Reading Wrap-Up: February 2017

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I read so much this month. Let’s not delay then and get right into it.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. (My Rating: 5/5) I was already a fan of Brosh from her blog. In fact, if you’re curious, I suggest having a look at that first to see if you like the style. It’s a mixed media type of storytelling, with simple images and text, like illustrated stories. And it’s hilarious. And sometimes surprisingly moving. While there are some previous blog posts of hers collected in this volume, there are also lots of new installments that can only be found here. I highly recommend this as a quick and amusing read that also packs a punch in spots, especially when she gets very honest and raw about her battle with depression.

Goosebumps: The Beast From The East by R.L Stine (My Rating: 3/5) I have a stack of Goosebumps books that I’ve collected again after getting rid of them years ago. At some point I have to ask myself why I’m collecting them. If nostalgia is the only reason, it’s not a good one. For something to take up space, I need to be using it. So I’m reading them. Unfortunately this one was just all right. I don’t expect any of them to blow my mind, but it was a little slow for a horror story. Maybe a bit too much running around aimlessly in the woods with short, spooky set pieces interspersed. The thing I found enchanting about this is, and this is hinted at within the narration, it’s a dark retelling of the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. If that intrigues, do at least give this a shot.

Blue Beyond Blue by Lauren Slater (My Rating: 4/5) This is one of those magical realism short story collections with a lot of fairy tale influence. It was slow to start for me. The first few stories weren’t wowing me. I was starting to get worried just as I reached “The Fairy of Lost Things”, which was incredible. More and more stories kept popping out at me then: “A Daughter’s Tale”, “Ruby Red”, and “The Mermaid”. These stories that I favored especially represent the feminist strengths of the collection, as Slater really does have a lot to say. Overall a strong set of stories with a lot to recommend them.

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle (My Rating: 5/5) My full review is here, but rest assured I loved this and thought it was brilliant.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (My Rating: 5/5) Another I did a full review for, and another I really loved. Still, if you want to hear exactly why I loved it, follow that link.

Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters (My Rating: 2/5) This book was so frustrating. The synopsis, about a disfigured woman who is tempted by a haunted photo album, sounded so original. No, it’s littered with the same tropes as every other ghost-and-haunting story I’ve ever read. The book was slow to get to the point, and when it did, it seemed to get even slower still. Descriptions were plodding and not interesting at all, much less frightening. Our main character didn’t really possess a personality other than fear and anger over the accident and her own disfigurement. Ultimately, the ending was the kind of ableist tripe that makes me want to scream. It wasn’t as if it was a completely incompetent tale, but it was boring and mishandled, so I can’t recommend it.

Dracula in Love by John Shirley (My Rating: 5/5) Rest assured, that title is slightly ironic. I say slightly, because in a sense that is what happens. But only in a sense. If you’re unacquainted with the work of John Shirley, let me assure you it’s weird. Also, incredibly dark and graphic, often with more nastiness than people can handle. This is 100% a horror novel. Major trigger warning for rape and even some things that I don’t think trigger warnings exist for. If you can handle that sort of content, then I cannot recommend this highly enough. It’s a riff on Dracula and vampires, taking the idea of being seduced by a vampire and twisting it up until the seduction itself becomes a horror. I loved that deconstruction of the character. It’s wildly entertaining and well-written to boot. There was a thrown in love story I could nitpick. Vlad’s relationship with his ex-wife needed a lot of work, but it’s a minor thing. Otherwise, I loved it and recommend it as a solid, horror read.

A Different City by Tanith Lee (My Rating: 4/5) Much like Lee’s Paradys and Venus books, here she creates a vaguely European city and peoples it with strange occurrences. The results are gothic and supernatural and lovely. In this slim volume, there are three stories, and of them, “Idol” was my favorite. They all three had their merits, but that one really blew the doors off, with an ending I can’t stop thinking about. The story I slightly wince at is the third, “The Portrait in Gray”. It’s a very unique take on Dorian Gray, but it also tries to tackle the subject of inner beauty versus outer beauty. Often when authors do this, and their intentions are very good, they end up accidentally saying the thing they didn’t mean to. That ugliness equals evil, and beauty is good. She sort of does that. I can tell she didn’t mean to, so I can’t exactly get angry about it, but it’s why I generally don’t think it’s a topic anyone should venture into.

Manga Shakespeare: Richard III (My Rating: 4/5) I have a close friend who knows I love Shakespeare’s Richard III, so she bought me this, and it was the perfect gift. Anything that I can add to my collection is welcome. It’s a manga version of the play, and while it’s clearly meant for younger readers, to get them more accustomed to Shakespeare, I still enjoyed it. Especially with the added artwork, which is exaggerated and fun. I can’t recommend it as a substitute for the play, as it was pretty truncated. But I can recommend it as supplementary or even if you’re already a fan and want some cool artwork to go along with the story.

Louisa the Poisoner by Tanith Lee (My Rating: 5/5) This was actually a lot shorter than I thought it would be. A novella rather than a full novel. Even then, Lee was so easily capable of putting a ton of story in a small space, it feels epic regardless. It was also delicious, nasty fun. It’s what it says on the tin. Louisa is a young woman who poisons people, and if you like having a villain protagonist, you’ll love this. For the most part, it’s a gothic story with a historical feel, but she sneaks a paranormal treat in at the end. Clearly, I loved it.

How A Mother Weaned Her Girl From Fairy Tales by Kate Bernheimer (My Rating: 2.5/5) I expected a bit more from this. This is another collection of fairy tale inspired short works. Though most of them were so short, they were more like flash fiction without a lot of substance to them. In fact, most of the experience smacked of style over substance, which I didn’t enjoy. The stories I could say were good still weren’t great. Overall the book was so short, it barely left an impression at all. Very meh experience. There are much better collections that manage what I feel Bernheimer was trying to do here.

Cyrion by Tanith Lee (My Rating: 5/5) I’m Tanith Lee obsessed lately, and I’m glad to let it continue, especially when her books are as good as this. Cyrion is composed of a series of episodic tales about a nomadic warrior of the same name. He’s possessed of lightning-fast reflexes, a quick wit, and often finds himself in the middle of adventures. The fantasy world and its construction are, as always with Lee, wonderful and painted upon a vast canvas. Cyrion himself manages to escape Gary Stu-ism by being so incredibly charming and quick with a quip. She also deftly steers away from making him a full-on rogue, which was refreshing. No need to try and justify piggish behavior here, because Cyrion wants no part of it. Also, he loves cats. Okay, so maybe he is a little too perfect in that case. All in all, this is a fantastic read if you’re into sword-and-sorcery style fantasy.

Eva Fairdeath by Tanith Lee (My Rating: 4/5) Tanith Lee writes a post-apocalypse. That should be incredibly exciting, but really it was more about these three characters and how they connect. Or in some cases how they don’t. That wasn’t bad, but it made the apocalyptic landscape somewhat incidental. I say “somewhat” because really these characters (Eva, Steel, and Sail) would not be as unhinged as they are if they weren’t raised and let loose in this setting, so in that way, it was fascinating. Watching them go through these self-destructive motions, making terrible choices, and then eventually falling together as a trio. In that way, I can only recommend this for the very patient, because this is not some action-packed romp. Rather it’s very character driven. Also, none of these characters are completely likable even if they are each of them an interesting study.

If you read all that, you’re a saint. I’m proud of this reading month, but also aware it’s a lot to get through. As always, happy geeking!

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