Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Library Book Sale Finds: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I’ve been meaning to read this one for a long time, squiders. It’s not my first Shirley Jackson book. I’ve previously read The Haunting of Hill House, but We Have Always Lived in the Castle is perhaps her most famous book. You can imagine my pleasure when I found a copy at a library book sale. Every October for the last few years I’ve said I’m going to read it, but I never quite make it around to it.

Except now I have! My copy is old, a paperback from 1963, which cost a whopping 60 cents at the time.

Title: We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Author: Shirley Jackson
Genre: Gothic horror
Publication Year: 1962

Pros: Just…a carefully wound mess where you can see the disaster coming and can do nothing to stop it
Cons: See above

I had a hard time picking a genre for this. Wikipedia has it listed as a mystery, which…no. Just no. It’s not a mystery. It has elements of horror and elements of Gothic novels, but it’s not quite those either.

In the book, we follow Mary Katherine Blackwood (or Merricat for short). She lives in a big, old house separated from the rest of the village with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian, both of whom never leave the property.

It’s hard to talk about the plot without major spoilers, so, uh, stop here if you haven’t read it, but it’s been out for 58 years and so I think we are perhaps past that at this point.

Mary Katherine, Constance, and Julian are the only remaining members of their once large and respected family. As the story goes on, we learn that the other members all died on a single night, when the sugar at the dinner table was poisoned. Constance was tried for the murder but ultimately acquitted. Mary Katherine was not present for the meal, having been sent to bed without dinner, and Julian ingested some of the poison (arsenic) but ultimately survived, though the incident left him physically frail and obsessively focused on the “Last Day.”

Mary Katherine is an interesting narrator. She has put elaborate rituals in place to keep her remaining family safe, including burying things around the property and keeping certain things in certain ways. It’s not clear if this is how she’s always been, or if it’s a reaction to the death of her family and the relative isolation she’s lived in since then. She does occasionally leave the family land to get food and books from the library, but the townspeople are cruel to her and she prefers not to interact with them if she doesn’t have to. Despite her odd way of looking at the world, she does seem to be an excellent judge of character and what’s actually going on.

The book culminates in the partial burning of their house and the hate of the townspeople, where they come in and destroy everything they can. Assured of the evilness of the outside, Mary Katherine and Constance barricade themselves inside the remaining portions of the house, and it’s implied they never leave the property again. The end is how urban legends are formed, with people leaving them food to assuage their own guilt and telling stories about the ladies that live in the house, and what they will do to people who upset them.

I will say that the twist about the poison was pretty obvious, in the end. I’m not sure it was meant to be a twist at all, though everything I’ve read about the book seems to treat it as such.

All in all, a fascinating and disturbing read. I can see why it’s endured.

Read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, squiders? Thoughts? Thoughts about Shirley Jackson in general, or Gothic horror (or whatever one would call this particular type of book)?

Library Book Sale Finds: Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James

Well, squiders. We were supposed to be on a cruise tomorrow. But, alas, that’s not happening, for obvious reasons.

Sad times.

So, a little over a month and a half ago, I went to another library book sale. Cuz I hadn’t in a while, and they were doing bags of books for $6, and I am weak.

(Actually, now that I think about it, I went to one in December too, though that wasn’t the best. The books were expensive. If I’m paying $6 per book, what’s the point? I should buy it new at that point so the author gets some of the money. I did get a ton of easy chapter books for the bigger, mobile one, though he has refused to read them.)

(He is mostly interested in books about Minecraft. Sigh. Though he doesn’t mind a story if someone else reads it to him. We just started The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler.)

ANYWAY, this sale wasn’t the best either–not a lot of material, just a few carts of books and old movies. I did manage to end up with six hardcovers, though.

And here we are. In a timely fashion, for once.

Title: Twelve Angry Librarians
Author: Miranda James
Genre: Mystery
Publication Year: 2017

Pros: Cat
Cons: Not enough kooky side characters

There is something to be said about a bag full of old paperbacks, where you’re getting a mixed bag of who knows what from who knows when. Modern books are less fun, in that regard.

Now, you guys know I love mysteries, and you know I love cozy mysteries. But that being said, I find that most cozy mystery series, especially modern ones, don’t really do it for me. I’m not a big historical fiction person, but I tend to like historical cozy mysteries. Gives them something, I guess. Contemporary-based cozies feel the need for some sort of something extra, which is really hit or miss as to whether or not it works.

I’m guessing we’re doing a two-for-one here, in that we have a helpful pet (ala The Cat Who series) plus it’s library-themed. (I am as bad as the next writer about being a sucker for stories about writers/librarians/etc. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that said stories are any good.)

This is a well-established series (this is the eighth book) with Charlie Harris, late middle-aged career librarian, as our protagonist. Charlie is likable enough, if a bit dull, but that’s fairly par for the course. His cat, Diesel, is properly charismatic.

And maybe the other books in the series are better at this, but I kind of feel like a cozy mystery series, if not carried by the protagonist, needs a cast of wacky side characters. And we should get them here–the book takes place at a librarian convention–but we don’t especially.

There’s nothing bad about the book. It’s perfectly serviceable. But it’s also forgettable.

Read other books in the Murder in the Stacks series, squiders? Thoughts about how essential the side characters are? Favorite cozy series in general?

Used Book Store Finds: A Different Light by Elizabeth A. Lynn

Hey-o, squiders! I thought this was one of my library book sale books, but it had a bookmark in it, so it turns out that it was one of the books my spouse bought me on my birthday when he took me to a coffee house/used bookstore.

This book ends up being oddly topical for what we’re dealing with round these parts recently.

Title: A Different Light
Author: Elizabeth A. Lynn
Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Year: 1978

Pros: Interesting take on what makes life worth living
Cons: Gets a bit weird at the end, like most ’70s era scifi I’ve read

Our main character here is Jimson Alleca (which, as an aside, is Jimson a real name? Google tells me it’s a type of weed, but all I can think of is that it reads really stereotypically hillybilly-ish.), famous artist, stuck on his home world because of a rare and incurable type of cancer.

(Nobody else has weird names. Also whoever drew the cover is generally quite talented but seems a little confused about human anatomy.)

If he goes into the Hype, which, as far as I can tell, is the medium space travel goes through to get places faster than they would otherwise, it’ll accelerate the rate of growth of the cancer, and he’ll die.

But he’s bored and he’s languishing, and he decides it’s worth it to go out there and see new things, even if it’ll kill him.

(This is, coincidentally, where the title comes from. Each planet has a different star, with different colors and brightness, so he wants to see things under “a different light.”)

So it’s interesting from the standpoint that you go into the adventure sequence of the book knowing he’s going to die from it. (I mean, assuming the adventure doesn’t get him first.) Jimson’s a little fatalistic as a main character, but not annoyingly so. He does occasionally bemoan his early fate but he’s mostly accepted it. And the parts where he’s drawing or otherwise doing artistic things or looking at things through the lens of an artist are quite good, especially in a genre where art is not always explored.

There are three main side characters: Leiko, Ysao, and Russell. I liked both Leiko and Ysao, but am less fond of Russell, whom I felt was overly violent (especially to poor Jim). And there’s a telepathic subplot that’s pretty cool too.

So, end thoughts. I enjoyed this book. I haven’t read a ton of ’70s scifi (since it tends to be after the “classics” and before the modern era, whenever that technically starts) but it feels very ’70s in places. Societally, I guess, if I had to try and explain it better. I don’t know. I wasn’t actually alive in the ’70s so I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’d say it’s worth taking a gander at for the different takes on art and telepathy. I’d read other things by Elizabeth A. Lynn.

What do you think, squiders? Read A Different Light? Other things by Elizabeth A. Lynn? Thoughts on ’70s scifi in general?

(I Googled Elizabeth A. Lynn after writing this up, and have discovered she was one of the first SFF authors to include gay/lesbian characters in a positive light, and also that there’s a LGBT bookstore chain called A Different Light after this book, so that’s pretty neat.)

Brain Dump

Ye gods, squiders, I am exhausted. I am drinking coffee but it is doing nothing.

Opening night tonight, hooray! I took a really great selfie of myself in costume the other night, but our director said something about wanting to keep the costumes a surprise (my spouse has suggested asking if I can keep said costume after the show, actually, so it is pretty awesome) so it’s just sitting on my phone, doing nothing. But maybe I’ll post it next week.

(Also, I am now in charge of moving a window during a scene change. It’s very exciting.)

Four shows this weekend, strike and cast party on Sunday, and then I can sleep. Hooray!

I found a BookCrossing book on Saturday! Do you guys know about BookCrossing? I remember being really into it, like, 12 years ago. It was everywhere then. I remember I found a manga collection at a con once and it was the most exciting thing ever. But the basic idea is that you leave a book somewhere, someone finds the book and checks it in, and you can watch it travel.

I hadn’t thought about it in years, but then in December the kids found a copy of The Night Before Christmas in a bush (I can’t remember if that one was a BookCrossing book or a related idea), and now I’ve found a romance novel in the theater bar. Madness. Crazy to think it’s still going after all this time, because it always seems like a lot of the stuff I really liked from that time period no longer exist.

Actually, speaking of that time in my life, I was at my local coffee shop/gameporium/comic shop this morning, and they had a volume of Bleach on sale for half off. Have I talked about Bleach here before? After checking my archives, apparently not. Predates the blog, probably, which is insane, because it will be 10 YEARS OLD THIS AUGUST (not unlike Hidden Worlds, har har. I was busy in 2010.).

ANYWAY, I was obsessed with Bleach. Hands down one of my very favorite manga/anime series (the live action was okay). I used to download the new chapter each week once it came out in Japan, once some lovely person went through and translated it into English. It was probably the last fandom-related backdrop I put on a computer. I read the manga, I watched the anime (even the terrible Bount arc), I cosplayed it. I had LJ icons. I have a poster signed by Tito Kube (the manga artist) from San Diego Comic-con 2008, where I sat through three panels just to make sure I got a spot in the room and could see him.

But Bleach is one of those series that goes on forever, and after, I don’t know, 500 manga chapters or something, I got burnt out on the cyclical plot arcs (which boil down to: A bad guy shows up, Ichigo gets his butt kicked and then works to get stronger, his friends and associates also get stronger through association with him, they triumph–and then a new, bigger bad guy shows up) and was starting to lose track of the characters (each new bad guy comes with a dozen or so new characters, at least). So I never finished the series (I should now, since it’s complete).

The coffee shop has Volume 73. Now, remember, I read the chapters directly through the Internet as they were released, so I was like, hey, I wonder where this falls in the series, and if it’s before or after where I left off. But it’s definitely after, cuz I had no idea what was going on, and also there are yet more new characters.

But now it’s back in my head, so maybe I’ll pick it back up.

Once the musical is over.

I’m reading Fixing Your Plot and Story Structure Problems by Janice Hardy for my writing book for the month (it was a birthday present from my spouse back in October, so I haven’t been sitting on it for years like some of the other ones). I think I must have been confused when I put it on my wishlist. In my head, I suspect I thought it was an in-depth look at plotting and structure, but what it is in reality is a bunch of exercises to use when you’re revising your novel.

Which, I mean, great! But I’m actually really good at fixing plot/structure during revision because I’m not great at plot/structure while I’m drafting. So I’m not finding a lot of new information. But it’s my own fault, because it’s not like the book description is unclear. I suspect what happened, since I follow Ms. Hardy’s blog (Fiction University), is that she had an ad for this particular book at the end of an article that was more plot/structure drafting than revision, and I just looked at the title and said yes, that is something I could probably use.

Anyway, I think I’ve blathered enough. I hope your week is going well, squiders. Hang on for another week, and we’ll be out of February.

Library Book Sale Finds: The Ipcress File by Len Deighton

Heyo, squiders. It’s that time again. And once again, I try to recapture what I was thinking when I stuck a particular book into my bag. Not sure. Maybe I just thought it would be cool?

Title: The Ipcress File
Author: Len Deighton
Genre: Spy/Thriller
Publication Year: 1962

Pros: Neat example of what’s probably the height of this genre
Cons: Incomprehensible in parts if you’re not genre savvy

This book was apparently made into a movie in 1965, but try as I might, I cannot find a copy to see if it makes more sense. Wikipedia tells me this is Len Deighton’s first novel, and that he’s considered one of the top three spy novelists of all time (Ian Fleming of James Bond fame and John le Carre are the other two).

We follow our unnamed narrator as he recalls the specifics of a mission to the Minister of Defence (British spelling intentional). The story is in first person throughout, and features a lot of what we probably now consider to be common in the spy genre: double crossings, questionable loyalties, sarcastic spies, etc.

When I could follow the story, I enjoyed it. I liked the narrator (whom I honestly didn’t realize was never named until I sat down to write this), I thought the female characters were handled better than in many contemporary stories (each shown as having her own strengths), and the dialogue was fun to read in many cases.

That being said, there were parts where I felt lost, where I couldn’t quite tell what was meant or what was happening, and whether or not it was important. I don’t necessarily think that’s a problem with the writing so much as that I am not the target audience and so do not have the necessary culture references/understanding to follow along.

All in all, very interesting, but I don’t know that I would pick up another similar book. Perhaps I’ll stick to the movie versions IF I CAN EVER FIND THEM.

Read anything by Len Deighton, squiders? Like ’60s-era spy novels?

(All things being said, I read John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as a teenager and don’t remember being lost, so mileage may vary between authors.)

Library Book Sale Finds: The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

So, squiders, one of my “resolutions” for the year is to read more of the books I have sitting around. Specifically the books I keep picking up at library book sales.

It tickles me eternally that, as an adult, I like to talk about books when I hated it so much in high school.

If you guys have been around, you know I love mysteries in general and Agatha Christie in particular, so I never miss an opportunity if I see one sitting around.

Title: The Body in the Library
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery
Publication Year: 1942

Pros: Fast read, has Miss Marple
Cons: Meanders a bit in the middle

If I had to pick between Poirot or Miss Marple I’ll go Miss Marple every time. I like the deviation from your standard mystery protagonist. And I don’t mean that she’s an older woman, though I do appreciate that as well, since older women are rarely included in most novels, and certainly not as the protagonist. I mean she rarely actively sleuths; she just picks things up through gossip and knowledge of human nature. The quintessential armchair detective.

This is the second Miss Marple novel I’ve read, I believe, though I’ve read a number of short stories. She’s not actually that active in the book–a lot of chapters are from other points of view, such as the inspectors’ working on the case or other side characters–but she does figure it out, all the same, and sets up an elaborate plot to catch the murderer in the act, which I’ll admit is one of my favorite mystery tropes.

I also appreciate that the other characters in the book, especially the police, respect her and her abilities, instead of writing her off.

Is there anything special here? Not especially. It’s not one of her twistier plots. But it’s a fast read (I read it in about two hours total), it’s entertaining, and it includes this bit of dialogue:

Miss Marple said doubtfully, “Of course, dear, if you think I can be of any comfort to you–“

“Oh, I don’t want comfort. But you’re so good at bodies.”

Page 13 in my copy, The Body in the Library, Agatha Christie

I laughed out loud. I’ll admit it.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. Read almost anything by Agatha Christie (except The Passenger to Frankfurt, which is one of her last books and is a bit unfocused in general).

(As an aside, my copy’s cover has a body stuck in a bookcase that is obviously shorter than said body, which amuses me greatly. Someone took the title very literally and obviously did not read the book.)

Read this book? What did you think? Opinions on Agatha Christie in general? Miss Marple or Poirot?

The Good Thing About Going Through the Detritus of Your Life…

…is that sometimes you find things you really should use.

Like gift cards you’ve apparently been hoarding.

Gift cards to Barnes and Noble.

Gift cards that will allow you to…buy new books.

In case you missed my post a few Saturdays ago, part of the reason my winter break-break went longer than expected is that we decided, unplanned, to redo the office (which is where I work, most of the time). It was one of those rooms where things go to lurk forever, and it had gotten bad.

(I am happy to report that everything has been gone through, for the most part, and is its new home, except I need to do some filing and figure out where the craft drawers should make their new home.)

I’d apparently been hoarding gift cards in one of my desk drawers. I came out with three B&N gift cards, one Amazon gift card, one Nike store gift card (??????), and one gift card good for 500 points in the Nintendo Wii store, which tells you how long they’ve been hiding in there.

Now, it seemed like a mistake to put them somewhere else to waste away, so I took my B&N cards and headed out to my local B&N to acquire sustenance new books.

And I came home with 5 shiny, brand new books, and I still have over half the money left on my gift cards, so, uhhhhh. I dunno. Five books seemed like a good amount, but apparently I should have bought more? I understand that this is the opposite of a problem but I just don’t read that fast.

(Also, I was not 100% sure how much money was on the gift cards, and I didn’t want to load up with $100 of books only to find I only had $50, for example.)

(The books I got were:

  • Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black
  • The Memory Thief, Lauren Mansy
  • The Haunting of Ashburn House, Darcy Coates
  • Bringing Down the Duke, Evie Dunmore)

I wish I could say I found a lot of other great things that I’d forgotten about that I can now use, but alas. Most of that stuff was tucked away for a reason.

However, the new office set-up is great. (Better feng shui, the spouse says. I know nothing about any of that.) So hopefully I’ll be more productive with the new set-up.

At least I know nothing’s lurking. (Or, not yet.)

Read any good books lately, squiders?