Mini Reviews, Vol. 3 ~ Me Before the Kitten Holy in the Nightingale’s Eye

MiniReviews

alt text Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen (Illustrator), Maarta Laiho

Lumberjanes was the perfect pick for 1am during the Readathon. It’s rollicking fun with a great cast of girls having adventures and being awesome. While I don’t require my adventure-having protagonists to be female, it’s really nice to see once in a while, you know? I wasn’t expecting the fantasy elements, but it wasn’t unwanted either. Lumberjanes totally lives up to the hype.

alt text “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” by A.S. Byatt

Despite the fact that they are a trope unto themselves, I think djinn are fairly underused in fiction. I always have my eye out for a good djinn tale.  This one is excellent, about how power over someone else can mold their destiny. Weighty, but it’s told with a light touch and is very funny on occasion. With many allusions to other literature and set against an academic conference, it reminded me of being in college.

TennisPlayer
Did you know that nightingale’s eye is a type of glass?
alt text Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

I’ll be honest, I decided on this audio book after seeing a trailer for the impending movie. While not my usual reading fare, I was in the mood for a frothy romance. And, well, Me Before You has some of that…and quite a bit of seriousness too. I must say, I really appreciated the ending.

Deal Me In, Week 20 ~ “The Funeral”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Funeral” by Richard Matheson

Card picked: Jack of Diamonds
From: I Am Legend, and other stories

Thoughts:

Morton Silkline is a funeral director. He runs a reputable business and is willing to provide clients with anything they might need—if they can afford it, of course. Therefore, he has no problem providing the Eternal Rest room and a top of the line casket for Ludwig Asper when Asper says that money is no object. Unfortunately, Asper intends to enjoy his funeral to the fullest with all his very eccentric friends.

This was  an amusing tale, although I thought the language occasionally got in the way. For example, Silkline is in charge of Clooney’s Cut-Rate Catafalque. As a whole, the story doesn’t entirely keep up that tone. While Richard Matheson wrote several Twilight Zone episodes, “The Funeral” would fit perfectly into the ’80s anthology show Monsters, a late night favorite of mine when I was young.

Review ~ Gerald’s Game

Gerald’s Game by Stephen King

Cover via Goodreads
#myOwnDamnBook looks pretty much like this one!

Gerald and Jessie Burlingame have gone to their summer home on a warm weekday in October for a romantic getaway. After being handcuffed to her bedposts, Jessie tires of her husband’s games, but when Gerald refuses to stop, the evening ends with deadly consequences. Still handcuffed, Jessie is trapped and alone. Over the next 28 hours, in the lakeside house that has become a prison, Jessie will come face to face with all the things she has ever feared. (via Goodreads)

I decided to read this book because it’s a lightly connected companion to Dolores Claibore which I enjoyed quite a bit. Both novels have events that occur during a solar eclipse in 1963. Dolores and Jessie have visions of each other during the eclipse…for no particular reason. I seem to remember when it came out that this novel wasn’t well regarded. It does have a meandering structure. It begins with Jessie and her predicament, moves to her battling her inner demons through remembering an abuse event that happened to her as a child (in 1963), comes back to physical reality, and then ends with an explanation of events that might have been otherwise attributed to the supernatural.

Jessie’s immediate situation is good fodder for a horror novel: while handcuffed to a bed, her husband dies of a heart attack. The cuffs are real; the keys are on the other side of the room. Jessie frees herself, eventually, in the manner one would expect, though about 320 pages into the novel. I found this to be the affecting part of the novel. Blood and gore might not be the most sophisticated form of horror, but done well? Man…

The rest of the novel is less successful. The abuse event that happened to Jessie as a kid? I don’t know. It’s squicky, but there an aspect of it that just doesn’t ring entirely true to me. It felt like King was trying to come up with a situation that was bad, but not super bad. The problem is I’m not sure that sexual abuse by a family member happens in a sort of one-off manner.

The end portion of the novel involves Jessie’s efforts confront serial killer Raymond Andrew Joubert. He’s sort on an extra element in Gerald’s Game, a twist that really isn’t. To Nebraskans of a certain age-group, the name Joubert is charged. John Joubert *was* the boogie man in 1983 when two boys went missing. His crimes began in Maine. So, for a moment, I wondered if there was some real aspect to Raymond Andrew Joubert that I was missing; some real-life nod that I might have caught on to during the narrative. That wasn’t the case. The two Jouberts have little in common.

Gerald’s Game isn’t a terrible read, but it’s not King’s best by a long shot.

Publishing info, my copy: mass market paperback, Signet, 1993
Acquired: Book Maze, 2014
Genre: horror

Deal Me In, Week 19 ~ “Poe Posthumous”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Poe Posthumous; or, The Light House” by Joyce Carol Oates

Card picked: Nine of Hearts
From: Wild Nights! by Joyce Carol Oates

Thoughts: At week 19 of the year, I’m finally reading the first story from Wild Nights!, a Joyce Carol Oates collection subtitled “Stories About the Last Days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway.” A note at the end of the collection says that this story was suggested by a manuscript fragment found among Poe’s papers after his death.

“Poe Posthumous” proposes that instead of dying in October of 1849, Poe travels to an island in the South Pacific where he intends to spend the summer as a lone lighthouse keeper. His only companion is a terrier named Mercury. His patron is a doctor named Shaw who is interested in how animals (and man) deal with isolation. Poe insists in his diary that alone is how he *should* be leading his life. He is convinced that being man, Homo sapien , will save him from the insanity that has plagued the animals in Shaw’s previous experiments. After all, Poe gave up many wants for his wife, including physical lusts and eating meat. But, of course, Virginia is dead and Poe is alone. He insists that this isn’t a problem…

Obviously, things aren’t going to go well for Poe. What I didn’t expect was the fairly Lovecraftian turn of events. I half expected to find that Dr. Shaw is part of the Cthulhu Mythos. I often use discomfiting to describe Oates’ stories. This one was just sort of befuddling.

Review ~ Central Station

This book was provided to me by Tachyon Publications via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Cover via Goodreads

A worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Cultures collide in real life and virtual reality. The city is literally a weed, its growth left unchecked. Life is cheap, and data is cheaper.

When Boris Chong returns to Tel Aviv from Mars, much has changed. Boris’s ex-lover is raising a strangely familiar child who can tap into the datastream of a mind with the touch of a finger. His cousin is infatuated with a robotnik—a damaged cyborg soldier who might as well be begging for parts. His father is terminally-ill with a multigenerational mind-plague. And a hunted data-vampire has followed Boris to where she is forbidden to return.

Rising above them is Central Station, the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war. Everything is connected by the Others, powerful alien entities who, through the Conversation—a shifting, flowing stream of consciousness—are just the beginning of irrevocable change.(via Goodreads)

My first brush with Central Station was Lavie Tidhar’s story “Strigoi.” It was originally published in 2012, but I didn’t read it until two years later. I didn’t read its sort-of sequel “The Bookseller” until early this year. Those two stories are part of an interconnected narrative of 13-14 tales, all with Central Station and the Jones and Chong families at their heart. This book, Central Station, is compilation of all those stories with, I assume,  some changes to better weave them together.

And it’s great.

Set in an unstated year in the future, Central Station rises to the stars in Israel, near Tel Aviv. It is part launching point and part space dock for humanity’s movement off-world. But against that backdrop, the stories are grounded on Earth, in Central Station, in the sprawl of cities that surround it, and in the virtual world that exists for a noded population, part of the world-wide Conversation.

Despite being science fiction, there is a sort of organic-ness to Tidhar’s Central Station. The technology feels more like a part of the world rather than an overlay. The world is grimy and filled with all sorts of people. Not everything is explained, not everything needs to be. It has a very Blade Runner feel about it.

To wit:

Of course, I do love it when authors include food.
Of course, I do love it when an author includes food.

All the stories, though, come back to the characters, a intertwined group of family, friends, and lovers. Achimwene, the unnoded bookseller, is by far my favorite, but I wouldn’t mind spending more time with any of them.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle/ePub ARC, Tachyon Publications, May 10, 2016
Acquired: NetGalley
Genre: science fiction

Review ~ The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror

This book was provided to me by Grove Atlantic and Mysterious Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror by Joyce Carol Oates

Cover via Goodreads

From one of our most important contemporary writers, The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror is a bold, haunting collection of six stories.

In the title story, a young boy becomes obsessed with his cousin’s doll after she tragically passes away from leukemia. As he grows older, he begins to collect “found dolls” from the surrounding neighborhoods and stores his treasures in the abandoned carriage house on his family’s estate. But just what kind of dolls are they? In “Gun Accident,” a teenage girl is thrilled when her favorite teacher asks her to house-sit, even on short notice. But when an intruder forces his way into the house while the girl is there, the fate of more than one life is changed forever. In “Equatorial,” set in the exotic Galapagos, an affluent American wife experiences disorienting assaults upon her sense of who her charismatic husband really is, and what his plans may be for her.

In The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror, Joyce Carol Oates evokes the “fascination of the abomination” that is at the core of the most profound, the most unsettling, and the most memorable of dark mystery fiction. (via Goodreads)

In the past when I’ve read Joyce Carol Oates’ stories, I’ve wanted to make the grand proclamation that her works straddle the line between genre (the horror genre in particular) and literary, except that’s never entirely true. Genres rely on certain conventions and tropes. When Oates is at her best, she entirely sidesteps genre and instead gives readers discomfiting tales just a askew of reality. Most of the stories in this collection are, alas, much more straightforward.

“The Doll-Master,” “Big Momma,” and “Mystery, Inc.” are all fairly by-the-book stories. More genre than usual from Oates. The trapping are well done. “The Doll-Master” and “Big Momma” have a high creep factor. I wondered briefly if the stories lived on the same fictional block since both deal with missing children.”Mystery, Inc.” is a nice little jaunt into murder and book buying, but I think I would have enjoyed it more at the beginning of the collection. By the end, I was a little worn down with the grimness of the other stories. None of these three tales provided any sort of surprise. In fact, the endings felt telegraphed.

“Gun Accident” has a little more ambiguity to it, but it pales in comparison to one of Oates’ most famous stories “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”. Both tread some of the same ground: a teen-aged girl in a house alone is visited by an older man. But these two stories are the ambiguity flip-sides of each other. “Where Are You Going…” is completely about tension and only approaches what the outcome of the situation might be. “Gun Accident” has no tension and is about the aftermath of the situation after it’s played out in our view. “Where Are You Going…” is the better story.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t make it through “Equatorial.” I was about 40 pages in and I had about 40 pages to go, but I really didn’t care what the situation was between paranoid Audrey and philandering Henry Wheeling.

“Soldier” is the best of the collection. The story deals with race and gun violence and what narrative are teased from the scaffolding of White Man Shoots Black Man while staying in the shooter’s point of view. It is not a comfortable story.

This collection might have suffered from my own expectations. The last few stories of Oates that I’ve read before it have been among her best. The Doll-Master isn’t her best, but most of the stories are still pretty good.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle/ePub ARC, Grove/Atlantic, May 3. 2016
Acquired: NetGalley
Genre: horror, literary

Deal Me In, Week 17 ~ “The Southwest Chamber”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Southwest Chamber” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

Card picked: Three of Diamonds
From: Masterpieces of Terror and the Unknown, edited by Marvin Kaye

Thoughts: Aunt Harriet has only been dead a few months. With no other living relatives, her house is inherited by her two nieces, the daughters of her estranged sister. The nieces, Amanda and Sophia, move into the house and take in borders to help pay for the upkeep and taxes. As the story begins, Amanda decides to put the newest border in the southwest chamber, the chamber that had been Aunt Harriet’s. No one has used the room and the very thought of it gives Sophia the heebie-jeebies.

Most of this story involves the strange things that happen in the titular southwest chamber. Items (like an entire wardrobe of clothes) appear and disappear. The pattern on the drapes change. During the night the border stays, she is repeatedly attacked by a nightcap. While not really comedic, the story felt like it could be a Noises Off-style stage play with much door slamming as characters move through the house and the plot; kind of a different take on the “bedroom” farce. Of course, this led me to think about what sort of stage magic effects might be employed to achieve Aunt Harriet’s haunting.

About the Author: Born on Halloween 1852, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman started writing as a teenager to help support her family and remained a prolific until her death in 1930. She was known generally for the domestic realism of her stories, but also had an interest in the supernatural, which lead to some well-regarded ghost stories. Indeed, she and Shirley Jackson would make a great pair of B&B ghosts.