Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Lovecraft Country

Lovecraft CountryLovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A novel presented in short stories/novellas, Lovecraft Country follows the Green/Turner families as they become entangled in their American heritage as descendants of slaves & whites who worshiped Lovecraftian tentacle monsters.

Right up front, I will say that I did not finish this book–I had two chapters until the end & I gave up. Not because there is really anything bad in the book; the narrative never elevated itself beyond the big ideas it sketches out. What if a black man was heir to a coven of racist old white dudes? What if a black woman could live out their fantasies of social freedom (whatever that looks like) if only for a limited time? What if you swapped stories about your painful past with a ghost who was trapped in a painful present? These are all good, interesting ideas but there was some heart or substance missing out of exploring them. Ultimately, I think when Jordan Peele adapts this into a movie or miniseries, the stories will fit into his directorial interests, so read the book now as prep & wait with anticipation.

View all my reviews

Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft

The Complete Fiction of H.P. LovecraftThe Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft by H.P. Lovecraft

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There are two reasons to read Lovecraft:

1.) To understand the mechanics of his universe & how it has enticed other (better) writers to explore it.

2.) To better appreciate other (better) writers writing in response/reaction to Lovecraft’s obsessions.

So glad to be even partially done with this book.

View all my reviews

Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Green Tea and Other Ghost Stories

Green Tea and Other Ghost StoriesGreen Tea and Other Ghost Stories by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I recently got this little Dover Thrift collection as part of a boxed set of mystery & supernatural stories. I chose to read Le Fanu first because Carmilla is on my to-read list & I wanted to get a taste of what this author’s style was like. Unfortunately, the four stories presented here did not give me much to go on. The first story “Green Tea” was interesting enough & had a sort of Hawthorne-esque twist to it, where the reader doesn’t really know if the supernatural hallucinations are a product of the character’s guilt, some physical ailment or an actual batch of bad green tea. (If it is that last option, than this story becomes an unintentionally hilarious cautionary tale for this former Mormon reader.) However, the last three stories are all variations on deals with the devils or bad karma, with two of them being nearly identical.

I find myself wondering if I’m missing something. I’m uncertain if this is simply a poor collection or whether Le Fanu’s Victorian prose has a subtext that I’m not picking up due to his circumspect style. I do still want to read Carmilla at some point, but right now, I’m not much impressed with these stories.

View all my reviews

Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Blood, Bone, and Marrow: A Biography of Harry Crews

Blood, Bone, and Marrow: A Biography of Harry CrewsBlood, Bone, and Marrow: A Biography of Harry Crews by Ted Geltner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 instead of 3. _Blood, Bone, and Marrow_ is one of the first bios about author Harry Crews, a Georgia native that specialized in the Southern grotesque. Stemming from biographer Ted Geltner’s personal encounters with Crews, this book works more as a comprehensive look at Crews’s background & output as a writer than as a critical deconstruction of his books in context of his life.

I was curious to see how someone would take on the mythos of Harry Crews & humanize this wrecking-ball of a writer. One thing that works in Geltner’s favor is the even journalistic tone that will help readers stomach some of the harsher incidents in Crews’s life. However, some of the structural elements of the book drag down the narrative. These flaws can range from minor establishing details (in describing Harry’s wedded suburban bliss in the 70s, Geltner confuses James Taylor’s & Carole King’s versions of “You’ve Got a Friend”) to prioritizing specific events in a timeline (Crews was promiscuous & there is a struggle to understand who he’s currently with & why the relationship is important at the time). Crews’s own quotes in the book also do him a disservice as his colorful dialect dies on the page & sounds like piecemeal ramblings.

But even with these flaws, _Marrow_ is an accessible introduction to readers unfamiliar with Crews or his work. Perhaps it will serve to move this cult author into the mainstream.

View all my reviews

Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: The Sin-Eater’s Daughter

The Sin Eater's Daughter (The Sin Eater's Daughter, #1)The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2.5 instead of 2. Twylla is a young woman plucked from her agrarian background to serve as courtier & embodiment of the goddess Daunen at the royal palace. Familiar with the myths as a former sin-eater-in-training, she allows herself to be swept up in the pageantry of court only to find that she is meant to serve as Executioner & as a tool of the Queen’s “divine” power. Betrothed to a prince she barely knows & isolated from all other attendants due to her physical manifestations of the divine, Twylla finds herself suddenly questioning what she knows when a new guard from another land is assigned to her retinue.

So I picked up this book because the title interested me: the mythological concept of sin-eating is something I’ve enjoyed exploring since I came across the idea as a kid reading tons of fantasy & supernatural stories. Unfortunately, my curiosity did not bear fruit. Salisbury has some interesting elements here that normally would hit all my interests: lands where magic & science compete & the corresponding degree of technology to each, notable intersections of faith, duty, desire, & physicality, and the struggle to remake one’s self after understanding that basic truths about your world are wrong. If you’re someone who has grown up in a strict religion or isolated from mainstream society or in an environment that emphasizes control or expression through food or other physical needs, some of this book might hit home for you.

But then the love triangle Twylla finds herself in takes over & I got bored real fast. Much like what I’ve read of the Grisha series so far, there is a really evocative world built around these characters with a healthy dose of paranoia & cautious discovery mixed in that makes the possibilities set up in the story seem immediate & boundless. And while there are some great opportunities to explore relationships & power here, it all eventually comes down to which boy will our heroine pick. And guess what?! She gets an ending where she keeps both of them in her life. Sigh. Sure. Twylla literally has no shred of her former life or skill set remaining but let’s make sure she gets a really cute boy or two out of it.

There is another book in the series & looking at the Goodreads reviews for that one, it’s supposed to be better than this. I might end up reading it eventually, but this first book has squandered any interest I had left over.

View all my reviews