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So What Have you Read Lately? And other favorite books!

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Collection of short stories centered mainly around women living in, or occasionally traveling abroad from, Florida. Groff's prose is gorgeous, the atmosphere she renders breathtaking, and these stories unfold patiently and quietly toward resonant conclusion. At their best they cover a vastness to arrive at a delicate, stunning point, as in "At The Round Earth's Imagined Corners," which follows Jude from his parents' clashing in his backwater boyhood to his own mellow old age in a world seemingly vanishing, and in "Yport," which follows a mother's long French holiday, in the shadow of Guy de Maupassant, with her young sons. It's a seemingly perilous precipice, however, and a lack of solid plot, or some sort of unifying structure, leaves some of these stories feeling very flat, rambling in search of a Joycean final realization of sorts that never arrives, or arrives without the weight necessary to bring the story home--"Above And Below" struck me particularly unsatisfying because of this. The characters can feel a bit static from start to finish, undergoing no meaningful arc. Other standout stories, however, include "For the God of Love, For the Love of God"--a disintegrating American couple vacations with friends in France--"Salvador"--a woman approaching middle age alone vacations in Brazil wrestles with sexuality and violence amidst a monstrous storm--and "The Midnight Zone"--a mother stranded at a swampy campground with her young children suffers a frightening injury.

 

A bit more broadly, it's hard to ignore just how self-aware many of these stories--particularly those centered around the recurring mother of two young children--seem. With a steady sprinkling of references to progressive causes du jour, they occasionally feel like nonfiction, a sort of memoir, loosely veiled as fiction. Groff captures the feeling of dread that plagues much of the American sociopolitical climate of late, but with these stories' tendency to unspool without a solid arc of change or realization for the characters, it feels like an opportunity has been missed. The problem is identified, so to speak, and it will be helplessly relatable for a lot of readers, but the lack of confrontation with it , or simply reaction to it, is disappointingly absent. The angel is never wrestled, and it renders this upper-middle class writing that fails to be as aware or as subversive as I think it would like.

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Rereading the wonderful fantasy/mystery series by Tamara Siler Jones... twelve years later, and I am still annoyed that there are only three books in the series. :lol:

 

Not going to say much about the books, other than read them.

 

The first book is Ghosts in the Snow, followed by Threads of Malice, and then ending with Valley of the Soul.

 

Ghosts in the setting are nice and scary - and... not all there. Some part of what made them human was lost when they died.

 

Dubric Byerly is cursed to see them, and is haunted by them until he solves their deaths. *EDIT* These are not nice, friendly, 'solve my murder' ghosts - these are 'we will slowly drive you mad' ghosts. Solving their deaths is self preservation.

 

The Auld Grump

Edited by TheAuldGrump
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Justin Taylor’s Flings: Stories. Collection of stories centered mostly around young-ish people, teenagers and young adults dealing with the discomfort of trauma or sexuality and entering the post-college world. Many of these stories--particularly  those like the title story and "After Ellen," which follow a group of friends and their dissolving and realigning relationships immediately after college, and "A Night Out," a (kinda messily and unnecessarily, I thought) partially second-person story cataloguing a night out amid art shows and bad parties and worse hookups--read incredibly well in that "Alec Baldwin narrating The Royal Tenenbaums" voice, which I mean as more of a compliment than it probably sounds. They're quick, snappy, reserved and understated in tone. And charmingly clever at their best--"Poets" is as fine and delicate and loving a skewering of poets, writers, lit people and their relationships and ambitions, as I've read, perhaps. Some, like "Sungold" and its restaurant mascot, begin strong and peter a bit, but Taylor largely builds solid, full-feeling stories. Other notables: "A Talking Cure" and "Adon Olam" deal with young male sexuality and "Mike's Song" a recently divorced father attending a Phish concert with his distant grown children.

 

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Michael S. Harper’s Dear John, Dear Coltrane: Poems. Fantastic collection of poems focusing on jazz and musicians, marriage and the loss of a child, and race and civil rights. At their best in pieces like "Near Colorado," The Waterbowl," "Crisis in the Midlands: St. Louis, Missouri," and "Echoes II," when Harper builds images crystalline and heart-wrenching.

 

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Aaron Burch’s Backswing. Solid collection of stories, well-crafted and earnest. Contemplative. Mostly following teenagers and young adults, the pieces seem to split between realism and surrealism. The latter had a harder time landing with me, though the careful pacing of “Prestidigitation,” relating a magician’s act of unraveling her veins, and the awkwardness-made-flesh of “Unzipped,” about a teenage boy who suddenly finds his torso zippered, stood out. At their best in stories like the opener, “Scout” which follows two coworkers to the driving range and an energetic, euphoric conclusion, and “Fair & Square,” chronicling two small-time burglars with a code of conduct who run into a problem. Also of note: "The Neighbor," a story with a bit of a Cheever feel to it, in which a man house-sits for his neighbor and examines his life.

 

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Haruki Murakami’s After The Quake. A deceptive collection of short stories--it sneaks up on you just how good these stories are--at least vaguely connected by reference to the 1995 Kobe earthquake. Precise and contained pieces, full of fantastic bits of wisdom and moments, and altogether intense and surprising. The opening “UFO In Kushiro” plods along with a recently divorced man on vacation and arrives at a moment of startling emotion both shocking and somehow inevitable, and in “Thailand” a medical researcher travelling abroad comes to terms with the need to relinquish the anger of her failed marriage. In “All God’s Children Can Dance” a fatherless child of God stalks a man who could be his father. The bizarre but very serious “Super-frog Saves Tokyo” sees the taming of supernatural threat in the human body. “Honey Pie” follows a love triangle deftly and unsentimentally and is as tremendously well-written a story-about-a-writer, that much maligned subgenre of short fiction, as I’ve ever read.

 

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Ben Hoffman’s Together, Apart. Chapbook of short fiction. A handful of flash pieces--the brief “Your Baby’s Mother” and “You Can Get Wet In Cooperstown” are particularly delightful and perhaps the highlight of the collection--bookended by two stories that felt a bit too long.

 

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Richard Pierce’s The Book Of Mankey. Chapbook of poems built around the narrative of a dentist as he navigates the world in the wake of losing his family. Moving but darkly humorous at times. These poems feel heavy, in a good way, and will bear a second reading.

 

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Dan Chaon’s Among The Missing. A well-crafted collection of stories centered around people--mainly Nebraskans, often looking back to childhoods affected by alcohol and parents’ marital strife--a bit at odds in the world, with parts or people missing, those not quite at home. These stories build piece by piece, deftly building scene and world and sentiment in relatively short bursts of scenes separated by white space. They don’t always build to entirely satisfying conclusions, sometimes hide around the reveal of a secret that makes everything fall into place (see: “Here’s a Little Something to Remember Me By”). Can feel a little manipulative at times, when the impact of the ending doesn’t quite feel earned (“I Demand To Know Where You’re Taking Me”). At their best in stories like “Big Me,” in which a man recalls the summer he chronicled the movements of a man he suspected to be his future self, and in the easy bearing of the narrator’s examination of family and home while traveling to Nebraska with his father in “Burn With Me.”

 

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Laura van den Berg’s There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights. Chapbook of flash fiction by one of the best short-story writers working right now. Highlights: A woman comes to loathe her husband’s pets in the wake of her failed marriage in “Parakeets.” A woman’s daughter obsesses over spaceflight in “To the Good People of Mars.” A widow spies on her photographer neighbor and his subject wife in “Photography.” A marriage and family hit the rocks on game night in “The Golden Dragon Express.”

 

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Kevin Brockmeier’s Things That Fall from the Sky. Collection of well-crafted stories that just didn’t hit home with me. Sometimes fantastical, always introspective. Felt slow, on the whole. Highlights include the title story, in which an aging librarian encounters a strange man at her job and deals with the disconnect with her sons’ families; “Apples,” in which a junior-high student’s first kiss coincides with tragedy at his school; and “Small Degrees,” in which a retired typesetter works to develop his own script at the expense of all else in his life.

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Finished reading Secondhand Curses, by Drew Hayes.

 

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A fun, short, romp - following the adventures of three soldiers of fortune in a fairy tale world... You could call them heroes - but a more accurate term would be Scoundrels.

 

The party is comprised of Jack the Giant Slayer, the daughter of Beauty and the Beast - who inherited her fater's curse, and... the Frankenstein Monster.

 

Of them, the Monster is the moral compass. (The author plays with the background a bit - the Monster is not a bad guy in this one.)

 

Not deep, and might have had problems had the stories been longer, but lots of fun.

 

The Auld Grump

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12 hours ago, TheAuldGrump said:

Of them, the Monster is the moral compass. (The author plays with the background a bit - the Monster is not a bad guy in this one.)

I mean, he wasn't the bad guy of the original novel... Vicky Frankenstein was. Petulant little brat. 

 

And the monster's name is Adam.

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On 11/13/2018 at 9:37 AM, Pingo said:

Any random urban fantasy book.

 

If there is a female vampire.

 

Her name is Laylah* on a 1-5 on a d6.

 

Seriously, I ran across so many Laylahs perusing bookstalls this weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*or Leila or some variant, or occasionally the cognate Lilith. All are related to the Persian / Arabic word for "night."

Or Belle, Bella or some other name meaning Beautiful.

 

Even that one with Nefertiti as a vampire. <_< 

 

I am reading The Rivers of London series again, the first time for a few of the later books.

 

I got as far as Broken Homes when I read them for the first time, and then spoiler, spoiler, spoiler, SPOILER! :blink:::(::angry::down:

 

And now, reading the earlier books again I realize that the author put spoiler, spoiler, spoiler even then. There were CLUES! And I had missed them until SPOILER!

 

Grump wasn't surprised, but he expects the worst of people.

 

The opposite of badly written, it is obvious NOW that it had been in the works all along. But at the time it was a punch in the gut.

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On 11/19/2018 at 4:54 AM, Marvin said:

 

Collection of stories centered around queer or trans characters. Stories are largely disjointed, which in a way fits some of the subject matter of identity and the realization of the body and the like, but it felt unfortunately half-realized instead of particularly purposeful, on the whole.

 

If you want a good book about trans persons an their issues, You may want to look for Transitions, by an author going by the name of Aslaug. 

It was published on aslaug.eu  but that site is now only accessible through the wayback machine.  

Please note that some of the material in that, and Transitions 2, is based on the author's own experiences, and is NOT for the squeamish.   

It's also a furry story, and parts of it takes place at an adult movie studio, so yeah, probably not for the youngest readers, either. 

It will be an eye opener... 

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On 12/18/2018 at 5:13 AM, redambrosia said:

I mean, he wasn't the bad guy of the original novel... Vicky Frankenstein was. Petulant little brat. 

 

And the monster's name is Adam.

If I am remembering the original novel properly... neither Victor nor his creation were nice people.

 

The Creature was never named - the closest is when the Creature proclaims "I ought to be thy Adam, but rather I am the Fallen Angel' - So Lucifer would be his name as much, in context. (Though the first use of Lucifer in the Bible refers to a king, not to a fallen angel, as a sycophant likens the king to the morning star.)

 

Prometheus is also a good name for it - and was part of the original title.

 

This version diverges with the drowned girl - in this the Creature rescues the girl, and brings her home for the good doctor to help... and the good doctor instead breaks her down for parts. It seems that parts stolen from the graveyard just aren't fresh enough.

 

Someday I am going to be using Johan Konrad Dippel in a game... people may not much remember Dippel - an anatomist and Galvanist - but they do remember where he performed his experiments... a castle named Frankenstein.

 

I would, of course, be using the fictionalized version of Dippel, rather than the real life correspondent of Swedenborg.

 

The Auld Grump - I used to sing with a group of Swedenborgians, which is why I know of Dippel in the first place.

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Today I finished...

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"Hope Never Dies," the first of what may become a series of "Obama Biden Mysteries" by Andrew Shaffer, promises many things with its cover art, and doubles down on those promises with its back copy: "part action thriller, part mystery, part bromance, and (just to be clear) 100 percent fiction, 'Hope Never Dies' imagines life after the oval office for two of America's greatest heroes. Together they'll prove that Justice has no term limits."

 

It promises much, and fails on all counts. It is neither active, thrilling, mysterious, nor particularly bromantic. Its sense of Justice is heavily limited, or at least skewed in favor of (semi-)retired politicians.

 

(I assume it is, in fact, fiction, and the events do actually take place after the principal characters left office. So that much is accurate.)

 

But I included a picture of the rather engaging cover art (Jeremy Enecio), so you've experienced everything you need to. You're welcome.

 

Wigle Distillery's "Afterglow" is a ginger-infused whiskey, similar to but of considerably higher quality than Fireball, Beam Fire, and the like. Like its lesser brethren, Afterglow mixes nicely with ginger ale. I paired it with this book mostly because, like Biden, Wigle is a Pennsylvania native.

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I have just finished re-reading Kim Stanley Robinson's "Mars Trilogy".

 

I read these first when they were published in the 1990's. And reading each one I wished the author would slow down! He was covering such a huge subject and cast that at every stage I wanted to know more about what each character was doing and how Mars was changing. I still felt that way on a second reading, but I was more prepared and got more out of each book.

 

 When I first read these I was expecting a fairly straight-forward conquest-of-the-solar system story. This exists, but alongside this there is are other, more complex themes. Should Mars be terra-formed at all? And if so, for whose benefit? What form might a completely new society on a new planet take? How will living on more than one world affect the human race? Despite many ups and downs KSB seems to largely come to positive conclusions: Mankind does avoid self-destruction and we do find political compromises that allow different societies to co-exist. Good thought-provoking stuff to go alongside the technological wizardry of planet transformation.

 

And it has to be said that the descriptions of Mars are splendid. It takes a really good author to make geology exciting.

 

Just one sour note: The original paperbacks I read had nice little maps that allowed you to follow the changing surface of Mars. Now I'm reading the trilogy on kindle and there are NO MAPS. Very frustrating. 

 

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