A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker – I enjoyed this novel every bit as much as Pinsker’s previous short story collection, Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea. This book is set in the same world as one of the stories in that collection, which was very satisfying. I’d be over the moon if Pinsker decided to give more of her short pieces the novel treatment.
The Naked Woman by Armonía Somers – This surreal nightmare of a novella was written in 1950, but only translated into English last year. Set in rural Uruguay, it’s the story of how one woman’s feminist awakening quickly drives the population of a nearby village into abject madness. This book deserves a proper review, but my brain just can’t with the coherent thinking and sentence forming right now, so I’m going to cop out completely and allow wonderful Carmen Maria Machado’s blurb to say the rest better than I ever could: “I am so grateful that a new generation will be able to read this surreal, nightmarish book about women’s struggle for autonomy—and how that struggle is (always, inevitably) met with violence.”
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire – Book #2 of McGuire’s ongoing Wayward Children series. Here we break from the main story to delve into the backstory of twin sisters Jack and Jill, two characters from the first book. Going into it, I was a little skeptical about deviating from the main story so soon. But I thoroughly enjoyed this decidedly dark tale and appreciate the additional depth it adds to Jack and Jill’s respective roles in Every Heart a Doorway.
Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami – Unpopular opinion time: I love a hard-boiled mystery, but I was underwhelmed by this novel. It reminds me of Vonnegut, which is not a slight. I just expect a Murakami novel to feel more distinct than this one did. As interesting as its premise was, the story ultimately felt like a disappointing meander and the writing didn’t move me. Maybe this was just the wrong Murakami for me. *shrug*
Paper Girls: Vol 6 by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Cliff Chang (artist) – I’m very sorry to see this series come to an end, but it was fine adventure from start to finish.
The Wicked + The Divine #45 by Kieron Gillen (writer) and Jamie McKelvie (artist) – After the epic, kaleidoscopic journey that has been Wic +Div, knowing the end was in sight, I couldn’t imagine how it would possibly conclude at all, let alone in a way that did justice to itself. I’m a fool. After it was over, I couldn’t imagine it ending more perfectly. Having read this story it came out in single issues, I look forward to rereading the entire tale in one go.
The Umbrella Academy Volume 3: Hotel Oblivion by Gerard Way (writer) and Gabriel Bá (artist) – I really want to enjoy these comics, because I thoroughly enjoy the TV adaptation. But with this new volume, I enjoyed the art far more than the story itself, which felt so scattershot, I wasn’t sure I was following it all.
I seldom review single issue comics here, but this year has been full of beloved series reaching their respective conclusions, so I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the return or beginning of a few others:
Pretty Deadly: The Rat #1 by Kelly Sue Deconnick (writer) and Emma Ríos (artist) – I know I’m not alone when I say that I have missed Pretty Deadly something fierce. It feels so good to be back in this world, which has somehow managed to become even more dreamy and beautiful since last we met.
Trees: Three Fates #1 by Warren Ellis (writer) and Jason Howard (artist) – It’s a gift from the comics gods when not one, but two of your favorite series start back up at the same time. I’ve missed the quiet, unsettling strangeness of Trees and I’m powerfully curious to see where this story goes. One of my favorite things about it from the very start has been the fact that I can’t even begin to guess what’s in store and that hasn’t changed at all.
Steeple #1 by John Allison (writer) and Sarah Stern (artist) – John Allison’s Giant Days hasn’t quite ended yet. There’s a final holiday special that’s literally making its way to me in the mail right now. But after that, it’s over and I would be much sadder about this if it weren’t for the fact that Allison just began an entirely new comic entitled Steeple. Says Allison, “It’s about a vicar in the Church of England and their counterpart in the Church of Satan who accidentally become friends, in a Cornish parish blighted by witchcraft, mermen, and chronic NIMBY-ism,” and I am here for it.
Truth be told, aside from the single issues comics, all of these books were read in late August and September. If you happen to follow me on IG, you’ll know that my little feline familiar, Harriet, passed away on October 10th and now, incredibly, I’m keeping vigil over her brother, Dorian, who is suddenly in his last days as well.
Here’s something I wish everyone knew, especially us bibliophiles: It’s incredibly common, but surprisingly unrecognized that grief often has a huge impact on one’s ability to read. So much so that it can feel like a secondary loss for a grieving person. I can’t not read, but shortly after Harriet died I noticed that my attention span shrunk and my reading comprehension deteriorated. Incidentally, I also can’t handle silence (because it leaves me too much in my head) or most music (because it amplifies everything I’m feeling, which makes me cry nonstop).
So with things as they have been and currently are, I’ve been in comfort re-reading mode since early October. I re-read Good Omens, my literary BFF and go-to comfort read, for the Nth time right after Harriet died. Reaching for it felt as automatic as reaching for more tissues. Now I’m re-reading the Discworld series, which has always provided a safe, comfortable, entertaining, and fantastic place for me, which is exactly what my heart needs right now.
Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker. I never thought of myself as someone who was particularly interested in serial killers (I prefer my murdery shenanigans to be of the more supernatural variety) so I was surprised by how much I really got into Mindhunter on Netflix. Following the agents as they pioneered the development of modern serial-killer profiling turned out to be really riveting, compelling stuff. I didn’t realize that it was based on a true-crime book, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit …which I am sure was not news to a lot of true-crime fans, but I guess these things depend on your interests. I mean, I was startled to find out that people didn’t know that the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House was based on Shirley Jackson’s book! Like, how could you know know that, right? So there you go.
Anyway, I wish I hadn’t read the Mindhunter book. I mean you get the sense from the show that the unit, the department, the entire FBI at the time was sort of an “old boy’s club” but the language and tone of the book really drives it home. And it’s not always really overt, it’s just…at any moment, you expect the author to start talking about what a “great set of gams” some female colleague has. Gross. I don’t mean to be overly picky, the actual content was interesting enough, and a decent supplement to the show. This was another book I read during the hurricane in September. I’d rate it three out of five clogged gutters.
Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride by Alyssa Harad. I was recently explaining to my book club friend that Coming To My Senses is a book that Past-Me wishes I’d read fifteen years ago when I first found myself fascinated with fragrance, when my obsession was in its heady, beginning stages. Reading it now, in 2019, Present-Me wishes that I had written, myself. But one of the issues that I had with the book is also the reason I would have probably never written the book.
Alyssa Harad comes from a background of academia, and when she discovers and becomes obsessed with the world of fragrance and perfume blogs, I think she initially over-intellectualizes it all a bit (and I believe she’s aware of this in her recounting of the experience) and so her beginner’s love for scented treasures is squirrelly and almost secretive and fraught with feelings of indulging in frivolous nonsense. As someone who took a decade to get their Associate’s degree, and who revels in frivolity, I couldn’t quite relate. But also I don’t have that scholarly drive to dive deep into my passions and find out everything there is to know about the thing I’m interested in, so I’m pretty sure that this book never would have been written on my watch! I bristle and get a bit prickly when I know I am reading something written by someone whose education far exceeds my own, and it’s a struggle to tamp that down and find enjoyment while I also find myself feeling insecure. So I guess when I mention above that I have an issue with the book, it’s really an issue with myself.
Wow. All of this to say… I actually really enjoyed the book. Following Alyssa’s perfumed journey from sample orders to private museums to fragrant showrooms re-kindled my own love for perfume, which has waxed and waned over the years– and much to my surprise, I was especially interested in how fragrance figured into her wedding plans. I say “much to my surprise” because I don’t think of myself as someone who cares very much for, or about weddings. I don’t think I’ll ever be married, myself. But I have a keen interest in people’s lives (one might even say I am nosy) especially as it relates to a life lived differently than my own. So while, no, I probably don’t want to attend your wedding, I am very much interested in all of the details that go into it! Its sort of like, “seeing how the other half lives,” if that makes any sense.
Harad’s writing is witty and warm and brims with the loveliest turns of phrase–even when she’s not describing perfume– and aside from my own hang-ups, this was a charming book. I came away from it thinking that I’d love to grab tea with the author, swap favorite fragrances, and compare our perfumed paths.
The Toll by Cherie Priest, a southern gothic tale about creepy bridges, not-quite-alligator monster things, and a mysterious little town and the terror and weirdness that occurs there every thirteen years or so. Not my favorite offering from this author–it’s a bit of a swampy slog at times–but to be honest, I will read anything she writes. Even not-great Cherie Priest is pretty-okay and lots-of-fun Cherie Priest.
In The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg, Clare travels to Havana after her husband’s death…where she sees him standing outside a museum. I loved this surreal slice of life encompassing grief and loss, secrets and the unknowability of one another, and a place or a time where/when one can both be dead and not-dead. There are two phrases I grabbed from various chapters that for me, really sum up the ideas that the author was working with: 1. “The desire to have a life and the desire to disappear from it,” and 2. “…a world of serendipity…which defied the usual laws.”
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinsborough was a super-trashy hurricane read (how many books did I read during that hurricane?? I’m still finding new ones to talk about!) It’s the sort of thing that might keep book clubs chattering way past the appointed time that you try to get them all out of your house so that you can take off your pants and eat all the leftover potluck wine and cheese in relative privacy. (What kind of monster takes their leftover potluck offering back home with them? RUDE. Feel free to debate me on this.) A single mom and an illicit office romance and a possibly unhinged wife and some twists that you might not be expecting but if you read Lois Duncan’s Stranger With My Face when you were eleven years old you may get really, really close to figuring it all out. I WAS SO CLOSE.