five books, 50 pages
Posted June 26, 2016on:
When I pick up a book, I really do pick it up with the intent of finishing it. But these last 10 days or so, I’ve been having trouble sticking with any one book. I’ll pick something up, read half of it, pick something else up, read 20 pages, pick up an anthology and read two stories…. we’ve all been there. I can’t seem to stick with anything! Years ago, when asked “how do you decide what to read?”, my friend nrlymrtl of Dab of Darkness said she puts a ton of interesting looking books in a comfy reading spot, reads the first 40-50 pages of each one, sees which one grabs her attention, and then she puts the rest down guilt-free.
I took five books that have been sitting on my To Be Read stack, and did the same. I read 50 pages of each (or at least attempted to), and one or two really stood out as books that If i continue reading, I’m gonna finish. the books were:
Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey – Thomas Dunne Books, June 2016
Way Down Dark by J.P Smythe – Quercus Books, Oct 2016
A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh – Quercus Books, April 2016
Dead on the Bones: Pulp on Fire by Joe R Lansdale – Subterranean Press, Nov 2016
Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer – Tor Books, May 2016
Well? How did it go? Did 5 books 50 pages help me figure out what to read next? LOL, at least this is a spoiler free post, since the events I talk about in these books happen in the first 50 pages and I have no idea what happens next!
Dead on the Bones by Joe R. Lansdale is an anthology, so the first 50 pages are just his introduction and one short story. I love it when authors write their own intros to their collections, especially if it is a themed collection, like this one. Lansdale grew up in the early days of television, and fondly remembers the tv and radio soap operas, serials, westerns, and weird tales of his youth. Many of these “innovative” tv stories were lifted right from the pulp magazines and comics he so loved. This collection is a love letter to those pulp stories of high adventure. He freely admits that a lot of pulp fiction was absolute crap, but that famed authors got their start in the pulp mags. I really do love it when authors present these types of essays, it gives me an insight into why they are writing what they do, and why they are writing it how they do.
The first short story, “The Gruesome Affair of the Electric Blue Lightning” is a detective/investigation story, done purposely to mirror a Sherlock Holmes style, and was insanely entertaining to read. The language is successfully old fashioned, the characters and dialog were fun, and the narrator frames the story with one of those introductions of “this happened a while ago, and I’ve omitted some names as to not embarrass anyone”. Dupin, the investigator, pulls together his knowledge of ancient science beliefs, alchemy, a relative of the Brothers Grimm, the necronomicon, and history, and turns it into a surprisingly fascinating and education discussion, without it feeling info-dumpy, and his long suffering roommate keeps up with him, often with sarcasm, disbelief, and curiosity. I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading this.
Am I interested in continuing to read Dead on the Bones? Oh heck yeah! That first story was crazy entertaining. I like the good parts of pulp fiction, so I think I’m gonna like the rest of this collection.
A Lovely Way to Burn, by Louise Welsh is a contemporary thriller which opens with three well-to-do British men going on killing sprees and then killing themselves. We spend the first couple of chapters following around our protagonist, Stevie. Her boyfriend stands her up on a date, she wavers between telling him it’s over and forgiving him, she is impressed with how her co-worker Joanie is handling a failing marriage, one of the security guards awkwardly tries to flirt with her. Stevie is a well developed character, the author gives us just enough small events with her right up front so that we know what kind of person Stevie thinks she is. The prose is incredibly atmostpheric and each sentence and chapter gently but firmly pulls you into the next.
I got a chuckle when I found out what Stevie does for a living, and why she’s reluctant to tell anyone what she does: she works for a home shopping tv network! HAhahahahaha!! She spends 8 hours a day on air, convincing people to buy toasters and jewelry and sweaters, and whatever else. The scenes with her and Joanie on the tv set were pretty funny!
A few days go by, Stevie recovers from a terrible case of the flu, her dumb boyfriend still hasn’t called her, but she’s got keys to his apartment! She lets herself into his apartment, and immediately feels guilty for picking through his things while he isn’t home. And then she finds him, dead in the bedroom, dead for some days now. on page 50, we learn it wasn’t the flu she had, but a global plague. and oh by way, could Stevie come into work tonight, since so many people are out sick?
Will I continue reading A Lovely Way To Burn? You know what? I’m not sure. The only scenes that really grabbed me were Stevie and Joanie’s inside jokes at work, and the scenes that were supposed to be super compelling (finding your boyfriend’s dead body? OMG) felt disconnected to me. I might pick this book up again, I might not.
Too Like The Lightning by Ada Palmer is a far future scifi novel. It’s got an innovative and odd intro that has approvals, warnings, and ratings. At first blush, the prose is trippingly old-fashioned (as in, I was tripping over it), and heavy like 500 year old furniture, referencing historical events, philosophers, and mythology. The narrator, Mycroft, is assuming that I have a formal liberal arts education. In his futuristic time, writing this way is considered offensive, so he is doing it on purpose. In this future, religion as we know it is illegal, gendered language is a bad thing, everyone wears a tracker that reports all of their vital signs, children are raised in small communities of sorts that aren’t exactly families as you and I would know them. The author throws you right in the deep end, and the prose includes a lot of slang terms that are often explained later, through what to me felt like info-dumpy dialog.
Mycroft speaks directly to the reader, he has a criminal record and is doing a sort of community service as his punishment. I did like how the author used typographical symbols to denote when different languages (Spanish, Japanese) were being used, and the characters we meet in the first handful of chapters are pretty interesting people. With Mycroft’s old fashioned language mixed with his goading of the reader, and the other character’s ultra futuristic language use, and the getting thrown in the deep end, I had a really tough time getting into the story. Palmer’s prose is metaphor heavy and highly ornamented, which meant by the time I’d gotten to the end of some sentences I had to remind myself what the subject of the beginning of the sentence was. I believe books of this type are described as “ambitious”. I was struggling by page 30. gave up at page 47. Reading it felt like work, not fun.
Will I continue Too Like the Lightning? Nope. This book isn’t for me. If you live in the US, and you would like to read this book, reach out to me and I’ll mail you my copy as a gift.
Next up was Spells of Blood and Kin, a contemporary dark fantasy novel by Claire Humphrey. The novel starts out with a fantastic opening hook about the death of Lissa’s grandmother. In a Canadian town with a large percentage of Russian immigrants, Lissa’s grandmother was the local “witch”. The townswomen depend on Baba’s potions, yet shun her all the same because the Church doesn’t approve. With Baba’s death, Lissa has inherited her grandmother’s responsibilities. All of them. Baba had also secretly been helping Maksim, a man afflicted with a curse, but does Lissa have enough skills to help him? Lissa’s estranged stepsister shows up on her doorstep, ostensibly to help “clean up the house”, but her stepsister has actually run away from home.
Humphrey’s prose pulled me right in, so strongly that I was 30 pages in before I even jotted down some notes about what I liked or didn’t like. Maksim’s backstory is told teensy bits at a time, because he is embarrassed about his past. Lissa is quiet and strong, nervous that she didn’t learn enough from Baba before her death, she’s afraid the townswomen won’t trust her skills. Magic works best on the full moon, so Lissa needs to use her time wisely. I was pulled in by the fairy tale mashup-ness, the subtle characterization, how religion still has it’s own urban myths that the Church frowns upon, and Humphrey’s compelling writing style. At page 50, I didn’t want to stop reading.
Will I continue to read Spells of Blood and Kin? Oh hell yes! Why did I wait so long to read this? It’s totally my kind of thing!
Way Down Dark by J.P. Smythe is a far future story that takes place on a generation ship that left a dying Earth. Society has pretty much broken down on the ship, and this is a kill or be killed, dog eat dog world. It opens with the death of Chan’s mother, and Chan inherits her mother’s responsibilities, but not her title or reputation. That, Chan will have to earn for herself, by displays of power. In this gang ridden world, power is displayed through violence, who you are willing to kill or maim, and in how you recover from injuries you have sustained. This is so not my kind of book. I just do not enjoy reading books that are this violent. Also, I couldn’t figure out how this population is still alive. With everyone killing and maiming each other left and right, and the medical bays having been cleaned out years (or generations) ago, how have all these people not simply died of infection or malnutrition? The violence was a huge turn off for me, and I couldn’t buy into what was happening.
Will I continue reading Way Down Dark? Nope. plain and simple this is too violent for me and not my kind of thing. If this sounds like your kind of thing and you live in the US, reach out to me and I’ll mail it to you.