I been readin’: some reviewlets

4169sZXxF0L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_I spent a lot of time reading this weekend, which is the best way to spend a weekend; I managed to read two complete books cover to cover basically before even getting into the shower yesterday, and knocked out another one this afternoon.  I know I keep saying it, but it’s nice not working weekends.  I didn’t even put my watch on today!  That’s how awesome this weekend has been.

At any rate, seeing as how I really enjoyed all four of the books I’ve finished, but I don’t want to write four full book review posts, y’all get some quick reviewlets instead of a solid week of book posts.

We’ll start with Into the Drowning Deep, by Mira Grant, who is also Seanan McGuire.  I’m a big goddamn fan; I know I’ve talked about her under both pen names around here repeatedly, so I’ll cut to the chase on this one: it’s her best book.  ITDD is kind of a book designed to push my buttons in a lot of ways; all of the characters are scientists (and damn near all of them are women scientists, which is even better) and the book is a great mix of research-intensive oceanographic geekery, cryptid speculation, and gut-wrenching horror.  It takes a lot for a book to scare me, to the point where I can only recall praising one book in the past for how scary it is.  This is right up there.  It’s also insanely movie-friendly.   I want to see this movie on the big screen so bad I can taste it, and some Hollywood bastard needs to shovel a ton of money at Seanan and get this on screen now.

410o6yuEykL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_ My love for Tor.com’s novella line continues to grow with every book they release.  I have damn near an entire shelf of them by now, and I’m at the point where I’m putting them on my Amazon wish list the second I find out about them regardless of who the author is or the subject matter.  That said, P. Djèli Clark’s The Black God’s Drums is a perfect exemplar of what I love about the line: an author I’ve never heard of (I have found so many good authors through these novellas!) writing an alt-history featuring characters that are generally underrepresented in genre literature.  In this case, the book is set in an antebellum, independent New Orleans, in an America that is split into at least three or four different factions, with airships and steampunk and, oh, right, orisha magic.  The main character, a young girl named Creeper, is possessed by Oya, an African god of wind and storms, and occasionally is able to manifest magic powers.

Oh, and there are nuns who are basically spymasters, which kinda rocks.

51UnBCky8WL._AC_US436_QL65_I have actually already read most of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins mysteries, but it’s been a really long time and I’ve been slowly working my way through his books over the course of this year.  This is the third one I’ve read and the second of the Rawlins mysteries.  It’s weird; the last time I read a lot of Mosley was in college, and for years I’ve been telling people that he was an author where I was really fond of his sentences and paragraphs but that I didn’t necessarily love his books.

College Luther was kinda dumb, I guess.  Or he was half right, at least, since Mosley remains a brilliant craftsman as far as the beauty of his writing goes, but I really wasn’t giving his skills with plot and story enough credit.  I’ve been enjoying these books much more on the second pass-through than I did when I first read them, and even back then I recognized how good the guy was.  There will be more Mosley to come this year, that’s for sure.

81LZP9WQ7yL-1I encountered Ismail Kadare’s The Traitor’s Niche through Twitter, and specifically through my friend Anne Leonard, who Tweeted out a link to this New York Times profile of the book.  It caught my interest as well, and when Barnes and Noble actually had the damn thing when we popped in on Saturday I took it as a sign and bought it.  Kadare’s book is the one I’m most conflicted about out of everything I read this weekend, mostly because I feel like I didn’t quite get everything that was going on: the book was written in 1978, and only recently translated into English, and while it’s supposedly about the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire, it’s actually about Albania in the 1970s.  Albania in the 1970s was a client state of Russia and controlled by a dictator.  This is therefore not only literally translated from the Albanian it was written in, but is metaphorically complicated as well; the book demands to be read on a couple of different levels and the simple fact is that I’m not in possession of the necessary background knowledge (I just told you everything I know about Albania) to be able to read the book with the understanding and background knowledge that it probably deserves.  I four-starred it on Goodreads, but it could have been a five and it might end up in my 10-best list at the end of the year anyway.  It’s just kind of a rough book to form a snap opinion on.

What’s it about?  Severed heads.

Just trust me.  🙂

#REVIEW: THE OUTSIDER, by Stephen King

9781501180989_p0_v4_s550x406I didn’t want to buy or read this book at first.  That’s not my normal approach with Stephen King; the man has written approximately 5000 books, but I have damn near all of them.  I can only bring two of his books to mind that I know exist and have not read yet: his novel about the Kennedy assassination, which rubbed me wrong from the beginning and which I never started, and the third of his three Finders Keepers books, which I cannot explain why I have not read yet.  I’m gonna get to it eventually!  I promise!

So, yeah: I’m a fan.  I have been a fan since I was, I dunno, however old I was when Misery came out and I found my grandmother’s copy when staying the night at her house and managed to read most of it before she realized what I was doing.  Honestly I don’t remember if anyone tried to stop me or not, but it wouldn’t have done any good if they had; nobody was ever any good at keeping books away from me.

But I didn’t want to read this book.  The main reason?  The premise, as explained by most of the pre-release stuff, is white dude is accused of heinous sexual assault, turns out to be innocent.  And if I’m being honest, white dude turns out to not be a sexual abuser after all! is not really something I’m super interested in reading about too much right now.  There are entirely too many white men getting away with sexual assault and rape right now– some of them being elected fucking president, no less– just put me off the book for several weeks.  My wife read it in the meantime, and told me to go ahead and read it anyway, and I did.

Which was the right call, because once I started The Outsider I had the damn thing finished in two days– a hundred pages the first night, another hundred the second, and then I picked it up when I got home from work yesterday and didn’t put it down until I was done with it.  And it’s a big damn book.  Stephen King, after all.  The reason I wrote such a short post last night?  I got caught up in reading and didn’t want to put the book down to write a post.

So, a couple of things: this is King’s darkest work in years, if not in his career, to the point where I’m not even sure right now what I’d suggest its closest competition is.  The book begins with a man being arrested for an absolutely heinous act of rape, sexual torture, and murder, and despite his innocence being such a plot point that I can’t even honestly call it a spoiler to mention it, the book keeps you wondering what the fuck is going on anyway, and then at about the 200-page mark it throws a massive curveball at you and runs off to be an entirely different book than the police procedural you thought you started with.  And even before that curveball, King does an outstanding job of whipsawing you back and forth between this man is absolutely guilty and this man cannot possibly be guilty, sometimes in the same chapter, and the cops don’t always make great decisions on how to prosecute the case and when the book finally does tie everything together and explain what’s going on I feel like it earned its ending in a way a lot of books– including a handful of other King books– really don’t.

This is also his scariest book in a long, long time.  I will admit that being the father of a young son didn’t exactly help me with that, and if you aren’t a parent your mileage may vary a bit.

One gripe, though: I have always thought that one of Stephen King’s greatest gifts as an author was his ear for voice and for dialogue, which makes it weird that this book has such really weak dialogue throughout.  There are so, so many sentences in this book that no human being has ever uttered before and never will.  He does this thing at the end where he sort of thanks the people of Oklahoma and says that if he got anything wrong, he’s sorry?  And I feel like maybe he’s doing this weird thing where he’s trying to capture something he thinks is Oklahoma Folksy and instead he’s landing on Abraham Simpson:

This is especially bad in the earliest parts of the book, where a fair part of the text is interview transcripts, meaning that they’re nothing but dialogue and people telling stories.  The various cops in the book generally aren’t prone to rambling, but any time someone else is talking– again, especially in that early part?  God.

But yeah.  If you can push past that one rather notable weakness, this is excellent King and a great recovery from Sleeping Beauties, which I didn’t really like much at first and has not climbed in my estimation since then.

I need recommendations

I’ve been making another stab at getting into podcasts lately.  I just took a four-hour road trip last weekend and I tried to grab some recs from Twitter, leading to several hours of listening to Lore and a quick try at Case File that was immediately derailed by the host’s accent, which was just a bit too thick for me to handle in the car.

Lore I liked a bit more, but it’s falling into the same trap that Welcome to Night Vale did–after listening to a half-dozen or so episodes, I am both tiring of the host’s voice and becoming really good at predicting certain tics in the way the show is written.  If I’ve got a mental drinking game mapped out for your show after listening for a couple of hours then it’s probably not going to hold my interest for too terribly long.

So: any of you out there listen to a lot of podcasts?  Y’all should have a decent idea of what I’m into by now.  Any recommendations from those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter and are seeing this for the first time?

#REVIEW: STILLHOUSE LAKE, by Rachel Caine

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Rachel Caine is– and I hope somebody out there understands what I’m talking about here, because I feel like I might be talking out of my ass– an author that I’m a stealth fan of.  She’s one of the most prolific authors I’m aware of, up there with Seanan McGuire and Stephen King, and I have eighteen of her books.  That is a lot of books!  There are probably not many authors who I have that many books by; in fact, King is the only writer I can think of who I’m certain I have more books by than I do by Rachel Caine.

And yet I’m pretty sure I’ve not listed her previously on any list of my favorite authors, despite that, and I think Stillhouse Lake is the first of her books that I’ve been moved to review here.(*)  Her books, to me, are like candy.  This isn’t an insult!  Everybody loves eating M&Ms!  Sometimes you find yourself really craving them!  But you don’t really talk about your love of M&Ms with other people, right?  They’re just there, and they’re delicious, and there are always new M&Ms available whenever you’re ready for a new M&M.  Yummy.

(I swear.  That’s supposed to be a compliment.  I’m not very good at this.)

Here’s the thing about Stillhouse Lake, though: I feel like Rachel Caine was writing outside of her comfort zone for this book.  Her series tend (not all, but mostly) to fit squarely into the Urban Fantasy genre: first-person stories about impossibly attractive women with some sort of supernatural abilities who fight against some sort of shadowy world-dominating evil cabal of some sort.  Sometimes there are genies.  Sometimes there are zombies.  But there’s a theme.

This is the only Rachel Caine book I own that fits squarely into the modern world.  There’s nothing supernatural about it at all.  It’s also the only book of hers I’ve read that is undeniably a horror story.  (She has a series, called the Morganville Vampires, which I haven’t read and could conceivably be a horror series?  But vampires are rarely scary anymore and I suspect it’s more urban fantasy.)

So it’s quite different from her previous work that I’ve read.  And I’m about to say something about this book that I’m fairly certain I’ve rarely if ever said about a book before: it scared the hell out of me.  The premise is pretty simple: the main character was once married to, and in fact had two children with, a man who turned out to be a serial killer.  She had no idea about what kind of person she was married to until he was caught.  He was convicted and is on death row, and she was tried as an accessory to his crimes but acquitted.  Since then, she and her kids have been on the run, both from her husband’s inevitable cadre of fans and hordes of Gamergate-style internet assholes who think she got away with being a serial murderer and want to see her destroyed.  Over the years, she and the kids have gotten good about dropping everything, burning their identities and fleeing town whenever anyone seems to figure out where they are before the hate mail and the rape fantasies and the death threats can start up again.

The book starts off making the internet the enemy, and letting us inside Gwen’s head as she tries to protect her kids both from external threats and from finding out about the external threats– understandably, she wants to keep the worst of the harassment and the details of their dad’s murders from them, but without understanding just how dangerous the world around them is, the kids aren’t especially happy about constantly having to uproot themselves.  Her relationship with the kids, especially her teenage daughter Lanny, is my favorite thing about the book.

And then they find a couple of bodies in the lake they live by, bodies of young women killed in much the same way that her ex-husband killed his victims, and all fucking hell breaks loose.  And the strength of the book– Gwen’s relationship with her kids– started really working against me, as what were theoretical threats against her family and her children become terrifyingly real.  I read the last half of the book in one giant gulp last night, wanting nothing more than to go to bed but knowing for goddamn sure that I wasn’t going to put the book down until I knew everybody was safe.  The book tapped directly into my daddy-brain, and it scared the shit out of me, and when you combine that with pure expertise in page-turnery, you have a book I’m proud to recommend.  Go give it a look.

(*) EDIT: Not true, as I reviewed the last book I read by her, Ink and Bone, back in November.  And a lot of the praise I had for that book reads similarly to what I have said here– hell, the first few paragraphs of the reviews are interchangeable, basically– but Ink and Bone retains the supernatural elements of her previous work and Stillhouse Lake jettisons it entirely.  I&B is still a damn good read, mind you, but I think Stillhouse is a cut above.

A brief, charming little story

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Sure, why not.

My wife is out of town again, through Friday this time, and as he tends to do when one of us is out of town the boy has requested to sleep in the “big bed.” I put him off last night because for a five-year-old he takes up an astonishing amount of room and is somewhat less receptive than my wife to the occasional nudge if he strays past his side of the bed.

(For the record, I have no idea how receptive I am to such nudges.  I’m sure I do it too.)

My wife is reading IT for about the hojillionth time right now in preparation for the upcoming movie.  We have at least three copies of the book in the house and two of them are on her nightstand– the paperback copy she started reading, and the hardback she ganked from her parents when she realized that reading a thousand pages of the tiny print in the paperback might not be in her eyes’ best interest.

As I’m reading the boy his bedtime stories, he notices the books and asks if tomorrow I can read IT to him instead of, oh, Disney’s 5-Minute Fairy Tales or whatevertheshit.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It’s too scary for you.  You can read it when you’re old enough,” I say to him, reflecting upon the fact that my first Stephen King book was Misery, published in 1987, and therefore first read (I stole my grandmother’s copy on an overnight visit, and I was 2/3 done with it before she realized what I was reading, well past the point where she could have objected) when I was in fifth grade.  I went on a serious King bender after that and so it couldn’t have been much longer before I got to IT.

“Oh, okay,” he says.  “They taught me to read yesterday at school.  I can do that now.  Can I read it to myself?”

I think about this for a second.

“Sure.  You can start tomorrow, though.”

“Okay,” he says, and hands me the fairy tales book, apparently satisfied.

I’m really gonna feel ridiculous if he actually did learn to read yesterday, I imagine.