The Girl in the Green Silk Gown – Seanan McGuire

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown (Ghost Roads #2)The Girl in the Green Silk Gown by Seanan McGuire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved Sparrow Hill Road so much I walked into a bookshop minutes after finishing it to purchase the sequel, The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, which I tore through with gusto. A more traditional novel, The Girl in the Green Silk Gown did not begin life as a series of short stories later “fixed-up” into a longer work, like its predecessor. Instead, McGuire set out to tell more of road-ghost Rose’s story in long form. I relished the twists and turns of the tale, as the cat-and-mouse pursuit from book one again stands as the narrative through-line, only darker and more dangerous. Rose’s journey took her many places (a hitcher has to keep moving), echoing the episodic structure of the previous book, and delved deep into themes of trust, identity, coming of age, the burdens of power, and choices. Familiar characters populate the highways and byways of Rose’s quest, and I was on the edge of my seat wondering if she’d defeat Bobby Cross or be destroyed in the attempt, wondering who might betray her and for what price. It’s rare that I genuinely wonder if a main character will make it to the end (it’s almost always obvious they will, no matter how harrowing the writer thinks they’re making the story), but McGuire kept me on tenterhooks and I love her for it.

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Sparrow Hill Road – Seanan McGuire

Sparrow Hill RoadSparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I orbited Sparrow Hill Road for years before finally reading it when I got a free copy in my swag bag at the 2018 World Fantasy Convention. It was worth the wait, and I loved it as much as I hoped I would. I love linked short stories, and this book introduced me to the term “fix-up,” coined by sci-fi writer A.E. van Vogt in the 1950s to describe the trick of linking up previously-written short pieces into a novel with some tweaks and/or the addition of new material to create transitions. I had not read any of the short pieces that comprised Sparrow Hill Road on their own, and I thought it worked really well as an episodic novel. The main character – a hitchhiking road ghost named Rose – and her through-line story – a cat-and-mouse game with the man who killed her – lent themselves well to the format. Also, McGuire has a way of making things work, seemingly through sheer charisma but really because she has a deep understanding of what makes stories approachable and structurally sturdy. I don’t read her for fancy language or post-modern stylistics. She delivers strong character voice and good plain fun every time.

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Lingering SAD-ness and Stress, or Where I’ve Been for the Past Six Weeks

You’ll notice I haven’t posted any book reviews since mid-May. It’s not because I haven’t been reading, but I haven’t felt like writing reviews for anything I’ve finished. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and I had a bad year. On top of the usual loss-of-interest depression I experience every winter, I overextended myself at work and burned out. My writing ground to a halt (like it does every winter), and my volunteer position on a fan-run convention committee became so stressful I nearly quit. I only saw my commitment through because I don’t like dropping the ball and there was no one to hand the work over to.

In April, I started writing again on a mini-retreat with some members of my amazing writing group, and just as I was starting to pick back up – the days got longer and sunnier, if not warmer (thanks, New England), and I was feeling good and fantasizing about an easy summer – I got surprise slammed with a large, months-long, highly stressful project at work that derailed me completely for the past six weeks. I’ve been in a stress shutdown almost as bad as the middle of winter.

The project is opening some career development doors for me, and I’m whipping it into shape, but I just couldn’t muster up the energy to write reviews for any of the books I’ve read since mid-May. However, it’s summer now. I’m up with the sun every day and this is the time of year I feel my best and most energetic. If you are one of the few people that follow this blog, you are about to get bombarded with reviews! I’m writing them up today and scheduling them to post this week and next.

I will always say fall is my favorite season because of the colors and the crispness and leaves and apples and snuggly sweaters and hand warmers, but fall also heralds the dark season. November is the cruelest month. Summer is when I feel good. Here’s what I’ve done for myself in the past six weeks:

  • Read a shit ton of fan fiction
  • Cut off my shoulder-length hair into an asymmetrical pixie
  • Drank milkshakes and ate ice cream
  • Took an impromptu long weekend to visit my husband’s family in sunny Florida
  • Bought books (even though I already have an entire to-read bookcase) and actually read them right away!
  • Built a LEGO Parisian Restaurant
  • Started a short story AND a novel

Self-care and self-kindness are important, and I’m always learning new ways of taking care of, motivating, and forgiving myself. I wish I was confident that I can maintain my energy through the next winter, but I can’t hope too hard for that only to be disappointed. I will enjoy the now, the sunshine, the long days, the heat and the energy. My creative juices are flowing. I’m writing again. I’ve already well exceeded my goal for today. I’ll ride this train ‘till I run out of fuel.

The End of the End of Everything – Dale Bailey

The End of the End of EverythingThe End of the End of Everything by Dale Bailey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Dale Bailey because his prose makes me want to write and when his stories speak to me, they sing.

I only connected with some of the stories in this collection – “The Bluehole,” “A Rumor of Angels,” and “Eating at the End-of-the-World Cafe” – and I’m not wholly certain what differentiates them from the other stories. It might be as simple as my connection to the characters. Once I look past Bailey’s prose, his characters all possess a realness I find compelling. It keeps me reading even when I don’t like them or I’m tired of their type: i.e., Ben Devine in the title story, yet another middle-aged mediocre white-guy writer who has affairs with co-eds and navel gazes about his own mediocrity. I’ve read enough of those stories. I wanted to love “Troop 9,” but I think it would have been an ideal story for me if it was written by a woman, about women (I’m thinking in particular of Ellen Klages, and recalling her story “Woodsmoke”) instead of being about men in the end. I can see and appreciate the things Bailey is doing in these stories, the ways he interrogates the tropes, uses Ben as a lens for the world-goes-to-ruin scenario, uses John Hardesty to explore the effects or war and toxic masculinity on women and a community in a place and a time, but I’d rather read those stories through the gazes of different people, like Tom and Lily (“Rumor of Angels”) or Eleanor (“Eating at the End-of-the-World Cafe”).

But that prose is so smooth and lovely, those ideas and details strange and alluring. Goddamn if I don’t want to grab everything Bailey’s written and gobble it up.

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Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction – Grady Hendrix

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror FictionPaperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I saw Grady Hendrix on a convention panel, was immediately captivated by the thought of all the things I didn’t know about horror fiction, and then entered (and won) a giveaway for this book. It took me a year and a half to read it, picking it up and putting it down as my desire to study the subject waxed and waned. It’s a lot to take in all at once, but it makes for a great bed- or couch-side read.

The text is tightly-written, witty and smart, devoting time to the subgenres of horror as they rise and fall, the books themselves and their writers, the cover artists so rarely named or lauded for their work, strung along a thread of the boom and bust of the publishing houses putting all these books into the hands of the masses. That anecdotal balancing act kept the book from feeling repetitive (“oh, and then this novel, and then this one, and this one . . .”). It delivered what was promised: a history of the books, their stories, cultural context, and the business and people behind and around them.

You may walk away from this book with a reading list to keep you busy for years. You may, like me, enjoy knowing more about that period of horror fiction and its echoes down the years than feel any great desire to read the greatest hits of decades past. I didn’t get really excited and start looking up authors and books until I got to the last section, about the psychological and genre-crossing horror of the early nineties under Dell’s short-lived Abyss imprint, edited by Jeanne Cavelos. If nothing else about this book appeals to you, it makes a great coffee table book for the wealth of full-color cover images, ranging from stark and iconic to bizarre and lurid.

I recommend this to anyone discovering (or re-discovering) an interest in horror fiction who isn’t quite sure what parts of the horror spectrum appeal to them. This book is also wonderful for anyone who enjoys knowing the history of genres and publishing, or just wants to read clever and sarcastic essay-reviews about older books.

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