The Family Plot, by Cherie Priest

The Family PlotRIP is almost over, but you’ve got plenty of time to read this book before (or during!) Hallowe’en. I picked this up late on a Saturday night, spooked myself until I fell asleep, and then woke up and finished it on a Sunday in the light of day. Good life choices?

I don’t even remember why I picked this up — it must have been on a list of creepy reads somewhere and I saw “house” and “ghost” and “American Pickers” and then magically the book was on hold for me! Man, if only I did have a ghost that picked out my books, that would make life super easy.

Or super scary, I guess. The premise behind this book, as you may have guessed above, is that a merry band of pickers set off to spend a week in a creepy old house while they gut it for dollars. Things are weird from the beginning, with weird footprints in the floor dust and doors randomly locking and unlocking themselves, and then the actual ghosts come out in full force. That’s right, there’s no wondering here; this house is haunted and it would really like you to know that. Our Fearful Leader decides that her picker band can totally weather the ghosts for a few days because Arbitrary Reasons for Not Getting the Heck Out of There, and things get much worse before they get better.

I had a lot of issues with this book, starting on the first page when I thought the writing style might make me roll my eyes so hard they’d become ghosts haunting the editor’s house. It’s very… faux-noir, can’t decide if its homage or satire, super casual but also kind of formal… it’s weird. But, I wanted to see some ghosts, so I kept going.

The ghosts were pretty okay; as I said on Goodreads, there’s this running creepy shower business that had me seriously contemplating skipping the shower that Sunday morning, but my respect for others’ noses won out. Flashes of yellow dresses and small children running around are most sufficiently creepy.

But then I ran into the same problem I had with Heart-Shaped Box, wherein I went to bed right at the spookiest part and so my second sitting with the book was like 75% less creepy. Dang it! Don’t get me wrong, there was some pretty weird and scary stuff in that second part, but in the morning light it just wasn’t the same. Also, spoilers?, the ending of the book is super anti-climactic and a little too explainy for my tastes, so I didn’t leave with a great impression.

BUT, for all that I’m down on the book now, I really did enjoy reading it and probably would have enjoyed it much better if I could have consumed it in one sitting, in the dark, with one of my husband’s creepy video games providing background noise. If you, like me, heard “house”, “ghost”, and “pickers” and your ears perked up, you’ll probably have a decent time with this book.

Weekend Shorts: Hoopla Trades

I talked about the awesomeness that is hoopla about a month ago, but really mostly about the wonder that is Lumberjanes single issues. I had indicated that I was going to read ALL THE COMICS on hoopla and report back, but of course best laid plans and all that.

However, I did use some of my monthly allotment to grab up various trade editions, so now I can tell you what it’s like to read in volumes rather than issues, and the answer is, well, basically the same as with their print counterparts. The biggest difference I found between the digital and print volumes is that in digital, my brain and thumb are poised to skip over all the non-essential pages, so sometimes I found myself in a new issue unexpectedly, or hit a switch in storyline and wondered if I’d missed the issue break somehow. Note to self: SLOW DOWN.

But otherwise I continue to highly recommend hoopla for your free-comics needs! I’m even strongly considering a tablet purchase in the near future so that I can read these comics in closer to full-size glory. But don’t worry, local comic shop, I’m also considering buying a lot of really pretty comics in the future now that I’ve seen them all tiny and loved them. It’s a win-win!

Here’s some of what I’ve been devouring:

iZombie, Vols. 2 & 3, by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred
iZombie, Vol. 2iZombie, Vol. 3I picked up the first volume in this series last summer when my beloved show was on summer break, and I liked it actually way more than I was expecting. I meant to read more, but I never got around to buying them. How convenient to get them for free!

Having them for free was probably a great thing, though, as I wasn’t as excited about them as I’d hoped. The first volume is so interesting and ends on such a weird note, and then the second volume starts off with a standalone backstory issue and when it gets into the main story again does a lot of rehashing of the premise that I found very boring. Then we get into Gwen’s backstory via Gwen having to interact with people who think she’s dead, which should be fascinating but is somehow just… not. I was disappointed in the second volume.

If I wanted crazy, though, Volume 3 delivers, giving us more strange things to worry about in the form of monster hunters and Dead Presidents (probably not exactly what you’re thinking…) and zombie hordes and a Big Bad who wants to do, I don’t know, bad things, and it doesn’t lack for twists and turns. It’s a little much, but I have to say that I am clearly loving the action in this series more than anything else, so it worked for me.

I’m intrigued to see how this is all finished up in the TEN ISSUE Volume 4 (that is an insane number of issues, fyi), but something that enormous is probably going to have to wait a while.

Giant Days, Vol. 1, by John Allison and Lissa Treiman
Giant Days, Vol. 1I never read the whole thing, but for a year or two in high school I was obsessed with the webcomic Scary Go Round, written and drawn by John Allison. When I heard about Giant Days, I was intrigued; when I realized it was written by Allison, I was hooked; when I saw it on hoopla I devoured Volume 1 immediately.

And it is the best. Most of the comics I read are like iZombie — fantasy or sci-fi or just generally weird. Weird is so much fun in comic form. But this is that other kind of weird that I like, the kind that is quirky and sarcastic and just so wonderful.

The comic follows a group of friends at university (not college, ’cause Britain is weird) who are, as mentioned, quirky and sarcastic. They probably go to class, but we see them in the in-between periods, hanging out and being friends and making new friends and living in that strange bubble that is college, where everything is just so important. If you want to feel some serious college nostalgia, I very much recommend this book.

I love the three lady protagonists (especially Susan!) and I love how their escapades are things like attempting to stay drama-free or survive a terrible flu but also things like writing a feminist screed that gets a little out of hand. I am so excited to see what these ladies get up to next, and so glad that single issues are current on hoopla. Once more unto the breach!

Ghostly, ed. by Audrey Niffenegger

GhostlyUm, ghost stories? Audrey Niffenegger? I was so obviously sold on this collection, even after I realized that Niffenegger didn’t actually write all the stories in it. There’s one of her stories tucked in there, and she wrote the introduction, and some shorter introductions before each ghost story, so there’s a lot of her in the book, but it’s possibly more awesome that my attachment to Niffenegger has now led me to some other amazing authors.

Now, Niffenegger makes a point at the beginning of the book that it is not diverse or representative but just full of stories that she thinks are cool, which, I mean, okay, I guess, but it’s kind of weird you brought it up, you know? I have not checked the diversity credentials of the authors in this collection, but when it turns out it’s all white dudes and chicks I will not be surprised. If you’ve got a more diverse collection of ghost stories for me, let me know!

But I can see why Niffenegger thinks these stories are cool. The first story in the book is “The Black Cat”, by one Mr. Poe, which I have read several times for fun and school, but every other story in the book was completely new to me. There are some classics, including the Poe and “They”, by Kipling, and then some newer works by Kelly Link and Neil Gaiman. They all have ghosts in common, or sort-of-ghosts, though the best ones, in my opinion, make you sort of doubt whether there are ghosts at all. Uncertainty is weirdly terrifying.

My favorites of the collection: “The Beckoning Fair One”, by Oliver Onions, in which a writer decides to move into part of a strange old house and finds that his writing is completely stymied and his friendships falling apart, and also there are some strange things happening inside the house but surely that’s just a coincidence. Also “Playmates”, by A.M. Burrage, in which some weird dude adopts an orphan as, like, a social experiment, and is kind of disappointed when she makes friends with ghosts, and “The Specialist’s Hat”, by Kelly Link, in which some kids learn the difference between playing Dead and, well, you can probably guess.

I was actually not that excited about Niffenegger’s own story, “Secret Life, with Cats”, but it was one of the ones that lacked any sort of questions or ambivalence, so if you like your ghost stories wrapped up nice and neat you will probably like it very much.

Overall, this is a solid collection, and I will definitely be on the lookout for more from these authors, like that young upstart Poe but also like Link and Onions. I wish my reading experience hadn’t been tainted by that note on diversity, but on the plus side it will make me seek out the collections that have it. There’s still time for more ghost stories this year, right?

Recommendation: For fans of ghosts and stories.

Rating: 7/10

Weekend Shorts: Comics in Space and also Ghosts

We’ve got a space spoof, a space western spoof, and an incredibly sarcastic horror spoof in the lineup today. Clearly I am taking this weekend very seriously. How about you?

Galaxy Quest: The Journey Continues, #3-4, by Erik Burnham and Nacho Arranz
Galaxy Quest #3Galaxy Quest #4So, yeah, after last time I was not exactly in a rush to finish off this series, even though it’s been sitting in my house staring at me for a while now. I just thought, you know, if I don’t read it, it might be good! But I needn’t have worried, as apparently this mini-series should have just been three issues instead of four, kicking out that terrible second one.

In the third issue, we get right down to it, showing up at the alien planet, making some wisecracks about science fiction conventions (not… not like cons, but like, tropes and stuff), and fighting a giant alien monster. Woo fighting alien monsters! It’s all very exciting and also a little super gross. In the fourth issue, our heroes finally make it to the thing they’re supposed to destroy and, spoilers, destroy the heck out of it. But with style! Lots of style, and wisecracks. Style, wisecracks, and potentially terrible mistakes. And then there’s a not-quite-cliffhanger at the end to pave the way for future issues.

I have to say, except for that terrible second issue, this was really super delightful. I love Galaxy Quest and many of the things it spoofs, and if you do, too, there’s no way to go wrong with this. But I’m thinking if another mini-run shows up at the comic store, I might hold off until the trade shows up. Those filler issues are rough!

Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars, #2: “The Sad, Sad Song of Widow Johnson, Part Two”, by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and J. Bone
Sparks Nevada #2Let’s be real, I love Sparks Nevada (and Sparks Nevada) and this issue could have been just him saying “I’m…. from earth” in every panel and I would be stupidly amused. But this was even better than that!

We pick up with Sparks’s party turned to glass and the bad guys chasing after him and Croach while also striving to be respectful of Mars’s culture and natural features. So considerate! There’s bad guy infighting, careful onus calculation, a trip through the never-before-mentioned (or possibly I wasn’t paying attention) Martian underground cities, trampolines, and some weird Martian planet thing that is, according to Sparks, sogross. Poor, poor Sparks.

Beyond Belief, #1: “The Donna Party”, by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and Phil Hester
Beyond Belief #1Woo! It’s finally time to send the little ones to dreamland and see what those lovely Doyles actually look like! Unsurprisingly, Sadie looks rather like Paget Brewster, but it only now occurs to me how completely incongruous it is that she and Frank, perpetually dressed to the nines and carrying martini glasses, would be fighting ghosts. You’d think Sadie’d at least change into a comfy pair of pants or something.

But, regardless, they take their natty selves where they are needed, and in this issue they are needed at the home of Sadie’s friend Donna, who has moved into a house that is absolutely delightful except for the part where it’s haunted. Frank and Sadie arrive to discover a host of creepy-pants dolls ready to have a never-ending tea party with them, but of course they figure out the root of the problem and send one poor, beleaguered spirit and his slightly crazy spirit wife back to where they belong. Then there’s a little lead in to what might be the next issue, which will be weird if it’s true because the podcast story is mostly self-contained. We shall see…

And, as in the first Sparks Nevada issue, there is an extra issue #0 tacked on to tell the story of how Frank and Sadie met, which I must admit was a little strange and underwhelming. I much prefer their vomit-inducingly adorable current relationship to any other way they might ever have acted, so I’m gonna stick with it.

The Shadow Cabinet, by Maureen Johnson

The Shadow CabinetHas it really been two years since I read The Madness Underneath? Am I going to have to wait another two years to see how this ends?? Things are getting crazy up in this series and I don’t think I can handle it.

If you haven’t read the series, seriously, start with the first book, read the three existing books as fast as possible, and then come back here. If you read on without doing so, I can’t promise you won’t be spoiled to the best parts of the first books.

This book starts off right where the last one left off, with an upsettingly dead person. Sad face! Rory and Co. are pretty sure the UDP is a ghost now and decide to go track UDP down, but they’re already pretty busy looking for the crazy Jane Quaint and Rory’s kidnapped classmate Charlotte. Then Rory, in the midst of breaking all the rules, meets a new ghost-seer with a wealth of information about London and ghosts and even secret society conspiracy theories that are totally just wacko theories except perhaps they’re not? Meanwhile, we get the back story on crazy Jane, who helped a pair of twins murder a bunch of people in an attempt to beat death, which twins are totally dead but possibly not for long.

This book is nuts, but still awesome because Maureen Johnson does not know how to write a not-awesome sentence or a not-awesome Rory. Rory is the best, guys, even if she is incredibly terrible at following rules. And I am super-interested in all the new characters Johnson introduces and what they’re going to do in the next, last book.

This book also introduces a lot of that intrigue and subterfuge that I like, and even though I felt like things were going a little off the rails, plot-wise (Secret societies! Magic stones! Cults of personality! People who are only mostly dead!), I was still totally interested in how everything was going to play out, and it played out quite nicely. The ending was even sufficiently creepy without resorting to killing people I like! Very excellent.

Recommendation: For those who like ghost stories with subterfuge.

Rating: 8/10

Razorhurst, by Justine Larbalestier

RazorhurstI read my first Justine Larbalestier book, Liar, a million years ago and meant to read more of them, but then she didn’t write anything that seemed nearly as exciting for a while. Then I heard Larbalestier was writing a historical fiction novel, and I was like, uggggh, come on, but THEN I heard she was writing a historical fiction novel set in Sydney and involving ghosts and I was like, oh, yeah, count me in.

And that is this book! Our hero, Kelpie, is an orphan of indeterminate age who lives in a super shady Sydney suburb that is part of a larger neighborhood called Razorhurst. Razorhurst is, as the nickname might suggest, full of razor-wielding gangs and, necessarily, a lot of ghosts. Kelpie can see those ghosts. Most of them are pretty awful, but some of them have helped her survive on the streets without getting picked up by child services, so when one of the more in-the-middle ghosts points her in the direction of food, she crosses her fingers and goes to find it. Instead she finds Dymphna Campbell, “best girl” to the head of one of two competing gangs; Jimmy Palmer, the super annoying ghost of Dymphna’s dead boyfriend; and a whoooole world of trouble.

I mean, if that doesn’t intrigue you, I cannot help you become more interested in this book. There’s running and jumping and also talking in measured tones and avoiding the gaze of ghosts. There’s a little bit of romance, but not much, and there is a lot of overthinking next moves and then just going for it and hoping for the best.

I really liked the way Larbalestier handled the ghost business. On an individual ghost level, there’s Kelpie having to juggle listening to Jimmy’s advice and then figuring out how to give it without looking highly suspicious, or, alternately, how to ignore the advice completely without sending Jimmy into a tantrum. But even more interesting is how the ghosts aren’t all of one mold — some haunt people, some haunt places, some just kind of exist, some are quiet, some are loud, some are obnoxious — and how Larbalestier puts some thought into where a bunch of ghosts might hang out in 1930s Sydney. So there are ghosts, sure, but they don’t seem terribly out of place in an otherwise historically accurate (I presume) novel.

The humans, on the other hand… I just didn’t click with them that well. I didn’t quite understand how they were all interacting with each other or what emotions they were supposed to be feeling about things or what emotions I might be supposed to be feeling about things that happened to the humans. There were a few times where I could tell that I was supposed to be surprised or upset or something but it just wasn’t going to happen.

But, on the plus side, I am kind of obsessed with Australia, and was actually in Sydney for a few days last year, and so it was neat and also kind of super creepy to realize that I was not very far at all from some very ghost-filled places. I’m kind of disappointed now that we spent most of our time on the opposite side of Sydney from Surry Hills/Darlinghurst. If only this book had come out a few months sooner, I could have had some very interesting vacation photos!

Recommendation: For people who saw gangs and ghosts and 1930s Sydney and were like, tell me more.

Rating: 8/10

The Madness Underneath, by Maureen Johnson

The Madness UnderneathAbout a year ago I read and liked the heck out of Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star, so when I heard this sequel was coming out I put it on hold at the library as soon as it showed up in the catalog. And then I even read it right after I got it! That’s almost unprecedented.

And it was as delightful as expected, though it unfortunately suffers from Second Book in a Series Syndrome, which is to say that if you read this book by itself you would be like, uh, okay, but having read the first and knowing there’s a third you’re like, okay!

The story picks up a couple of weeks after the last book, with Rory recuperating from all the crazy back in Brighton with her parents and unsuccessfully attending therapy on account of her truth sounds like crazy. She just wants to go back to school, but when her therapist unexpectedly says that she can and she does, she realizes that maybe not doing any schoolwork for a couple weeks right before the end of term was not the best idea.

So she’s dealing with the crush of school and exams, and also the fact that she can… do that thing she does, and the related fact that she was brought back to London for a reason, and the other related fact that some new mysterious murders are going on and so is it any wonder that things go a little bit not according to plan?

I, as always, enjoyed Maureen Johnson’s writing and her accurate portrayal of a stressed-out teenager. I was also verrrry intrigued by how she ended this book, and am eager to see how this plays out in the next book. I just feel like maybe this book could have been compressed and that intriguing thing could have been the thrust of this story, or alternately that the book could have taken place over a longer timespan and we could have seen more of Rory’s schooltime woes (and that perhaps she could have spent more time trying to fix them?).

Recommendation: If you liked the first book, read this one, but maybe wait until closer to the next book’s release, because seriously I want to know what’s going to happen here!

Rating: 7/10