Posted in Female Author, Male Author, Nonfiction, Short Story

Reading Notes, 10/20/22

(I’m playing around with my blog organization once again. This post will be a review and some repetition of my Monday post.)

Cover: Teller of Tales by Daniel Stahower
Cover: My Hear is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
Cover: It came from the Closet

Read

Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle by Daniel Stashower

I purchased this book in 2005 in Madison, Wisconsin. We were in Madison for the World Fantasy Convention and during an introvert recharge break, I wandered around downtown and into a quiet bookstore. At the time, I hadn’t gotten into stage magic and spiritualism, so I bought Teller of Tales only due to my long-standing love of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. As this book sat on my shelves for a few years, I developed a couple questions about Conan Doyle.

First, how could Conan Doyle have so much disdain for his most famous creation? As a struggling writer, Conan Doyle’s ingratitude for his success struck me as arrogant. Teller of Tales showed me the breadth of Conan Doyle’s writings. I didn’t realize that, in addition to his voluminous non-fiction, Conan Doyle wrote well-researched historical fictions, which were his pride and joy. For example, he spent two year researching and writing The White Company, taking a month off to write Sign of the Four for the money. Which have you read? So, I get it. A little. But I’m still annoyed at Conan Doyle for believing that genre works are inferior.

Second, how could Conan Doyle create the logical mind of Sherlock Holmes, but be so uncritical of spiritualism? I had always assumed Conan Doyle’s involvement in spiritualism was mostly due to the death of his first wife and the family’s losses during WWI and the 1918 flu epidemic, but his interest preceded those events. He had long been disillusioned with traditional religions and by 1918/1919, he had become an ardent believer in spiritualism. And there really isn’t an answer for it.

Stashower is obviously a fan of Conan Doyle, but the narrative remains pretty even-handed. Teller of Tales is very readable. I enjoyed it and took my time with it.

Short Stories

Been reading from this list from Book Riot. So far, the stand out has been “There Are No Monsters on Rancho Buenavista” by Isabel Cañas. I’m a sucker for a good folk horror.

Reading

As I mentioned on Monday, this Saturday is Dewey’ Readathon. I’m not going to make it the full 24-hours (I’m a realist), but I’m looking forward to it. I finished the Conan Doyle book this morning, so I’m kind of between books. On my TBR for Readathon:

  • My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
  • It Came from the Closet: Queer Reflections on Horror, edited by Joe Vallese
  • Plus, the last couple short stories from the Book Riot list and more that I’ve bookmarked.

Challenge Updates

Beat the Backlog

Goal: Read 25 books from my own shelves. Avoid creating future “backlog.”
Progress: Teller of Tales makes book 21 for Beat the Backlog. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d get 20 read, it’s all win from here. And it’s been 7 days since I acquired a book.

Posted in Female Author, Mixed Anthology, Novella, Short Story

Reading Peril, 10/12/22

Cover: Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
Cover: Famous Modern Ghost Stories, edited by Dorothy Scarborough

Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

I feel like Nothing But Blackened Teeth has been on my TBR list for years, but it was only published this year. More likely, after reading Khaw’s Persons Non Grata novellas, I’ve been meaning to read more of her works.

I liked Nothing But Blackened Teeth well enough. I read Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligiea” recently and Khaw’s use of architecture in Teeth is very comparable, and I love architecture in stories! In many ways, this story reads like a J-horror film, full of vengeful ghosts and yokai just at the edge of sight. In fact, our narrator Cat often refers horror tropes as events unfold.

Famous Modern Ghost Stories, ed. by Dorothy Scarborough

“Modern” is, of course, a relative word. This anthology was published in 1921, so Scarborough’s picks are from 1830-ish on. Included are many stories that very much have survived the test of time: “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood, “Lazarus” by Leonid Andreyev, “The Shadow on the Wall” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, “The Bowmen” by Arthur Machen, and “Ligeia” by Edgar Allan Poe. If I hadn’t read these stories before, I knew of them.

There are also a couple gems with modern touches: “The Shell of Sense” by Olivia Howard Dunbar is written from the ghost’s point of view and “The Beast with Five Fingers” by W. F. Harvey could easily be Thing’s great-grandfather.

Famous Modern Ghost Stories has been on my Kindle for a good long while and thus counts for my Beat the Backlog challenge. And it’s of course available at Project Gutenberg!

Posted in Female Author, Novel

Review ~ The Monsters We Defy

Book Cover: The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope

The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope

I wish I could remember who on Twitter mentioned The Monsters We Defy. It’s maybe a book that wouldn’t have crossed my path despite its blurb: “A woman able to communicate with spirits must assemble a ragtag crew to pull off a daring heist . . . ” A heist novel? With a spiritualist (of a sort)? That’s pretty much catnip to me.

And you know what’s even better? It’s good!

The plot is well constructed, the characters are enjoyable, and the setting and world building are clean and simple. Penelope based the main character of Clara Johnson on Carrie Johnson, a seventeen year-old who was arrested (and later acquitted) during the Washington DC race riot of 1919. Of course, this is historical fiction with an overlay of the supernatural and it works for me.

The Monsters We Defy has a few loose ends and I won’t mind mind reading more stories with these characters!

Posted in Female Author, Novella, Readathons-Challenges-Memes

#20BooksOfSummer Review: Upright Women Wanted

Cover: Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

I picked up this book, one of the few I acquired in 2021, because the concept of a post-apocalyptic-ish distopian-ish western sounded cool. Plus, the main characters are librarians! Of a sort. The librarians are tasked with distributing “approved” materials to far-flung townships, but obviously their freedom to travel allows them to engage in plenty of subterfuge—so much that I’m not sure why the Librarians would be government approved. The world building *is* pretty vague.

Our main character is probably the least interesting of the librarians and fugitives that we ride along with. Esther is pretty angsty, but also seems to overcome a particularly traumatic event with ease. I rather liked the Old West slang peppered through the dialog, though I’m not entirely sure is we’d revert back to that slang (if this book *is* set in the future). The plot was fine, but maybe Esther falling in with revolutionaries the moment she leaves town is maybe too convenient.

20 Books of Summer Wrap-Up

My summer reading started and ended with fun, but slightly unsatisfying reads and that’s okay. I read fifteen books, which might be the best I’ve ever managed for 20 Books of Summer. Six of them were from my original list and six of them counted for my Beat the Backlog challenge. Considering how hard I slumped in August, I’m considering it a win! Now if it would not be 110F outside, I’d comfortably move on to my fall reading . . .

Posted in Female Author, Graphic Novel, Nonfiction

#20BooksOfSummer Reviews ~ Spinning & Gender Queer

Spinning by Tillie Walden and Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

It’s been over a week since I read these two graphic novels. I’ve struggled with exactly what I want to say considering the context that led me to choose them. See, about two weeks ago, I read the following article: Upset over LGBTQ books, a Michigan town defunds its library in tax vote. Two of the books in contention are Spinning and Gender Queer. I will admit I wasn’t acting in good faith when said to myself, “What on earth could be so offensive?!” and clicked the checkout buttons*. I already knew there was nothing in these books that I would find offensive. To only harp on the controversy wouldn’t do the books justice.

Spinning is Tillie Walden’s coming-of-age biography. It’s about the changes in her life through her teenage years—her family moving to Texas, her hobby/career of figure skating, and, yes, her coming out. It’s an anxiety-fraught story, illustrated beautifully by Walden.

Gender Queer is a much more frank memoir by Maia Kobabe about eir realizing e is non-binary and asexual. Yes, I suppose there are a few “graphic” things, but this book is aimed at an adult audience. Kobabe too is a talented artist. I was a little surprised at the book’s end because Kobabe is still navigating eir way in the world.

For me, both of these book did the thing literature is supposed to do: showed me the world from someone else’s point of view. There is no doubt to me that these books could help someone who is struggling with their sexuality or gender. As a straight cis woman, they can only help me feel a little more empathy.

Books #12 & #13 of 20 Books of Summer.

* I checked out Spinning from the Greater Phoenix Digital Library and Gender Queer from hoopla’s collection.)

Posted in Female Author, Nonfiction

#20BooksOfSummer22 Review: Nightmare Fuel

cover: Nightmare Fuel by Nina Nesseth

Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films by Nina Nesseth

An electronic copy of this book was supplied to me by the publisher.

Last year, I read a book called The Science of Women in Horror. It was a mildly perplexing book. The History of Women in Horrors or The Roles of Women in Horror might have been better titles. It wasn’t an uninformative book, but other than touching on some sociology issues, it was pretty light on science. So, I was a little wary about Nightmare Fuel.

Luckily, there are quite a few ways in which to investigate horror films through science. Nina Nesseth starts with a quick primer on our biological fear reactions and how horror movies use certain tropes and techniques to trigger (or try to trigger) those responses. Chapter two takes a quick sociological detour to examine how horror films often reflect societal fears. (We have, it would seem, spent decades fearing communism . . .) Subsequent chapters look at how horror filmmakers design monster and soundscapes and how different types of horror (slashers, body horror, ghost stories, etc.) affect us in different ways. Nesseth wraps up the book with a lengthy chapter looking at what impact horror movies have on audiences. Do scary movies offer cathartic release or prepare viewers for dangerous situations? Why do people enjoy being scared? And do horror movie lead to desensitization to violence and asocial behaviors? These are all good questions to addressed, even if scientific findings aren’t always conclusive.

Nesseth is an engaging writer with an obvious love for the horror genre. She presents the science at a fairly basic level with clarity and humor. The book covers its subjects with a decent amount of detail. Included are interviews with filmmakers that, while sometimes interesting, don’t add a whole lot. In general, though, I enjoyed Nightmare Fuel. I’ll be keeping a couple of things from it in mind during my Countdown to October.

Posted in Female Author, Novel, Readathons-Challenges-Memes

#20BooksOfSummer22 Review ~ Persuasion

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Recently, there was a bit of a kerfuffle in my corner of the internet over the trailer of a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. After reading some of the passionate discourse and having liked Pride and Prejudice more than I expected, I decided to add Persuasion to my summer reading list.

Unlike Pride and Prejudice, I was relatively unfamiliar with the story of Persuasion and perhaps my reading suffered for that. The cast of relations and relatives was somewhat dizzying to me. I lost a few threads, I feel, after about to75% mark. I probably would have fared better if my brain could put more concrete attributes to names (which having watched a film adaptation of P&P before I read it allowed me to do).

I can definitely see where things in the recent movie trailer are striking wrong notes for Austen fans. Anne seems to be the constant, solid one in her family, probably not prone to jelly mustaches. “Now we’re worse than exes, we’re friends” also seems to be a big bone of contention and, yeah, I don’t know where that sentiment is in the novel. Director Carrie Cracknell implies that the trailer paints a potentially inaccurate view of how the movie actually is. I guess the world at large, or at least people with Netflix subscriptions, will find out in a couple of weeks.

Personally, I found it to be a fine story, but Austen doesn’t have quite enough setting details for me to truly love her work. I do think that filmmakers can bring a lot to her stories, whether in faithful adaptations like the 1995 (or 2005) Pride and Prejudice or very modern updates like 2022’s Fire Island.

Tangentially, Persuasion was published posthumously in 1817. I never fully realized that Mary Shelley and Jane Austen were publication contemporaries.