October Round-up | Books read

I was reasonably pleased with my reading in October, especially as I had a couple of mini-reading slumps. The issue for me at the moment seems to be that I get about a quarter of the way into a book then no matter how much I am enjoying it I kind of stop. See if you can spot a pattern….

Pandemic * Sonia Shah [10 October]

More than three hundred infectious diseases have emerged or reemerged in new territory during the past fifty years, and ninety per cent of epidemiologists expect that one of them will cause a disruptive, deadly pandemic sometime in the next two generations.

Recommended by the ladies of This Podcast Will Kill You (a must-listen if you are at all interested in diseases etc.), this uses cholera as an example of how pandemics start and spread as the basis for theorising about how any future pandemic might behave. Fascinating and a bit scary, especially when the author talks about how groups are scapegoated when disease breaks out.

The Year of Learning Dangerously * Quinn Cummings [20 October]

I have said here before that I am a great admirer of Quinn and support her through Patreon so that she can tell small stories through Twitter. Anyway, this is the second of her three books that I have picked up, and it is all about home-schooling her daughter. A mixture of personal experience and the history of the home-schooling movement, I found it fascinating and hilarious.

A Long Cold Winter * Max Gladstone & Lindsay Smith [20 October]

When I bought this I knew it was a short story but wasn’t paying enough attention at the time to notice that it was, in fact, the first part of a serial called The Witch Who Came in from the Cold written by multiple authors. So I treated this a taster and enjoyed it very much. I didn’t realise that I needed Cold War magical spycraft in easter Europe quite so much, but apparently, I do.

The Luminous Dead * Caitlin Starling [21 October]

a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

Less of a horror story than I expected, more of a creepy character study. I probably shouldn’t have read this in the wee small hours while in the throes of insomnia. It was totally worth it, but not for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia. Trust me.

The Twilight Pariah * Jeffrey Ford [22 October]

All Maggie, Russell, and Henry wanted out of their last college vacation was to get drunk and play archaeologist in an old house in the woods outside of town.

Another short read, this was definitely a horror story. They probably shouldn’t have removed that thing from the trench they dug because of course there were Consequences. Really liked this but the end just sort of happened; the story concluded but it looked like there was going to be more. Which I would have welcomed.

Longer * Michael Blumlein [24 October]

Gunjita and Cav are in orbit. R&D scientists for pharmaceutical giant Gleem Galactic, they are wealthy enough to participate in rejuvenation: rebooting themselves from old age to jump their bodies back to their twenties. You get two chances. There can never be a third. After Gunjita has juved for the second and final time and Cav has not, questions of life, death, morality, and test their relationship. Up among the stars, the research possibilities are infinite and first contact is possible, but their marriage may not survive the challenge.

Not sure the payoff worked but there were enough thought-provoking ideas along the way to make it worth reading. I just wanted a bit more.

Sunday Salon | 18 August (for real this time!)

I can’t decide whether no-one noticed that I got the date wrong last time or if everyone was just being polite.

Anyway, here we are on the genuine, accept no imitations Sunday 18 August 2019 for my weekly round-up. It will be a short one this week because….

  • my brain is mush after writing my mega-movie round up which I published yesterday;
  • I still haven’t finished any of the books I’m reading;
  • my current reading list hasn’t really changed since my last post;
  • I haven’t been anywhere interesting, working on stuff at home instead; and
  • I only bought two new books, both pre-orders; more about them later

But you will have realised from the picture accompanying this post that we did go and see the new Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I really liked it and will be reviewing it shortly; it has got me running down Manson-related rabbit holes the contents of which I will no doubt talk about here in due course.

As for the new books ….

  • Chase Darkness With Me * Billy Jensen – the memoir by the journalist and true crime podcaster about his career and involvement in solving cold cases. He finished Michelle McNamara’s book on the Golden State Killer after her sudden death, and manages to be absolutely serious and very entertaining all at once. I’m really looking forward to reading this on as I’m a regular listener to Jensen & Holes: The Murder Squad
  • Dahlia Black * Keith Thomas – ” … a suspenseful oral history commemorating the five-year anniversary of the Pulse—the alien code that hacked the DNA of Earth’s population—and the response team who faced the world-changing phenomenon.” They had me at “for fans of World War Z” 🙂

And that’s it. I have a few pre-orders being delivered next week and a couple of outings planned so should have more to talk about. Have a great reading week!

Hereditary

After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.

Hereditary has been on my radar for some time as part of a long list of horror films that I have had on my wishlist. I decided to watch it at home before taking myself off to the cinema to see Midsommar by the same director, Ari Aster, mainly to get a sense of what I was getting myself into.

Oh my.

So we have Annie, an artist whose abusive mother after struggling with Alzheimer’s, and because Annie did not get on with her mother at all she is finding it difficult to grieve and is a mixture of angry and fragile. This has an unhealthy impact on her family; husband Steve is a decent man trying to hold everything together, and the teenagers Charlie and Peter. All sorts of little odd things happen, then An Event takes place which changes the dynamic of the film and we move into finding out all of the dark secrets in the family, and some outside malign influences.

Then it all goes batshit crazy.

The first thing to say about this is I didn’t find it frightening. I did, however, find it disturbing and really unsettling, making me feel uneasy and frightened on behalf of several of the characters, especially Peter.

There are several gross-out moments which I found effective with a certain amount of “how is that even possible” floating around the back of my mind.

Several reviewers have references the influence of Rosemary’s Baby (a film which freaked me out when I saw it as a teenager and which I still find difficult to watch) and I think that’s a very valid comparison. I liked the feeling of dread, that sense that something is about to happen and you know it’s going to be awful but it can’t be stopped.

The last 20 minutes or so is deeply strange and veers a little close to silliness but gets away with it, entirely due to the performances of the main cast. Toni Collette as Annie is amazing; I hated and felt sorry for her all at once.

Would watch again.

Dazzling details: Hereditary was directed by Ari Aster, is 2h 7m long and rated 15 for strong threat, gory images, language and drug use.

The Dead Don’t Die

The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.

I am a latecomer to the world of Jim Jarmusch. My friend Silvery Dude strongly recommended Night on Earth as something I would enjoy, and I did, and then two of my favourite actors, Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, were cast in Only Lovers Left Alive which I absolutely adored. So when I found out that Jarmusch was making a zombie movie and that I could get to a preview screening then I jumped at the chance to see it.

I’ll get onto my thoughts in a moment, but the response to this movie has been very interesting to me, veering from “appalling (bafflingly so)” via “the idea of the movie is better than the movie itself” to “awkwardly charming” and “very enjoyable and self-referential”

One comment I do agree with is that if you aren’t already an admirer of Jarmusch then this isn’t the film that’s going to change that.

As for me, I thought The Dead Don’t Die was great fun. It works because the humour is so deadpan and the situation so silly and the fourth wall is broken in such an enjoyable way that it makes even the really odd bits near the end acceptable. The ensemble cast is really good, with the standouts for me being two of my current crushes, Adam Driver (who gets most of the best bits) and Tilda Swinton, whose accent was excellent as far as my Scottish ears were concerned.

It really isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea but I loved it and will happily watch it again.

Dazzling details: The Dead Don’t Die was directed by Jim Jarmusch, is 1h 44m long and rated 15 for gory images, strong violence, language. I saw it at a packed preview screening in NFT1

Sunday Salon | 21 July 2019

The tennis at Wimbledon is over and I’m only watching the Tour de France highlights each evening so there is no reason not to be reading, but here we are, with not much progress made. But it’s been an interesting couple of weeks since my last post so I shouldn’t complain (though of course I will, because that’s what I do!)

Instead, I’ve been on a horror film kick which means watching movies by myself as the Book God, who enjoys a good monster movie, doesn’t like the sort of thing that I’ve been focussed on, so it’s just as well that I am happy to go to the cinema by myself. Reviews of The Dead Don’t Die, Hereditary and Midsommar will follow shortly.

We also finally got to see the Manga exhibition at the British Museum, which was really excellent – there’s a small gallery of pictures I took there on my Instagram feed, as well as the one at the top of this post. If you’re in London I can really recommend it as there is so much to see.

But what about the books?

Books read since my last post:

Stalling for Time by Gary Noesner – I mentioned this in my last post and will be writing about it shortly. I found it absolutely fascinating as a companion to the Waco TV series which we have been watching

Our Rainbow Queen by Sali Hughes is a coffee table book which looks at QEII’s fashion over her long life organised by colour. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you will know that I love fashion so this was a no-brainer though I decided to get it in the Kindle edition. It’s a light and quick read consisting of photographs with captions by the author. I had a couple of quibbles about some of the information in the captions but this is more than made up for by the wonderful photographs.

New books since my last post, of which there are quite a few because I might not be reading but that doesn’t mean I’m not still collecting! These aren’t in any order….

Eternity’s Sunrise * Marion Milner – subtitled A Way of Keeping a Diary, this is another area of interest for me. I’m a very patchy journal-keeper and want to become more consistent in the practice. I like the idea behind this book, which suggests asking the simple question “What is the most important thing that happened yesterday?”

Exhalation * Ted Chiang – a new collection of short stories from the mind behind the story that was the basis for the movie Arrival. His work is quite challenging but worth the investment. This was a pre-order.

Five Seasons * Mons Kallentoft – I can be influenced by the “people who bought this book also bought these books” flags on Amazon and that’s how I found this author, and couldn’t resist buying the omnibus containing the five Malin Fors books.

Not For Use In Navigation * Iona Datt Sharma – more short works, described as thirteen stories of love and queerness, hope and decolonisation, and the inevitability of change. I may have been attracted by the cover.

Perihelion Summer * Greg Egan – science fiction novel by an author I don’t think I have read before. Looks good.

Rain Girl * Gabi Kreslehner – the first Franza Oberweiser detective novel with the standard young woman found dead and a search for justice undertaken but looks very interesting.

The Bee’s Kiss * Barbara Cleverley – a detective novel set in 1920s London, this is actually the fifth in the Joe Sandilands series. The first four are set in India and didn’t really appeal, though the Book God loved them. I understand that this book effectively kicks off a new series which shares the same character and is a good place to start.

The Reapers are the Angels * Alden Bell – a Southern Gothic post-apocalyptic novel which was included on a “best of” list on, I think, Crime Reads. Speaks to my interests.

The Survival of Molly Southbourne * Tade Thompson – the sequel to The Murders of Molly Southbourne which was one of my favourite reads from last year, I pre-ordered this as soon as it was announced. Excellent stuff and Thompson has just won the Arther C Clarke award for his novel Rosewater which I also have.

The Toll * Cherie Priest – another pre-order, this is a ghostly tale of swamps, cabins, mysterious bridges that may or may not exist and a missing wife. Creepy.

The Triumph of the Spider Monkey * Joyce Carol Oates – Ms Oates is one of my favourite writers and so prolific that I find it difficult to keep track of what she has published. This has been out of print for forty years or so and I am only aware of it because a fellow blogger reviewed it. madness, murder and maniacs.

This Is How You Lose the Time War * Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone – this has been on my radar for a while but shot up my to-buy list when I found out it’s an epistolary novel. I’m a sucker for those. Reviews have all been good.

Traces * Patricia Wiltshire – more non-fiction in the forensic science field.

Wanderers * Chuck Wendig – I’ve been looking forward to the release of this novel, which has been described as “a suspenseful, twisty, satisfying, surprising, thought-provoking epic.” A pre-order.

Wilder Girls * Rory Power – a disease which has killed many, a quarantined girls school, this sounds a bit Lord of the Flies, which is not a bad thing.

I’m currently reading The Clockwork Scarab (still) and Slowly We Die by Emilie Schep, Scandi noir. I’m about halfway through both of these and hope to finish them soon.

Hope you have a great reading week!

Bone Tomahawk

I’m not sure how Bone Tomahawk came to my attention, but once it was flagged I was really keen to see it. I missed it at the cinema so was very grateful to the Book God for getting it for me as a gift.

In the dying days of the old west, an elderly sheriff and his posse set out to rescue their town’s doctor from cannibalistic cave dwellers.

Not an entirely accurate synopsis but it will do to kick us off.

We start with a couple of outlaws who have robbed and killed some settlers and are therefore on the run. Unfortunately while running they stumble upon a sacred site which they desecrate by their mere presence; one is brutally killed and the other makes his way to Bright Hope. An altercation with the sheriff leads to him being shot, which results in the wife of a local rancher tending to his wounds because the town’s actual doctor is dead drunk, further leading them both to be kidnapped along with the deputy who is keeping an eye on things. None of this becomes clear until the next morning when the body of the young stable boy is found and the bad guys have already made their escape.

We then have the classic posse heading out to rescue the hostages. Sadly there are only four men in said posse, one of whom is injured but determined to take part in his wife’s rescue. They are made aware that what they are dealing with is a group of cannibals shunned by the various Native American tribes, but despite all of that they feel they have to make the attempt. And off we go.

I was interested to see that at the beginning the horror was fairly low key – yes there is a gruesome murder and we see the graphic results of that, but generally we don’t get a feel for what the troglodytes are capable of until our heroes get nearer to their base. That means that the film is for a large part a fairly traditional western with some very recognisable characters; the grizzled sheriff (Kurt Russell), his ageing deputy (Richard Jenkins), the decent rancher (Patrick Wilson) and the flashy gunslinger (Matthew Fox). The performances are restrained and the horror builds up slowly until we get to a scene of graphic violence and ritual killing which was quite astonishing, and had a major impact on the characters who witnessed it and the audience i.e. me.

I liked the fact that the kidnapped woman, played by Lili Simmons, was intelligent, capable and fully aware of her predicament, able to assess the strength of her captors and not faint away. This is always a good thing.

Other good things:

  • grizzled Kurt Russell is the very best Kurt Russell, especially when being stoic and brave;
  • Richard Jenkins is a fine actor and I have loved him in everything I’ve seen him in, and he is fabulous here;
  • although the violence is extreme and graphic it didn’t feel to me to be gratuitous, but YMMV.

I enjoyed this slice of Western horror, and because I had to watch it alone as the Book God does not like This Sort of Thing it has spawned a new hashtag – #HorrorByMyself 🙂 – you will be seeing that a lot in the next wee while as I seem to be on a horror kick.

Dazzling details: Bone Tomahawk was directed by S Craig Zahler, is 2 hours 12 minutes long and not at all surprisingly is rated 18 for strong violence.

My Week | Out & About & Mini-Reviews

This time last week we were celebrating the Book God’s birthday, and those celebrations extended into the Monday when we travelled to Brighton so that we could visit the Royal Pavilion. Now we’re back to old clothes and porridge as they say (in a stronger Scottish accent) where I come from. More on Brighton later, but first – the books

I had a really good reading week, finishing three books, starting with Siren Song by Robert Edric, which I’ll review in a day or so.

As for the other two:

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark – so I am fascinated by true crime as I have gone on about here ad nauseam, and one of my favourite sources is the podcast My Favourite Murder hosted by Karen & Georgia, the authors of this book, which is basically a joint memoir expanding on the stories they have told about their lives during the non-murdery parts of their broadcast. I love them and thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The Private Life of Elder Things is “a collection of new Lovecraftian fiction about confronting, discovering and living alongside the creatures of the Mythos.” This is a bit patchy as all anthologies tend to be, but there are some very good stories included. A quick read with one of my favourite things, author’s notes.

This week’s new books:

  • The October Man * Ben Aaronovitch – A Rivers of London novella. Trier is famous for wine, Romans and for being Germany’s oldest city. So when a man is found dead with, his body impossibly covered in a fungal rot, the local authorities know they are out of their depth. Fortunately, this is Germany, where there are procedures for everything. [Pre-order]
  • The Paper Wasp * Lauren Acampora – An electrifying debut novel of two women’s friendship, a haunting obsession and twisted ambition, set against the feverish backdrop of contemporary Hollywood. [Pre-order]
  • 1913: The Defiant Swan Song * Virginia Cowles – It’s the eve of the First World War. One era ends as another is set to begin. Before life is changed forever in the maelstrom of war, the excess and extravagance of European high society blazes its trail. Acclaimed historian Virginia Cowles paints a picture of the glamour and scandals within the upper echelon of society of seven major cities, through rich prose and lively anecdotes.
  • Just One Damned Thing After Another * Jodi Taylor – Chronicles of St Mary’s Book 1 – When Madeleine Maxwell is recruited by the St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, she discovers the historians there don’t just study the past – they revisit it. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And she soon discovers it’s not just History she’s fighting…

I’m currently reading The Man from the Train by Bill James which is an early twentieth-century true crime murder mystery. I’m still considering my fiction read.

Back to Brighton. We had a super day walking around the Pavilion before having a delicious meal in a local Italian restaurant, all of this despite the best efforts of two railway companies and rain that was at almost biblical levels. Seriously, it was running down the streets. But we still had fun.

Have a great reading week!