paperbacks were plentiful and there were more than enough skeletons on covers to scare all the children in line at the grocery store. Schoolhouse has a skeleton teacher (with bun and pointer, but no shoes, I feel like she could’ve been wearing shoes) with both an apple and another skull on her desk. Another skull on her desk! And the background isn’t just black, there’s a chalkboard and a spider web and everything. Pinnacle getting their money’s worth out of the cover artist. It’s a full painting. There are many parts of me that wish publishing still allowed for this style of cover and for a proliferation of bizarre horror novels.
Schoolhouse’s staying power is in its weirdness. If one went to public school, one generally could be led to believe that something weird is going on…especially in the 1980s, when the something weird didn’t have to be related to state budget cuts and elected officials painting teachers as the enemy for wanting proper resources because public schools’ mission is give EVERY student an education, and they don’t actually leave any children out. Perhaps a digression, but things were different then and if your teacher was an enemy, it was probably because they were possessed by an alien beast creature sliming its way to the surface (now those are just lots of repugnant elected officials, possessed by somebody else’s money). Schoolhouse very much treads the line between horror and science fiction and who knew that would be a preview of our educational system today – vouchers and creationist textbooks, anyone? Scary stuff.
Danger Crumples and Ozymandias have very different investigative styles. Danger leaves no pillow un-turned, Ozy knows H.P. Lovecraft-style slimy beasts don’t hide under pillows.