Monthly Archives: December 2019

Favorites of 2019

Top 3 Books

Poe: A Life Cut Short Spectacle of Illusion The Count of Monte Cristo

Two nonfiction and a classic that I never read until just this year…

Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd – I embarked on reading the complete works of Poe this year. I’m still working on it. But I also wanted a good agnostic biography—one that wasn’t too caught up in diagnosing or explaining Poe. Peter Ackroyd’s slim volume fit the bill! My Review

The Spectacle of Illusion by Matthew Tompkins – Quite easily the nicest looking book I’ve purchased in a long while. It’s a really accessible history of the scientific investigation of the paranormal, chock-full of photos and exhibits. My Review

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Robin Buss (Translator) – Of the four readalongs that Nick hosted, I only completed one of the books, but wow, it really did deliver. I read an unabridged edition and I’m glad I did. My Review

Top 3 Short Stories

“Sweet Dreams Are Made of You” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor – I listened to this during the fall readathon. If you don’t like horror, maybe don’t read this story.

“The Reapers” by Batterman Lindsay – One of the best written stories of the Black Cat Project. I look forward to reading Annie Batterman Lindsay’s novel one of these days.

“There’s a Hole in the City” by Richard Bowes – I randomly picked this story to read while relaxing at the library. I was pleased to see that it’s online as well.

Top 3 Movies

(that I watched for the first time this year)

Knives Out (2019) – Rian Johnson is one of my favorite movie-makers. Plus, non-franchise!

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) – A lot of superhero movies haven’t been very fun lately. This film reminds me of the 2002 Spider-man. It’s joyous, visually exciting, and includes something that I really appreciate about comics: alternative characters and story lines.

Ocean’s Eight (2018) – It’s not as good at Ocean’s Eleven, but really, what is? But this cast! If I had to list my favorite actresses, I’d just link you to Ocean’s Eight‘s IMBD.

Sunday Salon, 12/29/19

Sunday Salon
I’m in that weird place where I’ve finished books, but I don’t want to start new ones until New Year’s. So, today in the Salon, I’m going to take a look back and a look forward.

Books & Reading

By Tuesday, I’ll have read 51 books in 2019. Here are some stats:

  • Average rating (out of 5): 3.495
  • Unique authors: 50
  • New authors: 30
  • Male/Female authors: 55% / 45% (This is the closest I’ve come to 50/50. Without looking super close at numbers, I think this is because I read more nonfiction by women this year.)
  • Fiction/Nonfiction: 55% / 45% (I always aim for at least 60/40.)
  • Rereads: 12% (A little higher than usual.)
  • ARCs: 14% (Much lower than the last few years. I’m stepping away from ARCs.)
  • From my shelves: 31%
  • From libraries: 55%

I plan on doing a “favorites” post on Tuesday.

I’m only joining two challenges for 2020:

DealMeIn

Deal Me In is a short story challenge hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis. What’s the commitment? Pick 52 short stories, assign a card to each of them, and every week you pick a card and read the story! There are better details at Jay’s blog.

I plan on reading at least 10 titles from my Classics Club list.

I’m a flighty reader so many challenges (aka too many plans) don’t work well for me. Instead I want to do more readathons and readalongs. To wit, I’m going to participate in Page-a-thon and Bout of Books in January.

Movies & Television

I’ve  been keeping track of my film watching on Letterbox. According to them, I watched/rewatched 111 films as of 12/29/19. I count 41 rewatches. We went to the movie theater twice, to a rerelease of Blade Runner (1982) and Knives Out (2019). In 2020, I’d like to watch a new-to-me film each week, which should be do-able since I seemed to have watched 70 or so in 2019.

Honest-to-goodness, I can’t think of a TV series in the last year that I really liked. I haven’t been watching much television.

Other Stuff

Writing:

I put two things out into the world in 2019. I edited and formatted David P. Abbott in The Open Court, a collection of articles about magic and fraudulent mediums  that David Abbott wrote for The Open Court magazine. It’s available on my website!

I also published One Ahead: The Case of the Real Estate Revenant on Amazon. It’s the second in my series of mysteries with a fictional David Abbott as detective.

What am I doing in 2020? Tentatively, I’d like to finish Wicked Witch Retired and maybe get that into the world by the end of the year. I’ll probably do another Entangled Tome of some sort. I might also entertain the notion of taking on some formatting work.

Ultimate Frisbee:

I played some; I’ll play some more. Generally, I felt pretty good this year. In 2007, I thought I’d be lucky to still be playing at age 40. Now, at age 45, I can’t see myself not playing at 50, even if it is harder to cover the 20 year-olds.

I also finished updating the VOTS archive online.


The Sunday Salon is a linkup hosted by Deb @ Readerbuzz

{Books} Two from True Crime

Alligator Candy Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession

 

Why Did I Choose These Books?
I chose both of these books due to my continuing investigation into true crime as a genre. Savage Appetites was recommended to be by multiple people because it is very much what I want to learn about: why do we “like” true crime. Alligator Candy was a book I chose through Goodreads’ “Readers Also Enjoyed.”

Alligator Candy: A Memoir by David Kushner

Every life has a defining moment, a single act that charts the course we take and determines who we become. For Kushner, it was Jon’s disappearance—a tragedy that shocked his family and the community at large. Decades later, now a grown man with kids of his own, Kushner found himself unsatisfied with his own memories and decided to revisit the episode a different way: through the eyes of a reporter. His investigation brought him back to the places and people he once knew and slowly made him realize just how much his past had affected his present. After sifting through hundreds of documents and reports, conducting dozens of interviews, and poring over numerous firsthand accounts, he has produced a powerful and inspiring story of loss, perseverance, and memory. Alligator Candy is searing and unforgettable. (via Goodreads)

What Did I Think?
When David Kushner was four years old, his older brother went missing and was later found dead. Obviously, being so young at the time, his memories surrounding the events are very hazy and muddled. For example, did his brother go off on his bike to the store just to get David some Snappy Gator candy? And that’s what really intrigued me about this particular story. Kushner grows up in the shadow of his brother, but gradually realizes how unreliable memory is. The memoir is about family and personal survival and how he came to find some truths about the event.

I listened to Alligator Candy as an audio book narrated by the actor Bronson Pinchot. As I keep saying about these true crime books, this was a hard “read.” Pinchot does a wonderful job reading it.

Original Publishing info: Simon & Schuster 2016
My Copy: Audio, hoopla Digital Library
Genre: memoir

Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe

A provocative and original investigation of our cultural fascination with crime, linking four archetypes—Detective, Victim, Defender, Killer—to four true stories about women driven by obsession.

In this illuminating exploration of women, violence, and obsession, Rachel Monroe interrogates the appeal of true crime through four narratives of fixation. In the 1940s, a frustrated heiress began creating dollhouse crime scenes depicting murders, suicides, and accidental deaths. Known as the “Mother of Forensic Science,” she revolutionized the field of what was then called legal medicine. In the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, a young woman moved into Sharon Tate’s guesthouse and, over the next two decades, entwined herself with the Tate family. In the mid-nineties, a landscape architect in Brooklyn fell in love with a convicted murderer, the supposed ringleader of the West Memphis Three, through an intense series of letters. After they married, she devoted her life to getting him freed from death row. And in 2015, a teenager deeply involved in the online fandom for the Columbine killers planned a mass shooting of her own. (via Goodreads)

What Did I Think?
I hadn’t realized just how much the audience for true crime skewed toward female. I knew that it did, but when Rachel Monroe writes about the true crime convention that she attends, I didn’t expect that the vast majority of attendees would be women. Monroe writes about four case studies which illustrate what she finds to be archetypes of true crime fans: the detective, the defender, the victim, and the killer.

I’m not entirely sure I agree with Monroe’s theory that women especially are true crime fans because we slot into these types. It doesn’t quite feel right to me and, as Rennie from What’s Nonfiction, pointed out, it might be because these case studies are pretty  extreme. Monroe also floats the idea that because women taught at a young age to be wary and alert, true crime is sort of further training: maybe if we empathize alternately with the detectives, defenders, victims and killers, we can be better prepared for bad situations. Ironically, though true crime probably has never been more popular, violent crime rates are generally down.

My favorite of these four women profiled (which probably exposes my true crime archetype) was Francis Glessner Lee—the detective. Lee, an heiress, spent her later years creating miniature crime scenes to be used as a teaching tool. She also championed the cause of scientific investigation of crimes and is considered the mother of forensic science.

Original Publishing info: Scribner 2019
My Copy: Overdrive, Tempe Public Library

{Book} War for the Oaks

War for the Oaks

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Eddi McCandry sings rock and roll. But she’s breaking up with her boyfriend, her band just broke up, and life could hardly be worse. Then, walking home through downtown Minneapolis on a dark night, she finds herself drafted into an invisible war between the faerie folk. Now, more than her own survival is at risk—and her own preferences, musical and personal, are very much beside the point.

By turns tough and lyrical, fabulous and down-to-earth, War for the Oaks is a fantasy novel that’s as much about this world as about the other one. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
This is a re-read. I first read it in 2011-ish. I wanted to read it again because I’ve been in a “light” fantasy, or maybe even urban fantasy, kind of mood.

Programming Note
I’ve noticed that, especially in prose fiction but also in non-fiction and TV/movies, there are three basic things that keep me interested: plot, characters, and setting. A story doesn’t need all of these, but it can’t utterly fail in one of them either. I’ve decided I want to think about these three aspects in my “reviews.”

Plot
Machinations of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. There is something about faeries that make my eyes glaze over. In this book, in Paul Kidd’s otherwise excellent Greyhawk trilogy; there’s just something I’m missing in the subtleties of deception, I guess. So, I’m not super thrilled with the faeries bits of plot in War for the Oaks. Luckily, it’s all pretty murky to Eddi too. When the plot is boiled down to action-reaction, I’m totally okay with that.

Characters
Eddi is a good character. She’s unsure of herself, even after willingly stepping deeper and deeper into fae politics. While she’s maybe sort of fairy-touched, she’s often wrong, which is sort of refreshing. I like the moments of Eddi looking into the bathroom mirror and pulling herself together. It’s…relatable.

The phouka may be one of my favorite characters in literature. While I’m not a fan of Fairy Court stories, I have a weakness for eloquent, smart aleck fairies. The other characters—the band members—are also just good eggs. Carla, especially, is the best friend you’d want to have by your side.

Setting
One of the things I love about this book is it Minneapolis setting. Emma Bull knows Minneapolis and it shows. Places are almost important to this book as music, which is also part of the setting. Eddi and Fey are a rock and roll band, after all. (I hadn’t searched on Spotify while I was reading, but a War for the Oaks playlist exists.) During my first read of this book, I was annoyed by the fashion details that are included, but this time those details might have been one of my favorite things. What characters are wearing really evoked the late 1980s.

Overall
I liked War for the Oaks more on second read, and I enjoyed it quite a bit the first time! Half of me would really like to see it on the screen, either as a movie or TV series. The other half knows that, with all the music and performances involved, it would be so hard to do well. I feel like this book isn’t read much anymore, being 30-odd years-old. I definitely recommend it.

Original Publishing info: Ace, 1987
My Copy: mass market paperback, acquired via Book Mooch
Genre: urban fantasy

Sunday Salon, 12/22/19 (on Monday!)

Sunday Salon

One of the things that keeps me from being a particularly consistent blogger is that I get tired of myself. I wasn’t going to do a Sunday Salon, but this (Monday) morning I decided I wanted to organize what I have to read this week.

Reading

Finished:

  War for the Oaks
  • Alligator Candy: A Memoir by David Kushner
  • War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Might say something about one or both of these in the near future.

Should finish this week:

Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
  • Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe
  • Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

There’s a chance I will hit my Goodreads goal of 52 books! I’m at 49 at the moment. These two will bring me up to 51.

Next up:

The Old English Baron: A Gothic Story, with Edmond, Orphan of the Castle Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing Westmark
  • The Old English Baron: A Gothic Story, with Edmond, Orphan of the Castle by Clara Reeve – The Classics Club Spin number was 13, but this is coincidentally the top of my list when sorted chronologically.
  • Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker
  • Westmark by Lloyd Alexander – I think this is going to be my new chapter-a-day morning-routine book.

Movies/Television

Caught The Aeronauts before my Prime subscription lapsed. I liked it well enough. It was a good Victorian era adventure which I’m probably going to want to watch again.

Music

A friend on Facebook linked to this “Seven Nation Army”/”Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)” mashup by Pomplemoose and it is really excellent. Not familiar with the band, so something new to investigate.


The Sunday Salon is a linkup hosted by Deb @ Readerbuzz

Sunday Salon, 12/15/19

Sunday Salon

Books & Stuff

Me: I’m going to read books I already have.
Also Me: *checks out more books from the library*

I can explain…

Alligator Candy: A Memoir Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future

Alligator Candy: A Memoir by David Kushner – I checked this out because I wanted an audio book.

Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe – Had this on hold and now it’s available.

The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future
by Ryder Carroll – Finished this one. I’ve been using a bullet journal since May, but I wanted to refresh my notions of the system and maybe learn a new trick or two. That happened, but much of this book seemed bent on convincing me that bullet journaling is a good idea. I am already sold on that.

DealMeIn
Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

I haven’t been posing much about my Deal Me In stories, but I read a particularly good one this week. “Tasting Notes on the Varietals of the Southern Coast” by Gwendolyn Clare from the Sept/Oct issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. (I picked the 8 this week.) I always enjoy efficient story-telling. In less than 2000 words, Gwendolyn Clare sets up a lot and pays it off all against a background of a master vintner making a survey of a despotic king.

Btw, if you’re interested in a short story challenge for 2020, Jay usually opens signups on the solstice, so that should go up on Saturday.

I just joined the Classics Club, and I’m excited to participate in my first Classics Club Spin! If you’re not familiar, I’m going to list 20 titles from my Classics Club list. Next Sunday, the club picks a number and I read that book!

  1. The Mummy! by Jane Webb Loudon
  2. Behind a Mask by Louisa May Alcott
  3. Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson
  4. King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard
  5. The Big Bow Mystery by Israel Zangwill
  6. The Wind in the Rose-Bush by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman
  7. The House of the Vampire by George Sylvester Viereck
  8. The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham
  9. The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson
  10. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
  11. The Lady of the Shroud by Bram Stoker
  12. The Door in the Wall by H. G. Wells
  13. The Old English Baron by Clara Reeve
  14. The Devil’s Elixirs by E. T. A. Hoffmann
  15. The Vampyre by John William Polidori
  16. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
  17. Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy
  18. The Parasite by Arthur Conan Doyle
  19. The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective by Catherine Louisa Pirkis
  20. The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

Movies/Television

It’s time for my yearly dip into Amazon Prime to take care of shipping matters, and also to binge a thing or two. Like Good Omens. I’ve tried to read the book a few times and it’s never caught on with me. The series is a lot of fun though.


The Sunday Salon is a linkup hosted by Deb @ Readerbuzz

{Book} Well Met

Well Met (Well Met, #1)

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon, or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
Sometimes I need a little frivolous romance in my reading life. I’d also like to add some romantic B-plots to my own writing, but I’m not super familiar with romance genres. Kazen at Always Doing reviewed Well Met a while back and it sounded like a fun story that I would enjoy.

Programming Note
I’ve noticed that, especially in prose fiction but also in non-fiction and TV/movies, there are three basic things that keep me interested: plot, characters, and setting. A story doesn’t need all of these, but it can’t utterly fail in one of them either. I’ve decided I want to think about these three aspects in my “reviews.”

Plot
I’ve watched my share of rom-coms, but I’m a newb when it comes to reading the genre. Therefore, I was actually intrigued about where the plot was going. At about 70% it seemed that our characters were into happily-ever-after land, so I started wondering who was going to screw things up and how. Thankfully, the turn of events wasn’t too out there, but it wasn’t entirely obvious either.

Characters
All in all, the characters weren’t anything special, but they were all likable enough (even Simon when he’s being a bit of ass). More importantly, all the characters were separate people. Occasionally, I thought Emily was a little dense about things, but maybe that can be forgiven due to her pre-book breakup.

Setting
I liked the ren faire setting, but I was a little confused about how small of a town Willow Creek is. On one hand, everyone seems to know everyone’s business. On the other, the town is big enough for physical therapists, an indie bookstore, and enough people to support a renaissance faire. I can see that maybe Willow Creek is on the edge of a metro area, but does that lend itself to that small-town-ish-ness? It’s not a big deal, but the setting didn’t feel as real to me as I would have liked.

Overall
This was fun. It was a light read with enjoyable enough characters and a pleasant romance. It seems to be the first in a series. Not sure what more story there is, so I probably won’t read the next one.

Original Publishing info: Penguin Publishing Group, 2019
My Copy: Tempe Public Library
Genre: rom-com