Sunday Salon, 6/28

It has not been a great week.

I have tried to be optimistic about the course of the pandemic, but I feel pretty dumb about that now. Mask-wearing has become a divisive political issue. There are people protesting a public health measure with a vehement true-believer-ship that cannot be reasoned with. And that makes me very sad. As a resident of Arizona, I’m mourning any notion I had about returning by the end of the summer to things outside of my apartment.

Anyway…

Reading

Last Week: I finished reading The Changeling by Victor LaValle. Readers, it’s darn good. Review coming up for that on Tuesday or Friday.

The Changeling
The Kestrel
The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Next Week: Finish The Kestrel by Lloyd Alexander by the end of the month. If it’s available, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark is up next for the Occult Detective Fiction book club.

Watching

Last Week: Not much. Some Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m in the middle of season two.

Next Week: Considering doing another movie-a-thon in July. Maybe an A–Z of 80’s genre movies.

Other Stuff

Moved on to playing Skyrrim. Honestly, I’d be happier if the game just let me go around beating up bandits instead of having to worry about dragon attacks. (Also, I wonder if they considered having a variant trailer with a female hero. That might be cool, you know?)

Sunday Salon, 6/21

Reading

Finished An Unexplained Death by Mikita Brottman. I intended to review it on Friday, but honestly, I’m still developing my taste in crime fiction. There were aspects of the author’s tone that often bothered me, but I don’t entirely know how I want to analyze that yet.

I decided this week that I needed a break from classical weird literature. I need to chew on the concepts being presented in the lectures I’ve been following. I’ll get back to The King in Yellow and the rest after a while.

The Changeling

I also wanted to read something by a POC author. I’m a little tired of dead, white dudes (with the occasional dead, white dudette). The advantage of diversity in literature is, well, diversity. Why wouldn’t I want to read stories by authors who have experiences different from my own? (Especially since I’m a particularly well-represented group as far as “canon” is concerned.) So, this week: The Changeling by Victor LaValle.

Watching

*queue Katherine bemoaning lack of sports in her life*

Other Stuff

Steam had a sale on Elder Scrolls titles, so I’m playing Morrowind. It’s not too shabby looking for an 18 year-old game.

Down the TBR Hole 31

This is a meme started by Lia at Lost in a Story. The “rules” are:

  • Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 (or even more!) if you’re feeling adventurous) books. Of course, if you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time.
  • Read the synopses of the books.
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?

I’m modifying this a little since my to-read shelf is a mess of books that are mostly in storage. Instead, I’m going to look at my wishlist—all those books I add on a whim during my travels around the book blogging community—and weed out the ones that don’t quite sound as good now. The “keepers” I’m going to look for at online libraries or add to my Amazon wishlist.

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

This book is over 20 years-old, but I feel that it’s probably the foundational work of skepticism that should be more widely read. That said, I haven’t read it! KEEP.

HOUDINI UNBOUND: Espionage in Russia

HOUDINI UNBOUND: Espionage in Russia by David Saltman

I really do enjoy books about magic history, but man, am I over Houdini. GO.

You Will Not Have My Hate

You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris

This is very possibly an important book about not letting one tragic event dictate life. But I’m going to be honest: I’m never going to get to it. I’m never going to be in the mood for this book. GO.

Beartown (Beartown, #1)

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

I’m kind of on the fence about this one. For some reason, I thought it was nonfiction. But it’s by the guy who wrote A Man Called Ove, which I haven’t read, but is liked by pretty much everyone I know. I think I’ll KEEP Beartown for now.

Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City

Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City by Kate Winkler Dawson

I will also admit that I’m a sucker for a historical serial killer, especially one that takes advantage of outside circumstances. KEEP.

Anyone have any experience with any of these? Any arguments for KEEP or GO?

Sunday Salon, 6/14

Reading

#VentureForth Update

book that I read as a child or teen – At some point in my childhood I bought an “Endless Quest” book at a hobby store: Mountain of Mirrors by Rose Estes. I knew nothing about D&D or choose your own adventure books and never got the hang of it. As an adult with some gaming experience, I plowed through it with no problem.

graphic novel – I read the first six issues of Omni, a superhero comic with a primarily female and POC creative team. It’s a similar take as X-Men, but in place of all-knowing Charles Xavier, Cecelia Cobbina is smart beyond her powers and always cautious about the ethics of superhero-ism. It reminded me a little of the movie Fast Color (2019) (which is a great movie, currently on Hulu).

The King in Yellow and Other Horror StoriesAn Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere

In the land of what I’ve recently finished, there are reviews of In the Garden of Beasts and Meddling Kids. This week I’m reading An Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere by Mikita Brottman and The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers.

Writing

I’ll be switching projects and returning to a true crime story I’ve been working on for a while now. Probably going to start doing a Round of Words in 80 Days again in July too, so my Sunday Salon posts might share space with those updates. Reading An Unexplained Death is part of this process.

Other

Our COVID-19 numbers have jumped enough that Arizona is making national news. Despite this, Eric and I have included our friend Chris in our park exercises over the last couple weeks. I’ve been holding out hope that we might get back to a regular ultimate frisbee game by Sept/Oct, but now I don’t know.

{Book} Meddling Kids

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Sean, an excitable Weimeraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arkham, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.

Cover and summary via Goodreads

Meddling Kids has been on my TBR list for a while, but I decided to read it now because it was the June pick for the Occult Detective Book Club.

I wanted to like this book more than I did.

I’m not a huge Scooby-Doo fan, but it was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid and has probably had an out-sized influence on the way I see the world. While I like reading about the supernatural, I don’t actually believe in it. Scooby-Doo is kind of the opposite of occult detectives: the mysteries investigated look supernatural, but aren’t. It sits firmly in a skeptical space. I was a skeptical kid and I’m a skeptical adult.

But as I said, I do like reading about the supernatural, so I was looking forward to the twist of Meddling Kids. The gang, grown up, face a paranormal mystery. Additionally, the story is set in the Lovecraft-verse.

I liked the setting, but I wasn’t very attached to the characters. I liked the majority of the plot. The reversals were nice and I like a good dead-friend’s-ghost advisor character. Unfortunately, the real hurdle for me was the writing.

There are a lot of winks and nudges. Zoinx River? Jinkies. While Arkham is mentioned by name, H. P. Lovecraft is referenced as an author named Howard. According to Wikipedia, Meddling Kids is also inspired by Enid Blyton’s the Famous Five series that began publication in 1942. The Famous Five are Julian, Dick, Anne, Georgina (nick-named George) and their dog Timmy. I had no idea about this series, but the nods are obvious, especially since Meddling Kids is set in Blyton Hills, Oregon. And it comes off as a little too clever for its own good.

Also in that too-clever category, some of the writing seems stunt-like. Kerri’s hair being sort of cartoon-sentient was…weird. (I have curly red hair. It isn’t that fun.) Some of the adverbs choices were odd. A candleflame silence, a flock of hair. Then there was the page and a half long sentence that was part of an action scene. Kind of the equivalent of a long one-shot in a movie. Speaking of movies, sometimes the dialogue would slip into screenplay-ish format. What is that about? Maybe I’m old and boring, but it was a little too much for me.

I didn’t totally dislike Meddling Kids. I did finish reading it after all, and it was a fast read, but it didn’t quite live up to what I hoped it would be.

Publication: Doubleday, 2017
My copy: Tempe Public Library Overdrive edition

{Book} In the Garden of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the New Germany, she has one affair after another, including with the surprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.

I read both Thunderstruck and The Devil in the White City in 2010, which means I became a fan of Erik Larson right before In the Garden of Beasts was published. I probably obtained my used copy in 2011 because the book started to show up in earnest on my TBR list in January of 2012.

But while I wanted to read In the Garden of Beast, I was never in the mood to read it. I waited for the right time, but there’s never a good time for Nazis. Even less so in recent years. In the relative political quiet of a pandemic (and I stress the word “relative” here), I figured it would be perfect for the Unread Shelf Project’s May prompt: a backlist title by an author with a newer book out. (Larson just released The Splendid and the Vile, about Winston Churchill.)

Without knowing much about history, it’s easy to think that someone like Hitler abruptly took power and “boom” Nazi Germany is in place. The reality is much more insidious, that there is a rise to power and the violence and policies against certain groups came about gradually. When Dodd begins his tenure, there is still some optimism that Germany’s new government would become more moderate. We know know that it doesn’t.

I was also unaware of how much in-fighting there was between the higher ups in the Nazi party. Maybe that’s just what happens when a group of individually ambitious men take control. There is a continual grappling for power and loyalty.

Is there a cautionary aspect to reading In the Garden of Beasts? Knowing history is often helpful in avoiding repeats of situations, although these seem to be lessons hard earned and often over-looked. But mostly, there’s never a good time for Nazis.

Published: Crown Publishers, 2011
My Copy:
paperback, 2011, probably from Paperback Swap

Unread Shelf Project

Sunday Salon, 5/31

Reading

Finished In the Garden of Beasts yesterday. I’ll probably post on it later this week.

Also reread Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow for my Weird Lit “class.” It’s so hard to divorce the Disney animated version from original. Of course, that version of the Headless Horseman scared the crap out of young me. For a few years, I was fairly sure that the Horseman was going to gallop down the street at me anytime I walked to my grandparent’s house…

This coming week:

The Mysteries of Udolpho
Meddling Kids
Carmilla

Among other things…

Watching

My pick of the week:

Four Weddings and a Funeral, the series. I was dubious because the original film is one of my favorite rom coms. My friend Tania and I watched it at least twice in the theaters when it came out. I took a chance on the series, though, and realized that Mindy Kaling is part of the writing/production team. It’s pretty obvious that she has respect for the original and Richard Curtis’s films in general. There’s a lot of the usual rom com nonsense, but that can be rather comforting and satisfying.

Writing

Continued to do some writing/rewriting. Continued to watch some ultimate frisbee while doing so. Last weeks games:

Other Stuff

Long week. We’ve had 110+F temperatures in AZ since Thursday, which is unusual for May. Our AC was on the fritz, but was quickly taken care of by our landlord. We had some excitement Sunday morning (around 2am) when, seemingly, a firework set two palm trees on fire about a half block away. Luckily, the winds had calmed and we’re very near both police and fire stations.

As of tonight, Arizona is under a week-long curfew due to Friday and Saturday protests that took a turn. Whatever your feelings about what is going on in the US right now, whatever other way you’ve chosen to protest, help, or just engage in self-care, remember one of your most important civic duties: vote.