Category Archives: Novella

Reading Notes, 8/2/21

Finished Reading

Cover: All Systems Red by Martha Well

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

I’ll be honest, I was looking for a short science fiction book for #TrekAThon and I’d heard a bit about the Martha Wells “Murderbot Diaries.” All Systems Red was fine. A first person narrative, our main character is the self-dubbed Murderbot, a sentient security droid who hacked his governance programing. Murderbot is taciturn, sarcastic, cynical, and a bit lazy when it can be. Kind of like grumpy teenager. Murderbot has a past, which we don’t find too much about, and the story has a mystery, which isn’t entirely solved. This is the first in a series of novellas, after all. I’m not inclined to read the rest because “Murderbot Diaries” isn’t really my thing. I find I’m pretty picky about science fiction.

Jay’s Journal of Anomalies by Ricky Jay

From 1994–2000, magician Ricky Jay published a quarterly pamphlet entitled Jay’s Journal of Anomalies. This is a soft bound collection of the 16 issues, lovely typeset and lushly illustrated. Subjects include intelligent dog acts, flea circuses, ceiling walkers, the Mechanical Turk, and the odd association between dentists and traveling entertainments. Magic adjacent subjects. Jay is more interested in the history of such things instead of the debunking of them. The illustrations of broadside, advertisements, and poster are from his own collections.

Summer Challenges Check-In

#TrekAThon

#TrekAThon wrapped up on Saturday. I managed to save six crew members! Hey, I’m terrible at prompt-based readathons, so this is totally a win for me.

  1. Commander Scott: Zhiguai: Chinese True Tales of the Paranormal and Glitches in the Matrix, edited and translated by Yi Izzy Yu & John Yu Branscum
  2. Nurse Chapel: The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho
  3. Captain Kirk: Jay’s Journal of Anomalies by Ricky Jay
  4. Yeoman Rand: Jay’s Journal of Anomalies by Ricky Jay
  5. Commander Spock: All Systems Red by Martha Wells
  6. Lieutenant Uhura: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

20 Books of Summer

My goal for 20 Books of Summer was ten books. And with a month left, I’ve read…ten books! I don’t really have plans to expand my goal to 15 books. I have two books in-progress that would count (started after June 1st), but I also have The Mysteries of Udolpho, planned for August which is 18th century and long. But, Reverse Readathon and Bout of Books are both coming up; I won’t say “impossible” and I’ll continue to keep count.


Reading Notes, 6/10/21

Finished Reading

God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert

According to my blog archive, I finished my first reading of Children of Dune in 2006. I then tried to read God Emperor of Dune. Eric had warned me that it was a tough read. I don’t know when I gave up on it, but it made a reappearance on my 2011 TBR. I don’t think I ever got to it in 2011. Around the internet, the general advisement for God Emperor was, read the Wikipedia entry and the Fandom article and move on. When I set up my Dune “challenge” for this year, I allotted one month each for the first three books (these were rereads) and two months each for the last three. Which meant that I needed to finish God Emperor around the end of May. I decided that if I didn’t finish it by then, I’d give in and read the summaries. I planned a chapter a day; classic “eating the elephant” strategy. And it worked! So, fifteen years after my first try:

God Emperor of Dune is sort of an awkward book. Without delving into too much research about the matter, it feels like Frank Herbert had a good idea for the first three books, which were marketed as a trilogy at the time. The books were successful and Herbert had more ideas—why not write more Dune books? Well, the next phase of the story really required some set up. More set up than could be handled in exposition. So, God Emperor ends up being this weird bridge book. All the characters that you’ve come to know in the first three books are gone or very changed. Except for Duncan Idaho, who has really been more of a background character until now. Things happen, there are some important events that set up Heretics of Dune, but there is also a lot of philosophy and a lot of people scheming in rooms to not much avail.

I’m glad I got through it, but I probably didn’t gain a huge amount by reading the book instead of reading the summaries.

All the Flavors by Ken Liu

All the Flavors was a novella originally published by GigaNotoSaurus. I ended up with a copy of it on my Kindle and, while cataloging titles, I decided to impulse read it. I haven’t read much of Ken Liu’s works though The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is very well regarded among people I know.

This story is subtitled “A Tale of Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War, in America.” It’s sort of a take on the Yellow Peril stories that became a thing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America. Based on history, somewhat, it involves Chinese workers in Idaho. Very good; I liked it a lot. Also, my first Book of Summer!

Currently Reading

  • The Hypno-Ripper: Or, Jack the Hypnotically Controlled Ripper; Containing Two Victorian Era Tales Dealing with Jack the Ripper and Hypnotism, edited by Donald K. Hartman – So far, it’s a little slow. To be fair, Hartman warns of this.
  • Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert – I’m reading a chapter a day.
  • Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury – A book I keep mis-titling. Reading an essay or so a day.

Reading Challenge Check-In

The Classics Club
Goal: 10 Books by 12/14/21
Progress: 5/10
✅ Read Mosses from an Old Manse by Nathanial Hawethorn

#ShelfLove
Goal: Abstain from acquiring books; read at least 21 books from my shelves.
Progress: 1 pre-order, 3 free books, 2 very cheap books, 4 ARC/review copies; 5/21+
⭕ On one hand, I’ve read a few of my own books. On the other, I’ve still acquired a few too many ARCs/review copies…

I Read Horror Year-Round
Goal: Read 6 books from 6 categories.
Progress: 2/6
⭕ No progress here at the moment, yet I don’t feel behind.

Nonfiction
Goal: Read at least 30% nonfiction.
Progress: Currently 35%
✅ Back up after The Haunting of Alma Fielding and finishing up some nonfiction “morning” books.


{Book} The Parasite

The Parasite

The Parasite by Arthur Conan Doyle

Mesmerism (or animal magnetism, or hypnosis) was quite the thing during the 19th century as scientists wildly conjecture about what was within its bounds of possibility. Writers of fiction took the chance to speculate as well. In fact, I reviewed an anthology of hypnosis-based crime stories just last century year. Arthur Conan Doyle (author of “The Refugees” and “Micah Clark,” as the title books title page reminded me) had his own hypnosis tale to tell.

The Parasite is written in diary-form by our narrator, Gilroy, a skeptic. Gilroy begins the novella thinking that hypnosis is just an entertainment based on deception. He is made a believer when Miss Penclosa, the celebrity hypnotist of the moment, puts his beloved fiancee in a trance and has her (briefly) call off the wedding. Gilroy changes gears and decides he’d like to study Miss Penclosa by being put into trances by her.

From the beginning, Gilroy assures the reader that Miss Penclosa, who has a crippled leg, is kind of creepy and not at all good-looking. He is absolutely not interested in her. But after a few sessions with her, he is strangely drawn to her. And soon, he’s experiencing periods of missing time. Obviously, Miss Penclosa is a very dangerous woman.

Gilroy talking about women, both his fiancee and Miss Penclosa, is a bit cringe-worthy in a late 19th century kind of way. Plot-wise, Doyle’s written better. Skip this one, read Richard Marsh’s The Beetle instead.


I read The Parasite during Readers Imbibing Peril and Something Wicked Fall. I also read it as a part of the Sherlockathon for the “The Scot” prompt and as part of my Classics Club list.

{Book + Short Stories} What Went Back to the Library Today

Took a couple of #RIPXIV / #somethingWickedFall books back to the library today:

Cover via Goodreads

The Small Hand and Dolly by Susan Hill

Two chilling ghost stories from the author of The Woman in Black, both set in crumbling English houses that are haunted by the spirits of thwarted children.

In The Small Hand, antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow is returning from a client visit when he takes a wrong turn and stumbles across a derelict Edwardian house with a lush, overgrown garden. Approaching the door, he is startled to feel the unmistakable sensation of a small cold hand creeping into his own, almost as though a child had taken hold of it. Plagued by nightmares, he returns with the intention of figuring out its mysteries, only to be troubled by further, increasingly sinister visits. In Dolly, orphan Edward Cayley is sent to spend the summer with his forbidding Aunt Kestrel at Iyot House, her decaying home in the damp, lonely fens. With him is his spoiled, spiteful cousin, Leonora. And when Leonora’s birthday wish for a beautiful doll is denied, she unleashes a furious rage which will haunt Edward for years afterward. (via Goodreads)

Read both The Small Hand and Dolly. I enjoyed them well enough, but really don’t have too much to say about them. Neither was as good as the other Susan Hill book I’ve read, The Woman in Black, but that *is* considered a ghost story classic. I probably liked Dolly better because The Small Hand felt a little padded out. Still, some nice reading for autumn nights.

Cover via Goodreads

Poe’s Children: The New Horror edited by Peter Straub

From the incomparable master of horror and suspense comes an electrifying collection of contemporary literary horror, with stories from twenty-five writers representing today’s most talented voices in the genre.

Horror writing is usually associated with formulaic gore, but New Wave horror writers have more in common with the wildly inventive, evocative spookiness of Edgar Allan Poe than with the sometimes-predictable hallmarks of their peers. Showcasing this cutting-edge talent, Poe’s Children now brings the best of the genre’s stories to a wider audience. (via Goodreads)

I find it funny that a this anthology of “new” fiction is over 10 years old at this point… It’s my habit when I go to the library to pluck a couple books from shelves, give some a 10-page test, and maybe read a short story from a random anthology. A few weeks back I picked up Poe’s Children and started reading “Notes on the Writing of a Horror Story” by Thomas Ligotti, since I hadn’t read any Ligotti before. Unfortunately, it was a too long to finish at the library. So, I took it home. I meant to read a few more of the stories, but I only fit in one more. “Notes on the Writing of a Horror Story” was clever with an excellently twisted ending. The other story I read was “The Bees” by Dan Chaon. The setting was great but I thought the ending was a little flat.

Mini Reviews ~ Two Classics

 

Love and Mr. Lewisham

Love and Mr. Lewisham by H. G. Wells

Young, impoverished and ambitious, science student Mr Lewisham is locked in a struggle to further himself through academic achievement. But when his former sweetheart, Ethel Henderson, re-enters his life his strictly regimented existence is thrown into chaos by the resurgence of old passion. Driven by overwhelming desire, he pursues Ethel passionately, only to find that while she returns his love she also hides a dark secret. For she is involved in a plot of trickery that goes against his firmest beliefs, working as an assistant to her stepfather—a cynical charlatan ‘mystic’ who earns his living by deluding the weak-willed with sly trickery. (via Goodreads)

Currently, I’ve been reading Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman, a nonfiction book about movies made in the 1980s. In the chapter about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Hadley makes a point that one of the things that makes John Hughes teen movies special is that they are some of the few movies that address class in America. Indeed, class seems to be something that’s difficult for Americans to talk about. We’re above all that here in the US, right? Anyone can be anything, right? Yeah, well, probably not.

Of course, H. G. Wells isn’t American and Love and Mr. Lewisham isn’t set in the States, but the issues of class in this novel are just as relevant. Lewisham chooses love over practicality. He’s not rich enough to support Ethel while he finishes his education. In effect, he marries down in an effort to help her rise above her station. (He saves her from having to work for her stepfather who runs a mediumship scam, which is why this story originally piqued my curiosity.)  Lewisham and Ethel’s relationship almost doesn’t survive. Honestly, not a lot happens in this book. It doesn’t matter to me; I really enjoy Wells’ writing style.

Publishing info: originally published 1899
My Copy: ebook, Project Gutenberg download
Genre: literary

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard by Emmuska Orczy

Mystery readers and fans of detective fiction and the police procedural are in for a real treat with these twelve interlaced stoires featuring Lady Molly, head of the Female Department at Scotland Yard in and around 1910. Lady Molly is an ace sleuth and the Police Chief’s secret weapon when faced with perplexing and unsolvable cases.(via Goodreads)

I was listening to a podcast a while back (and I don’t remember the name of it because my usual podcast app tanked) and it mentioned that Baroness Orczy, of The Scarlet Pimpernel fame, also wrote some mystery stories featuring a female detective. Right up my alley!

These stories are definitely a response to Sherlock Holmes. Lady Molly has an extraordinary intellect and is assisted by a devoted “normal” person, Mary, who writes about the cases. Lady Molly isn’t a consulting detective. Notably, she works for Scotland Yard, but it seems that she’s mostly called upon when the male workforce is stumped. She then uses her feminine intuition and social savvy to solve cases. Refreshingly, most of the cases do have a sort of female twist to them. They’re not necessarily about domestic problems but they’re more concerned with marriages and property.

Sadly though, the problem with using “intuition” to solve cases is that, narratively, it looks like really good guessing. The reader isn’t given enough information to solve along with the story. (At least I didn’t find this to be the case. It could be argued that I lack a lot of feminine anything.) It isn’t really until the last story in this collection that Lady Molly looks even remotely fallible, and that story is the most satisfying of the bunch.

Publishing info: publisher, 1910
My Copy: Browser-based, http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/orczy/molly/molly.html
Genre: mystery/crime

Spring into Horror Wrap-Up & Mini Reviews

April was a little…off for me. Or maybe, rather, I was a little off in April. I didn’t get going on Camp NaNoWriMo and my reading was kind of here and there. Even Dewey’s Readathon was sort of flat.

On the horror front, I only read one thing on my initial TBR: Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart and *that* I started on the 28th! Looking back over what qualifies for Spring into Horror, though, I didn’t do too badly.

I'll Be Gone in the Dark cover I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

If “scary” is really the only qualification for Spring into Horror, this nonfiction work should certainly count. I gave it a full review a couple weeks back.

Hammers on Bone cover Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

This is the first in Khaw’s Persons Non Grata series. I read the second one, A Song for Quiet, as my first book of the year. I really enjoyed it, but I think I liked Hammers on Bone even more.

Generally, I don’t care for Lovecraft or the Lovecraft mythos. Also, I  have never been fond on noir mysteries/thrillers. But Khaw writes with so much easy flair that I really want more of this combination. At the heart of the story is our private investigator, John Persons. He’s a monster. No really, he’s an eldritch horror in a human skin, but one with more wit and warmth than any other hardboiled dick.

Hellbound Heart cover The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

Like Stephen King, I like Clive Barker in smaller doses. His novels get a little too… baroque. But in short story and novella form, I think his world building works much better, allowing for our own imaginations to happily do work.

The Hellbound Heart was the basis for the movie, Hellraiser. The movie is pretty close to the book. This isn’t surprising since Barker wrote and directed it. It has spawned nine (!) sequels, but it’s interesting to note that Pinhead, the films’ signature villain, is only one of the Engineer’s retinue. I think what really stands out for me is how grounded in a place the story is, even though it could take place anywhere. The house, Frank’s room, these are all given the weight that would be part of a haunted house story.

Unabridged Poe cover Poe & Short Stories

I started my Edgar Allan Poe read-through in April. Mostly I’ve read through some of his early poetry. While that includes the classic “Alone,” it’s also some not-so-great poems.

I’ve also been reading through an anthology of mystery stories by Baroness Orczy (the writer of The Scarlet Pimpernel). They feature Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, an early female detective.

Review ~ A Song for Quiet

A Song for Quiet (Persons Non Grata, #2)

A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

Deacon James is a rambling bluesman straight from Georgia, a black man with troubles that he can’t escape, and music that won’t let him go. On a train to Arkham, he meets trouble — visions of nightmares, gaping mouths and grasping tendrils, and a madman who calls himself John Persons. According to the stranger, Deacon is carrying a seed in his head, a thing that will destroy the world if he lets it hatch.

The mad ravings chase Deacon to his next gig. His saxophone doesn’t call up his audience from their seats, it calls up monstrosities from across dimensions. As Deacon flees, chased by horrors and cultists, he stumbles upon a runaway girl, who is trying to escape her father, and the destiny he has waiting for her. Like Deacon, she carries something deep inside her, something twisted and dangerous. Together, they seek to leave Arkham, only to find the Thousand Young lurking in the woods.

The song in Deacon’s head is growing stronger, and soon he won’t be able to ignore it any more.

Why did I choose this book?

Undeniably, H. P. Lovecraft was very influential to the genres of horror and fantasy. He was also racist, xenophobic, and antisemitic. I like the concept of all the people Lovecraft took exception to jumping into his sandbox and adding wings to his castles. I really enjoyed Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom and had heard that Malaysian writer Cassandra Khaw’s A Song for Quiet is another worthy addition to this genre niche.

Ladies of Horror Fiction challenged readers to make their first read of 2019 a female horror author—it was the perfect “excuse” to read A Song for Quiet.

So, what did I think?

Khaw imbues her writing with rhythm which is very appropriate when the main character is a jazz musician. I also enjoyed the little Lovecraft subversions: things like a white cowboy character being described as simian and Arkham being a progressive enough place to allow a black female business owner.

Khaw also does a good job giving shape and physicality to what can often be vague cosmic horror. It’s easy to duck the unimaginable, but Deacon’s visions and the Thousand Young are good and gory. I also like that there is some small measure of hope in this story. I plan on reading more horror this year, but I am a little worried. I think that I have less patience for hopelessness these days.

I enjoyed A Song for Quiet so much that I’m going to have to read Hammers on Bone, the first book on the loose series, in the near future. The first features John Persons, a minor character here, who isn’t quite a person. I am intrigued.

Other Info

Genre: horror
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Release date: August 29, 2017
My copy: OverDrive Read via Tempe Library