Category Archives: Writing

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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In the end, we are the walking dead.

58. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

It’s good to know that no matter how removed from normal society you are, teenagers will still get jealous and petty. Even if those teenagers were solely created to feed the rest of the world’s need for fresh organs. Not surprisingly, Ishiguro tells the story of some clones with a lot more maudlin panache than my summary. It’s a very English read. There are pretty sentences, some stiff upper lipping, some pining, a slowly unwinding mystery, and a main character who never really gets what she needs – just like a lot of the vulnerable.

As a guinea pig, Ozymandias knows a little bit about the possibility of being used for medical stuff.

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“There’s been a murder almost everywhere in this house.”

75. Anna Dressed in Blood – Kendare Blake

It took me a bit to realize the head I was in was male. I’m so used to YA books with supernatural elements being told from female perspectives that it was a bit of a shock to figure out this was a young guy’s head. Also, he didn’t constantly think about boobs and changing his clothes, so how was I supposed to know? Anyway, the head belongs to Cas (Theseus Cassio) and his father was killed by a ghost. Now he and his mom follow other ghosts and kill them, along with their cat, Tybalt. Somebody likes Shakespeare. The titular ghost is up in Thunder Bay, Canada, and she is a doozy. She’s sixteen and she’s killed a lot of people. A lot. Pretty much anyone who comes in her house.

I didn’t expect this to be as good as it was. It was very teen and yet involved pop culture references that would probably work better for people in their 30s, so that worked for me; but it was just better than it seemed like it should be. The characters seemed natural, the gory parts were gory, and one of the characters attempted to stop library vandalism – good. The one thing that was pretty off-putting was the design choice of printing the book in dried-blood-brown ink. It makes sense, but it hurt my eyes a little to read it all the same. And it really wasn’t necessary for such a compelling narrative to have that kind of gimmick.

Salem’s ready for some in your face ghost hunting too.

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Mr. Rogers is nowhere in sight.

51. The Neighborhood – S.K. Epperson

There’s a bird hoarding nutbar whose brain will turn on him and a lot of other people, a lying doctor whose brother has SMALLPOX, of all the diseases to somehow get, and he’s trying to pass it off as HIV to a nurse he hired out of his hospital, the vocally disabled ex-cop who gardens and totally works out and also makes eyes for the eyeless as a single father, the ex-burglar who is pretty much just a dick – even when he’s shackled in a basement -, and the mentally underdeveloped adult who keeps getting into trouble he really doesn’t deserve. Epperson’s ensemble have generally distinct personalities, different motivations, and her story comes together in an entirely unpleasant for the characters but highly readable way.

I’ve now read three of her books and frankly, I like her stories. I also like how she works in awful things and diseases! By the way, the nurse and the ex-cop get together and since she was with the dude with Smallpox when he died and he was totally breathing in the room…everyone in the neighborhood who isn’t dead will now die of Smallpox. It’s a very stealthy way to have a happy ending that will turn out TERRIBLE. Yay!

All’s well that ends well; Merricat and Danger Crumples know how loaded endings can really be.

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They did not talk about Madeline Ashton.

70. We Are All Completely Fine – Daryl Gregory

“We’re different from other people,” she’d said. “We only feel at home when we’re a little bit afraid.”

As someone who has many similarities in thinking to a prey animal, I understand that sentiment better than I want to. I sometimes think that one of the reasons that guinea pigs and I get along so well is that very similarity – prey knows prey. And I am very strong and resilient, but I am also hypervigilant and many other things people don’t associate with being strong or resilient. I’m the worst kind of prey.

The premise of this clever little novella is a support group for people who’ve been through trauma that has a supernatural edge. There are five of them and they’re in group therapy – brought together to identify and process and try to work on what makes them different and deal with how trauma has re-wired their brains. Except that they find out they really just need to band together and try to help the youngest and most fiery of their five escape the cult that keeps coming after her because of what she keeps on the inside. It sort of works, sort of, and for the most part they come to a level of understanding and acceptance.

I really liked this, and it is the first work of Daryl Gregory I’ve ever read, but I kept feeling like I was missing something or that he was referencing his other works. It seemed like a novella relying on some shorthand I wasn’t privy to. We’ll see. However, we will not see soon, because my theme this year is to review the books of authors that I haven’t read much. If I haven’t read more than three of their books, they’re in. Short stories don’t count, although they certainly counted last year.

When Finny is feeling completely fine, he puts his little front feets out like this.

 

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Whiner.

32. The Bachman Books: Road Work – Richard Bachman

When I first read this book I felt very little sympathy for the main character. He seemed like a controlling jerk who can’t cope with change and decides to take it out on everyone else. I still think that’s a big part of who the main character is; he seems to be angry in part because he can’t control how things are changing and has acted like a complete entitled ass about some of it. However, as one ages, one has the possibility of understanding how people get to this point more easily. I imagine if he was a lady he wouldn’t have made the same decisions because he would’ve had more of an idea how stacked against you society can be and maybe not been so extreme in his reactions so as not to “cause a scene.” Of course, then there’s no book. “Woman calmly endures negative change despite many things working against her” is just how things are. Ew.

Danger Crumples faces the future while Ozymandias tries to hide under a stuffed turtle.

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Hand faces. There’s also a demented parrot.

14. Master of Lies – Graham Masterton

I thought this was going to be about castration and cults, but, it’s mostly not. It’s about an Italian cop and a very corrupt San Francisco police department and everybody’s in on it – except that guy who gets castrated. Also, there are hand faces.

I actually think the Fog City Satan case might make for a weird season of True Detective. It would resemble a crossover between seasons one and two – the vague supernatural (that would become super not vague) of season one and basically most of season two without any prostitution or drugs or Taylor Kitsch. Just some corruption, smarmy dialogue, and – now that I think about it – it’s got nothing really from season one. Take season two, add fully formed families for supernatural sacrifice and some hand faces, and it might have actually been a little better television.

Also, I think the state of constant upset in the world is making me super desensitized to gore and Graham Masterton’s usual level of vulgar description – or, he was getting soft in this one. Or bloodless. He did use the word “musk” one too many times and I never really squirmed after the scene with the nails in the first chapter.

“When is a book that says it’s about castration and cults actually going to be about castration and cults? What do we have to do to get some castration and cults going? Geez.” – Peregrine is very interested in “c” words. She’s cute.

 

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“I’m tired of you being so dark while I’m so impish and whimsical.”

53. Get In Trouble – Kelly Link

Kelly Link’s brand of magical realism is always something I look forward to reading. I bought her Get In Trouble short story collection as soon as it came out and read the eight stories I hadn’t read before quite quickly. It’s been interesting to read the evolution of how Link deals with forming her characters. They seem to be much more realized in this collection than they were in her earlier work and usually a non-character character bugs me, but it never did in her writing.

I don’t like the cover of this collection as much as the past three of hers, it’s too not-whimsical, too graphic designy for me. The feeling I get from Kelly Link stories is like entering a long-abandoned and overgrown mini-golf course with a fairytale theme at dusk and red, cream, and brushy lettering is not quite right.

Pammy would’ve made a good cover model, especially on her shiny 1950s chair. She’s darling and cautious and those sweet eyes hint at an abandoned mini-golf course within.

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Elephant and Castle

57. Looking for Jake – China Mieville

The first Mieville I ever read was for an epics and fairytales sort of class in college and it always surprises me that the book of his that was chosen (and it was in the early 2000s, so it’s not like there were a ton out to choose from) was the most concise and straightforward book of his I’d read until this short story collection. That book was King Rat, the drum and bass/jungle/house/grime version of the Pied Piper, in a way…and now you know the rest of the story.

Mieville tends to get a bit sprawling, to shove in a lot of ideas about London all at once and it can get overwhelming trying to parse out how every random character is contributing to the story. That tendency gets curbed by the lack of space in a short story. There’s no room for fifty versions of old-timey supernatural gangsters, which was comforting. I’m always intrigued by the Mieville novels I’ve read, then I get lost, then I wonder if it’s just because I’m not UKish that I’m lost, then I try to just go along for the ride because London really is my favorite city on earth and I still know bits of it by heart (but why…WHY…did the Piccadilly Circus HMV have to close? That’s where I got the first Grinderman LP – it’s special. Sister Ray’s better never close, I’ll have to cut someone.), then I regret not really reading that much Lovecraft before I started the book, and then I finish it and wonder what just happened. Thankfully, each story in Looking for Jake cannot cause that kind of journey. Not enough room.

Danger Crumples, getting sleepy from the mental taxation of sitting with me while I read Kraken.

We start in, well, what a shock, bizarro-London with “Looking for Jake,” and a breakdown in reality that involves nasty creatures. It’s what I expect from Mieville, but way reigned in and the situation is never really addressed. It seems to me the reigning is what causes the lack of explaining.

“Foundation” was really horrifying and quite sad; the images that it evokes are not ones I want to revisit.

This image of Danger Crumples, however, I will revisit as long as I have eyes.

“The Ball Room” – This is absolutely my favorite story in the whole collection and frankly, it might have inspired Horrorstor. It’s a bit gleeful in its exploration of the evil children’s ball pit in an Ikea-like store. This is the first time this story appeared in print and I would totally buy it just to have this story (I haven’t yet, as usual, I stumbled upon the existence of this collection while hunting for misshelved books.).

“Familiar” – Another tale I enjoyed quite a bit about what happens after a witch ditches his unliked familiar. It’s like Milo and Otis, without one of them, in London, and if one of them was growing in power and evil plotting abilities the whole time they were gone. So, more like Benji.

Okay, okay, don’t turn on the quizzical glare so hard, Dangey, I will admit I have not seen Benji. But I did run into the cover of Benji many times during the period of my youth when I was scared of dogs, okay? Benji scared me. At the video store.

“Entry Taken from a Medical Encyclopaedia” – Words are powerful. Infectious, even.

“Tis the Season” – Privatizing holidays…it reminded me of this pamphlet I found about the war on Christmas being orchestrated by the Bolsheviks way back in the day up until the current dickcheese took charge of the U.S. Now I think it’s not just dystopian London headed for a stupid situation where only rich people can celebrate Christmas.

“The Tain” – This was at one point published separately, but I always think it’s nice to know that there’s more than one way to get a particular short piece. Especially when it’s about mirror fauna escaping.

Danger Crumples was a master escape artist. Once, I got out of the shower to find him standing in the doorway of the guinea pigs’ room. And, when I moved into my current apartment he stayed one night away from me at the home of another and managed to chew himself out of his temporary laundry basket cage…but didn’t get out of the room. It was a solid attempt to Homeward Bound for a guinea pig.

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