the Little Red Reviewer

five books, 50 pages

Posted on: June 26, 2016

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:

50 pages

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.

18 Responses to "five books, 50 pages"

Every once in a while I get in a mood where I cant find a book to fit and will do this. I really enjoyed Spells of Blood and Kind, look forward to seeing what you think of it!

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Fifty pages is more than enough to figure out if you like a book or not. A book isn’t going to be different in its last 250 from what it was in its first 50. I don’t understand people who finish every book they start no matter what. I abandon books without a second thought.

This was fun. I felt like you gave us five mini reviews this week, even if they were for partial, rather than whole books.

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it sure was more than enough! i knew at 20 to 25 pages if i liked the writing style or not. but, i’m a stickler for rules that i set for myself, so 50 pages it was.

however, i’m a little too proud of myself that I read nearly 250 pages in one day!

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I couldn’t do that – so often, the last 250, 550, 750 or howevermany pages are so different from the first 50. 50 pages is just clearing your throat, and lots of people clear their throat in ungainly ways and yet go on to provide interesting conversation!

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I like the idea of choosing a few books and reading to page 50 to see which one you’ll stick with. I sort of do that but usually I read just the first chapter. It really does help a reading slump or simply the ability to choose the next book to read.

Out of the books you’ve listed, Spells of Blood and Kin intrigues me the most. I’ve placed it on my goodreads consideration list.

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I consider every book in this context, I always apply the “Fifty Page Rule” unless it’s a book I know I’ll be finishing no matter what. Much of the time I really do 30 pages, which should be enough, I think.

By the way, the plot of a generation ship’s society/culture gone wrong is really tired. SF authors have been writing it since the Forties, and from your description, mostly doing it better.

Thanks for these reviews, I added one to my “try” list.

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I’ve come across a small handful of novels recently about the generation ship gone badly, and been impressed with none of them. Best of the small bunch was Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, and that book had some awesome scenes and some not so awesome scenes.

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I’ve read mixed reviews on Aurora, one of them yours, and was discouraged from reading it. Heinlein’s 1963 Orphans of the Sky is the classic. But perhaps superior is Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss. Yes, these are oldies, but if nothing else you’ll see the better early looks at the theme.

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Have you tried the Book of the Long Sun?

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I’ve had one book that I’ve been trying to read for a long time, and keep renewing it from the library. Meanwhile, a few others capture my interest, and I go to those, and then return to the first. I just checked-out several more books to look through, and someone lent me one – for only two weeks – so now I have a new priority order and I’ll probably renew the one a bunch more times. It’s all about reading, though, so, Fun!🙂 Thanks
Stacy

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IMHO you cannot go far wrong with Joe Lansdale, so good choice there.

Like Rick, I do use the 50 page rule, but only on books that are just not grabbing or holding my attention.

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The only book there I’ve read was Way Down Dark, and I have to say that early on I did think about abandoning it. It was just so grim and I couldn’t understand the logic behind the actions of all the characters. Things change in a big way at a certain point, and from then on I found it a much better book.

Still not sure why it was so raved about though, you aren’t missing a huge amount by not reading it.

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” It was just so grim and I couldn’t understand the logic behind the actions of all the characters”

So. Much. This. i seriously can’t figure out how anyone on this ship is even still alive.

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I have the Blood and Kin book – need to pick it up very soon. Very encouraging.
Lynn😀

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Did you read Deathless by Cat Valente? Spells of Blood and Kin feels a smidgen like Deathless, as in, if you liked one, then you’ll like the other.

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I agree-can’t go wrong with Lansdale. Check out his interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. You can get it online.
Couldn’t get very far into Too Like the Lightning-like you it felt like work.
Spells of Blood & Kin sounds awful. The type of Urban Fantasy I avoid like the plague.
Way Down Dark hasn’t been on my radar. Violence does not turn me off-just bad writing.
Have read a couple of crime novels by Welsh that I liked but I will probably avoid this.
If I have a hard time getting into something I’ll usually pick up an older Michael Connelly, Don Winslow or Jack Vance to reread.

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Blood and Kin is definitely one of those “if you like this kind of thing” type books. it’s less typical UF and more a mythology in the real world type story.

hmmm…. i guess I better start writing a review of it? 😉

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[…] of Blood and Kin was mentioned in my recent 5 Books, 50 pages blog post.  Of the books mentioned in that post, this was the only book that I had a tough time […]

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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