What I Read in 2012

Fiction

* Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact – AJ Hartley : This is not my first Hartley book, but it is his first foray into the YA world. I wrote up Something Like a Review, so go take a look at it to see what I thought of it.

* 11/22/63 – Stephen King : There was simply too much to say about this one, so I put up Something Like a Review here. Take a look and let me know what you thought.

* The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern : This was yet another this year that has already justified Something Like a Review. Take a peek and see if it’s something you’d like to read, too.

* The Fault in Our Stars – John Green : On the Something Like a Review roll, here’s the latest installment. Take a look and see what you think.

* The Strain – Guillermo del Toro : What would you get if you crossed a frog, a mosquito, a worm and Dracula? The vamps in The Strain. Don’t take that as a slight against the story, because it’s really not, it’s just …. I found this one a little difficult to classify. It took the trope and twisted it some, but not as far as some have. These vampires have the decency to die in sunlight, and at least one of them sleeps in something like a coffin, but there are some unique features about them that has me on the fence about whether I’m going to listen to the second and third books in the series. The overarching story arc was interesting, and the concept was intriguing. What frustrated me throughout this book was the human characters seemed like cookie cutter story tropes. I’ve read these characters before. The brilliant, recovering alcoholic hero with government authority who would do ANYTHING for his son – except take a day off. The wizened old man from the old country who has to win the trust of said brilliant hero. The estranged wife caught between the almost-but-not-quite-smart-enough-to-be-snarky boyfriend and the ex-husband with issues. The female assistant to said brilliant hero who has something of a silent crush on him. Maybe they felt so flat because the story was chopped into three books and their development didn’t really get a chance to get rolling? Yes, I said chopped. The ending pissed me off. It was a blatant “go buy the next one to find out what happens, tee hee…” I’ll give this one time to marinate and we’ll see if I go further in the series or just let it ride. All in all, it was a good story, if a little predictable and familiar.

* The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Victor Hugo : If your only basis for understanding the story of the Hunchback is the Disney version, be prepared to confront a rude awakening. Disney’s been taking the teeth out of fairy tales and stories for longer than my generation has been alive. They make stories safe, they make monsters bearable; you know there will be a happily ever after. It’s Disney. Hugo’s story is dark and twisted, and one has to endure long passages waxing poetic about the architecture and the construction of the city unrelated to the story. It’s like contending with thick bits of gristle to get to the meaty story beneath, but once done, it is well worth it. There is a lot of Latin phrasing, and in the DailyLit.com version, not all of it is translated, so keep your internet handy. There were times when it felt draggy, but the romance and tragedy were not trivialized and the conclusion was sad, but fitting and fulfilling. I’m not entirely sure where in the story it happened, but I became enthralled with the story and I was happy that I hadn’t been reading my emails in a timely fashion, so I had several to burn through at once. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I need to take up room on my shelf with the dead tree version. A digital copy will work just fine. (And it’s free…)

* The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins : I burned through these (and for those of you who have read them, the pun isn’t necessarily intended, but it fits quite nicely) so quickly that I did Something Like a Review on all three all at once.

* Inheritance – Christopher Paolini : Series books are difficult to judge on their own merits, particularly when there’s a long gap between its predecessor and the release of the new volume. On the one hand, the volume should stand on its own, yet on the other, it should be an integral part of the series and there should be some feeling of “lack” when it is read on its own merits – but not so much that the reader is lost. I think that Inheritance finds that balance. I regret not making time to re-read the series again before tackling this one because of the interconnectedness of it all, however, it stands well on its own and I didn’t feel lost despite the year (plus) gap since I read Brisingr. From my memory of the other stories, this one was probably one of my favorites because Eragon shows a greater degree of maturity and felt less like the child from the original story. Paolini did a good job evolving and developing Eragon, but I was somewhat perturbed that the end was left so open. The door hangs open into the future and, as a reader, I wanted more closure not a tease of the potential that may or may not follow. I would be very much annoyed to hear that the Dragon Riders’ series will not make an eventual appearance…very…much…annoyed. More annoyed than if I hear of a dozen new books following the adventures of new Riders over the next few years (which I will have to find time to read from somewhere in my schedule….). This may not be more than a couple of “first world problems” but they are mine to mull over for now. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

* Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter – Seth Grahame-Smith : And suddenly, a wild SLaR appears!

* 1Q84 – Haruki Murakami : Go forth and find the SLaR, fearless reader…

* Haunted – Chuck Palahniuk : I almost feel guilty for saying this, but I was pretty indifferent to this book. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. It was an interesting concept, but it didn’t give me chills, it didn’t suck me in and it didn’t irritate to the point where I wanted to throw it. I wanted to be enthralled, but I wasn’t. Yet it wasn’t a lamentable waste of time, either. I wouldn’t heartily recommend it, nor would I discourage anyone from reading it. Parts were just “meh,” and parts went a little too far for my personal tastes. I wish I could say more one way or the other. Ambivalence in books doesn’t settle well with me.

* The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – Catherynne M. Valente : All adventures require a trial of patience, and you’ve passed the test, dear reader. As your reward, please check out Something Like a Review that is waiting for your perusal.

* Unholy Night – Seth Grahame-Smith : Trying to keep my opinion about this was something like torture, so instead of a blurb, there’s Something Like a Review for you to chew on. Enjoy!

* The Wolf Gift – Anne Rice : The burning question is…since she’s “quit Christianity,” has Anne Rice returned to her lavish, rich stories of the darker side? Find out in by reading Something Like a Review.

* Thieftaker – D. B. Jackson (aka David B. Coe) : A couple of sentences isn’t going to do justice to what I thought of this story, so instead of wasting your time, check out my Something Like a Review to get the scoop.

* Dead Until Dark – Charlaine Harris : Yes, I’m late to the party. I’m not a hipster, but I don’t tend to grab on to the “next big thing” either in reading or in TV because a.) most of the super-ZOMG-you-NEED-to-HAVE-to-read-this reaction is waaaaaaay over exaggerated and my TBR piles are way too big to add fluff to it for no good reason. I have been watching True Blood for a few seasons now, and up until this one, I’ve enjoyed it (Season 5 Episode 2 was just meh…), so after much exuberant encouragement from a few friends, I have been listening to the “Sookie books.” I did enjoy the first one. It’s a light read, entertaining yet engaging, and the same sense of humor flows between the book and the series. Sookie’s self-deprecating comments are more noticeable in the books and somewhat more annoying, but not enough to get frustrated. I have already moved on to book two, so look for more updates as the audible.com credits roll in. 😉

* Living Dead in Dallas – Charlaine Harris : I like the characters of the “Sookie books,” and I am amused by her voice and by the antics she finds herself in. I enjoy the interaction between Sookie and her men, and there’s plenty of adventure. Almost too much adventure. This book made Sookie seem like Bad Luck Brian who just keeps taking a beating. I was exhausted for her by the end of the book.

* Club Dead – Charlaine Harris : Vampires, werewolves and shifters, oh my. Now imagine them all in a nightclub. And add in Sookie, and remember that trouble follows her like a shadow. Add in a werewolf with a jealous girlfriend, a missing vampire and all the shenanigans that ensue. This series is cotton candy for my brain and I’m enjoying it, though there are things that perturb me, like abrupt transitions, awkward interjections indicating a change in action, and the end of this one was so abrupt that it hurt my brain.

* Dead to the World – Charlaine Harris : I’m pretty used to the dissonance between books and movies and seeing how little one will resemble the other, so seeing some of the differences in this series when comparing the books and movies hasn’t been too difficult to swallow. While I’m enjoying the series and I definitely want to hear more, I’m not as addicted to it as some people have been. This was the best of the first four books, in my opinion, and the first where I really started to get into the world. The writing has improved over the previous three and it feels like Harris started to really hit her stride here. While I appreciate the reminders peppered throughout the books to catch up the reader who might have been waiting a year+ between books, or picking up the books out of turn, when listening to them back to back as I have been, it does get a little tiresome. I am definitely getting more of an appreciation for Eric in this book and look forward to hearing more from them.

* Dead as a Doornail – Charlaine Harris : This is a fun series, but as I’ve been listening to these back to back, I’m kind of wondering why the hell Sookie hasn’t moved out of Bon Temps. It’s certainly where she’s becoming “Bad Luck Brian,” and the shadow of treachery, danger and misfortune hang over her head like a black cloud. Hell, in the last book, Sookie’s New Year’s resolution was not to get beat up. But that and the breadcrumb trails from previous books to catch up the new readers (or those who’d read the books when they first came out and had to wait for the next publication) set aside, this was another one I found myself more invested in than any of the three preceding it. In a close contest between this and the previous book, this one would probably win as a favorite. The writing improved, the awkward and abrupt transitions were getting a little more padding and even though there were a couple of moments when I felt telepathic (whether because of transparency or telegraphing foreshadowing), I still had a good time with this one. I felt more invested in the succession trials of the werewolves of Shreveport, which balanced out the irritation of Charles and Sweetie and even the creepy Calvin, leader of the Hotshot were-panthers.  So, given the pluses on its side, on to the next one!

* Definitely Dead – Charlaine Harris : This was probably my favorite of the series so far. It was easier to swallow how Sookie got herself in so much trouble, sucked in to the vamp drama around her instead of just stumbling into it as she has in past books. I like seeing more into the vampire hierarchy, the pantheon of new characters, and how this story more readily sets up the next one with the upcoming summit. I’m glad I didn’t have to wait for the next release, though. That “like” might have turned into an itch in my brain.

* All Together Dead – Charlaine Harris: These books are getting better as the series goes on, but I don’t expect to hit Shakespeare before the end of the series. These are like the sweets you crave and just have to have, and they’re a good time. In this one, the crises seem more organic from Sookie’s interaction and involvement with her undead friends and acquaintances, and you get the sense that she’s already in too deep. There’s no easy out for her, and I’m not sure if I should be excited, or worried. I have a feeling I know how the series is going to end and I’m not thrilled. More resigned, and curious about how it’s going to get there. I hope I get surprised.

* From Dead to Worse – Charlaine Harris: This one was more about the weres than the vamps, and gave more insight into Sookie and her little family. I liked this one and thought it was really a little overdue in the series. I don’t think I’ll be a die-hard Sookie fan, but I liked being able to see more of her away from the vamps, which always seem to get her in trouble. Not to say that they don’t in this book, because that would be a different story about a different character, but it was a nice change of gear, and helped me understand her more.

* Dead and Gone – Charlaine Harris : From the were-war to the vamp-war to the war of the fae, the revelation of the weres and shifters…there was so much going on in this book, it almost felt like multiple books. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about action or forward motion. What bugged me was that I felt like I was missing some of the connections with the action. Like I’d not been paying attention to catch some subtle shift. While there were some great moments in this book that superseded anything thus far in the preceding books, it was not as strong as some of the others I’ve read. It felt as if it veered from the previous books as dramatically as the TV series, True Blood, has veered from the first books in the series. I don’t feel as much enthusiasm going into the remaining few books, but I’ll finish them just to complete the series.

* Dead in the Family – Charlaine Harris : Somewhat spoiler-y, perhaps more than usual. This book was something of a disappointment. Having been introduced to Sookie’s unusual extended family, I expected to see more of them and explore these connections. The whole Dermot-as-psycho-fae-but-not-his-fault was something of a let down. The introduction of Eric’s “family” was intriguing, and I really wanted to see more of Sookie and Hunter. It felt like there was just too much chaos wrapped up in one novel. Too many hijinx were happening and it became a Gordian knot of intrigues and I don’t think it had to be. This one just felt like it was trying too hard to cram too many ideas into one book or that it needed to be overly complicated to get all the plot devices in there and make it all work out in the end. This would have been better if it were two separate books (or even just a longer one) that fully explored the Eric/family, Hunter/Sookie – Sookie/Dermot angles. Too much in too little space. I’m glad this one didn’t pop up earlier, though. It might have turned me off the series completely.

* Dead Reckoning – Charlaine Harris : One of the most amazing things about writing is that it inspires passion both in the writer and in the reader. Most of the book felt typical for the rest of the series, but the ending of this one stirred me up.  It stirred me up so much that I had a lot more to say about it. If you want to find out what, take a look at the rant inspired by the finale of the book.

* Deadlocked – Charlaine Harris : I thought this was the last book of the series, but I didn’t do my research and as the end drew near, I discovered how wrong I really was. Had I known this was the penultimate and not the last book, I might have been considerably less confused by the end of the story. I expected things to get all tied up in pretty little knots, but by the end (which I knew was coming because I’d been wondering how it was all going to wrap up in a rapidly shrinking time frame), though some of the ends were resolved, there are some pretty big gaps remaining. This story was of the same caliber of the others and I felt it could have been longer, the last two books appearing as one volume to round out the end of the series, but I have several months to wait to get to the end. I have a friend who reads them rabidly and I may just borrow it from her instead of buying my own copy. This is one of those times where I wish audiobooks could be traded or re-sold as easily as a paperback.  I suppose, however, that this kind of thrift is what one compromises for the convenience of being able to “read” and drive.

* A Touch of Dead – Charlaine Harris : Like the other Sookie books, this was entertaining, but I wasn’t bowled over by it. I think the best audience for these shorts is a hardcore Sookie fan who is rabidly anticipating the release of the last book. And maybe rereading the series between now and then. For the casual reader, it was honestly a take-it-or-leave-it installment in the series. Parts of the stories actually felt like they were originally written in to the books, axed, and re-fitted to become short stories. An inventive idea, if that’s the case, and one I’d consider using if ever the opportunity arises.

* Skinwalker – Faith Hunter : I got lazy and did Something Like a Review on books 1-5 all at once. Instead of repeating myself, I’ll just copy the link on the next four.

* Blood Cross – Faith Hunter : link

* Mercy Blade – Faith Hunter : link

* Raven Cursed – Faith Hunter : link

* Death’s Rival – Faith Hunter : link

* One Second After – William R. Forstchen : Of course I had more to say about this than would fit into a few meager sentences. There’s Something Like a Review to satisfy the curious. Take a look and decide from there.

A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness : Oh lucky you, instead of just a blurb about something so uber-popular, you’ve got Something Like a Review to peruse. Happy Thanksgiving!

 * Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs : Something Like a Review coming soon!

* Song of Kali – Dan Simmons : Wrapping up the 2012 reading with Something Like a Review in 2013. Consider it an end-of-the-year reading wrap-up.

Short Story Collections

* 999 – edited by Al Sarrantonio : This is a great collection with gems like “The Grave” by P. D. Cacek, “Elsewhere” by William Peter Blatty and runs through shades and variations of horror from the creeping un-reality of “Rehearsals” by Thomas F. Monteleone to the humorous “Catfish Gal Blues” by Nancy A. Collins. I originally read parts of this for school, but it’s a keeper!

* Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos – H.P. Lovecraft and Others : I read this one for research, but rarely is research so much fun. I have read some of these stories before (and loved them, of course), but what sets this collection apart is the way the stories were laid out. Beginning with the classic “The Call of Cthulhu,” the stories begin to snake tendrils from one into the next, building on characters, monsters and experiences. Lovecraft’s partnership and tolerance of his writing friends using his world and monsters is pretty incredible and admirable. Not long ago, I heard a writer say (and I’m paraphrasing) that Lovecraft’s style is something people outgrow because it becomes tedious and tiresome. I’m not sure if he was referring to Lovecraft’s rampant xenophobia, misogyny or racism, but if he wasn’t and “growing up” means I have to eschew his work, I’m going to stay juvenile forever.

* The Transition of Lovecraft: The Road to Madness – H.P. Lovecraft : This was an interesting way of experiencing an author’s work. Some of the first stories in the collection were rough compared to the stories I’m familiar with and the growth was evident as the collection progressed. In a way, from a writer’s perspective, it was hope inspiring. A reminder that not everyone starts off as great as they become is just was a scribbler needs to see from time to time.

* The Watchers Out of Time  – H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth : Looking at this connection, a couple of things stand out. I enjoyed the stories overall, and seeing the overlap and parallels between the stories was interesting. I can see the influence of Derleth on Lovecraft’s style. Lovecraft pretty much sucks at dialogue, and when he writes it, it’s pretty clear. There was quite a bit in this collection and Lovecraft’s tin ear was pretty evident. And dialect. I admit I’ve committed the sin of dialect, but so did Lovecraft. The last thing that made my skin crawl was for about half the book, the final paragraph or “gotcha” passage in the story was italicized. Yuck. Seriously, I can tell it’s the paragraph that matters; there’s no need to highlight it for me like I’m an idiot.

* The Horror in the Museum – H.P. Lovecraft and Others: What I found odd about this book was that while these stories have the byline of other authors, Lovecraft’s “revisions” were so intense that they made the story essentially his…or at least deserving of a credit for his influence on the story. There were some stories that were so wholly Lovecraft that I couldn’t tell the difference in style between them (“The Horror in the Museum” by Hazel Heald, for example), and there were some stories that I wished had more of his influence (“Ashes” by C. M. Eddy, for example). Overall, it was a good read, a good insight into what a good editor can do for a story that has good legs, but needs more muscle.

The Collected Ghost Stories – M. R. James : What I liked most about these stories was the clever building of atmosphere and the understatement and reserve. These are not the kind of stories that jump out with “gotcha” moments that will make you jump at sounds in the night. These stories excel at a kind of insidious implantation in your memory that make you consider them later, in rational moments even though you’re confident that all is well. They return to you with the whisper of “maybe not…” The thing is, as much as I can appreciate the atmosphere and tension they create, the distance between the narrator and the events and sometimes the narrator and the reader (who seems to be listening in to a conversation ABOUT a series of events fairly frequently) is something of a turn-off. It negates the onset of the willies. It eliminates the goosebumps I crave. While I can appreciate the impact of these stories when they were originally written, and while I can certainly learn from how their atmosphere is created, it’s just an “ok” group of stories for me. I enjoyed them, but I don’t “love” them.

I Am Legend and Other Stories – Richard Matheson : I’ve read this before and I will read it again. This book was my introduction to Matheson and I’m ever grateful that I took the time to read it. Some of my favorites from this book include stories that I don’t think are well known, like “Prey,” which gives me chills every time I read it. “The Near Departed” is very short but has an impact that far outweighs its length. “Mad House” made me reconsider coming home in a bad mood and even feels a little like the precursor to “Hell House,” which is another Matheson read that I highly recommend. Even if you’ve seen the movie, you don’t know “I am Legend” until you read the original. It’s not what you think; it’s better.

* Songs of Love and Death: All-Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love – edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois : I am a big romantic at heart and I believe in star-crossed love. I want to believe that those who are destined to be together but divided by circumstance will find a way to overcome the obstacles and wind up in each other’s arms. I want to believe in the satisfaction of impossible desires and that, in the end, love wins. There were some stories that made this book worth having. It is a must-have for fans of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, and for fans of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Neil Gaiman’s story was a great tale as well. Unfortunately, there were others that just fell so far from the mark for me that it underwhelmed me when looking at the book as a whole. Part of the reason for this is that the book crosses such wide genre boundaries (from historical romance to science fiction to fantasy and even a little creepy-almost-but-n0t-quite-horror-flavoring) that it’s possible for everyone to find something redeeming, but also enough of a turn off that there’s equal disappointment to the delight. I would definitely recommend it, but with the caveat that not all the stories will suit the taste of every reader.

* Supernatural Noir – edited by Ellen Datlow : I can’t do justice to this one in just a short little blurb, but I promise there will be Something Like a Review of this to ring in the new year.

Non-Fiction

* The Gentle Subversive – Mark Hamilton Lytle : I read this one for school. Allow me to preface my comments by saying that non-fiction isn’t a huge draw for me, and biographies don’t capture and hold my attention well. Even though biographies are still stories an anecdotes from the life of a person, they’ve never had the same kind of magic as fiction does for me. Maybe it has something to do with knowing that what’s being told has already happened and it’s not just unwinding before you like a magical carpet is disillusioning, or maybe its that they feel bloodless because they lack the same possibilities, and the feeling of adventuresome discovery. That being said, this book was alright. It was well written and to a fan of Rachel Carson or an enthusiast of ecology or the environmental movement, I’m sure it would undoubtedly receive high marks. I have no substantive complaints other than it wasn’t for me, and my attention wandered because I didn’t feel a connection to the main subject of the book.

* The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks : For a beginning psychology student, aspects of this book were a little over my head, though I understood the concepts being presented. Part of the drawback to listening to this as an audiobook was that I didn’t always have the ability to whip out a dictionary (or app), make a note of or Google the things I needed more information on or didn’t understand. Even without complete understanding of the clinical terms, the book is well written and entertaining enough to keep me interested. I enjoyed the stories of abnormal psych case studies and found them engaging, human, and differences aside, relatable. I look forward to revisiting it when I have a better understanding of the technical, clinical aspects of these illnesses because I’m sure I’ll get more out of it. One of the things that disturbed me, but not enough to put it aside, were the common use of words that are currently more pejorative in nature being used to describe the mentally ill. I wrote about that more in another post, though. Take a peek when you have a chance.

* Danse Macabre – Stephen King : I could spend this little blurb drooling over his knowledge, experience and abilities, but I will restrain myself. I read this book many years ago, and well before I was ready to. At the time, some of the information was well over my head and I didn’t have the perspective to really understand what the hell he was talking about through much of it. As an adult, this makes much more sense and I’m better able to appreciate what he’s saying about the state of horror both in film and in the written word. This is almost a horror primer for those who love it, want to know more about it and need a roadmap to guide them through the best and the worst (at least through a certain point, since it is a little old now). For someone just discovering horror through more modern tales/films and wanting to learn the roots, or for someone who just wants to see what made The Man who he is as a writer, this is a great place to start looking.

* Completely in Blue: Dispatches from the Edge of Insanity – Chris Curry : This one deserved more than just a little blurb. Take a look at what I had to say about it.

* How to Survive a Horror Movie – Seth Grahame-Smith: It’s not quite fiction, and who knows…it might be non-fiction. But I’m taking creative license and putting it where How-To’s belong. If you are intrigued, or find yourself in immediate need of just such a manual, check out my Something Like a Review, and good luck!

*The World Without Us – Alan Weisman : I love post-apocalyptic fiction, and while this is kind of non-fiction, it strums the same chords. I haven’t been able to find anything conclusive, but it seems that this book may have inspired the TV special and series “Life After People.” Both run on the same premise: humanity has vanished. They don’t postulate how, but they accept it as fact and then explain what happens from there using real world examples of abandoned locations and the observable decay of the years. It was both chilling to contemplate while revving my imagination into high gear. For fans of “what happens after?” or fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, this is a must read.

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