Spooky Season! My October reading.

I thought I might post individual reviews throughout the month, get back into the swing of things, but after I hate-reviewed Madam Crowl’s Ghost and Other Stories at the beginning of the month, I was too busy reading nine other things to stop and write about them.

So, here it is. I finally sat down and forced my (often very emotional) thoughts into coherence. Here’s my reviews of my spooky season reading:

Greywaren by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I laughed out loud, I cried a little, I cheered, I loved it. I was not prepared for this series to be over, and this book is both wonderful and not nearly enough. (I will never get over Matthew asking Bryde if he’d ever read about clinical depression; Declan trying so hard to hold it together and making the worst, most reactionary choices because he’s just at the end of his rope; Adam confessing to Ronan that he felt like he’d killed so many other versions of himself to become the version who went to Harvard and then found it all lacking; Ronan remaining fundamentally the same while fundamentally changing as he discovers his truest self and comes to terms with it.) What deeply drawn, deeply felt, deeply satisfyingly, gloriously messy and messed up and tragic and hopeful people these characters are. I will miss them and enjoy visiting them again and again.

Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome by Stephen Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Picked this up for authors I already knew I liked (Tanith Lee, Angela Slatter, Garth Nix). Didn’t really find any new-to-me writers that had me adding things to my to-read list. Enjoyed the interstitial Grimm originals and several of the adaptations and interpretations, but only found it somewhat memorable on the whole. Am already forgetting most of the stories and will certainly have lost most of this anthology within another month. Rated 4 stars because the stories I did like, I really liked.

The Dark Magazine, Issue 71: April 2021 by Sean Wallace

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Only read “Forward, Victoria” because I’m a big fan of Carlie St. George’s short fiction. Gym listen. Brought to mind Seanan McGuire’s Ghost Roads books with the exploration of how legends change over time and ghosts are bound by rules. Was drawn in by the relentlessness of Victoria’s attention to revenge, for petty slights or serious sins.

Grave Reservations by Cherie Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great fun from Cherie Priest, introducing a not-very-impressive psychic and a non-skeptical detective. Good balance between the murder case and the characters’ personal lives and concerns. I would go to a bar to watch Leda sing Klairvoyant Karaoke, and I am looking forward to seeing more of Grady and his daughter in future books.

The Sandman: Act II by Dirk Maggs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

More little stand-alone stories, less meta-plot than Act One, but still 100% delightful, even when it’s awful and disturbing and you remember this is a horror story. The quality of this as an audio drama is stellar.

Don’t Fear the Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ll admit, I didn’t fall in love with Jade in book one. I liked her, I felt for her, I rooted for her, but I don’t remember loving her. I only remember loving that last image, that last moment.

This book made me love her. The first thing Jade does when she returns to Proofrock, a town full of people who turned their backs on her, is embrace a traumatized young woman. The identity explorations, switcheroos, mother-daughter parallels, and connections between unlikely people had me cheering and guessing and crying and wanting. I was as desperate as Jade for things to work out in her favor, for the people she cared for to survive and care for her back. I wanted to cry when Jade made a sacrifice play at the end, again, but I’m glad she’ll be back. The slasher references came thick and fast, and I haven’t watched enough of the genre to follow it very well, but ultimately it didn’t matter. Stephen Graham Jones redefines “compulsively readable” prose for me. This is a banger of a novel.

Thanks to Gallery/Saga Press and Netgalley for the ARC!

Slow Burn by Laura Blackwell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Picked this up because I enjoyed a shorter piece by Blackwell in Nightmare Magazine. Loved the quiet horror, the weird and creeping dread and sense of wrongness, loved the unlikeable-ness of Anne, but didn’t love the whole of the story. I wish there’d been less of an explanation at the end. Rather than leave me with a sense of future dread or larger horror, it deflated the story for me. Oh well. Might be someone else’s perfect read.

Revenge by Yōko Ogawa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not at all what I was expecting from the cover and title, but I loved it. Sparse, elegant prose. Not a word out of place or overwritten. Hit all the quiet horror and gothic buttons, and linked all the stories together. I was in heaven.

Everything is slightly off. Circumstances have characters questioning their own perception of reality. People behave strangely in ways that can be dismissed until they can’t. Ogawa moves us so slowly from the mundane to the bizarre to the murderous we don’t feel the transition until we’re in the middle of something deeply and overtly disturbing. Brings to mind Daphne du Maurier.

Great Ghost Stories by John Grafton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Utter whiplash to read this on the heels of Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge. Too many over-written stories by men, only one by a woman. Almost noped out when Bram Stoker named his character Malcolm Malcolmson in “The Judge’s House.” (Not gonna lie, I skipped that one.) Things improved a little bit with Ambrose Bierce and the other early-20th century writers, but only to the point that it was a tolerable read. I just lost all patience for 18th and 19th century prose, it seems, and I was so worn out by it by the time I got to the 20th century, it soured the whole book for me. No great loss: I picked it up at the beginning of the month at a used book sale and left it in a little free library earlier today for someone else to enjoy.

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A Natural History of Hell – Jeffrey Ford

A Natural History of HellA Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can’t believe I let A Natural History of Hell sit on my shelf for two and a half years before I read it! I’d enjoyed a story or two by Ford, but I can’t recall what made me want to buy this collection. It was probably a blurb describing the stories in a way that piqued my interest, followed by a review gushing about how good Ford is. That usually does it. I’ve purchased many a short-story collection this way.

I loved it. His stories have such interesting premises delivered on by great characters.

My journey through the book was a little trippy. There was a story I’d read years ago in an anthology that I had no memory of reading, and I thought it was great. I don’t know how it got so completely erased from my brain, but I’m okay with a little bit of weirdness to keep my life interesting. When I closed the book, I felt that I-need-to-read-more-by-this-person feeling. Lucky me, Ford has quite the body of work for me to add to my tbr bookcase. I hope I don’t take two and a half years next time.

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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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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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