Sunday, 1 October 2017

Things I Read In September

Oh man. Let me tell you, everyone, moving to somewhere you have to get the bus both ways to work does actual wonders for your reading levels. I feel like I've hardly read at home (this is not entirely true) but I still managed to read a hefty 10 books in September- more than any other month this year, and not one of them was a comic book!*

That being said, I'm still going to try and keep this monthly reads post short because MANY of the books were RIP reads and I'm trying to review them... Since this is me, we'll see how well that goes. But still here are the books (mostly- hey guess who read a couple of digital books this month!):

Here's what they were like:

White Teeth by Zadie Smith
In the interests of full disclosure, I read most of White Teeth in August, but it's still the first book I finished in my new home! It was interesting- there's a lot in it about race and British society and all sorts of twin things (I like twin things...) but for me it didn't quite come together as nicely as it should have, although it does come full circle rather exquisitely. I didn't hate it at all, I just wasn't in love with it as much as with, say, On Beauty.

End of Watch by Stephen King
As you may have seen, I'm all up to date with Stephen King reviews! (this is both a yay, and a boo). You can find the review of this one here, but let's just say that this is just an excellent detective story and I really couldn't get enough of this trilogy. I mean, you gotta read them all, but this one was especially excellent because you get some supernatural King as well as the thriller-y stuff.

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Oh hey, another book I've reviewed already! THIS WAS SO GOOD, you have my infinite recommendation and you can talk with me for hours about how intricate and also just fucking thrilling it is, ya know?

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick Dewitt
Patrick Dewitt is, of course, the genius behind The Sisters Brothers, so it is frankly shocking that it has taken me so long to read Undermajordomo Minor. A couple of things put me off- in a minor (haha) way the title did cause wtf does that mean, but if I'm being honest, it's mainly that it was trapped in my Kindle app and can I read digital books? I cannot. HOWEVER. I took my iPad on a train with me with the intention of reading The Fireman but it wasn't downloaded and no wifi and yadayadayada. I hadn't bought another book with me to literally force myself to read on my iPad, and so this is the book I chose.

TL;DR, Undermajordomo Minor is great. It's like a really fucked up fairytale where places are left purposely vague and where very strange things are happening. Thieves are kind of heroes and Dukes are crazy and Undermajordomo is a made up title for Mr Minor's job and that is where the title of the book comes from. I say it's a fucked up fairytale, and it's kind of part that, and partly a drawn out version of The Aristocrats (the joke, not the disney film with cats). I liked it a lot and it got me through a train journey and its return so what more can you ask for, really?

The Fireman by Joe Hill
I finally did download The Fireman onto my iPad (I did have one terrible and dark day where the battery died and I had to read it on my phone though) and it is SO FUCKING GOOD. I started reading it ages and ages ago but stopped because iPad (are you sensing a theme here?) but it is so fabulous I can't even. I want to fully review this because RIP read, but there is so much drama and terror and end of the world stuff and even the ending is so amazing and I just can't even. I could barely stop reading it to get off the bus and get to work, and not just because I hate my job at the moment.

Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
Hey, I already reviewed this too! I really can't recommend it enough- it's a teensy story but contains so much, and it turned out to be so different from how I imagined it to be. A++

Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto 
I love Banana Yoshimoto so much. Amrita is, I believe, her only full length novel (and in the afterword she implies that she'll probably never write another) and even though it's good and I liked it, you can definitely tell that it's one of her earlier works. What I mean by this is that, it has many of the hallmarks of her earlier work, with its dreamlike qualities (and actual weird dreams) and mystical things happening alongside everyday events, but it feels in parts too drawn out, and almost like it should have ended already. Had each of the ideas she goes with in the novel been presented in a different short story, it probably would have been a better book, but at the same time, I'm never really bored or disappointed reading her work because the writing is just too good. So, an inconclusive shrug, I guess, but I still lean towards liking it rather than not.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Ah, so many books to review, so little time. THIS IS PRETTY AWESOME, just like everyone's been telling me for years. It's just such a British look at the end of the world and I liked it a lot and I'm also going to try and write a full review of it so watch this space.

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix
Hey, this is that horror story about Ikea that everyone read about three years ago, look at me I just read it! (in case you're counting, this is easily my fourth RIP read, but I'm probably not going to review this one fully so does it count? Of course!) I feel like most people were underwhelmed by this but I actually really enjoyed it- it creeped me out just enough to feel sort of uneasy on the bus, and I liked the underlying horror and the backstory to the reason for the horror. I liked just about all of it, actually, and the end just leaves me free to imagine well, of sorts of different possible endings, all more grisly than the rest. It's pretty good, and if you're one of the few people who still hasn't read it, I am totally giving you permission to.

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
Maaaaan, this book. This fucking book. This fucking book deserves its very own review but I doubt I'll have time to write one, so let me try to be awed but brief. This book was written in the 80s but is equally, but probably more relevant now. It's depressing that this is the case, but there you go. Wolf writes about how women are made to feel bad because of how they look, and constantly told that they are less than, that they are defective in some way, that they need surgical correction, and they need to be thinner and they need to do all sorts of things to make them acceptable to the world. Wolf suggests that all of this, all of this pernicious and horrible propaganda is all manufactured so that women are kept distracted by their appearance, are kept poorer to maintain their appearance, are left weakened and tired and hungry by trying to reach an 'acceptable' weight, and this is all a trick and a way of keeping us distracted and too tired to deal with the real problems at hand (you know, men) (ok, fine, the patriarchy).

I feel like I'm probably one of the people who least needed to read this book (I'm pretty chubby and I don't wear makeup and I still think I'm a divine creature) but SO MANY PEOPLE DO, and not just women, to be honest. Basically, embrace yourselves ladies, you are already beautiful and divine and you deserve to be whatever you want to be. And if you don't believe me, read this book.

BOOM that wasn't really short, was it? Many sorries. But hey, I read a lot of books and basically all of them were good so yay reading! Who knows what joy there is to come in October...

*Not that comic books are bad, OF COURSE, just that they don't take long to read**, you know how it is.
**Except Watchmen. Hey, you should read Watchmen.

Monday, 25 September 2017

RIP XII: Book The First: The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Ughhhhhhh. This book was SO GOOD, you don't even know, but Imma try and explain it to you. First, a little background- it's been so long that I can't even remember when I bought this book, but I know for a fact it's been on my RIP pile for the last 5 years. FIVE. YEARS. I feel like I left it on there quite a while because I have a vague memory of seeing the Matt Damon film and not especially liking it (Gwyneth Paltrow is in it, which explains a lot... but not why I bought the book anyway) and who is going to read a book under such circumstances?


The absolute number one strength of this book is the way it gets you to sympathise with a literal murderer. The titular Mr Ripley (Tom) is in a certain amount of trouble in the US when he stumbles across the father of an old acquaintance of his. Said acquaintance has been abroad in Italy for quite some time, and his father basically just wants him to come home. Tom volunteers himself to talk to Dickie (the son) and gets sent to Italy for free with $500 worth of travellers cheques and basically the promise of a gay old time. After he locates Dickie, it becomes clear that Tom isn't the most natural charmer (unlike Dickie) and it is this which starts of his endearing sympathetic nature to the reader that doesn't really abate even after he murders Dickie and steals his identity (ok, spoilers, but it's really the entire point of the book, so yeah).

It's honestly so masterful that I still can't work out how Highsmith has done it. Tom should essentially be repugnant to the reader, but he's so matter of fact about the things that he does and has enough reasoning that you almost feel yourself agreeing with him- of course that's what he did, how could he have done anything else? He's a conman in the book, but maybe more excitingly, he's a conman to the reader, convincing us that above all else, he's really a good guy. I genuinely felt stressed out any time he might get caught, which doesn't make any sense because HE IS LITERALLY A MURDERER.

And yet. A super sympathetic one.What can you do?

Although not one of the exciting parts of the book, one of the most interesting parts for me was the question of Tom's sexuality. He's clearly more interested in men than women in a general sense, and there are so many hints that he feels something more than friendship for Dickie that I just assumed he fully was gay for him. However, wikipedia (I know) tells me that Highsmith sees him as straight in that, in the sequels to this book (THERE ARE SEQUELS! 4 OF THEM!) he is married (to a woman) and she's quoted as saying something like 'oh he's not much good with women, but he can sex them, he's married is he not?' Regardless, I think we all know that the author is dead*, and so my opinion, and I'm fairly sure the opinions of most people reading this book, stands. BOOM, take that Patricia.

Anyway, the point is that this book is so exciting and thrillery that I could barely cope with it, but here I still am, alive to tell the tale that this book is amazing and so worth your time and attention. I am pretty into the idea of reading the sequels if I can find them anywhere, but something tells me they'll be sort of lacking compared to this masterpiece of thrillerness and fucked up men.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Happy Birthday, Mr King

Today is Stephen King's 70th Birthday. It's also my weirdly self imposed deadline for finishing ALL THE STEPHEN KING, and I made it, 5 days early. I don't even know how to feel about having read all the Stephen King there is (pretty fine, since there's a new one out in 5 days), or about being able to read his books as they are released now, or about finally finishing the epic (and terrifying) journey I started 6 and a half years ago.

I started reading all the Stephen King for two wildly different reasons- firstly because I kept buying his books at charity shops where they are extremely prevalent, but basically just kept re-reading It and Bag of Bones, and because I was struggling with being depressed and really, really needed a project to occupy myself with. So, I did it. I started with Carrie, made my way through some books I'd read and some books I hadn't, through three jobs and a Masters, through a certain number of boys, and from my parent's house, to my London house, to my first home with my boyfriend. It's not that I put any of this down to Stephen King, but it's sort of amazing to me that his books have quite literally been the backdrop to my twenties- sometimes it felt like the one thing that had any sort of clear and sane progression in my whole life.

Although I didn't have a time limit for reading all the King, I think it's safe to say that I didn't think that it would take 6 and a half years to read, what was then 58 books. Whilst I never intended it to be all I read, I still didn't think it would take too long, especially when, after about 2 and a half years, I was about 2/3 of the way though. WHAT HAPPENED, I hear you cry! Well. Well. Life would be the thing that happened. Life in the form of, firstly, some grief, and then a whole shit-ton of Shakespeare, and then also like a weirdly active (weirdly for me) social life that meant I read less but lived a whole lot more. I guess it's really this year that I've recommitted to this Stephen King thing, and I've gotten to read all of the books that I've sadly watched coming out over the years that I couldn't read because of my commitment to reading all of the Stephen Kings in order.

So now I know. I know whether the sequel to The Shining is any good (it is). I know whether anyone should read The Tommyknockers, ever (no). I know now, for sure, that It is still my favourite King (there may be better ones, and other people may totally have other favourites, but It is mine for always). I do know that, although there are a few stinkers and a few duds mixed in there, Stephen King has quite an extraordinary body of work that is so, so worth discovering. I don't know how he manages to write so much, or (mostly) so well, but I sure wish I could steal just a little of that magic. Juuuust a teensy bit... Please.

And so. Happy Birthday, Mr King. I've enjoyed adventuring with you so much, even the (very very many) times you scared me. Please live for about another 70 more years and write as many books as you already have so that I can stay entertained forever (or at least for another 6 1/2 years). You've been the backdrop to my reading life for a really long time now, and I will continue to be excited every time you release a new book, but until then, rereads will have to sustain me.

p.s. I love you. Don't ever change.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Devouring Stephen King (and Richard Chizmar): Gwendy's Button Box

This is Stephen King's latest book, and latest collaboration, and it is a tiny gem of a book. I say tiny because, although it has 170 pages, I whipped through them in probably about an hour, an hour and a half at the most. I enjoyed myself intensely in that time though, and for me, this was basically a perfect little novella.

Let's discuss.

Gwendy is a good kid who is spending her summer trying to lose weight before middle school, keen to avoid being 'the fat girl' once again. At the top of the suicide steps in Castle Rock (sound familiar?)  she finds a mysterious man dressed in black with the initials RF (this seems to me to be a mash up of two King villains, but this guy is in an ambiguous moral sphere if you ask me). The man tells Gwendy that she's special, and because she's special he gives her a button box to look after- This box dispenses magical chocolates (seriously magical chocolates) and valuable old coins, but also has a number of buttons- one for each continent, a scary black one, and a red one that isn't explained but is the only one which can be pressed more than once.

The man disappears and Gwendy goes on her merry way and gets on with her life. I don't know how much I can tell you about her life without revealing too much about the story (it's really really short), but her life becomes excellent, but with terrible terrible moments. The box is related to all of these things, but, I think the book wants to say, it also kind of isn't. We make our own luck and our own lives, and just because someone has a magical, terrible box, doesn't mean that they are any different.

Except that Gwendy is, but she was different to start with, anyway.

really can't say much more without giving away vital events of the story, but I really can't praise this book enough. It's short and simple, but that's pretty much what makes it so excellent. There are no extraneous storylines to distract us, so Gwendy and her tale really shine through, and the point/s this book wants to make manage to get themselves across so beautifully. IT IS JUST SO GOOD, and I'm so glad I sneaked it in before my (mostly imaginary) Stephen King deadline.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Devouring Stephen King: End of Watch

I had quite a lot of feels reading this book, because for me it really sort of is the end of watch. My Stephen King journey ends here*, and whilst the great prolific writer is obviously still going, I still am having major Feelings about this being over (which I shall awe and amaze you with on the 21st, get excited). And so, the end of my watch was with End of Watch, and what a book it was.

So this is the third book in a trilogy and basically everything I have to say about it will be a spoiler. I think that in order to say anything at all, I think I'm going to have to tell you to turn away now if you haven't read these books, although I'm not going to say anything too outrageously revealing, I will essentially be giving away the end of Mr Mercedes, so. Yes.

End of Watch starts with Bill Hodges skipping out on a Doctor's appointment to get to the site of an apparent murder-suicide where everything looks a bit fishy. Of course, this being the trilogy that it is, the victims of the murder suicide are a woman who was left quadriplegic in the mercedes massacre of the first book, and her mother and carer. Everything about this seems fairly straightforward (I can't even begin to imagine the life of a quadriplegic, and especially the life of caring for someone who needs assistance with basically everything) except for the fact that their housekeeper says they were pretty happy with life, and Hodges and Holly find an outdated computer game device thing (yep, all of those words), also seen in the now vegetable-like Brady Hartsfield's hospital room.

As they begin to investigate, they notice a spate of suicides that all have links to Hartsfield, all of which seems impossible because, y'know, dude's been in hospital for YEARS, without proper brain function and all of those useful things. What's so great about this book is that all the little details you didn't really notice in the previous book when Hodges kept visiting Brady, all become super relevant and parts of the main story in this book. It not only follows the main action of the investigations, but also goes into the innermost workings of Brady's mind, and all that it's been through since we last had access to it in Mr Mercedes. It's still no pleasure to be in, but so many things are revealed and tied up, just like a good trilogy should do.

And this really is such a good trilogy. It's not something King has done a lot (and I would know!) and I like the fact that it has a lot of realism and just thriller-y elements that many of his other books lack. There are some supernatural elements of this last book, but even those are explained away by the characters using pseudo-science, and aren't really treated as unexplained. This leaves the way clear for good old fashioned thriller/detective work- chasing leads, working out what's going on, chasing down the criminal... It's all good, old fashioned fun, and I love it.

And I have loved this. I have loved reading these books, and not just this trilogy. I feel so weird knowing that I don't have this giant backlog of Stephen King books anymore, and knowing that I'm actually going to have to wait to read a new one, but it also feels pretty nice to have such an achievement under my belt. This trilogy though- I really can't recommend it enough, or really, you know, any Stephen King book apart from the bad ones (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE). Go forth, my pretties, and read read read.

*I'm ignoring his co-authored book released this year because I can, unless I can sneak it in before 21st September (aka King's 70th Birthday) which I would be pretty proud of but I'm not sure it's going to happen and thus I shall read it as a regular citizen rather than one who is challenging herself

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Finders Keepers

Finders Keepers is the second in King's three part detective trilogy, starring the lovable retired cop Bill Hodges and his team of intrepid detectives. I say this BUT possibly the thing I loved best about this book was that it kind of wasn't about Hodges and his team, who pretty much took a backseat in the story, and let other events have their say. And SUCH events they are!

But let me back up a few hundred yards. So. At the end of Mr Mercedes, the first book in the trilogy, we leave everything where it is (vagaries so that we avoid spoilers... Although I don't know how I'm going to do that for End of Watch...) and Finders Keepers starts with a whole new story, and a whole new crime. A well respected author gets robbed, and in the process, his smart mouth ends up getting him murdered. The murderer ends up hiding the money and notebooks stolen from the author (his favourite, as it turns out) and in a series of unfortunate events ends up in jail and unable to retrieve them. Abouuuut 30 years later, a teenage boy finds them, who just happens to be the son of one of the people injured in the Mr Mercedes massacre of the first book. He uses the money to help his floundering family, and falls in love with the notebooks which contain two unpublished novels by the aforementioned murdered author.

It's probably clear that this doesn't go so well for the boy when the thief (and, lest we forget, murderer) is released from jail and everything gets very tense and thrilling, just like in Mr Mercedes. So, from the tenuous link of son-of-victim-of-massacre, we actually get a really great story- it's not just that it's tense and thrilling, it's also that it is very much its own story- it doesn't need the previous book to exist, but the fact that the connections are there make it that much more compelling. Hodges and his team don't come into it until about a third of the way through the book, and even when they do, it very much takes a backseat to the events of the main plot, and I really love that about the book. I also enjoy the little things- that Finders Keepers refers not only to the detective agency set up by Hodges and Holly since the end of the last book, but also that it refers to the attitude of the boy to finding all of these riches in a wood.

I think maybe what I loved best about the book is the way it signals to the love of books. For both the boy and the thief (is it clear by now that I can't remember their names..?), the main thing that motivates them isn't the money (although it's handy) it's the notebooks- not because they're technically worth more than money, but because they have a deep love for this writer and his works. Just imagining finding a couple of new Steinbeck novels, for example, sets my heart aflutter, so I get it. I totally get it. And also UGH it's just so good.

Finders Keepers DOES have some connections to the previous book, and having read End of Watch before writing this review, I can confirm that it also has connections to the final book in the trilogy, too. It is, in fact, the perfect bridging book, in that it doesn't let you forget the overriding story and main driving force of the trilogy,  but it also tells its own story without being overshadowed. Having read all three, I can't at all decide on my favourite, but this one may well be it.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Devouring Stephen King: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

It should come as a surprise to literally nobody that, having read this book 2 months ago, I have absolutely no recollection of anything inside it. Nothing. I got nothing. Whilst this may be considered a reflection of its quality, it is in fact NOT because the one thing I DO remember about it is that it was excellent, and also that I felt like all the stories are good which basically never happens in a short story collection. (EDIT- I just looked at the Wikipedia page and there's this one story about baseball that I found SO BORING. But that's just me)

Because I have no memory (in my defence, a lot of Big Life Things have been happening since July) but I do have an internet connection, and, you know, wikipedia, Imma just go through the stories extremely briefly and rapidly and then you'll be convinced you need to read this, right? Right.

Mile 81: Violent car eats people at a deserted rest stop. I'm into it, I like when King does scary cars and there's a whole undertone of boy-learning-to-be-a-man that was also pretty good.

Premium Harmony: This is a nasty little story where a man's wife dies suddenly and unexpectedly in a shop whilst he's waiting in the car, and he just... doesn't... seem to care too much. One of my favourite King things is the everyday nastiness of regular people, and this story is basically that. Good stuff.

Batman and Robin have an Altercation: Essentially this is a story about road rage, but it's actually about watching one's parents age and all the sadness that goes along with that. The end is AWESOME.

The Dune: You know those stories that explain about a spooky thing, and you think for sure you know what the spooky thing has done this time but then it turns out you were wrong because you were supposed to be? (You probably don't because I've explained that horribly) BUT ANYWAY that is what this story is. So sue me, I like the cheap thrill of a twist ending.

Bad Little Kid: This story was HORRIBLE, but in a good way- the way in which you are as frustrated as the main character when a small child is doing evil deeds, because you know there's nothing you can do to stop this evil. I was so gripped, as well as so horrified. Also there's a good twist ending so you know you want to stick around for that.

A Death: This story was fun in the sense that it was a completely different style to King's usual work. It's essentially a Western, set in 1889, and involves the arrest, trial and execution (spoilers I guess, but it's fairly clearly going that way the whole story) of a man who constantly proclaims his innocence. There are tiny glimmers of The Green Mile in that sense, but mainly its just its own excellent thing.

The Bone Church: Poem. Utter crap. Next.

Morality: Now THIS was good. A couple struggling with financial difficulties have to consider whether the wife should take her very wealthy employer's offer of a lot of money to do a very bad thing. As readers, we don't know what the bad thing is (it's pretty bad) (but maybe not as bad as you think) but it asks a lot of questions about people's limits and the lines they will cross to get what they want. It's been said that everyone has their price, and this story definitely takes that idea and runs with it.

Afterlife: Remember when I read Sum and loved it? (Probably not but let's go with this) This story is basically like King's contribution to that book. It's another among many versions of the afterlife, and it's also a reflection on the stubbornness of people even when they're being told the exact opposite of what they want to do.

Ur: I had very *side eye* feelings about Ur when I first heard about it because, you know, it's basically an advert for kindles, right? Well. Sort of. The word Kindle (which is, of course, a brand name) IS used an obnoxious number of times in this story, but it's still so substantial that I didn't really care? It has a kindle that can see into the future! And many heroics! And Dark Tower references! And yeah, basically I want to get me one of these Ur Kindles so that I can read everything Stephen King has written in all possible universes, is that ok?

Herman Wouk is Still Alive: The Wikipedia article for this story is annoyingly vague so I don't remember it too well... I just remember the vaguely depressing Thelma and Louise undertones (but like, waaaay more depressing than Thelma and Louise) and I can't even remember if it ends the way I think it does. Yay, I'm a good blogger!

Under the Weather: This story is the bessssssst. It's perfect and simple and perfect in its simplicity. I would say that you don't know what's going on until at least 3/4 of the way through (or maybe that's just me) but as soon as you do it's such an OH MY GOD moment and everything makes sense and it's horrible. I LOVE it.

Blockade Billy: Boring boring baseball, boring boring someone did something IDK let's just move on with our lives now.

Mister Yummy: Mister Yummy isn't super substantial, but it mainly left me with the idea that Death takes the form of the thing that most sexually aroused you in life. I'm weirdly kind of into this idea, and when I'm super super super old, I'm sure I'll see a Biscoff Krispy Kreme stalking me and waiting for the big moment.

Tommy: Another poem. God, please make it STOP.

The Little Green God of Agony: An unpleasant man has many pain, his physio doesn't believe it can hurt THAT much, is proved wrong. This story made me feel very uncomfortable in places, and believe me, you don't want to come across a little green god of agony. Just... No.

That Bus Is Another World: A teeny weeny story about the things we tell ourselves to go on with our lives. Pretty good.

Obits: Imagine you write mean obituaries and one day you write one for a real person and they die. TERRIFYING POWER that basically nobody wants- and you especially don't want anyone to find out about it lest they make you harness it for their own uses. Sounds intriguing? So was this story. I liked it a lot.

Drunken Fireworks: This story was interesting in the sense that it's literally about a fireworks arms race (ooh! Aah!) but (BUT) it's also mainly descriptions of various fireworks which are reallllly more of a visual thing. It was fine though, and all good, clean, upsetting fun.

Summer Thunder: The perfect story to end the collection with (yes, it's nearly the end, I'm sorry), Summer Thunder is maybe the only end of the world short story I've ever read, and it's so damn wholesome. A man and his dog and his one remaining friend. It's ordinary life, but without anyone else to live it with. It's sad and moving and also just really good short story telling.

Thus concludeth this review. I am so sorry it was the longest thing ever, I'd forgotten how many stories there actually were in the thing (along with everything else about it, obviously!) I've said it before,  and I'll say it again- I really love King as a short story writer. He can get so bloated and losing the plot-ish with some of his longer works, but his short stories really just sustain an idea for a short amount of time and they're so TIGHT. As of now, I have no new King short stories to read, and doesn't it break your heart for me? It should!