June 13, 2016

Recent Reads

71. Hey, Wait...
This graphic novel is one of the earlier works by the author, and his talent is clearly visible. In this one the author explores childhood trauma and loss, and to say anymore would be spoilery. I have always loved how all the characters in his art have animal heads, but behave like humans. There are some really quirky and imaginative things the author does in this story (the stilts for example), and he is really good at telling a story with very few words and panels. While I liked it, I did not have an emotional connection with the story, but that might just be because nothing can ease my Middlemarch hangover at the moment. Rating: 3 stars.

72. Coffin Hill Vol. 1: Forest of the Night
This volume collects issues #1-7.

I've been in a bit of a reading slump after finishing Middlemarch. Not a surprise really. I've picked up and put down various books, and when I get this way, my go to books are graphic novels. They are usually fun quick reads. This was the first book I got through after Middlemarch, so hooray for that.

The premise reminds me of teen horror flicks; roll out the booze, sex, drugs, and blood. Our main character Eve Coffin is a witch with Salem ancestry. The story has two major plot lines. In the earlier one we encounter a teen, goth, angry Eve, who is not only unlikable, but wakes up after a raucous night in the woods to find herself covered with blood, one friend missing, and the other mentally broken. In the current timeline, Eve is a rookie cop who solves a major case, but is still unlikable and having issues. When teens start disappearing in the woods around her old home, Eve know what is responsible, and this time she is determined to put an end to the horror. Will she succeed without tapping into the darkest magic?

I really liked the New England setting, and the art is quite good. I liked the story enough that I'll continue with this series. Rating: 3 stars.

73. Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules
I'm not a short story fan, so you might be justified in wondering why I read this one. I blame George Eliot. I kept trying various things to pull me out of the Grand Canyon sized reading slump that Middlemarch abandoned me in; I could clearly see the rim but seemed unable to get up there.

I'm a Sedaris fan, and his writing almost always makes me smile, so why not try this collection of short stories curated by him? I read somewhere that this audiobook is an abridged collection - it only has 5 of the 17 stories in the book - but that's OK with me. If you are a Sedaris fan, you'll totally understand why he loves these stories - they are in his wheel house.

1. Where the Door Is Always Open and the Welcome Mat Is Out by Patricia Highsmith, narrated by Cherry Jones. 3 stars.
This is the story of woman in New York getting ready for the arrival of her sister. Classic domestic fiction, with Highsmith's whiff of tension.

2. Bullet In the Brain by Tobias Wolff, narrated by Toby Wherry. 2 stars.
A short look at the last moments of a man's life while he robs a bank.

3. Gryphon by Charles Baxter, narrated by David Sedaris. 4 stars.
Life went along its usual boring way until a substitute teacher with crazy notions walked in. Sedaris is excellent at narrating this one, and it is my fave of the collection.

4. In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried by Amy Hempel, narrated by Mary-Louise Parker. 3 stars.
A story of illness and loss, and the inability to be the person we want to be for others in their time of need.

5. Cosmopolitan written and narrated by Akhil Sharma. 2 stars.
This is a strange (Sedaris kind of strange) story of an Indian man and his shapely neighbor. My least fave narration of the lot.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised that I liked this collection as much as I did, and I might seek out the book to read the stories I missed. Rating: 3 stars.

74. The Lost Thing
This picture book has gorgeous art - but then I would expect nothing less from the author. The story however was not as engaging as his other work. Still, I'd get a library copy just so you can ogle the artwork. Rating: 2 stars.

75. We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Merricat , said Constance, would you like a cup of tea?

I was hooked by the third sentence. I owe Ms. Jackson huge thanks for yanking me out of my reading slump, and will pour out some tea later today as an offering to the reading gods.

This is a dark and twisty tale of the two Blackwood sisters who live, with their aged uncle, in Blackwood House. The story is slowly, ever so slowly revealed; the author has impeccable timing. I was sucked breathlessly along, trying to make sense of the tension that was clearly palpable, and yet incomprehensible. The less you know about this one going in, the better.

I listened to the audiobook, which is wonderfully narrated by Bernadette Dunne. She was able to pitch her voice and cadence so as to capture the mood and uneasiness you already feel with this story. A word of advice though, do not make the mistake I did and read this at bedtime as it will not put you to sleep.

The only reason this did not get a higher rating is because there are parts that could have been edited out to make the story tighter. If you are in the mood for an eerie, atmospheric read, give this one a try. Rating: 4 stars.

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