Tag Archives: Fiction

“Perhaps man’s highest cultural achievement is the horse head bookend.”

71. Cold Earth – Sarah Moss

What if the archaeological dig is haunted? By personal failure? Could you dig it? Or, as is more accurate in terms of this book, can you make it? As in survive on classic novels, crackers, and sad noodles? While still pretending that your excavation matters? Can you listen to the jackass who didn’t check to see if the satellite phone they brought even works tell you not to “disturb the site” while you are developing scary symptoms of being deathly cold and it has a shelter?

I’m asking many questions, but many questions are raised by this book – especially at the end. It is a bit of a confusing ending and I can’t tell if I felt like it was rushed or if it was just too optimistic when throughout the book they keep mentioning a virus that’s spreading in not-remote Greenland areas. It seemed like when the internet went down whole hog that virus might be way more than just something to stoke their isolated paranoia.

Also, to establish my baseline for how reading this felt, Nina was soooo annoying, and she’s both the voice allowed the most space and the main one hearing and seeing ghosts. AND she’s not even an archaeologist or an anthro student, so, somehow, she wins the annoying olympics without bringing much expertise. I mean, she has expertise, but a lot of it is about food – which is not helpful on a remote dig when the “food” is dwindling. But I’m definitely not on Ruth’s super-bitch side either, or Iowan Jim’s (nope, he’s not a similar Iowan to me, he had like no fight in him), or optimistically painting terrified Catriona’s, or agreeable Ben’s, definitely not Mr. Lack of Preparation/Don’t Touch That Turf Mr. Yianni’s. I am on the side of the sheep who kept randomly bothering them. Those sheep were on to something about the intersection of curiosity and knowing your limits. I need to know if that virus was zoonotic in case the sheep didn’t make it.

Ozma and Peregrine demonstrate their work methods in this dramatic recreation of an archaeological dig on the couch. When you find “bones,” put your little teefs on them.

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A cursed no.

25. House of Windows – John Langan

To say I did not like this book would be a vast understatement. I thought the premise sounded good – essentially a lit professor being driven to some unknown madnessy sounding fate by a dark unexplainable force, I was an English major after all, I know what pompousness looks like and sometimes I definitely wanted to see it driven to madness. But…not like this. I can honestly say that the sole reason I finished reading this is because I started it while doing hospice care for Finny and he was having a lot of bad days and I knew I wasn’t able to read anything that might actually be fun or engaging. Finny was still very much alive when I finished it and I was very much annoyed.

The framing device for the whole story is that it’s being told to a friend of the “family” – which in this case means friend of the professor who disappeared and his much, much younger wife – by the young wife. Who is not only unlikable, but unbelievable. She consistently insults the wife the professor had when she, as his student, started sleeping with him. Why? The wife never literally does anything in the story, she’s always acting off page, so it’s never proven that she’s actually awful and I mean, no one is sweet and charming during a divorce caused by your husband’s inability to not sleep with his student. The insults that the narrator gives the wife are all rude and mostly looks-based. It’s like the dream of a guy that wants to justify his terrible behavior. If she really legitimately wanted that relationship and didn’t solely want to break up a marriage so she could insult the ex-wife, why does she care about what his ex-wife looks like? He’s your douchebag now. And it’s very different when the child in a marriage is an adult and not someone younger who could be used as a pawn in a custody battle, so I really didn’t find the insults believable.

Also, said adult child is then cursed by his father, who then spends a lot of time in their weird-possibly madness inducing house trying to reconnect with the ghost of his adult son after he dies in Afghanistan. This curse thing is important and also really boring. I mean, there are a lot of different ways to disown a child that happen every damn day. It’s only because of the professor dude’s massive concept of self-importance that he and his much younger wife make it a thing and a deal with an entity and yell about it a lot in their weird house.

The house being fake-alive with the son’s ghost is…also really boring. Nothing about this haunting is innovative or made me want anything other than for the story to be over forever, never to be seen again. The haunting also reminded me of terrible music videos. Beavis and Butthead would have many insights about the visuals, I am sure of it. They might also have had some insights about the dipshit version of a research scene, where the younger wife explains how web pages open and various design choices that were made, I think the crazy artist’s site used Geocities.

Finny was still alive when I finished reading this and the eighteen books I’ve read since that at the time of this writing. If he made a deal with an entity, it was obviously a cool one because he’s had many spritely days.

 

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There’s a lullaby for suffering.

57. The Forgotten Girls – Sara Blaedel

I was browsing in a book store’s mystery section after being disappointed I couldn’t find the rest of a YA series I was trying to read when I noticed the font on the side of several Blaedel books and pulled one out. So, I know I talk a lot about book covers and fonts and frankly, there’s a lot to be desired. Much sameyness. And I was not a fan of that cheap trend of putting some random staring girl’s face on the cover of YA books. Why did they stick so many placid, vacantly staring teen girls into the void? WHY? However, I have found the cover trope that attracts me and forced me to slightly swallow my pride. The covers of all of the Blaedel books I’ve found that I actually like feature really tall trees (Yay Scandanavian and Nordic forests! Some of the few places I might actually be able to go outside on purpose for a while and not die of allergies due to their climate…although that’s changing…) and some random woman in a rain coat with her back to the viewer. Lookin’ lost in tall trees, that’s the ticket. I do like all of the mysteries and thrillers I’ve read from authors from Iceland and Denmark now, they’re so bleak it’s amazing.

Once I started reading The Forgotten Girls, it became very clear that Blaedel is someone whose books I must read all of – definitely bleak in a variety of ways, the investigating is in-depth and involved records and primary source materials, the crimes are horrible and in this one involved administrative chicanery in an institution for unwanted/potentially “embarrassing” children. So I went back to the book store and got all the ones I could find, then found the other ones with the right kind of covers – What was that chick lit bullshit in a lit up field on “The Daughter,” which is supposed to be called The Undertaker’s Daughter according to the ARC? Excuse me, no. That is not okay. – and ordered the rest on Abe Books. I did this BEFORE finding out that Louise Rick’s partner in the Special Search Agency listens to Nick Cave. BEFORE. These books are precisely my kind of reading.

I also deeply adored read-watching Jordskott. It was just about perfect for me and Pere and Finny post-Critical Care feeding.

 

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I know you’re jealous of my castle.

77. The Fifth House of the Heart – Ben Tripp

Vampires and antiques make soooooooo much more sense as a combination than vampires and teenage girls. So much more sense. Vampires being nostalgic little dragons of treasure hoarding, extremely hard to kill, and easy to have a conversation with in basically one instance if you’re an antiques dealer who gives a shit about the quality craftswork of the past – it’s like someone finally paid attention to what happens when people get old. Most of them aren’t really focused on listening to teens be dramatic.

Granted, in this volume, vampires are what they eat so to speak, so the toad one couldn’t talk about his hoard and sometimes older humans are fond of young humans because they have like promise or whatever; but for the most part, The Fifth House of the Heart just rings much more true than vampire stories typically do. “I’m 5000 years old, please tell me about how hard your math test is and that you were embarrassed through fleeting and ever-changing technologies,” just doesn’t work for me. “Let’s talk about that Caravaggio I have that no one’s seen for hundreds of years so you can be jealous of my immortal collecting powers and how I don’t have to work to acquire such things,” sounds like real evil being talk to me.

And I haven’t even said anything about the main character, Asmodeus Saxon-Tang. Well, let’s just say I named my recently acquired red fox skull after him. He’s fun.

Danger Crumples was grumpy during his last pumpkin photoshoot, he would’ve rather been photographed surrounded by his massive collection of toys.

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“If you go, it’s gonna turn out baaaaaaad!”

12. The Broken Girls – Simone St. James

This book contains many elements that I enjoy – there’s a boarding school for girls that people want to get rid of where four girls find solid support and friendship (I expanded on that sort of “throw away the teens and they will bond” concept in my Squirrelpocalypse Trilogy .), a ghost, murder, and research with primary source material!

It jumps back and forth in time and through a few perspectives, but it was not confusing. There’s contemporary Fiona, a reporter unable to stop herself from staring at the old derelict boarding school grounds – because her sister’s body was found on those same grounds. Fiona’s sister isn’t the only body found on those grounds… and the way that St. James weaves the school’s girls during its time and the school’s registered ghost and the murderage and the complicated but very realistic to me relationships of the character Fiona really worked for me (especially her observations of small town public library staff – she’s right). I was consistently happy to pick this book up again and sad when I was done reading it.

Having had two pregnant female guinea pigs in a row, including the pictured Miss Pammy, I at one point thought of my home as a boarding house for wayward teenage guinea pigs. It was a great time.

 

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“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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“You did it to yourself, just you, you and no one else”

68. You – Caroline Kepnes

Stalk-stalkity-stalk-stalk-stalk. Okay. You reads quite quickly and is basically a great exploration of how not to end up in a relationship, how not to keep a relationship, how not to pursue anyone ever…it’s basically one giant flashing sign that says “DON’T” or like a relationship version of “Good Idea, Bad Idea” from Animaniacs.

Granted, the main character is a total stalker, but sometimes he makes decisions that seem kind of normal – manipulative and sad- but almost normal in this tech-driven age, and so it’s important to note that everything this narrator does is in the world of NO, just in case anyone thinks this book reads like stereo instructions. Sure it seems like a good idea to read things you know someone already likes before they know how hard you poured through their social media stuff to create a false sense of friendliness, but, how about waiting until they introduce it to you? Or just asking them about it instead of making it seem all spur of the moment connection when it’s really just your inner sociopath showing through before your shared laughter leads you to guide them into that cage in the basement? That’s at least a third, mutually agreed upon date thing. At least third. That way you know they suck before you have to worry about whether or not you want to release them from your basement cage. Think of the clean up.

Oh, side note, I watched the series well after originally writing this review and I stand by my Animaniacs comparison and, also, Joe really didn’t think about the clean up. It was all right, it did put a nice amount of emphasis on Ozma of Oz, and that’s my girl, so, I appreciated seeing her book since I don’t recall that aspect of the actual book.

Thaddeus never had to steal Pammy’s phone to learn her whereabouts since they lived in the same room and he whistled at her all the time anyway.

 

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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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Veal Scallopini, Steak Diane, or human souls?

16. Burnt Offerings – Robert Marasco

Marion and Ben and Aunt Elizabeth and David live in the city. It sucks during the summer. It’s like really hot and there are too many people and Marion doesn’t feel like her antiques get their due unless she’s obsessively polishing them and so she’d really like to escape. Just this once.

Well, a house that’s only $900 and way out in the middle of nowhere comes up for the summer. It’s full of antiques, it’s by the beach and has a pool, the only catch is Marion has to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an old lady she’ll never see. Perfect!

Everything goes fine and they all end the summer with a nice family chuckle as they drive back to the city. The end.

Okay, not so much. But it’s not ever really clear what is happening exactly or why that title was used if the very life is being sucked out of the adults. But I guess “Burnout Offerings” just sounds like a post-graduate school group therapy session title. Too contemporary.

Danger and Horace are waiting for me to get the movie so we can all figure out if we like that better. These boys really loved their 1970s horror cinema.

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