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review 2018-09-18 02:52
The Elementals ★★★★★
The Elementals - Michael Rowe,Michael McDowell

They don’t get much better than this. It’s a wonderfully slow burn of a story that builds up to a gross-out creepfest. The characters were fun, some people get what they deserve (yay!), some wholly undeserving people get it (oh no!), and the scary stuff is left satisfyingly under-explained for a lingering aftertaste of mystery (ahhhh).

 

Audiobook, via Audible. I have mixed feelings on the performance by RC Bray. I liked his voices and infection, and his Southern accents were very plausible. But at times he was a little too deadpan, which flattened the story a bit. I read this for the 2018 Halloween Bingo square Southern Gothic : mystery, supernatural, suspense or horror set in the Southern part of the United States. This horror story is set in Alabama.

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review 2018-09-17 08:15
Kill Game (Seven of Spades #1)
Kill Game - Cordelia Kingsbridge

Great start to this series!

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review 2018-09-17 05:39
Yummah by Sarah Al Shafei
Yummah - Sarah A. Al Shafei

This is not bad by the standards of self-published books, but there isn’t much to recommend it unless you happen to be seeking a book set in Bahrain; it is currently the most popular book on Goodreads (admittedly, an English language-dominated site) set in that country. Titled “Yummah,” a word used in the book to mean “grandmother,” it seems to be the fictionalized life story of the author’s grandmother – a conclusion supported by the fact that toward the end, a favorite granddaughter appears who, like the author, is named Sarah, goes to college in Boston, and moves to Saudi Arabia for marriage.

The book begins sometime in the mid 20th century, and spans the time period from British colonial rule of Bahrain, to the country’s independence in 1971, the First Gulf War, and the beginning of the 20th century. It is narrated by a woman named Khadeeja and focuses on the domestic dramas of her own and her children’s lives. Khadeeja is married off at age 12, loses several people she loves and is abandoned by her otherwise apparently perfect husband as a pregnant mother of eight, but overcomes adversity and sees her children find love and success.

It’s a quick read, and the story moves briskly, covering an entire lifetime in fewer than 200 pages. It does suffer from several drawbacks, however. Khadeeja narrates the story in first person (except for a few brief sections told in third person from someone else’s perspective), and her perspective is not particularly nuanced; she romanticizes child marriage and makes sweeping statements like “in my days the twelve-year-olds were still innocent, their eyes still had their childish sparkle and their hearts were pure as angels’,” or, on the day of Bahrain’s independence, “there wasn’t a single soul on the island of Bahrain who wasn’t happy.”

She’s also a heavily romanticized character herself, with no apparent flaws, and called an angel even by her ex-husband, who is similarly romanticized despite his abandonment of his pregnant wife and eight kids. (I can sympathize with his shame at losing his job and his initial decision to flee, but to never send for them or even send money once he’s back on his feet – when they’re on the verge of eviction and the older kids are leaving school to support the family – did not seem nearly so forgivable to me as it was to every character in this book. That said, my guess is that this book is based on the author’s grandmother’s life, and if this is treated as a great love story in her family, well, at least it’s authentic I suppose.)

Beyond that, there are problems one expects from a self-published book. It appears to have been copyedited by spellcheck, given the number of misused words. For the most part, the author’s English seems fluent, but she struggles with prepositions (Khadeeja is concerned about someone’s “desire in revenge”; a character comments that “life has been cruel on you”), the occasional word is jarring to the English-speaking reader (the dialogue tag “screamed” is overused, including even for a polite greeting at one point), and there are some run-on sentences and some passages which lapse into the present tense although most of the book is in the past tense. Meanwhile, I was never sure whether the seeming expansion of the age gaps between Khadeeja’s children (all nine born within eleven or twelve years) was a continuity error, or whether society really was changing so rapidly that the middle and younger children wind up seeming a full generation younger than their older siblings.

All in all, this was a quick and painless read, especially since my expectations for a self-published book were so low. It’s not one I would recommend on its literary merits, but it’s a perfectly decent choice for those looking for a story set in Bahrain.

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review 2018-09-16 20:57
Strange Weather ★★★☆☆
Strange Weather - Joe Hill

Dementia is cruel, in the way it steals from the person who suffers it, and steals from the people who love them. Joe Hill externalizes and personifies it in Snapshot, about a boy who finds that the woman who raised him and loved him as a mother is being attacked by a man with a camera that doesn’t just capture memories, but steals them, leaving empty spaces and confusion and fear behind.

 

“The idea that these days had been taken from her struck me as vile. It was a swallow of curdled milk. It was indecent.

 

There was no justification for the loss of her memories and understanding, no defense the universe could offer for the corruption of her mind. She had loved me, even if I’d been too witless to know it or value it. Anyone who looked at these pictures could see she loved me, that I delighted her somehow, in spite of my fat cheeks, vacant stare, and tendency to eat in a way that smeared food all down my bad T-shirts. In spite of how I thoughtlessly accepted her attention and affection as my due. And now it was all melting away, every birthday party, every BBQ, every plucked ripe peach. She was being erased a little at a time by a cancer that fed not on her flesh but on her inner life, on her private store of happiness.”

 

There’s more about the boy and how he battles the evil man with the camera and what he does with his life, but this was the essence of the story for me, the wish that it was as simple as a bad man with an evil camera who could be defeated, and that people would never have to lose their memories and essential selves again.

 

Audiobook, borrowed from my public library. As usual, Wil Wheaton brings the story to life with an outstanding performance. I read this story for the 2018 Halloween Bingo square Relics and Curiosities: concerning magical, supernatural or haunted objects, such as spellbooks, talismans or swords. The memory-stealing camera in this story fits the square.

 

There are three other (short stories? novellas?) in this collection. Loaded was a horribly plausible story of a trigger-happy security guard whose prejudices lead him to shoot innocent bystanders in the excitement and confusion of responding to an actual shooting. It was maybe a little too realistic to be enjoyable, my stomach felt twisted through most of it, but the effect was spoiled in the end as Hill was just a little too heavy-handed with the evil, a little too over the top. Aloft was maybe the most fun of the four stories, on its surface about a guy who parachutes, not to the ground, but onto a mysteriously solid cloud. But the story is more about isolation and loneliness, and how we can fool ourselves into believing dysfunctional relationships give more, promise more, than they do. Rain seemed more up my alley as a straightforward weird horror – I mean, really, rain made of sharp needles of crystal that shred anybody unlucky enough to get caught in it? – but for some reason, it bored me enough that I skimmed most of it.

 

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review 2018-09-16 20:46
The Moonstone ★★★★☆
The Moonstone - J.I.M. Stewart,Wilkie Collins

Because I read somewhere that The Moonstone was the first detective mystery novel, and because I’ve read very few mysteries not written in the last 50 years or so, I expected a different sort of book. I was looking for an early Poirot or Sherlock Holmes, and instead found it more like a romance with a mystery to drive its plot. It certainly had a super detective from London, offset by a bungling local investigator.

 

The mystery was fun to unravel, even though it wasn’t terribly hard to guess around all the red herrings. The romance was not too implausible, although I feel a little squeamish about the whole first-cousins thing. The scandals were fun, the goofily pompous servant was fun, and the heroine was satisfyingly spirited and self-willed and intelligent. But Miss Clack absolutely stole the show. I’d have read this book only for her sections. I want some Miss Clack fanfiction, STAT.

Audiobook, the Naxos audiobooks edition, with the full cast. The performances were all very good, but Fenella Woolgar as Miss Clack was amazing. I read this for the 2018 Halloween Bingo square Country House Mystery: a closed circle murder set during a gathering like a house party. This book is primarily set at a wealthy family’s English country estate, where the Moonstone in question disappears the night of a small party.

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