Category Archives: Reading List

On the bookshelf: Certain Dark Things

What is there to say about Certain Dark Things, the vampire novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia set in Mexico City that mixes up the entire cinematic, literary and mythic history of vampires with the narco conflicts of the Mexican drug wars, run through a noir filter with the thriller levels cranked up, to create her own dangerous species of vampire novel?

What is there to say other than read it?

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On the Bookshelf: Happinesswise by Jonathan Bennett

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Happinesswise by Jonathan Bennett could just as easily have been called Intimatewise or Intimacywise or some such thing. While the poems are all over the map when it comes to style and subject matter, at their core they are glimpses into the secret lives we all carry within us.

The book opens with a series of poems called Palliative Care Reflective Portfolio, which yes, are about death, but in that are also about entire lives lived. The poems feature notes about end-of-life care and the mundane minutia of death, or at least of putting off death for a few more ragged heartbeats: “the machine drone, the urine sting, the sour C. diff smell, the pump throb, the infection control, latex-free signage.” But the clinical language of the palliative care experience are countered in the same poems with the beautiful, transcendent moments of life, the memories that actually make us what we are: “tinkling wind chimes, your still-beautiful clavicle” and “My son’s first steps – across the lichen at the lake.” In an interview, Bennett states these poems are inspired by his own experiences working in a hospital and reading doctors’ portfolios: “Somewhere in the fog of pain meds and held hands, of DNR’s and oncoming grief, people retell stories that have bound them to one another over the course of a lifetime. Or else they sit in silence and just know, together. Is this happiness? Is it the end of happiness? These are the things the poem pursues.”

While the Palliative Care Reflective Portfolio is not specifically about Bennett, other poems do provide more intimate glimpses into his life. The poems found in Neurotypical Sketches offer insights into Bennett’s relationship with his autistic son – and insights perhaps into his relationship with autism, or at least autism as he has experienced it. There’s a map drawn by his son, Thomas, and moment after moment of a life transformed by something ultimately unknowable:

“He asks: Do cyclops blink or wink?
We laugh and and I ask him to tell me

the riddle of Theseus’s ship again
because I can’t get enough of him

charting his way through a paradox.
And to hear him argue the case

for Bigfoot is to doubt everything
you thought was true in the universe.”

There are other examples of this intimacy throughout the book – the series Concession Line Signs uses signs in Bennett’s region for inspiration, and as a vegetarian I certainly found a connection with his poem “Vegetarians Use the Back Door.” But really, it’s one of those collections best read and not talked about too much, because its true power is in how you will find yourself in the poems. How are you doing, happinesswise?

On the bookshelf: Hysteria

It’s almost impossible to describe Hysteria by Elisabeth de Mariaffi, for it moves not only through a wide range of genres but also beyond their limits, into strange and uncharted literary terrain. Domestic thrillers, psychological thrillers, fairy tales, ghost stories, historical fiction, detective stories – they’re all present in Hysteria in one form or another. But they’re also transformed into something else, a narrative of resistance for a world gone mad, for a world that has perhaps always been mad. The book’s title is a clue to the eerie nature of its story: it’s a state of mind, not a fixed and stable plot with the clear and unambiguous ending of a conventional thriller. In other words, Hysteria is a book better experienced than described.

That said, here’s the book description if you want to learn more:

Heike Lerner’s life looks perfect from the outside: she’s settled into an easy routine of caring for her young son, Daniel, and spends her days wandering the woods near their summer house, while her nights are filled with clinking glasses and charming conversation. It all helps to keep her mind at ease—or at least that’s what her husband, Eric, tells her. But lately, Heike’s noticed there are some things out of place: a mysterious cabin set back in the trees and a strange little girl who surfaces alone at the pond one day, then disappears—while at home Eric is becoming increasingly more controlling. Something sinister that Heike cannot quite put her finger on is lingering just beneath the surface of this idyllic life.

It’s possible Heike’s worries are all in her head, but when the unthinkable happens—Daniel vanishes while she and Eric are at a party one night—she can no longer deny that something is very wrong.

Desperate to find her son, Heike will try anything, but Eric insists on a calm that feels so cold she wonders if she can trust him at all.

Could Eric be involved in Daniel’s disappearance? Or has some darker thing taken him?I Remember You sales cover The closer Heike gets to the truth, the faster it slips away. But she will not rest until she finds her son.

And there’s also a Walrus piece on the book for more thoughts. Excerpt:

Hysteria is a novel about many things—a mother’s love, the institution of psychiatry. But at heart, it is a novel about the ordinary corruptibility of plot: how certain men wield narrative to manipulate women, to convince them that they are crazy and the world that denies them their happiness is sane. De Mariaffi purges this corruption, turning one genre against another, fighting plot with plot.

What would you give up for magic?

Followers of this blog likely know by now that I’m a fan of Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoats series, about a ragtag band of wandering magistrates trying to save a fallen land. And I’m not just a fan because of that one time de Castell bought me beach French fries! These are damned fine books – solid fantasy novels written by a literary master who’s concerned about real-life issues of honour, ethics and what makes a person good rather than just law-abiding.

Now de Castell has a new series out – the Spellslinger books. They follow the misadventures of Kellen, a young man in a society where almost everyone is a mage – except Kellen. Sounds like high school, doesn’t it? It has certainly has that YA vibe about it, but like the Greatcoats series there’s plenty of politics, interrogations of history, ethics, philosophy and Issues with a capital I here. De Castell is that rare kind of writer who tells a good tale while also exploring the things that matter in real life to all of us. I don’t want to talk about the first book in the series too much because the plot is all about the twists and surprises. I’ll just say if you like your fantasy worlds complex and your characters flawed and fallen, then you’ll want to read Spellslinger. Plus, there’s a talking, homicidal squirrel cat! (I’m personally convinced it’s a stand-in for de Castell himself, but that’s a subject for another blog post….)

If you like Cross, you may also like Kincaid Strange

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If you like my Cross books, you may want to check out Kristi Charish‘s new Kincaid Strange series. Strange is a voodoo practitioner in Seattle who lives with the ghost of a dead grunge rock star and solves supernatural mysteries. What more do you need to know than that?

Charish is also the author of the Owl series of books, about a relic hunter who travels the world encountering various magical artifacts and supernatural baddies. It would make a great video game!

Check out the interview I did with Charish about the first book in the new series, The Voodoo Killings, if you want to learn more.

Bookshelf: Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson

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I enjoyed the hell out of this novella by Kelly Robson, who happens to be an amazing person as well an insanely gifted writer. You can read it for free at Tor or buy it through Kindle, etc. Here’s the blurb:

“Waters of Versailles” by Kelly Robson is a charming novella of court intrigue in 1738 Versailles as a clever former soldier makes his fortune by introducing a modern water system (and toilets) to the ladies of the palace. He does this with magical help that he may not be able to control.

It’s witty, charming, funny and surprisingly touching. Joy.

A welcome diversion

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I’m happy to be reading the latest poetry from my pal George Murray. It’s a crazy little book, with poems made of the ceaseless babble of modernity’s data streams (here’s a teaser). They read like Facebook updates crossed with news headlines crossed with overheard conversations and all the rest of the cacophony of our daily lives. Only, you know, poetic. Plus, the quote on the back cover is from me!

Read This! The Burning Dark

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I just finished The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher and I loved it. What’s not to love, after all? It’s a space station ghost story starring a troubled war hero who won an important victory against the mysterious alien Spiders — at a great personal cost. A war hero whose war records have strangely disappeared when he arrives at the space station, which orbits a dark star that will fuck you up. It’s a little bit of action, a little of military sci-fi and a whole lot of suspense. If you’re a fan of the sci-fi film Event Horizon, you’ll like The Burning Dark. Plus, it looks like there’s a sequel!

Thanks to My Bookish Ways for the recommendation!

Read This! – Operation Arcana

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Swords and sorcery! Assault rifles and arcana! Elves and evil! Wizards and weaponry! Military maneuvers and eldritch evasions! What more do you want out of an anthology?

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Just finished the fine Shakespeare’s Rebel by CC Humphreys and now I’m off to interview him about what it was like to write the character of Shakespeare into his book. It’s a challenge, as I know all too well….