Mid-Month Check In

books stack old antique
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s the middle of December and I have a monthly check in post going up? Why, yes, I do!

I’ve already finished most of my December reading goals, which is honestly very surprising. It helps that I had a lot of graphic novels on my TBR, but I only have two (two and a half?) books left to earn a gold star for the month. I finished both The Plastic Magician and Ghostly, which were in progress at the time I published my end of the year reading list. I’ve also read all of the graphic novels on that list, and even added in a middle grade book that wasn’t originally on it. I’m currently making my way through The Sisters of the Winter Wood quite quickly, which only leaves me with MCSI: Magical Crime Scene Investigation and Plato and a Platypus. None of this includes books I read or finished before I made my end of the year reading list, either. I’m not sure if anything I read this month will garner a full review from me, but at the very least I’ll give a rundown of my feelings at the end of the month.

I also went and did some exploring around my city this past week. I’m hoping to start a series about local bookstores, so I mapped out an adventure for myself in one area of the city that has a number of bookstores within walking distance. I got to check out two brand-new-to-me bookstores and the physical location of a third that was a vendor at a book event a friend and I attended earlier this month. I’d like to write about the bookstores in twos or threes and – as long as they’re inside city limits – keep them within an easy walking distance of each other. Eventually, I know I’ll want to talk about the amazing bookstores that are not in Philadelphia proper, but there are still so many in Philadelphia for me to check out. And, with any luck, I’ll be able to do some bonus posts about bookstores in other states (and countries!) in the following year.

Does anyone else have exciting goals and ideas for 2019 already spinning away in the hamster wheel? New Years and its resolutions are fast approaching!

End of the Year Reading List – 2018

2018 has been flying by for me! Does anyone else feel like it’s still the beginning of the year, and not actually December? This has been a busy year and I’ve neglected a lot of hobbies while trying to balance work, classes, family, friends, travel, and 1,000 other things. Unfortunately, time for blogging was the first thing to be reallocated to other areas. But, as an early resolution for 2019, I’m bringing the blog back to life.

We’ll start simple, though. I have several post ideas that I’ve been kicking around, but they need more time for me to really flesh out before they land on the internet forever. Today, I’m just going to talk a bit about the books I want to read or finish reading by the time New Years Eve rolls around.

Currently Reading

  • The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
    • This is set in the same world as The Paper Magician trilogy, but seemingly long after the events for the third book. Holmberg did write in a brief cameo of the Mgs. Thane, and I believe that Alvie’s love interest’s teacher is the Folder that Ceony tested under in the third book. I’m about 50% of the way through The Plastic Magician and really enjoying that the tone is very different from the original trilogy.
  • Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories edited by Audrey Niffenegger
    • I’ve been picking my way through this since October, but would like to finish it before the end of the year.
  • Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein
    • As someone with a BA in Philosophy, I was already aware that philosophers have the worst sense of humor before picking this up, and my opinion hasn’t changed since. I’ve been slowly making my way through this book since July. I’m finding that it’s a very shallow primer on various schools of thought and it isn’t doing a great job of either granting an understanding nor being funny. I’m probably going to be reading this well into 2019.

Want To Read

  • Tank Girl: Bad Wind Rising by Alan Martin, Illustrated by Rufus Dayglo
    • I’m making my way through the reboots of Tank Girl, in no particular order. I re-read The Gifting last month and already owned Bad Wind Rising, so despite being published a number of years later, Bad Wind Rising is next up.
  • Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: The Crucible by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Illustrated by Robert Hack
    • I’d like to read this before I watch the Netflix adaptation. Also, dark Sabrina makes me happy.
  • Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts by Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose
    • Did you guys know Bourdain wrote a comic series? I didn’t know this, and was floored to find it at an indie bookshop here in Philly.
  • Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker, Illustrated by Julia Scheele
    • I can’t wait to get started on this. I’ve had Queer on my wishlist for several months and bought it at the same bookshop I found Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts.
  • MCSI: Magical Crime Scene Investigation edited by Michelle Stengel
    • This is a collection of 18 urban fantasy crime stories that I helped back on Kickstarter earlier this year. It’d be nice to read what I helped fund, wouldn’t it?
  • The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner
    • Rossner is an Israeli author and her characters are Jewish; it’s also currently Chanukah and I think it would be nice to read a book with Jewish characters during the holiday.

A lot of people around the internet are coming up with their end of the year reading lists, so if you have one, please feel free to share!

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Genre: Horror

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperback and e-book

This is easily one of the best horror books I’ve read in years. If there is any book I’ve read so far this year that I would call a “real page-turner,” Bird Box is the one. This was a terrifying and gripping read, which is honestly difficult for me to find in the horror genre. Most of the horror books I read I find to be a little creepy and more of a supernatural mystery than an actual pulse-quickener that induces an “OMG NO” sick feeling in my gut. It’s the same with horror movies for me; I find most rely too much on jump-scares and special effects to startle the viewer, rather than having unsettling, terror-fueling content.

Malerman takes the fears of the unknown and losing one’s sight and knocks them sideways in his debut novel. He also wastes no time in getting to the point of the story: People are going insane because they are seeing someone… or something. In their fear, people are refusing to go outside, boarding up windows and hiding behind locked doors. But it doesn’t seem to be enough. Accidents happen and temptation is too great, and people are still peeking outside; some are even going crazy from being so isolated. Malorie loses everyone in her life just as she figures out that she’s pregnant, and she decides that in order to survive, she needs to find a house she saw advertised in the personals section of the newspaper. A house that promises to be open to anyone looking for somewhere to go in this new world of fear and panic. Only a few months after she arrives, she and her two children are the last surviving members of the little enclave. Several years pass and she realizes that today is The Day. She needs to get to the boat and guide her small family down the river to what she hopes is their salvation, but she’ll need need to use her eyes to get them there.

What makes this book so successful is that we know just as much about these creatures as our main character- absolutely nothing. We follow Malorie’s journey with the same blindness she is forced to endure, hoping she (we) make it out alive. We rely on sound and touch just as much as Malorie does, and we know we cannot open our eyes to see what is probably standing in front of us. Bird Box taps into the visceral fear of not knowing what’s stalking you in the dark. There are multiple events that bring us thisclose to the creatures, and each one makes you more tense and nervous than the last. I became so emotionally invested in Malorie and her journey that I had a hard time putting the book down. When she was scared, I was scared. When she was relieved or emotionally wiped out, so was I. I nearly nawed a finger off towards the end of her river journey, I was so nervous.

We never get answers, which can be really frustrating in stories like these. I’ve read a number of horror books, particularly post-apocalypse books, that never explain the Whys and Hows of what happened and it is often unsatisfying. But the way Malerman crafted this story was genius, because I really didn’t want to find out the Who or the How or the Why. It too easily would have ruined the suspense created by not knowing these things. Not showing the Who leaves the reader’s imagination open to it’s own interpretation of what is wandering around, which I feel is the best way to really immerse the reader in the story.

If you are interested in reading this book, I highly recommend reading it on a day when you don’t have any laundry to do, or a job to go to, and to have your meals delivered or prepared by someone else in the house. I read this over a few days because I was working and otherwise attending to life, but all I wanted to do was finish the book. When I started reading it, I got an email from one of the several mailing lists I’ve found myself on that alerted me to the fact that Bird Box‘s e-book format was on sale for $1.99 and immediately purchased it. I was reading the book whenever I could squeeze a few minutes out of my day, and thinking about it when I wasn’t able to read it. I almost feel like I can’t do the book any justice with a review, because I can’t sufficiently describe how quickly I was sucked into the story and how invested in the plot I became.

The film rights were purchased by Universal in 2013, but so far there hasn’t been any public discussion of an actual movie. I’m honestly hoping that they decide not to follow through with turning the book into a movie. I fear that they will turn our somewhat incorporeal adversary into a real creature, and it will ruin the effect Malerman created by never describing them to us.

June 2017 Wrap-Up

At the beginning of every month, I will do a quick wrap-up of the previous month’s reads.

I finished seven books in June.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  2. Enclave by Ann Aguirre
  3. The Blue Fox by Sjón
  4. Hard Child by Natalie Shapero
  5. The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  6. The Master Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  7. Goodnight Lab: A Scientific Parody by Chris Ferrie

The Handmaid’s Tale was my book club’s pick for the month of June. It was the only 5 star read of the month, and I have to say that I’m very eager to read more from Atwood now. This novel gave me a lot to think about, and I’m currently working on a review for the blog.

Enclave was a bit of a disappointment for me. I only rated this book 2.5 stars because I was not impressed by the character development and the book’s treatment of rape and victim blaming. This was a post-apocalyptic YA novel that had a very interesting premise and it was an engaging read as a whole, but in the end, I just couldn’t get beyond the two issues I just mentioned.

The Blue Fox was my second favorite read of the month. I rated it 4.5 stars and have already posted a short review of it here on the blog.

Hard Child was my most disappointing read in June. I rated the collection 2 stars. I went in expecting to really enjoy this collection of poems because the overarching theme per the blurb on the back of the book sounded great. Unfortunately, very few poems had an impact on me. A small handful did, however, which is why this wasn’t a total bust.

I finished up The Paper Magician trilogy, which I gave a solid 4 stars across the board. I’m usually very critical with romance in YA novels because it’s either a love triangle or a creepy age difference, the latter of which this series falls into. However, there is a pretty decent backbone for this plot point, and I had to remind myself that while Ceony is a good deal younger than Emery, she is over 18. Besides that, I found the magic system very interesting and it was a comfortable series to settle into.

Finally, I read Goodnight Lab, which is a parody of Goodnight Moon. The lab monkey by night that I am, I definitely appreciated this picture book. I rated it 3 stars for it’s humor and for featuring a female POC main character, but otherwise, it was just another children’s book parody in a sea of children’s book parodies.

Mid-Year Wrap-Up

It’s almost the end of June, and I think it’s time to look back at the past six months of reading and see how it’s gone.

I use Goodreads’ Reading Challenge to track my reading through the year. I currently have a goal of 52 books, and I’ve read 29 books so far, which puts me four books ahead of “schedule”. One of the things that I really like about the Reading Challenge is that you can easily see all of the books you read during the year, which makes it very easy for me to break my reading down into some simple categories.

What I’ve read:

  • 7 ebooks
  • 18 paperbacks
  • 4 hardcovers

Of these 29 books:

  • 2 were poetry collections
  • 2 were graphic anthologies
  • 3 were nonfiction
  • 6 were YA or middle grade
  • 16 were fiction, horror, crime, or fantasy/magical realism
  • 48% were written by women, 45% by men, and 7% by self-defined non-binary or trans individuals
  • 3.5 were written by POC
  • 7767 pages read total

I’m okay with my gender breakdown, though I would like to see the non-binary and trans author count go up. I’m not happy with my overwhelmingly white author count. I will be trying to make an effort to diversify my authors for the rest of the year. I have several poetry collections and plays written by POC that I already wanted to read, but I will also be pulling more fiction titles written by POC. I’d also like to read more nonfiction.

Now that I’ve started this blog, I want to dedicate more time to writing reviews of the books I’ve been reading. So, a big goal of mine for the next six months is less about reading and more about writing. This will require some serious work, because writing a decent review takes time. But, because this is something I’ve been hoping to start working on for a long time, I’m definitely motivated!

I’ve had several really amazing reads so far, so it’s hard to pick which one I liked the best, but I think The Handmaid’s Tale is currently tied with The Blue Fox as far as deep thinkers are concerned. My favorite fun read is Tony Ballantyne’s Dream London, a series that I actually read backwards unknowingly. As far as the least enjoyed reads so far this year go, The Forest of Hands and Teeth takes first place. I was surprised by how invested I became in The Paper Magician trilogy, which makes up half of the young adult I read these last six months. This has been a pretty good last six months, with mostly four and five star reads, which I hope continues on for the rest of the year!

I’m currently working on a review for The Handmaid’s Tale, which was my book club’s June read, as well as a review for The Bird Box, which is a gripping horror novel (and it was a debut novel for the author, which is pretty amazing). Have a great reading week!

The Blue Fox by Sjón

Genre: Fiction, quasi-magical realism

Rating: 4.5/5

Format: Paperback

I won’t lie, I bought this book because of the cover. I love a handsome book cover, and this edition really appealed to my aesthetics. I also really dig foxes, so a book about a fox appealed to my interests. I bought it through bookoutlet.com (which is one of my favorite places to buy books online) when it popped up as a recommended title. I went in completely blind about the writer and the plot, and ended up really enjoying this book.

One of the things I liked most about this book is that the plot starts at the middle of the story, goes back in time, then jumps forward. It takes place over only a few days, making it exceptionally easy to follow the time warp, and is skillfully done. We begin with a preacher heading out on a hunt for a blue fox. We get the perspective of the fox intertwined with the preacher’s perspective during this first third of the book. A lesser writer would not have handled the animal perspective so well, as often it can get unrealistic and cheesy, but the we don’t dip into that territory with Sjón.

We go a few days back in time, and we learn about an herbalist living on the outskirts of the town, who has had a young woman under his charge for several years. Her story is especially tragic. She had Down Syndrome, and the backstory of her treatment by the town is horrific. It’s a small slice of the history of Down Syndrome as well, which is also tragic. She has passed away and the herbalist is sending her body with the preacher’s “assistant” back to town for burial, but he is uniquely mourning her passing. This slice of the timeline is layered in sadness and hope and I think it is my favorite part of the book.

When we return to the preacher, he has captured his blue fox. He finds himself seriously injured by an avalanche and this is when things take a particularly interesting turn. I think there are many ways to interpret what happens next, which I am itching to discuss but can’t without spoiling the entire book. Regardless, it is safe for me to say that the preacher loses his lucidity at one point, and that is where the interesting turn takes place. We end the book with a pretty provocative revelation, which is where I think Sjón’s ability to weave together a story really shines.

What really stands out to me about this book is that I finished it about two weeks ago, but it’s still rattling around my head. I can usually finish a book, decide if I liked it or not, and move on to the next read. Despite being one of my shortest reads this year, I am still mulling over it. I’m actually thinking about reading it again once I get through some of the other books I’m currently reading, and I am not one to re-read books. I had originally rated this book four stars, but it is slowly creeping into five star territory. I am going to be looking into some of Sjón’s other works as well.

Art of the Novella

Many years ago, when I still worked for a bookstore, I came across a slim book in the fiction section while shelving. It was Guy de Maupassant’s The Horla, published by Melville House in Brooklyn, NY. For several years after reading it, I obsessed over how simple and handsome the cover was, and I pined over the entire collection on the publisher’s website. I eventually noticed that they had set up a subscription service for the Art of the Novella series that de Maupassant’s book was part of, and that became the newly pined after obsession. I really wanted to own the entire series. I needed them all in my life, on my bookshelves.

Fast forward to last summer, when I made the decision to cut beauty box subscription services out of my life and devote some of that money to this particular subscription. This is a no-frills subscription service; it’s just books and nothing else. It doesn’t come in a fancy box, they slip the books into a mailer and send it off as inexpensively as possible. It has a definitive stopping point, because there are only so many books in this series, and it definitely cuts down on the cost of buying each book individually. I get two books a month from them for under $20, and even after a year, I still have a few dozen titles to go before I need to ask them to take me off their subscription. I’m also directly supporting an independent publisher, which is pretty cool. I wish they offered this for their other collections, but the Art of the Novella series is by far their most robust at the moment, so any other series would have a very short lifespan.

Aside from just wanting to collect this series for its aesthetics, I have been massively enjoying the stories. Novellas are short novels, or long short stories, so they are usually quicker reads. Of Mice and MenAnimal Farm, and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are examples of best selling, well-known novellas that are not part of this series, but stories by Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, and even Mary Shelley are featured in it. I’ve also been introduced to Nikolai Gogol, Christopher Morley, and Willa Cather thanks to the series. Most of the books on my shelf are still in my “To Be Read” pile, but I’m excited to read them all.