Autumn Fiction Round-up #1

 

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

This was a planned read for a book club that I follow but don’t actually attend, using mostly for reading ideas (as if I needed any more help in finding books….). The Cabin is the most recent of Tremblay’s horror novels and the first one (but not the last) that I have picked up.

Wen, who is seven, is on holiday in a remote cabin with her dads, Eric & Andrew, when a huge young man turns up asking to be let in with Wen’s help. He is soon joined by three others, two women and a man, and they have a mission – they need Wen’s family to make a sacrifice to avoid the end of the world.

It’s a home invasion story with a twist, and it’s never made clear through all of the terrible events whether the incomers genuinely believe they have a mission to head off the apocalypse or whether they are just horrible people doing nasty things. There are clearly events happening in the outside world which are informing their actions, but we never really find out what’s going on.

It’s all very vague & ambiguous, especially the ending which doesn’t provide any closure at all, but I was hooked and thought it was very well done.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

One night in a warehouse in New York, the body of Ashley Cordova, daughter of a famously reclusive film director, is found dead. Most people, including the police, believe that she has taken her own life, but this doesn’t convince Scott McGrath. He’s a journalist who ruined his career by pursuing Cordova the father, making rash allegations that he couldn’t prove. And he’s still obsessed.

This is a literary thriller and a huge one at that. I was given this as a Christmas present a few years ago and hurried it up the TBR pile when I saw it mentioned in a list of recommended horror novels earlier this year. I had to cave in and buy the Kindle version because I found it physically difficult to read in hard copy, so be warned.

It seems to be a real love-it-or-hate-it book; if we’re keeping score, the Guardian hated it and the Telegraph loved it. I fell somewhere in between – it was worth reading and I did gallop through the second half when I was on holiday, but I didn’t really warm to any of the characters (except for Scott’s wee girl, who was adorable and hopefully grows up undamaged by the way her parents behave) so it became more about the puzzle than the people. The structure is interesting and the idea of a filmmaker so reclusive, and whose work is so horrific that it is only viewed in bootlegs by ardent fans, was intriguing. Some reviewers likened it to The House of Leaves (which I loved and need to re-read), and although I can see how they came to that conclusion I don’t think Night Film has the same impact; certainly not on me.

So an interesting novel, frustrating at times, and if you pick it up be prepared to make a significant investment of time.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Longlisted for the Man Booker prize and winner of the Arthur C Clarke award, Jessie Lamb is yet another post apocalyptic novel, or more of a rushing headlong towards extinction novel if I’m honest. I cannot resist these at all.

Jessie is 16 and living in a world where an act of biological terror (presumed not explicit) has set loose a virus which is activated in a woman when she becomes pregnant, resulting in an extreme form of CJD and the death of the mother and baby. Science is looking at solutions and settles on the concept of Sleeping Beauties – women who will be put into an artificial coma and given drugs to stop the disease progressing while their baby comes to term. Once the child is delivered, immune to the disease, the woman will die.

Jessie has made a choice to become on of the Beauties, and the novel is about how she reaches that choice and the consequences. This is particularly an issue for her parents, who see the need for the solution but don’t want it to be their daughter. Jessie’s story is told against a background of civil unrest and protest, and her decision is he attempt to make the world better.

I like Jessie very much, though she clearly sees the world very much in black and white as most teenagers do. Some scenes, especially when she is imprisoned by her desperate father, are very upsetting but not gratuitously so. I’ve seen a couple of commenters mention the heavy religious symbolism of her name (Jessie = Jesus, lamb = sacrifice) but I have to say if that was the author’s intent it went completely over my head.

I thought this was very well done, and not as bleak as many of the novels I read in this genre; it makes clear that sometimes there are no easy choices. Well worth reading.

Sunday Salon – 18 November

fullsizeoutput_8b5Here we are again with another quick review of my week in reading and other stuff as needed.

Currently reading:

Global Crisis by Geoffrey Parker – war, catastrophe and climate change in the 17th century; I bought this as a gift for the Book God a couple of years ago but it is an enormous tome so treated myself to the Kindle version to make reading easier. Extremely interesting so far.

Bestial by Harold Schechter – from social outcast to necrophile and murderer – his appalling crimes stunned an era. This starts off in 1920s San Francisco and goes rapidly downhill from there. I’m fascinated by true crime (as most of you will have noticed I’m sure) and this story came up while I was listening to an old episode of My Favourite Murder (a brilliant podcast) so I dug this out from the virtual stacks.

Books finished this week:

Only one, The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll – a strong refresher for the planning method I use these days. Lots to think about.

Books bought this week:

  • Bedfellow by Jeremy C Shipp – a tense dark fantasy novel of psychological horror; sign me up!
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama – I think she’s awesome and I’m looking forward to reading this very much. Sadly didn’t get tickets for her appearance in London though….
  • Black Prince by Adam Roberts & Anthony Burgess –  a brutal historical tale of chivalry, religious belief, obsession, siege and bloody warfare based on an original script by the late Mr Burgess. I have a lot of respect for Adam Roberts and have read several of his books so I’m giving this a go because of him and the subject matter rather than Mr Burgess, whom I’ve always found difficult.
  • The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles – A lord in danger. A magician in turmoil. A snowball in hell. I don’t really read romance but this author was recommended and I thought I should read something outside my comfort zone, but not too far – this is SFF romance after all.

Things should start to get quiet as the pre-Christmas book-buying embargo sets in once wish lists have ben exchanged. I have made my list, checked it twice and will be handing it over later today.

Hope you have a great reading week!

 

 

The Week in Review

IMG_0774I won’t lie – it’s been a quiet one. Apart from an outing to the osteopath (I have a shoulder problem, not affecting my drinking/eating arm thankfully 😀 ) and a visit to the cinema (the photo at the top of this post will give you a clue about the movie we saw), I’ve mostly been doing stuff at home in advance of our soon-to-be-upon-us annual holiday.

Here are the bookish stats:

Books finished:

Of course this means that I have exceeded my target of 52 books in 52 weeks, which I may just have mentioned before.

Currently reading:

  • Night Film – still reading this, will be trying to finish before my hols
  • Flowers in the Attic – a book club selection, which I haven’t read before; I must say that I am a bit wary

New books:

I am currently pulling together a selection of Kindle reads for my holiday, which I hope to share in my next Salon post.

Hope you all have a great reading week.

Reading Horror: A Wishlist

img_0759I have been a fan of horror for as long as I can remember. In my final year of primary school (so I would have been 11) I managed to get my hands on an American paperback of HP Lovecraft stories which I devoured (I’m pretty sure my Mum would not have let me get the book if she had seen the cover first!). And then with Carrie being published in the mid-70s, I discovered Stephen King, and the rest is history.

So I was already minded to read through the NPR list of 100 favourite horror stories before it was drawn to my attention by my blog-chum Susan via her Facebook page, quickly followed by another blog-chum Daphne, whose post on the list is worth reading.

So as I can’t resist this sort of thing, I ran through the list and was pleased to see that I had read 34 of the titles and already owned a further 14 with plans to read them at some point.

Of course, I found even more on the list that I would like to read in future, and have a wish list so that I won’t forget what they are. I thought I’d include them here in case any of you are interested 🙂

  • Peter Straub – Shadowland – if you had asked me I would have said that I had already read this but apparently not
  • Ann & Jeff VanderMeer – The Weird – a compendium of strange and dark stories per the subtitle (I love Mr VanderMeer, he is awesome)
  • Kai Ashante Wilson – The Devil in America – Scant years after the Civil War, a mysterious family confronts the legacy that has pursued them across centuries, out of slavery, and finally to the idyllic peace of the town of Rosetree.
  • Poppy Z Brite – Exquisite Corpse – I read quite a few of Poppy’s works back in the day but didn’t get to this one
  • Gemma Files – Experimental Film – I enjoy a good downward spiral in my horror fiction, and this has to do with movies which are my other great love
  • Helen Oyeyemi – White is for Witching – a spine-tingling tribute to the power of magic, myth and memory
  • Livia Llewellyn – Furnace – a short story collection by an author nominated on multiple occasions for a Shirley Jackson Award
  • Sarah Monette – The Bone Key – confession time; I’ve already bought this one!
  • Michael McDowell – The Elementals – though long uninhabited, the third house is not empty
  • Robert Marasco – Burnt Offerings – apparently Stephen King has acknowledged this novel as having influenced The Shining, and there’s a film version which I may have to hunt down….
  • David Wong – John Dies at the End – horror meets comedy….
  • Kathe Koja – Cipher – winner of the 1991 Bram Stoker award
  • Victor LaValle – The Ballad of Black Tom – jazz age New York and a black protagonist in a story confronting the inherent racism in HP Lovecraft’s work (which all of us who love his stuff need to acknowledge)
  • Christopher Buehlman – Those Across the River – an unspoken dread that the townsfolk have lived with for generations [a] presence that demands sacrifice
  • Algernon Blackwood – The Willows – a classic from one of the masters

Looking forward to the long winter nights with this lot…….