Thomas Novosel

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Tag: Recommendations

Reading #2: Stephen Graham Jones nails it again

This is the second post that I am doing for 2020 in this reading series. I told myself that I should post often enough in this series that my reading list isn’t incredibly long (I did not do this). So here we are as I look at my Goodreads reading challenge for the year (I should have posted an update sooner, dear god).

The plus side of reporting on this now is that I have accomplished my reading goal for the year! I have read at least 25 books this year! In fact, I have read more than that and am now at 42 books. I plan on reading more this year still, as I have a stack of books on my shelf in my dorm at Champlain College that are pleading to me to read them.

The common theme in this update is that I read more horror and also sci-fi. I finally finished reading “If on a winter’s night a traveller” by Italo Calvino and loved it. I also read Stephen Graham Jones latest book “The Only Good Indians” and it was terrifying and wonderful and if anyone needed an idea of a gift to get me it would be a copy of that and his other, Mongrels. Plus I read The Fifth Season (which had been sitting in my queue for a while now) and I even read Roadside Picnic which inspired one of my favourite movies Stalker (directed by Andrei Tarkovsky).

Anyways, before I give a handful of mini-not-really-reviews let me share what I have read since the last time I posted.

What I read…

Going forward I will be using asterisks* to identify which books are ones that when they are listed here are books that I have already read before.

  • Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky
  • A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
  • Total Recall by Phillip K. Dick
  • The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
  • Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
  • A Maze of Death by Phillip K. Dick
  • Beowulf by Unknown
  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
  • Strange Weather by Joe Hill
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
  • Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
  • Redwall (graphic novel) by Brian Jacques
  • The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  • 100 Word Horrors Part 2 by Kevin J. Kennedy
  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
  • Lock In by John Scalzi
  • Unlocked by John Scalzi
  • The Last Policeman* by Ben H. Winters
  • The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
  • Of Roses and Kings by Melissa Marr
  • The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  • 100 Words Horrors 3 by Kevin J. Kennedy

Since I will always be tried for space in these posts and I can’t write and recommend everything that I read (nor would I) I will be posting reviews for just a handful of the things in this list. Here is the shortlist of things here that I would recommend though:

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin is an excellent science fantasy novel and the first book in a trilogy. It also has a polyamorous relationship in the book that I found incredibly sweet. The powers (that act like magic, but are not magic) are magnificent and awe-inspiring in the scope of imagination and in the scale of their power to change the world. If you want to read a review, I would recommend checking out what is on YouTube or this review on npr.

If on a winter’s night a traveller by Italo Calvino was good and a fanciful and pretty whimsical story about people just trying to finish reading a book. Its format is that it tells segments of other novels in every other chapter while following the main plot as a framing device in the other chapters where a character keeps finding just segments of interesting books. If I were to recommend either Invisible Cities or this book as a starter to Italo Calvino, I think I would actually recommend this one as it has more story to bite into, whereas Invisible Cities is more prose with a loose framing device. My only major warning here is that it has women characters that seem to be there at times only to be viewed by the POV (point-of-view) character (who is a man) so there is some objectification, but if I am remembering correctly (a month or two later) it isn’t the worst or incredibly egregious.

If you want more or a better description of the book, check out this review by Mary McCarthy posted over on Literary Hub.

And now, let me get into my full (full is a word) reviews on the two books that are sticking around in my head the most at the moment.

Roadside Picnic

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky is (as I often hear) considered a masterwork of sci-fi. Whenever I hear it named, I hear it only in the most positive light. My interest was only increased after I watched the movie STALKER (directed by Andrei Tarkovsky), a bleak apocalypse in lush overgrown ruins. The book is similar in tone, but different in plot. For one, there are literal zombie people in the book. But also the ‘zone,’ which is the place of hidden dangers is explained further as being the landing site of an alien encounter, and the book takes place at multiple points of time in the titular character’s life (the Stalker). I don’t want to spoil the book, but if you like games like STALKER, the Metro franchise, or the movie STALKER (or even Annihilation). Then I think you would enjoy this book. I won’t leave you without a hook though…

Aliens have visited earth, and then they left leaving behind remnants of their visit like a family stopping on the side of a highway for lunch leaves behind trash. The ‘trash’ that is left behind are wondrous artifacts and deadly traps. Batteries of infinite power can be harvested from the ‘zone’, as long as you don’t get crushed by a gravity trap on your way hunting for one. You would think this technology advances society, and it does, but science has no way to understand the original purpose of any device and they are unable to replicate any of the technology. The power of the devices, and the danger involved in retrieving them has made trespassing into the zones illegal and punishable by long prison sentences. But that doesn’t stop people from hiring those who are willing to hop the fence and look, those who are willing are called Stalkers.

Roadside Picnic follows the story of one Stalker through multiple points of their life. They are hot-tempered but clearly have the most respect for the deadliness of the zone. They need to go out there not just because of the financial gain, but because it is what they have always done. And they need to keep going to provide for their family. It is a core pillar of their identity.

Roadside Picnic is an excellent sci-fi book, it isn’t too long (the copy I have is roughly 200 pages) and it gripped me the entire time I was reading. Turning pages as fast as I could because I was devouring every word. It is also rare that I place too many books on my ‘want to reread’ pile, but this one gets a place on that treasured shelf.

Also… you should really check out the movie if you can…

Movie trailer for STALKER (1979) directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.

The horror elements in Roadside Picnic, I would call them mild since the book leans heavily on regular people interacting with science fiction scenarios. If you want some good horror though… Stephen Graham Jones new book is made just for you…

The Only Good Indians

Cover for Stephen Graham Jones “The Only Good Indians”

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones is horrifying and the third book I have read from the author. I am consistently impressed with their mastery of imagery, as well as how they write. I cannot express this enough, Mongrels is fantastic and The Only Good Indians is just as good. Both feel like they were made for me because they were all-consuming of my mind while I was reading, and the language used in both makes it easy to approach. Something about the language used feels like I am being told a story around a campfire by someone who I consider a friend. The story and the way it is told compliments each other and just draws me so far into the story.

I can’t remember much of the time that I have spent reading the book since I am writing this recommendation a while after reading. For a full review, check out Gabino Iglesias review of the book over on NPR.org.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

Goodreads.com description

What can I say? This is a horror novel with grotesque imagery and visualizations that will stick with you. If you liked Mongrels, if you like top tier horror novels, then you need to check this one out as soon as you can. I know that after listening to the audiobook, I now am getting the hardcover so that I can reread the book. I know my partner (Beau) is also interested ever since I gave them a copy of Mongrels to read.

I can’t believe both Mongrels and The Only Good Indians were both in the same year for me!

Final Thoughts

I know that I have read a lot more this year than I expected at the beginning when I set my reading goal. I legitimately thought that I was going to be struggling to be able to get over the goal of 25. I thought that during the last few weeks of the year I was going to have to cram in 6 short books in order to get through.

Will I somehow make it to 60 by the end of the year? I don’t think so. I say this because I am back in school and homework takes up a lot of my time. That and working on artwork in preparation of creating a good portfolio to seek work after I graduate, I just won’t have time to sit back and read as often without letting my grades and work suffer as a consequence.

But I will still be reading, just not as much. Which is why I expect I will only need one more post in this series in order to round out 2020’s lists. Right now I have on my desk Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and a Sherlock Holmes style book. They all are really good and very different from each other. If I don’t read more than those, I can still call myself happy and satisfied with what I read this year.

So, until my next post here on the blog, have a good night and as pleasant of a fall as you can. Good luck out there.

Reading #1

Over on my movies blog that I manage with Beau (my significant other, husband, boyfriend, etc), we do a series of posts called ‘What I Watched’. These posts list what we have watched, how many times we have watched each, and then we include short recommendations for our favorites. These recommendations are not comprehensive reviews, but are how written like how we would recommend them to a friend or colleague. A short pitch with hype and our favorite bits in an elevator ride length statement.

As I had discussed in my January post, I have been journeying to becoming a regular reader of books. Last year I read 11 books. This year so far (at the time of this writing) I have read 18 books out of my goal of 25 for 2020. In summary, I have been reading more and want to continue to read more books. I also want to talk about the books that I read and record my reading habits somewhere besides just Goodreads.

This is why I will be starting a series of posts called ‘Reading’ where I adopt the same list and recommendation format of the ‘What I Watched’ series.

Rules of this Series

Since this series will be new to this blog, I think it is important to introduce some rules:

  1. The items listed are just what I have read. Them being on the list is not an endorsement of quality or a value judgement. A book being on this list just means I read it or started reading it.
  2. I will only recommend books that I would recommend. These will not be comprehensive reviews, just a quick pitch and the content warnings that I can remember from when I read the book.
  3. No number rating systems. Fuck those. They always suck.

These are the rules that I will adhere to when writing in this series. A post may only be two books long, or seven long. If I have a book I want to recommend then that is when a post will be made.

Now for the first list…

What I have read so far…

This first list will be pretty long, as I am going to list all of the books that I have read in 2020 so far in one post. So hold onto your butts, and prepare for my recommendations at the end!

  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • Mongrels by Nathan Graham Jones
  • The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley
  • Peace, Pipe by Aliya Whiteley
  • No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
  • Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
  • Preludes & Nocturnes (The Sandman #1) by Neil Gaiman
  • Ronin by Frank Miller
  • The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
  • The Ritual by Adam Nevill
  • Pet Sematary by Stephen King
  • Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk
  • In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and Joe Hill
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  • The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
  • I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

Out of these 18 books there are only a few that I feel comfortable recommending. As in, there are only a few standouts that I would recommend, that are not already commonly recommended on a reading list online.

The Beauty (& Peace, Pipe) by Aliya Whiteley: The Beauty is not a long book. It would actually be a very short paperback if the copy that I ordered did not also include the story Peace, Pipe by the same author. The Beauty was described as a story about love between mushroom people and the loneliness of men in an apocalypse where all of the women became sick and died. The Beauty is more than that, that summary is like calling Pet Sematary a book about cats and cemeteries. The Beauty felt like a story about loneliness and emotional vulnerability where the body horror was fulfilling the emotional needs of the apocalypse’s survivors. That the men who are left behind were willing and wanting to change if it meant that they wouldn’t be alone anymore. That they would accept any change in stereotypical heterosexual partner roles, even if it resulted in physical changes, if it meant they would feel love in coupling again. The Beauty has weird plant sex with people, and people growing new genitals in order to couple with mushroom folks. It’s weird, horrific, and hopeful for a future after a transitional apocalypse.

The second story in the paperback was Peace, Pipe. This story was also a page turner that dwells on thoughts of loneliness and the types of interactions that people need in their existence. That people will find and invent what they need in order to remain whole. Peace, Pipe is about someone who is a linguist who interprets the speech of a pipe in their prison cell, who keeps them company and motivates them to do all in their power to try to fix the mess she has made on another planet and their peoples.

If you choose to check out The Beauty then here is the warnings that I would give to a friend: there is body horror (genitals growing, mushroom child birth), domestic violence signs, and screams of someone being sexually assaulted by mushroom people. Both stories in this paperback are emotionally intense and very good. The most standout horror I have read this year so far.

Mongrels by Nathan Graham Jones: I read this book using Kindle Unlimited but I expect next year to read it again and will be seeking a paperback so I can take notes. This is the first werewolf book that I have read (besides Twilight), and it has set an immensely high bar of quality in what I should expect in future books centered on werewolves. Mongrels takes place in the modern day and is told from the perspective of a young boy who grows up being cared for by his aunt and uncle who are werewolves. Their family is poor and moves often, as people and animals die wherever they go, the family has to move to avoid suspicion.

Mongrels shows what a deep and well explained lore for werewolves can do. They were immensely believable characters that I grew to love dearly in the same way you appreciate your parents more as you grow older. The aunt and uncle are just doing their best to prepare their nephew for being both a person and a werewolf. Teaching him of the dangers inherent in each, and of the unique dangers of being both a wolf and a person. That having to move around often means that you don’t have a income and a job history that isn’t exclusively short stints across the country. Werewolves can just eat what they catch, so this isn’t too terrible, but when you have a kid who can’t shift yet in tow you need human safe food. So you break into cars and dig between the seats for enough change to buy one gas station hot dog. This is a stark description of poverty that is tough to read through, and is only me summarizing one specific instance.

If I don’t read another book with werewolves in it again, I feel satisfied with what I have read in Mongrels alone. I want more of course, but this was a fine treat that I will be hard pressed to find another like it that hits as hard in all the right places as this did. It’s because of this that everything Nathan Graham Jones has written for books was added to my reading list before I even finished Mongrels.

If you are going to check this book out (and I would highly recommend it), then be aware of the following content warnings: pregnancy horror, violence/gore, hunger, and descriptions of poverty. This probably is not a complete list of warnings, but these are the big ones that I can remember months after finishing it.

On Writing by Stephen King: One of the first books that I can remember really digging into and reading completely was a hardcover copy of Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew when I was a kid perusing my local public library. I haven’t read much of his beyond that book, but I have enjoyed most of the movies that I have seen based on King’s stories, and the impact Skeleton Crew had on me may be one of the earliest seeds of my love of the horror genre being planted in my mind and heart. That was one reason why On Writing interested me, I also wanted to read about how Stephen King got into writing and his feelings concerning his writings.

I also wanted to read King’s tips and tricks on how he writes, which is what the back half of this book is all about. Its text recommendations and thoughts on how to set up a space and write. It’s told through anecdotes and stories of his life and was just as energizing to read as well as motivating. After I finished reading On Writing, I wrote a couple short stories and had a reading spree while I still wiped away my tears from reading his description of the infamous car accident.

If you choose to read this book, the major warnings on content are that he details his struggles with alcoholism, drugs, and a very difficult car accident description with accident recovery.

Final Thoughts

There isn’t much left for me to say at the end of this post. I don’t write conclusions for the posts in the ‘What I watched’ series, so it feels weird to write one here. Even if it is the first in a series, the end of a recommendation feels final by itself. I’ll wrap this post up this way I guess… I hope you, dear reader, are safe, in good health, and well.

Until next time, that is all.

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