Posted in Female Author, Novel

Reading Notes, 2/23/23

Cover: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
Cover: Mockingbird by Walter Tevis
Cover: The Varieties of Scientific Experience


The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

Through my reading of gothic literature, I had kind of come up with the elements that I thought were the most important aspects of the genre. The gothics I’d first read were primarily one location (usually an older building) with knowledge of past (often provided by older servants) being necessary to the plot. With those notions in mind, I never quite understood how Frankenstein or Dracula actually fit in the genre. They seemed too loose, with too much travel. I also didn’t quite understand how Jane Austen fit into any of this despite Northanger Abbey. My problem: I was working with an incomplete framework. I hadn’t read The Mysteries of Udolpho.

I read a lot of pre-19th century literature in college and I can’t think of any that was as much fun as Udolpho. Perhaps, though, some of my enjoyment came from how I can see this book in so many others that have come after it. The travelogues of Dracula? The musings about nature in Frankenstein? The reversals of perceived reputation in Jane Austens’ novels? All of the above, plus poetry and songs riddling the narrative of The Lord of the Rings? All of these things are in The Mysteries of Udolpho. I’m sure other novels of the time had some of these elements too and Radcliffe is probably not the only inspiration for these later authors, but the same fingerprints are all over literature.

And, if the weak hand, that has recorded this tale, by its scenes, beguiled the mourner of one hour of sorrows, or, by its moral taught him to sustain itโ€”the effort, however humble, has not been in vain, nor is the writer unrewarded.

Since I possibly would never have gotten around to reading The Mysteries of Udolpho without putting it on my Classics Club list, this is definitely a win for the challenge.

Short Stories

Deal Me In, week 6:
6โค๏ธ “The Mystery of Dr. Thorvald Sigerson” by Linda Robertson, from Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Years. This story proposes that Holmes, in the guise of Thorvald Sigerson, spent some time as an Arctic explorer and while there proved the innocence of an indigenous woman accused of murdering her abusive husband.

Deal Me In, week 7:
7โ™ ๏ธ “Mitch’s Girl” by Carrie Cuinn, from Cuinn’s collection Women and Other Constructs. This is the first pick from this collection, but not the first of Cuinn’s stories that I’ve read. And that’s a good thing because I really didn’t care for this story. It’s not much of a story, really, which was probably my biggest problem with it. Hoping this is the weak tale of the collection.


  • Mockingbird by Walter Tevis
  • The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God by Carl Sagan

Challenge Updates

My Challenges


  • Read 20 books that I owned before 1/1/23: 2/20
  • Get my Library Thing “to-read” down to 500: Uh, no movement because I added a book last week.
  • Read 18 books from my Classics Club list: 1/18

Shelf Maintenance

It’s been 7 days since I last acquired a book.

Posted in Female Author, Novel

Classics Club Spin #32 โ€“ Northanger Abbey

So, there is this novel called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It’s written by Mark Haddon, came out in 2003, and was quite popular. While the author says he didn’t write that main character as particularly being on the autism spectrum, Christopher is read that way by most readers. My biggest problem with The Curious Incident . . . is that, as a reader, I could see how shabbily Christopher is being treated by others while he is very much unaware of the fact. That makes me very uncomfortable, probably because I’m somewhere on the spectrum and often too oblivious to be appropriately anxious about social situations.

Northanger Abbey made me feel uncomfortable in the same way, except that’s all I was getting from this novel. There was no cozy mystery or quirky autistic kid to occasionally make me feel better. I put Northanger Abbey down after 30%. All I wanted was for Catherine to go back to the country and be happily herself because everyone in Bath is horrible. I’m including Tilney; all he seems to do is make fun of her. Maybe that’s my autism coming out and not seeing some subtlety to his actions.

Some novels are not for some people. I’ve come to appreciate Jane Austen more than I had after encountering her in college, but Northanger Abbey just isn’t for me.

Posted in Male Author, Novel, Other Media

Miscellanea, 11/21/22


Cover: Neom by Lavie Tidhar

Neom by Lavie Tidhar

(A copy of Neom was provided to me by Tachyon Publications in exchange for an honest review.)

Compelling world building is a scale with details on one side and ambiguities on the other. A real world needs details: politics, religions, economies, arts, even sciences. The trick is knowing when to not explain these things. Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station is one of my favorite settings because, as a reader, I’m simply dropped into the world and maybe a reference is explained, maybe it isn’t.

The city of Neom is near Central Station. The story is (mostly) Earthbound, but it’s still a mash-up of space opera and fable, where an old robot takes a rose into the desert and digs up a buried automaton messiah. Neom is situated between Mecca and Bethlehem, so I’m sure there are allegories to be had here, but biblical comparisons feel too mundane and not mythical enough.

The characters in Neom are somewhat coincidental to the plot, but that plays into the feeling of predestination. Of course Miriam, with her half a dozen part-time jobs, is always where the story is taking place and of course Nasir and Saleh have items that are needed. The robot characters are more interesting and I’m glad a few of them might live on in other stories.

Short Stories

Deal Me In, Week 46: 10โค๏ธ “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” by Fran Wilde
Hearts are for Eugie Award winners and Nominees. “Clearly Lettered . . .” won in 2018. A sly story that reminds me of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), at least a little.

Yuletide Spirit

Yuletide Spirit Challenge & Readathon image

I’ll admit that this year I’ve been keener than usual to jump into the “holiday” season right after Halloween. (Though feeling that and hearing “All I Want for Christmas” at the mall last week are two different things . . .) When I saw Michelle’s announcement about the Yuletide Spirit Challenge and Readathon, starting on Nov. 21st, I thought, “Perfect! An excuse to have a November start time for celebrating!”

I’m going to shoot for the Mistletoe level (2โ€“4 Christmas books) with a side of Fa La La La Films. And I’m going start my decorating process!


Nope (2022)

  • I’m kind of amazed that I managed to go into Nope without knowing very much about the movie. This probably says more about my lack of interaction with media than the popularity of the film.
  • I liked Nope better than Us (2019) and maybe more than Get Out (2017) too.
  • As a kid, I found Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) a bit scary. On second watch, I noticed a few things in Nope that strike me as a bit Spielbergian.
  • I miss Fry’s Electronics.
  • I’ve also missed Michael Wincott.
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 Male Author, Novel

#20BooksOfSummer Review: The Ballad of Perilous Graves

cover: The Ballad of Perilous Graves by Alex Jennings

The Ballad of Perilous Graves by Alex Jennings

The Ballad of Perilous Graves has *so much stuff.*

Dual cities of New Orleans and Nola. Characters have the same name. Songs that are characters. Graffiti that that floats through the city (and a host of people who are sort of addicted to engaging with the graffiti). Drawing that become real. Flashbacks, dreams, near immortals, ghost, zombies, talking animal, crashed UFOs. Killer storms. Lafcadio Hearn…

It’s *so much.*

I very much enjoyed the base world building. The kinds of characters that songs are, especially jazz-blues standards, is a great concept. That the safe-keeping of these songs is vital for the preservation of Nola, an alternate New Orleans is also great. But there is so much other lore and plot going on that I felt a little overwhelmed at times.

I did also like Alex Jennings writing style, especially his use of dialect. I often shy away from works that use character dialects because deciphering dialog can take away from the actual writing. Jennings’ use of dialect comes of as natural for the characters and natural for the reader.

The Ballad of Perilous Graves was often fun, but my wish is that it were a little more trim and focused.

Posted in Male Author, Novel

#20BooksOfSummer22 Review ~ The Cormorant

Cover: The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory

The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory

I don’t remember how, but at some point in college, I watched “The Cormorant,” an 88 minute episode of Screen Two, which is a British anthology TV series. I think it was probably on PBS and caught my eye because it starred Ralph Fiennes. Knowing that it was based on a book, I kept an eye out.

A few years later, the book was republished by White Wolf. A double win for me since I wanted to support White Wolf’s fiction publishing venture. (White Wolf is better known for RPGs like Vampire: The Masquerade.) And then, as is my MO, I didn’t read the book for 20 years . . .

It’s been nearly as long since I saw the TV version, but there are a few scenes that I’m pretty sure weren’t included in the adaptation. The story set-up is this: when misanthropic Uncle Ian dies, he leaves his cottage in Wales to his nephew, with the proviso that the family continue to take care of Uncle Ian’s cormorant. The cormorant is capricious, as any wild animal is. The year-old son of the protagonist is fascinated by the bird. Additionally, maybe Uncle Ian hasn’t quite moved on and is influencing little Harry.

Gregory’s writing is very sleek and raw. The tone of the novel reminded me of Joyce Carol Oates. Discomfiting, being an apt word for both. There is a somewhat incestuous scene that occurs. Many other reviewers see this as gratuitous and out of place, but I read it as Uncle Ian almost possessing Harry. This doesn’t make it any less squicky. There is also not surprisingly a bit of animal cruelty; be aware.

According to LibraryThing, I no longer own Gregory’s The Blood of Angels. I’m not sure that’s accurate, which would mean I have a box of books somewhere that I didn’t catalog. (This is not beyond the realm of possibility.) If I do still own it, I’ll probably read it at some point. If I don’t, I probably won’t go out of my way to read more Gregory.

Posted in Male Author, Novel

#20BooksOfSummer22 Review ~ Elric of Melnibone

Cover: Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock (art by Brom)

Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock

I realized about halfway through Elric of Melnibone that I had wrongly bucketed Michael Moorcock with pulp authors like Robert E. Howard. Elric felt to me like one of those very core fantasy characters. He is all over fantasy art and, being a dude with a big sword, I figured he was like Howard’s Conan.

Elric is very much a response to characters like Conan. I was surprised that almost thirty years separates the first appearances of the two swordsmen. Where Conan is a big, burly warrior, Elric is intellectual and sickly. The product of a dying, somewhat depraved culture, Elric feels that a change needs to be made and is unsure about whether there is anything he can do to bring about change without destroying everything. It’s a refreshing level of introspection.

There are of course adventures. Elric isn’t exactly the most popular leader of Melnibone. His cousin Yyrkoon sets things in motion; by trying to usurp power, putting Elric’s love interest in peril (who is also Yyrkoon’s sister), and forcing Elric into certain actions. This first volume of stories sets up Elric as a wanderer and seeker of wisdom. More adventures doubtlessly follow.

What I really appreciated was Moorcock’s streamlined storytelling. He has the efficiency of a short story writer, which is much not what I expect from epic fantasy. I can imagine other writers going on for multiple volumes to tell the same story sequence that Moorcock covers in 180 pages. Mainly, this is due to Moorcock only focusing on the titular character. No “B” plots are investigated if they don’t include Elric. I suppose this could be considered too sparse, but I liked it. I’ll probably read more Elric in the future.