Category Archives: Writing

“Using the bodies up as we go”

4. Give Me Your Hand – Megan Abbott

They didn’t have guinea pigs in their lab and for that I am grateful. For once, I didn’t have to read inaccurate depictions of guinea pig behavior so they could be utilized for research by a seemingly accurate group of postdocs. Instead, a clump of dead mice fell from the ceiling with a huge bloody thwack. So gross. Such a way to begin.

To an extent, this story was a little all over the place and at several points didn’t ring true to me- at one point I found myself caring not a bit about what the central secret really was, but I still found it overall to be a solid read. It was the first book I’ve read by Abbott and I can say that I liked it a hell of a lot more than the second one I read- Dare Me. That book felt like it was trying too hard to be edgy. But this one, as someone who has several degrees that aren’t in the hard sciences but has helped a lot of those graduate students in the library and with finding articles, this one was enjoyable because that part rang true.

I do think one of the major bullshits of academia is the cutthroat nature of competing for research placement and funding. Just think what this country would be like if we looked at education funding as truly part of the greater good? Or at education as something that benefits society as a whole and not just something to mock the students for later when they’re trying to pay back their student loans? My generation is lost in my opinion in no small part due to student loan re-payment, but since I’m not fresh out of college, we are forgotten for the fresh new debtors when we could have been contributing much more forcefully to the economy for years. YEARS. More than a decade, even. But, it’s more fun to be completely out of touch and act like only new college students have this problem and isn’t everybody who bought that lie about how going to college would help them get better pay stupid? Happy graduation, everyone!

Who has fourteen toes and will never be used in research? This Horace.

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“This is how we do things in the country”

78. The Family Plot – Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest is one of those authors I feel like I should have already read lots by. Boneshaker was a great big deal as I recall and I was super into the idea of Maplecroft because I love some lady murderer stories. I tried to read Maplecroft multiple times but I was just not getting in. Just not. And that made me pretty sad.

Fathom is the only book of hers I managed to get through and I liked it okay…but was not wanting MORE! on any level. However, with The Family Plot, I think I finally found the Priest for me. I absolutely loved it.

Because of the existence of dust and me in the same universe, I will never become a salvager or a picker or the sort of person who finds antiques and cool pieces of house until they end up at a store. So, as abbreviated and possibly inaccurate as the operations of Music City Salvage may be, I don’t care, novel-level accuracy got me wholeheartedly into this story. Main character Dahlia was very relatable for me – she has allergies (not as bad as mine, clearly, or she couldn’t do that work, but they like never get mentioned anywhere and so many people have allergies that do work involving old things), she’s relatively fearless, she recognizes the value (sometimes exact) in antiques, and she knows how to organize disparate elements into a task well-finished. So I was entirely content to follow her through southern-style trying not to lose her shit while the ghosts in the Withrow house got stronger and more insistent and actually scary.

Pere and Ozy know the best way not to lose your shit is to turn away from the photographer and still look cute.

 

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“Hey, there’s some strange stuff going on around here.”

67. Children of the Dark – Jonathan Janz

An escaped serial killer, a different kind of wendigo than I’m used to, teenagers of both the complete asshole and not variety, little kids, and a shitty town that doesn’t care about the “undesirables.” That’s what we’re dealing with in Children of the Dark.

At the start, all I could think about was Richard Laymon and how annoyed I got reading the endless clothing changes and teen erections of The Traveling Vampire Show. Thankfully, that didn’t stay. Janz did not make the characters continuously change clothing and I didn’t have to sit through too much of teen boys being teen boys slowing down the overall plot. Although, he did basically replace the teen boy erections with monster erections and that was both funny and irrelevant. They’re monsters, do they have to be discussed as rape threats as well? Is that really necessary? Most women have to deal with the possibility of rape as a consistent threat anyway, especially when they make the mistake of walking somewhere, standing somewhere, just existing, alone, so it’s pretty unnecessary to make a monster that easily kills also a rape threat. For example, I was once threatened with rape while walking through the reference area of the library I worked in, so, it happens all the damn time. Let the monsters just be threatening because they’re monsters.

Children of the Dark ended in a completely different place than I expected it to and that was nice. It’s a bit Richard Laymon and a bit Stephen King with the ensemble of town folk and the kids taking on the lion’s share of dealing with the threats, and a little bit H.P. Lovecraft. The world of monster-threats was expanded widely at the very end and that was great. That said, I am not sure if this has a sequel. I stumbled across Janz and then sorted out that this one was at the library. I have to research whether or not this has a sequel or an adjoining story or anything, but I do hope it does.

Sometimes just big pointy teeth can be intimidating enough. Or I guess not at all if you’re my little Salem.

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I haven’t quite seen the movie yet, even though Eva Green is usually awesome.

55. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

More design than book, this is a story that I did not expect to be the start of a series. It’s good looking, but it wasn’t particularly emotionally engaging for me. I do like the design, the photos, the odd afflictions of the children and their caretaker’s powers; but it all just really stayed on the surface for me. It was a bit drafty, not unlike the landscape described in the book. I recently acquired the second book in the series cheaply, so, I’ll give it a shot, see if it gets better. It could always get better.

Long ago, I chose Twiglet to be the chosen pig pictured with this book. She was a peculiar and endlessly lovable pig.

 

Later, I acquired my own Miss Peregrine, so named for her slightly falcon-like appearance and she has acquired her own Miss Peregrine Funko figure with its own falcon. Perhaps a peculiar choice. She also has Sam the Eagle.

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All the Coopers can’t be Special Agent Dale Cooper.

68. Final Girls – Riley Sager

Xanax and grape soda. And Wine. And a boyfriend that South Park would’ve described as a ’90s guy – Chris, but in this case it’s Jeff. A baking blog. An expensive apartment in New York bought with the settlement funds from her friends’ deaths. That’s how Quincy makes it through being the final girl of a slasher-style cabin massacre. That and texts to and meetings with Coop, the cop who showed up. Until one of the other two final girls she’s aware of gets murdered…and the other one shows up at her building.

This was a fun thriller. It was also not fun, but them’s the brakes of massacre, anxiety, and PTSD depictions. It had a stellar ending, I was incredibly pleased as someone who has also had to deal with being a survivor of several abusive situations and doesn’t have a paid for expensive apartment and the ability to solely work on their blog instead of having a real job.

Merricat never had to pay for anything either, but, she had serious grit and still works posthumously as a model.

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ZZZZZzzzzzzzzz……….

17. The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To – DC Pierson

This book reads like it was written by someone who is too cool for school. The initial impression I got from the blurb of it seeming like a magical realism sort of sci fi teenage romp well written enough to be literary fiction is really inaccurate.

The science fiction bits come in toward the end and they don’t make up for the lack of cleverness and ingenuity with tired tropes. There was also a lot of space taken up by the main character wondering if making friends with the weird kid will also make him weird. Um, duh, kid, that’s the whole point of hanging with the weird kid…getting out of the banality. If you don’t want that, keep hanging with the stupid cool kids. An unwilling protagonist who spends too much time debating the risk of letting an actual story happen is a sad, sad thing in fiction. Bottom line for me was feeling like I’ve read this story before with less pretentious prose.

Belvedere would’ve put this book in the “rejected MFA imitations of more interesting genre fiction” section of his library.

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“The maiden’s waiting for her knight in shining corduroy.” – Creepshow

74. There’s Someone Inside Your House – Stephanie Perkins

This little slice and dice of teenagers has some interesting elements. It’s a pretty accurate depiction of high school in the Midwest, especially if you are different from the normies in any capacity. The inclusivity is a change of pace from most of what I’ve seen in YA that’s supposed to be horror even though this book isn’t really scary or thrilling. There is a lot of blood, so that’s interesting considering that it’s not particularly suspenseful. The best part of the whole thing really is the reasoning behind the killings. It’s also very small-town Midwest but deployed in a totally new way.

Whoever’s in the house woke up Murderface. They better watch out or she’ll cute them to death.

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“All good scientists are from Missouri: in other words, they should continually be saying, ‘Show me’.”

73. Unbury Carol – Josh Malerman

“Hell’s heaven” was uttered so, so, so many times that it distracted me from the plot. Everyone says it. The husband, the sheriff, the assassin, the outlaw, Rinaldo, the helper girl, the funeral director, some guy…I’m not entirely exaggerating. As we know, if something distracts me so much that I lead with it, I may not be entirely complimentary to the story.

One thing I will say, I believe Malerman spent a lot of time organizing the world he wanted to portray and yes, the Western can be a repetitive genre. Hell’s heaven.

There were definitely a lot of concepts that deserved a less distracting phrase interruption than “Hell’s heaven” or, the other one, “Shudders.” We have a greedy husband with a wife who has a condition where she looks dead but can still hear everything going on around her – and she’s rich. We have that wife’s lost love who totally screwed up – James Moxie, who went on to become a very famous outlaw and holed up on the other end of the “Trail” from where Miss Not Dead Carol lives.

We have an important journey, a very austere inventor mother who really comes through in an unexpected way, and an assassin with an interesting method of walking and he’s so evil he doesn’t even need a hat. And then there’s Rot, the fantastical character who continues to lead the good characters astray to hopeless places and the bad characters to what they need. I’m still not sure how I felt about that character and whether or not he was really necessary. At the end I definitely felt like he was just butting in randomly to delay the plot and it would’ve been tighter if he hadn’t. He definitely got in the way of the main scene that really needed to be there for the title character. Show, don’t tell, Malerman. Hell’s heaven.

Ozma’s distinctive face makes her a guinea pig of certain distinction on any and all trails. She’s a sweet little legend in her own right.

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Reindeer Hell

2. The Ritual – Adam Nevill

Wet. Cold. Brutal. The Ritual is a lovely book. I truly enjoyed reading it, but I do gravitate toward journey stories and when that journey ends up involving an ancient cemetery, metal, hooves, and a single person who keeps having to defend their life choices to their bitchy friends who are, in the end, kinda envious of their freedom and fortitude, I know I’m going to love it. And it was scary too.

Nevill’s description of that upper floor of the first creepy-ass cabin they ran into did my head in- it’s always better to describe the unnatural in increments – plus he said the sculpture’s tail was mouse-eaten and that is truly terrifying when coupled with the knowledge that the lost middle-aged men went into that cabin with wet jeans…and also came out with wet jeans and nightmares.

If being chilled to the bone and unable to get warm doesn’t scare you, then this won’t really work for you and you’ll probably get annoyed by the amount of environmental description but for me that worked very well. I also really, really liked the little old lady who doesn’t say anything. She’s pretty much my favorite character, even if she is technically against our protagonist.

If you’ve seen the movie, then what I just described might sound odd – because they pretty much took out all my favorite parts. The cabin sculpture’s not the same, the little old lady is missing, and so are most of the hooves and the metal and the cemetery (or maybe they found that but I don’t recall the super cool church that went with it). The movie is as pretty and full of trees as I expected, but, as per usual, the book is better.

This is Finny. He has been turning to calcium from the inside while keeping the most feisty attitude long enough that I am pretty sure he is a mythological beast creature. Brutal.

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Cremulator

30. From Here to Eternity – Caitlin Doughty

This one time, in the Houston airport (IAH), I realized that I did not have enough to read to get through all of the layovers and plane rides I was taking that day. I also realize that people with Kindles and Kindle apps do not have this problem. Paper is my jam, as the not-kids say, though, and I usually use plane rides as an excuse to try reading REALLY tiny print mass market paperbacks that I have trouble with otherwise. I found From Here to Eternity and was really surprised that I wasn’t going to have to give up and read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. Death book! Yay! Oh, and this time, I scared one of the flight staff people with my reading choice – she asked and I minimized what it was about with “Death” (there is a skull on the cover, a super cool Art Deco-looking skull) – this book isn’t scary, but, apparently being interested in death is uncomfortable for others on planes; just like being interested in reading about VD. Whatever.

From Here to Eternity introduced me to a couple of new deathy things I hadn’t heard of before and was really inspiring in a lot of ways. I find that reading about others’ rituals and ideas about ritualizing death and dealing with bodies makes me feel less intimidated by the whole idea. I’m not really an avoidant person anyway, but, it’s a very nice read and made me want to turn the altar for my guinea pigs into a version of the Buddhist death disco type memorial Doughty visited.

One extremely important portion (to me, anyway) of the book discussed a research project about completely composting bodies. I think that research will become very, very useful in the future and really it’s useful now. There’s a lack of space in so many places and composting is even more environmentally sound than cremation. During Doughty’s time there, they were very close to complete obliteration of the person. So, murderers, pay no attention.

Pickles would’ve picked The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and realized she didn’t need to read it. She had that down.

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