RIP! RIP! RIP is here! Hooray!

I was just thinking about the awesomeness that is Carl’s RIP the other day, and then I realized that it was already September and I was missing it! The horror!

In case you’ve missed the last five years of me loving on this reading event, the idea is to read from the following genres, per Carl, throughout September and October:

Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.”

I usually end up extending these genres to include basically everything I read during RIP, like regular fantasy and weird psychological fiction, because it’s RIP and it’s totally allowed!

There are also several levels of participation. Here’s what I’m doing this year:

rip8peril1stPeril the First, aka READ ALL THE BOOKS. Well, at least four. But ALL OF THEM.

Some options:
Alien Hunter, by Whitley Strieber
The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud
The Boy Who Could See Demons, by Carolyn Jess-Cooke
Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson
The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, by Elizabeth L. Silver
The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey
Green River Killer, by Jeff Jensen
Hollow Earth, by John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman
Joyland, by Stephen King
Lexicon, by Max Barry
The People in the Trees, by Hanya Yanagihara
The Scientific Sherlock Holmes, by James O’Brien
Touch of Frost, by Jennifer Estep
The Walking Dead, Vol. 1, by Robert Kirkman
What the Dead Know, by Laura Lippman
The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud

rip8perilshortPeril of the Short Story, aka READ ALL THE STORIES.

Some options:
Stories from An Apple for the Creature, ed. by Charlaine Harris
Stories from Smoke and Mirrors, by Neil Gaiman
The rest of the Wool series, by Hugh Howey

rip8perilonscreenPeril on the Screen, aka WATCH ALL THE MOVIES AND TV SHOWS.

Some options:
The Dark Knight Rises
The Following
John Dies at the End
The Killing
Top of the Lake

So that’s what I’ve got — if you’ve got favorite creepy/spooky/weird/awesome books/stories/movies that you think I should read/watch, leave them in the comments, because I am well known for throwing out all of my lists and doing something else entirely!

RIP [Challenge] VII


As I say probably every year, how is it already time for RIP? This is my absolute favorite reading challenge event but somehow it always sneaks up on me.

You’ll notice that it’s not a challenge this year, as Carl descends further into communism. He says, “While I don’t have any personal grudge against folks challenging themselves to read a certain number of books, or books outside their comfort zone, this event is primarily about the great pleasure that can be found in embracing this type of fiction/non-fiction during this season of the year.”

But what if my pleasure is in winning, Carl?

I kid, of course, not leastly because I do not have the time to read ALL THE BOOKS like I threatened to last year. But I will definitely do my best to read a bunch of awesome books!

As per usual, I will be throwing my hat into Peril the First, which involves reading four books that fall into the purview of RIP, which is very specifically “Mystery. Suspense. Thriller. Dark Fantasy. Gothic. Horror. Supernatural. Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.” I think I can handle that.

I’ll also be back for a second round of Peril of the Short Story, which I will attempt to do without the help of a readalong or book club discussion, and of the just-mentioned Peril of the Group Read. I’ve actually read both of the selections for this particular Peril, but I think I will join in October’s reading of The Graveyard Book, which I did not love when I read it three years ago but which I also have a feeling I didn’t read correctly the first time. We shall see!

And lastly, I want to give Peril on the Screen a better go this year, as last year I only managed to rack up one film for it. I guess I can count all the Doctor Who that’s about to come out, but I don’t have a clue otherwise. Please suggest things are delightful and possibly even creepy in the comments!

What is RIP without a giant list of perils to imbibe? Here’s what I’ve got, though I’m sure most of what I actually read will be added later!

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier (how many times has this been on the list?)
A Fine and Private Place, by Peter S. Beagle
Raising Stony Mayhall, by Daryl Gregory
The Edinburgh Dead, by Brian Ruckey
The Stand, by Stephen King (since I’m already halfway through…)
Horns, by Joe Hill
Wild Thing, by Josh Bazell
The Prince of Mist, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (Review)
Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig
Girl Genius Vol. 1, by Kaja and Phil Foglio
Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist
*Guards! Guards!, by Terry Pratchett (Review)
*The Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Review)

Short Stories:
All things Poe
Zombies vs. Unicorns, ed. Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier
These Children Who Come at You With Knives, by Jim Knipfel
Shadow Show, ed. by Sam Weller
Other Worlds Than These, ed. by John Joseph Adams

Things of a Hitchcockian nature
Doctor Who!
A Sherlock re-watch, perhaps?
*Dial M for Murder (Review)
*TV roundup

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach

What the whatting what. This is like the tiniest of tiny books β€” 123 very small pages, wide margins, lots of pages dedicated to pictures of seagulls, read it in an hour β€” and yet I still wouldn’t have finished it were it not on my TBR Challenge list. I rue the day I decided against alternates!

I knew pretty much nothing about this book going in. It ended up on my challenge list because a few years ago my sister-in-law said something was “like Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and I was like, who? And she and some random other person were like, how have you not read this book? And then they probably explained it to me, though I don’t remember, and I was like, okay, fine, I’ll read it.

And what it is, is a tiny little book about a seagull (the eponymous JLS) who really likes flying. He’s all about flying to the detriment of everything else including learning how to find food, but apparently he still eats because he continues flying through the rest of the book. He learns how to fly real fast and real fancy, but then he irks the Head Seagull or whatever and gets shunned, and then he goes off to live a life of fast- and fancy-flying solitude. Until some other birds show up and are like, let’s go to the afterlife, where you can fly totally faster! And then they’re like, but it’s not really heaven, just a further world on your way to nirvana, and also you can learn to fly through space and time without flapping your wings! And then JLS goes back to his original flock and teaches some other birds to fly real cool-like, and he gets mistaken for Jesus or something, and then he brings a bird back from the dead, maybe, and then he’s like, I’m outta here you guys can take care of yourselves. The end.

Soooooooooo yeah! Obviously there are a lot of religious themes here, with the heaven/nirvana/Jesus business, and I noticed them and I think they could have been interesting but then they just got kind of thrown off to the side? And I really can’t figure out just what I’m meant to take away from this book β€” is it that having a very one-track mind is awesome and somehow leads you to a Higher Power and also keeps you fed? Is it that you should completely ignore your seagull heritage so that you can fly like a falcon and encourage others to do the same? I have no idea. None.

Also, seagulls. I don’t really like them. And there were lots of pictures of them. Yay.

Have any of you guys read this? What am I missing?

Recommendation: I have no idea why anyone would read this, but if you have a reason you might as well.

Rating: 3/10
(TBR Challenge)

Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach

Ah, Mary Roach. It’s been awhile. How you been? Oh, you’ve been gallivanting around the world talking to astronauts and wannabe astronauts and chimponauts and people who pretend to be astronauts for SCIENCE? Tell me more!

And she does! There is much more than I would have guessed to tell about space, that final frontier and whatnot. Some of it I had heard before, like the bit about how a certain president was not a fan of lady astronauts, and oddly some of it I heard on a podcast referencing Packing for Mars after I had started the book but before I got to the part they referenced. That was odd.

Other bits I had not heard but made sense, and were kind of intriguing, like the whole chimps in space program and how it totally ruined the start of our space race and how at one point there was a human testing a spacesuit to see if it was humane for chimps, except that the point of the chimp wearing the spacesuit was to see if it was safe for humans. Oh, science. And the part where she goes off to Japan to visit their astronaut training camp or whatever and you find out that Japanese astronaut candidates have to fold 1000 paper cranes for luck and psychological testing. On that basis alone, I am not cut out to be an astronaut.

And, of course, in true Mary Roach fashion, there were also bits about sex in space and poop in space that I didn’t know I didn’t need to know until I knew them. Darn her! Suffice it to say that it is difficult to do both, and so NASA at least tries to avoid them when at all possible. Also, you shouldn’t talk about your poo problems on a live microphone. For your sake AND everyone else’s.

I’m wondering if my lack of love for Spook is content-based or narrator-based, because the woman who narrates this one also did Bonk and I liked the latter equally as much as this current one. I think this narrator has an excellent blend of “Wow, did you know this?” and “Wow, did you need to know this?” and sometimes, “Wow, you definitely don’t need to know this but it’s written down so I’m gonna have to tell you anyway,” like when Roach writes about her lack of knowledge about body odor in the crotchal region, not for lack of trying ew. Sorry. I heard it, so you have to, too!

I promise most of the other fun facts in this book are actually fun, and it’s about space! I really don’t think you can go wrong.

Recommendation: For lovers of SCIENCE and crazy people who write about science and obscure factoids disguised as science.

Rating: 8/10

(What’s in a Name Challenge)

Space space wanna go to space yes please space. Space space. Go to space.
Better buy a telescope. Wanna see me. Buy a telescope. Gonna be in space.
I’m in space.

The Unwritten Vol. 1, by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

I don’t remember where I first heard about this series… one of those blogs or podcasts or something that tells me what’s good. I don’t remember what I was promised, either, but whatever it was I liked it enough to give it a shot.

That forgetting posed a bit of a problem in the first few pages, which I read and thought, “Whaaaaaaaaat is this? This is not very good. What’s with all these words? It’s a graphic novel!” And I really almost gave it up right then, but I said to myself, I said self, you’ve done this before and maybe you should just give it a little bit longer.

And of course, I was right. The second time, with the reading just one more page. Because it turns out that first three pages or whatever are meant to be pages from a not-graphic novel series that is like Harry Potter et al. and therefore is written as a send-up of Harry Potter et al. And once I figured that out, I was much happier!

The real novel, the graphic one, is about this fella called Tom Taylor whose father wrote the aforementioned series that instead of Harry Potter is Tommy Taylor. Tom is emphatically not Tommy, but is still making a living going around to all the cons and whatnot signing Tommy Taylor signatures and talking about his father’s work, which his father can’t do because he’s gone mysteriously missing, or possibly just abandoned everyone. And right now Tom has two opposing problems causing him no end of trouble β€” a group of people who think he’s not really Tommy Taylor but some kid his father absconded with to make himself look good, and another group that thinks he’s totally Tommy Taylor, magical wizardry and all. And some people in that last group would really rather him dead…

There’s so much to this story, I’ve barely cracked the surface of it, which makes sense considering these are just the first 5 comics of an ongoing series. But other interesting things so far are Tom’s obsession (given to him by his father) for literary locations, a mysterious staircase that has more stairs going down than coming up, people possibly made of words, and some revisionist-history backstory involving Rudyard Kipling.

I may or may not have gone right out the day after reading this volume to get the other two that currently exist. I might have to track down a comic shop if I get through those too quickly…

Recommendation: So far, I’d recommend for people with a good sense of humor about fantasy conventions and a slightly strong stomach.

Rating: 9/10
(RIP Challenge, A to Z Challenge)

Black Plumes, by Margery Allingham

Well, I mean, let’s be real. After that whirlwind romance with The Night Circus (which I just very reluctantly took back to the library), no other suitor was going to compare at all. So it might be that. But I really did not like Black Plumes.

No, no, it’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s that I didn’t like it, and in fact really it’s that I was and am completely apathetic toward it. I read the book, I learned whodunnit, and I was like, “Oh. Okay. That’s cool, I guess.”

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the other “Golden Age Girls”? Sayers, Christie, and Marsh (or really just all the authors of the period that I’ve read) have given me some crazy death or other that seems impossible or is really weird or has, like, twelve people who could have done it. The murder in this novel just sort of happens and then someone comes to investigate and then everyone suspects everyone else and then at the end it was some other guy who was never suspected, which, I guess I should have called that?

And there was this sub-plot-line with a pretend engagement that I actually didn’t like because it was just kind of annoying, and I didn’t care about either of the parties or any of the parties in the whole book and I couldn’t even tell you what the inspector’s name is or anything about him besides that he doesn’t say “just” or “joke” but rather “chust” and “choke” because apparently that’s what they say wherever he’s from and man that accent as done by this narrator was very distracting. So maybe it’s an audiobook problem?

I don’t know. I have really nothing else to say about this book, and that makes me kind of sad. Should I give Allingham another chance? Is this actually her worst book and I chust made a terrible decision? Please say it’s so!

Recommendation: I just… I don’t know.

Rating: 4/10
(RIP Challenge, Vintage Mystery Challenge)

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

I don’t want to talk about this book. I want to snuggle with it. Snuggle snuggle snuggβ€”ow, those are some pointy edges! Okay, book, you can just stay over there a minute.

Okay, so, this book. I heard some folks bein’ real excited about it earlier this year, and I was like, magicians? Circuses? Secret plots OF DOOM? I am so in. And so I put a hold on it at the library, some ridiculous amount of time in advance. And then in the intervening weeks this book seemed to get ALL the publicity, showing up on lots of blogs and in newspapers and on NPR, and everyone was like OMG THIS BOOK IS TEH AWESOMEST and I was like, ohlord. Because I’ve read those books before, and I have not liked them.

But as you can tell, this book I liked a ton, possibly because all those things that drew me into the story, and that made me worry that they would not be as good as everyone was shouting about, were really not that important. Yes, there are magicians. There is a mysterious contest so hush-hush that even the competitors have no idea what the contest is or how to win it. There is intrigue and subterfuge. But what I cared about was the circus.

The circus is this nearly completely black-and-white affair, with dozens of little tents with your usual circus fare and a few tents with really magical things β€” a magician disguised as an illusionist, a labyrinth, a wishing tree, a landscape made entirely of ice but still realistically aroma-ed. And what makes the circus truly special is that the author makes sure you know exactly what everything looks like and smells like and feels like and all those other sensory things. About a bonfire:

“As you walk closer, you can see that it sits in a wide black iron cauldron, balanced on a number of clawed feet. Where the rim of a cauldron would be, it breaks into long strips of curling iron, as though it has been melted and pulled apart like taffy. The curling iron continues up until it curls back into itself, weaving in and out amongst the other curls, giving it the cage-like effect. The flames are visible in the gaps between and rising slightly above. They are obscured only at the bottom, so it is impossible to tell what is burning, if it is wood or coal or something else entirely.”

Morgenstern intersperses short sensory passages like that throughout the novel, but she writes all of her scenes in a similarly opulent way. At first I was a bit put off by this seemingly over-verbose writing, and in a few places it sort of gets away from Morgenstern, but in general she makes it work fantastically and it is absolutely my favorite aspect of the book. I really want to get my hands on the audiobook so that this writing and Jim Dale’s voice can make beautiful babies in my brain.


If you’re more of a story person, I’m not sure you’ll be as enamored with the book; the plot is fairly simple, starts off quite slow, and ends abruptly AND with a not-declared-as-such-but-it-totally-is-and-can’t-deny-it epilogue, but though I found myself saying more than once “If this goes one step farther I’m calling shenanigans,” the book managed never to take that step, at least by my measurements.

I wrote on Twitter the other night that “I’ve read through the last page of The Night Circus, but I’m certainly not finished with it…” and that holds true today. I spent more than a week reading this book not because I didn’t have time to devour it in one sitting but because I didn’t want to. I wanted to savor that writing and put off leaving the circus as long as possible. And I’m not kidding about the audiobook. My library doesn’t have it yet but when they do, you’ll be seeing another post about The Night Circus right here.

Recommendation: If you like shiny pretty things or magic or clown-less circuses, you’ll probably be happy here.

Rating: 9/10
(RIP Challenge, A to Z Challenge)

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Here’s a true story for you: The Hobbit is the first book I ever lied about reading, way back when I was but a young Alison looking to score some Summer Reading Club points. My parents totally did not believe my lies, but they allowed said lies to stand anyway, leading to DECADES of shame and regret. Well, not really. Most of the time I forget it even happened. But I’ve never lied about a Summer Reading Club book since! (Summer reading in general, yes, totally.)

But now I have read it, and I can speak with authority on the subjects of Misplaced Heroism and Wizards That Are Not Very Nice. Seriously, I had no idea Gandalf was such a jerk! Blah blah blah, grand adventures, blah, self-confidence, blah, endless treasure, whatever. No means no, Gandalf!

I know I’m not the last person to read this book, so here’s the plot: jerky wizard recruits homebody hobbit to go help some dwarves steal all the treasures from a talking dragon. Said gang wanders toward dragon and gets swept up in some side-quests along the way; a ring is tricked away from a creeper. The gang finally gets to the dragon and fails at stealing all the treasures until someone kills the dragon for them. There is fighting. Eventually, Homebody Hobbit returns home with a handful of treasure, which doesn’t last long for an amusing reason.

So. It’s a Quest Novel. I’m not always a big fan of these, and I’d have to say this one is all right, I guess. The scrapes they get into are interesting, especially when they ignore directions and go wandering in the woods, and of course I was intrigued by the Gollum aspect of things having seen the LOTR movies (I’ll get around to the books someday, maybe). I was a little concerned by the GI-Joe-like refusal to let anyone die, but then everyone started dying and I was like, hey, hold on, this is going a little overboard. But it’s really not a quest until someone dies, right?

Of course, the best part was that the audiobook cover had the same picture that graces my engagement puzzle (read: the puzzle my then-boyfriend and I were putting together when I completely ignored his proposal [accidentally, I swear!]), so when things got boring I could just think back on adorable times. I may be a huge sap.

The second-best part was that ears-reading the book meant that the narrator SANG to me, which was absolutely fantastic because a) I always want to know how songs in books go and b) Rob Inglis is probably a way better singer than those dwarves and goblins and whatnot. If he could have sung the whole book to me, that would have been just fine.

And even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the book, I liked it enough that I am very interested in seeing the movie β€” I was going to watch it eventually if only for Martin Freeman, but now I might actually pay to see it, which is just ridiculous. There had better be singing!

Recommendation: You probably already know if you want to read it, but if you’re on the fence you should think about how much you like quests, goblins, and riddles.

Rating: 7/10
(TBR Challenge)

Thinner, by Richard Bachman

I’m always a little confused by authors who use pseudonyms but are also like, “I am totally this person,” so people will read their books. Like I’ve cataloged a few books that are authored by NORA ROBERTS (writing as J.D. Robb) or… someone whose name I forget where her author bio is like “This Person is the pseudonym of That Other Person.” Why are we bothering with the pseudonym, then?

All this is to say that I didn’t actually realize this was a Richard Bachman book until well after I started listening, because everything I looked at was all STEPHEN EFFING KING all the time. It is also to say that when people know they are reading a Stephen King book it is a little weird to hear the narrator talking about how it’s like he’s in a Stephen King book, but according to my friend Cory this is not an unusual thing to happen in a King novel. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

Aaaaanyway the novel. I had actually thought this was a short story, because the plot β€” a heavy guy gets cursed to become thinner, which is cool until all of a sudden he can barely eat enough to survive β€” did not seem like a story that could be sustained over 10 hours(!). And indeed, there were a few parts where I was like, “Okay I get it let’s move it along now?”

But on the whole the story was delightfully horror-ful. It starts with a guy, Billy, who’s like, “That creepy gypsy guy was creepy. Why did he say ‘THINNER’ at me?” And then he’s all losing weight, and you find out that the creepy gypsy guy said that because Billy ran over the gypsy’s daughter who ran out into the street and so he was found not guilty of manslaughter or whatever except that then it turns out that maybe he wasn’t quite so not guilty after all? And maybe the gypsy isn’t only targeting him? But Billy is a lawyer, so he’s gonna fight back, even if he has to drive all the way up to Maine (you knew Maine was in here somewhere, didn’t you?) to find these gypsies and bitch at them. Because that’s really what it boils down to.

And really, the driving up I-95 bit could have just been completely excised from the story, because I really do understand that gypsies are creepy, and also why is it that everyone is like “Man, I haven’t seen a gypsy in like 25 years” and then at the EXACT SAME TIME like “Oh, gypsies. You know how they roll.” Do you? Are you sure?

But the whole cursing aspect is interesting, and Billy’s visits to the other afflicted-types are quite creepy, and the ending is the only possible ending I would have accepted for Billy so it’s fine that it’s pretty well telegraphed. Also, I knew I liked Joe Mantegna, the audiobook narrator, from his work on the teevee, but seriously that man can read a book. He did some fantastic voice work to the point where I was sometimes like, “Isn’t Joe Mantegna reading this book? Who is this guy? That is Joe Mantegna? Are you sure?” I think he should probably read every Stephen King book, because he can make with the spooky and terrifying. Maybe he should do a version of The Turn of the Screw! How much would it cost to commission that?

Recommendation: On the whole, I enjoyed my ten hours with Stephen and Joe. Especially Joe. And while I think the novel should be much much shorter, I do still think it’s worth a read if you’re in the mood for some gruesome.

Rating: 8.5/10 (bonus points for Joe!)
(RIP Challenge, What’s in a Name Challenge)

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion

I’m just going to start with this β€” I don’t think I understood this book. I don’t think anyone in my book club (for which I read this book) understood this book. I made this discovery at the book club meeting, during which we found some discussion questions including (to paraphrase) “How did Didion use humor in this book?” and “What parts of this book were exhilarating?”

We couldn’t come up with humor. We couldn’t come up with exhilaration. We came up with introspection, detachment, plodding…

Which is not to say that I disliked this book. I didn’t like it, perhaps, but I found it very intriguing, which is more than I can say for some of my fellow readers!

The Year of Magical Thinking is Didion’s memoir about the death of her husband, which happens suddenly if not unexpectedly at the dinner table, and how she makes it through the first year after his death. This is not easy after forty years of marriage and the rocky previous year in their relationship, and it is especially difficult because Didion’s daughter is, from five days before the death to the end of Didion’s narration, in and out of the hospital herself with mystery ailments that don’t bode well for her.

I did not find it an exhilarating book; in fact, Didion seems to go out of her way to make everything very rational and straightforward, even the things that aren’t naturally so, and provide a sort of road map to life as a widow. She speaks of being called a “cool customer” by her social worker, of saving her husband’s shoes just in case he comes back, of dealing with the panic that is set off by the most innocuous of memories. I haven’t lost a spouse of forty years, but I have lost some loved ones in my time, and I can see a lot of Didion’s reactions in my own, if scaled down.

I can only think that I would have understood and appreciated it better if I actually knew who Didion was outside of the scope of this book, and knew the context of her life in which to place all of these events. I felt absolutely lost when Didion would mention friends or locations that meant nothing to me, or when she referenced previous novels by her or her husband. I knew there must be a connection to be made, but I had no idea what it was or how to make it.

So on the whole, I found this book fairly depressing and a bit under-explained in places (and over-explained in others), but I did find it an interesting read for the simple honesty of it all.

Recommendation: I really don’t know who this was written for. I’m going to say that if you know Didion or have gone through similar troubles, you might be interested. But I’m not sure.

Rating: 5/10

(A to Z Challenge)