Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Movies seen in 2019

And now it's time for the movie part. Ah, traditions.

Movies seen in 2019




    1. The Predator - Quite a bit of a mess, really. It was just enjoyable enough while watching for me to not turn it off, but, man, it straddled that line.
    2. Venom - ehhhh. You know, I could probably just re-use the review from The Predator. Quite a bit of a mess, really. It was just enjoyable enough while watching for me to not turn it off, but man, it straddled that line. (Here’s hoping some better movies are in the pipeline for this year…)
    3. A Simple Favor - this was like a soap opera, just in movie form. Which was fine. It was twisty, turny, funny at bits, and over the top.
    4. Slither - alien slug invasion. Good times.
    5. Solo: A Star Wars Story - kinda boring, kinda predictable, about 40 minutes longer than it needed to be. I didn’t DISlike it, but…
    6. Widows - a heist movie, but more about political backstabbing and criminal lifestyles in Chicago, as well as a reflection on how those sorts of things impact the people who have to deal with the aftermath of crimes/murders. Quite an enjoyable flick.
    7. 21 Jump Street - I went in with pretty low expectations (not sure why, exactly) and was therefore pleasantly surprised. Not all the jokes landed, of course, but there were a higher number that did than I was expecting. Ice Cube’s character was fricking gold, and it is always delightful to see Ellie Kemper.
    8. 22 Jump Street - more of the same. Exactly the same. Heh. This was good, too, maybe a little bit better than the original, even. I loved the chain of sequels we can look forward to.
    9. Down - made for Hulu movie; a couple of business coworkers get stuck in an elevator on the eve of Valentine’s Day weekend. This was pretty mindless, but I was in the mood for a dumb brainless flick, and it fit that bill.
    10. The Spy Who Dumped Me - Kate McKinnon is a national treasure. Not sure that the ‘romance’ angle needed to be included, but mostly this was a lot of fun, even if it wasn’t anything fantastically awesome.
    11. Overlord - On the eve of D-Day, some American paratroopers fall behind enemy lines after their plane crashes during a mission consisting of destroying a German radio tower in Cielblanc, a small village near the beaches of Normandy. After reaching their target, the surviving paratroopers realize that, in addition to fighting Nazi troops that patrol the village, they also must fight against ...something else. This was pretty solid, even if the ending was a bit predictable.
    12. Bohemian Rhapsody - great music, and a great performance by Rami Malek. Don’t know that it was worthy of a Best Picture nomination, but a pretty solid biopic of Freddie Mercury.
    13. Halloween - the 2018 sequel to the 1978 movie with the same name. This wasn’t really that scary, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. Jamie Lee Curtis and Judy Greer are both awesome, and I liked Laurie’s granddaughter too.
    14. Kin - a family drama/road trip/sci-fi flick that I enjoyed more than pretty much anyone else on the internet. I liked all the characters, I liked the situations (although the gang breaking into the police station was a bit over the top), I liked how it mixed genres pretty seamlessly. This set up a bigger world, like it was wanting a sequel or a tv show spinoff or something, and I gotta say, I’d be down to watch that. This was a nice little gem, as far as I’m concerned.
    15. Infinity Chamber - sci-fi movie that felt somewhat low budget (and maybe it was, I don’t know) all about a man in the future who gets put into an automated prison with an AI computer guard as his only companion. There’s also a sort of memory investigation type machine that allows him (and the prison, presumably?) to go back into the prisoner’s memories and… change things? It felt a little bit like Inception, in that by going into his memories, there was something that was being searched for. Anyway, this was okay for what it was - and the ambiguous ending (which I expected/saw coming) was one that I was more or less okay with. There are worse ways to spend an hour and forty minutes is what I’m saying.
    16. Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse - so. Freaking. Good. Easily, hands down, the best movie I’ve seen in 2019 so far. The humor, the action, the animation, the characters, the feelings. I watched this alone, but I'm probably going to rewatch it with the kids, because it’s just that great.
    17. Spring Breakers - well, if you wanna see slow motion half-naked young people getting high and James Franco chew scenery for 80 minutes or so, there’s this. Otherwise, there’s no reason to waste your time. And, really, even if you want to see all those things, there are probably much better ways to find them all. This was garbage.
    18. Truth or Dare - dumb, but that was pretty much as expected.
    19. Pokemon Detective Pikachu - Pika pika! Pikachu. Pika pi? Pikachuuu!!
    20. Glass - anticlimactic conclusion of M. Night Shyamalan’s “superhero trilogy” that started with Unbreakable and Split. The pacing of this was atrocious; most, if not all, of the character motivations were questionable; and while James McAvoy’s acting is probably the strong suit in this, even that was tedious and laughable in areas. Ah well. Let’s just hope that he doesn’t extend his ‘verse with more. (Because I’d no doubt watch *those*, too.)
    21. Greta - slow burn (nodded off a few times near the beginning) that… doesn’t really have a payoff, unfortunately. I mean, Isabelle Huppert and Chloe Grace Moretz give fantastic performances, but the story is just sort of meh.
    22. Happy Death Day 2U - pleasantly surprising! The first movie was enjoyable, and this one was that rare sequel that was just as good as the first. I’d even be open to a third, if they manage to have any compelling ideas to carry it forward. This was much more of a sci-fi/comedy romp than a slasher film, which is fine. I also thought things were going to go in a very different direction at the beginning of the film, but was still rather happy with what I saw.
    23. Leprechaun Returns - why??? Why did I waste 93 minutes of my life with this crap? Why did 400+ people get paid to work on this? Blah. So disappointing in so many ways. It’s not like I expected this to be *good*, but it wasn’t even mildly entertaining. It was just BORING. And stupid.
    24. Terrifier - It’s the feel good comedy of the year! Okay, no. They got the look and feel of slasher flicks from the 80s down quite well. And Art the Clown is certainly distinctive, both in appearance and as a character.
    25. The Mule - Slow burn as the tension ratchets up with each drug run that Earl (Clint Eastwood) makes… and then nothing happens.
    26. The Prodigy - had some moments that were creepy.
    27. Captain Marvel - the pacing felt a little ...off? Maybe? Or maybe it’s just that I haven’t watched a Marvel Cinematic Universe flick in a while. This was still very very enjoyable, and Brie Lawson is freaking awesome. Actually, I liked ALL the characters in this: Carol, Monica, and LT having their little family… Annette Benning as Mar-Vell/Supreme Intelligence… de-aged Nick Fury… Goose. Everyone rocked. And yes, I teared up during the “standing up” montage.
    28. Us - Pure.. Awesome. So god damn creepy, and even though I was expecting the “twist”, I didn’t quite figure it out, and even if I had, it’s STILL a fantastic movie that was extremely entertaining. Haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, even three days later. Jordan Peele makes some damn amazing films. Can’t wait to see what else he’s got up his sleeve. Oh, and Lupita Nyong’o is AMAZING.
    29. Aquaman - ugggggh. This was WAY too long. Predictable, unfunny, and worst of all - BORING. Yes, it was colorful and flashy, but compared with the Marvel Universe, this was just garbage.
    30. Eden Lake - brutal. A young couple goes on a vacation that goes horribly wrong when a group of teens begin to terrorize them.
    31. The House of the Devil - slow burn, where the first almost hour has not a whole lot happen, but once Samantha gets to the babysitting gig, the tension increases exponentially. This looked EXACTLY like a late 70s/early 80s horror flick. I actually thought it WAS made back then, until I looked up later that it was actually made in 2009. Kudos to the production team in that regard. The dumb twist at the end wasn’t necessary at all.
    32. The Transfiguration - Milo is an orphaned youth, living with his older brother, Lewis, in New York. Milo is obsessed - OBSESSED - with vampires, and believes he may be one himself. He later meets Sophie, another orphaned outcast, who is living with her abusive grandfather. Milo is an amazing character - one who commits some shocking acts, but also has our sympathies.
    33. The Wailing - Korean horror movie that was sort of an examination of evil, but was also a bit confusing as to exactly what was going on. A Japanese man shows up in a small village, and mysterious deaths begin to pile up. Is he a ghost? Is it mushrooms? Are you sure you WANT to find out? Because as answers are provided, it seems the things you do are possibly going to cause MORE problems and pain… This was long, and somewhat confusing, but I couldn’t stop watching it, and I was entertained.
    34. Ralph Breaks the Internet - sequel to Wreck It Ralph. I liked this better than the first, although there were pacing problems near the last quarter end. But this was much funnier than the first, and I liked the character arcs more.
    35. Night of the Creeps - Thrill me. Heh. This was an entertaining 80s horror flick I’d never seen before.
    36. Pet Semetary - the 2019 remake. Sigh. This was almost as if someone took Stephen King’s novel and buried it in a cemetery that brings things back to life, but ...wrong. The first hour or so was just so… PG-13 horror, and all the characters were so blah. Like, the wife’s trauma over her sister? Wouldn’t the couple have, like, TALKED ABOUT THAT ALREADY? If you’ve been together for at least a decade, it seems like something that would’ve been mentioned, and possibly dealt with to some degree. And the whole dead student/dreams/sleepwalking thing going on with the doctor was just boring af. Church (once brought back) was entertaining. And the last twenty/thirty minutes with the brought back child was creepy, but overall this was just ANOTHER remake that just wasn’t needed. Pity.
    37. Await Further Instructions - British family gets together for Christmas. There is tension between the family as the eldest son has brought his new girlfriend, Anjii, who is Indian, and his family has some racist tendencies. The following morning, they discover the house has been covered with wires that don’t allow them to escape, the landlines and internet connection are cut off, and the television channels are all broadcasting a message that reads “STAY INDOORS AND AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS”. Paranoia and panic sets in, and escalates as the messages begin to get more and more sinister. The ending was a bit disappointing, but the first 3/4th of this was pretty tense, even if it wasn’t really anything that hasn’t been done before.
    38. Avengers: Endgame - oh, man. Goosebumps were had, tears were shed, laughs were ...laughed. And “Oh hell yes!” may have been said a number of times. Time travel is silly and probably doesn’t actually make sense, but the movie is just so epic and fun that it doesn’t matter. So glad that the culmination of ten years of superhero flicks was able to pull off the ending. And, yes, I know the Marvel universe is going to continue on (probably beyond the heat death of the actual universe) but I’m perfectly content with THIS being how it all wrapped up. (Okay, I’m going to watch anything else that is put out, but still. This was just a great great gift to all of us fans.)
    39. Shazam! - fun! Not as great as really any of the Marvel movies, but better than Aquaman, or any of the other DC flicks so far. Maybe it helps going in “blind” not knowing any of the comic backstory. Maybe it is just that Zachary Levi is a great comedic actor. I dunno, but this movie, which was essentially “Big”, but with superpowers, was a pretty fun time.
    40. Brightburn - decent, but nothing really new was brought to the table. It was just the “what if Superman turned out evil” trope. Set up for a potentially interesting sequel, but they’d have to do something truly unique to make it worthwhile.
    41. Escape Room - like Cube, but ..duller? 6 strangers get invites to an escape room that is billed as the most difficult in the country (and has a 10,000 dollar prize if you manage to escape it). The rooms are deadly, and as they attempt to solve each room, they start to get picked off one by one.
    42. Ma - Octavia Spencer plays Sue Ann, a lonely middle aged woman who befriends a group of teens by buying them alcohol. Sue Ann gets overly attached to the teenagers, slowly showing her unstable side. This was a bit of a slow burn, and I think there may have been some editing weirdness, and there was no real denouement, but overall this was still a solid little thriller.
    43. The Dead Don’t Die - oof. This was PAINFULLY bad. What made it worse was the elements were all there: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Rosie Perez, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Carol Kane… and about a dozen other celebrities I’m forgetting right now all staring in a meta-aware zombie flick? Should be absolutely golden. Instead, it was absolute shit. So disappointing. :(
    44. Men In Black: International - zzzzz. So boring.
    45. X-Men Dark Phoenix - the action fights were pretty good. And I kinda mostly like all of this generation of X-men people, but this wasn’t great. Of course, there have been a LOT of horrible X-men movies, and this was marginally better than those, so. [shrug]
    46. Yesterday - romcoms aren’t typically my cuppa, but this was better than I had anticipated. I liked the angst that Jack had in trying to take on the weight of the fame of the Beatles, and also how it made him feel like a fraud for passing their creations off as his own. And there was a certain scene that was entirely fanfic (well, even more so than the whole premise of the film), but, oh, man, tears were shed.
    47. John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum - while the John Wick universe is a fun one to spend some time in, the returns are starting to diminish. I mean, yeah, I’ll be there for #4, if it happens, but an endgame would be super nice, ya know? There’s only so many headshots you can watch before they start to lose their impact.
    48. El Camino: A Breaking Bad movie - it was great to get a nice box of closure for Jesse. And seeing old Breaking Bad faces was just…really pleasant. Man, that show was good. I… wouldn’t object to a Skylar follow up film. Just sayin’. Yeah, Mister White! Sequels!!
    49. Aladdin - big dumb goofy fun. Necessary? Nah, probably not, but it was still fun.
    50. Anna and the Apocalypse - a zombie movie and a musical mashed together, and it’s set during Christmas? Oh, hell yes. The songs were (mostly) catchy and funny and awesome, too! (“Human Voice” brought me to tears, but, then, I’m an easy mark) This was great.
    51. Night of the Living Dead - the 1989 remake, which I’d never seen. Obviously, the original is superior, but this one wasn’t bad, mostly due to the performances and some of the changes to the situation.
    52. Midsommar - I went into this knowing that it was from the director of Hereditary, and that, like that film, it was highly disturbing. I liked this a lot, although I think Hereditary bothered me more. This did have creepy moments, and was definitely unique. I loved, too, how, in both of his movies, there is a TON of foreshadowing. I’m most certainly going to check out anything that Ari Aster creates in the future.
    53. DanTDM presents The Contest - earlier this year, youtuber DanTDM hosted a videogame competition. They filmed it, and now it’s a movie. The thing being shown in theaters was promoted as being an interactive experience (there’s an app you download beforehand, wherein you choose one of the three teams to join up with)... It made it mildly more entertaining, but overall this was kind of a missed opportunity. There were 10 multiple choice questions displayed during the film, but getting them right or wrong had no impact, and you aren’t even told your score at the end. :( If they had made it *more* interactive - somehow showing what each team had scored, or given you a total at the end, it would have felt more worthwhile. As it was, it was just a less than entertaining videogame competition between three young kids in the UK, overlaid with a “story” about how this was an interdimensional contest held every 1000 years. It was okay as an outing with Silas, but it really could have been a lot cooler than it was.
    54. The Killing of a Sacred Deer - hmmm. I think I hated this. And a large part of the reason was the absolute irritating decision that the director seems to have of making everyone talk in monotone. (He did the same thing in The Lobster, another film that I was ambivalent toward) I truly think that if the dialogue had been delivered normally, this *might* have been a better film. Dark as hell, and disturbing, but I just don’t get why everyone has to talk without emotion. That aspect is unnerving - so, bravo, if that’s the intention, but it also made it supremely difficult to get into the movie, too, so a bit of a backfire there.
    55. Re-Animator - ehhh. This “classic” horror movie from the 80s has not aged well at all.
    56. The Visit - Becca and Tyler go to spend a week with their grandparents, whom they have never met (their mother is estranged from her parents). When they get there, they discover that their grandparents are ...a little off. Tensions increase. This was… okay. Not a great movie, but just… okay.
    57. Monsters, Inc. - comfort food. (also, yay, Disney+ !)
    58. Stuber - dumb forgettable buddy cop comedy, but it had several moments of laugh out loud bits, which is all I ask for.
    59. Spider-Man: Far From Home - while entertaining, the first half of this felt...off, somehow. Like, none of the jokes were landing, and it just seemed like a subpar Marvel movie. The last half clicked pretty well, though. I really liked the overall themes of questioning what you’re seeing.
    60. Noelle - take a large serving of Elf, mix with a bit of The Santa Clause, throw in a dash of The Santa Claus Movie, sprinkle on some Prancer, and a pinch of Airplane!, then cook for 1 hr and 40 minutes on Disney+, and voila! Perfect Christmas Fluff!
    61. Angel Has Fallen - by the numbers action flick. If you’ve seen an action movie, or a first person shooter video game, or even the trailer for this, you know what’s gonna happen. Still - Morgan Freeman is the president, so I was there for it.
    62. Child’s Play - the remake (reimagining, I guess) of the ‘88 horror film. This wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t anything awesome, either, but it had Aubrey Plaza, and Mark Hamill was Chucky’s voice, so it definitely had things going for it.
    63. Dora and the Lost City of Gold - a live action teenaged Dora the Explorer. Mildly entertaining, a little longer than it probably needed to be.
    64. Home Alone - oh, the 90s.
    65. Starfish - indie film that ...was a bit too pretentious and ambiguous for its own good, in my opinion. Aubrey’s friend Grace has recently died, and while mourning, Aubrey breaks into Grace’s apartment. While there she discovers messages that Grace left for her, including a series of mixtapes labeled “THIS MIXTAPE WILL SAVE THE WORLD”. The apocalypse (maybe) takes place while this is going on, and pretty much all of Aubrey’s reality starts collapsing in on itself. This had elements that were pretty nifty (I liked some of the indie songs played, the acting was great, and even a lot of the special effects were fantastic), but overall just didn't work for me.
    66. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - Hm. Steph asked me my thoughts after it was over, and my immediate reaction was, “That was a bit of a mess.” And, yup. It was just a barrage of action sequences (admittedly, some of them were pretty damn awesome) and plot points, without a lot of time for reflection or allowing things to breathe. Character growth was essentially nil, and poor C3P0, man. Palpatine’s “plan” (and headquarters, and dialogue and appearance and heritage) all made zero sense, but ...whatever. It’s Star Wars. The internet warned me that this was bad, but then, the internet said Last Jedi was bad, too, and they were just stupid in that regard. This was...not super great, and could have been much more interesting, but it is what it is.

    Books read in 2019

    Well.
    Here it is, the end (almost!) of the year, and that means it's time for me to transfer over my Google Docs that were keeping track of my media consumption over the course of the past 365 days.
    This year I joined a group on Goodreads.com - the Across The Year Challenge board/group...thing. They post 52 book challenges - so that you have a themed book to read for each 52 weeks of the year. I ended up completing all but 14 of the weeks (I skipped around a bit, starting around week 12 or so). But I still ended up reading more than 52 books, so win-win. Also, I had the additional element of making sure that each of the books I chose for the challenge were female authors.
    It was a fun challenge, and it certainly got me to pick up a lot of books I wouldn't have otherwise, so I'll try it again in 2020.

    That being said...here's the book list from good ol' 19:

    Books read in 2019



    This year I was partaking in the Goodreads “Across the Year” challenge, wherein a different “theme” is picked each week for all 52 weeks of the year. As I’m writing this now, it’s the 6th of January, and I’ve already completed the first week. We’ll see at year’s end how it winds/wound up.


    As always, final sentence of the book is in parenthesis, with all of it spoiler-tagged out, except the final word.





    1. Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand - This was week 1 of the challenge. The theme was “A book which won or was nominated for an award in a genre you enjoy.” This book won the very first Shirley Jackson award, back in 2007. The novel was pretty great. Cassandra Neary has never quite hit bottom in her life, but she’s certainly spent a lot of time hanging out pretty close to it. In the late 70s and early 80s she had moderate success with a bunch of photographs she took of the junkies and losers she was hanging around. Now, in the early 2000s she has been hired to do an interview of a reclusive photographer whom she idolized, Aphrodite, who lives on an island off the coast of Maine. Once there, she stumbles into a bit of a mystery- seems the island has a high rate of missing children. Anyway, the novel is well written, and Cass was an intriguing, if not always likeable, character, and the world of photography is fascinating. I can see why this won an award, and I wouldn’t mind reading more of Hand’s work. (“Oh, what the hell,” I said, and we followed the others inside.)
    2. Whose Boat is this Boat? Comments That Don’t Help in the Aftermath of a Hurricane by Donald J. Trump (by accident) - jesus christ, what did we do to deserve that buffoon? (There is no moral.)
    3. Ask Him Why by Catherine Ryan Hyde - week 2 of the challenge [theme: A book with one of the 5 Ws in the title] This was a decent novel that, for whatever reason, just didn’t grab me as much as I had hoped it would. It’s about the Stellkellners, a dysfunctional family who gets further fractured after the oldest son, Joseph, is dishonorably discharged from the army while serving over in Iraq. He disobeyed an order to go on a raid, talked a few other soldiers into also disobeying, and on the raid, two soldiers were killed. The novel alternates between viewpoints of Aubrey, who is 13 at the beginning of the novel, and Ruth, who is 16. I liked this novel, I’ve been thinking about it off and on since I finished it, but like I said, for whatever reason, it just wasn’t one that completely wowed me. I think the dysfunctionality of the family bugged me a lot. Of course, that’s the entire point, so, I don’t even know. (No matter how hard you try to hold it steady, the finer details slide away.)
    4. Paper Girls vol 5 by Robert K. Vaughn - good stuff. (You okay?)
    5. Off the Grid by P.J. Tracy - week 3 of the challenge. [Theme: A book by an author whose name contains A, T, and Y] I randomly grabbed this off the shelf at the library. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes… not so much. This was a mystery/thriller that, it turns out, is the 6th in the Monkeewrench series. This series of novels is all about a group of eccentric computer programmers who solve crimes in their spare time. And maybe if I had started with book 1, I would have enjoyed this more. But probably not - this seemed all over the place, and the villains were not scary or well-developed. Neither, for that matter, were most of the characters. I suppose by the 6th book in, most people “know” the characters and care about them deeply. By just jumping in like I did, it was harder for me to really develop an interest in most of them. I think that the writing was sufficient, and if this genre was something I was more interested in reading, that I wouldn’t mind giving them another shot, but all in all, this particular outing was just not a good mix. (If they don’t, we’ll be there.)
    6. Don’t You Trust Me? By Patrice Kindl - week 4 of the challenge. [Theme: A Book with a criminal character] Morgan, a 15 year old sociopath, lies and steals the identity of super-naive Janelle, worming her way into her well-to-do family, after a chance meeting at the airport. Watching as she manipulates people around her was fascinating in a sort of “when is this all going to come crashing down” type of way. Some of this was a bit ridiculous, but, for the most part it was engrossing enough. I wish there had been a bit more comeuppance at the end, but what ya gonna do. (My future is going to be dazzling - trust me.)
    7. The Odd1s Out: How to Be Cool and Other Things I Learned By Growing Up by James Radesson. I love the youtube channel, The Odd1s Out. It’s made by James, and his humor just hits my sweet spot. This book is mostly a collection of videos of his I’ve already seen, although there were a few ‘chapters’ that were new, and even the ones I’ve already encountered were pretty funny. (And remember, whatever you do in life, don’t forget to wear your seatbelt.)
    8. Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth - week 5 of the challenge [Theme: A book written or inspired by Shakespeare] time travel, theater, high school romance/drama, all pretty well done. (I hoped it never would.)
    9. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson - week 6 of the challenge. [Theme: A book with a dual timeline.] YA novel about twins, Noah and Jude, told from when they were 14 and 17. This was difficult to get in to, as Noah is OBSESSED with metaphors. He constantly talks in them, and as his is the first POV you have, jumping in like that, I thought at first that it was more of a magical-realism type story (when he’s talking about blinking people into nonexistence, or running so fast he flies, for example, I wasn’t entirely sure if he was being literal). Anyway, it threw me for a loop at first. Eventually I got used to it, and was involved enough into the story that I finished it. Near the end the novel got VERY heavy into romance (the characters are teens, and the hormones are a flowin’) and the end-end seemed a little bit too coincidental and tied up in a bow, but overall, not a bad read. (Remake the world.)
    10. Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates - week 7 of the challenge [Theme: 2 books related to the same topic, genre, or theme. #1] So, I’ve seen Joyce Carol Oates books around, and knew she was a prolific writer (horror stuff? Romance? I’m not really sure what she’s written previously because…) but I’d never checked any of them out before. The synopsis of this one - a woman in an oppressive near-future America is exiled into the past as punishment for being outspoken. Sounds intriguing! And the set up sort of was. Adriane’s world was ...not really much of a stretch from where a lot of America seems to be now. After she gets arrested for ...being valedictorian of her class, and giving a speech that inspired people to question authority, she gets exiled to Wainscotia, Wisconsin, in 1959. She’s informed that she can not go out of a 10 mile radius from the campus, she’s been provided a new identity - Mary Ellen Enright - and she’s told that there are spies who will be keeping tabs on her to ensure she doesn’t muck up the timeline by ‘remembering’ future events, or attempting to meet with relatives or procreating. She’s told that if she serves her time (4 years) she’ll be brought back to her timeline. This is an amazing setup!! Sadly, there’s not nearly enough payoff for it. The paranoia and confusion that result to Adriane/Mary Ellen suffers through were intriguing and kept me curious enough to keep reading, but after she meets (and becomes obsessed with) an older professor who may or may not also be an Exiled person, a lot of the novel is squandered with their relationship. The final third of the novel takes a weird turn, and by the end I was just feeling ...that so much of the potential of the novel was wasted. I plan on having the 2nd week’s theme also be a Joyce Carol Oates book, because I feel that she obviously has talent, I just hope the next book I choose is one I overall enjoy more. (Stay with us as long as you like.)
    11. The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates - week 8 of the challenge [Theme: 2 books related to the same topic, genre, or theme #2] This was a collection of 7 short stories, nearly all of them quite upsetting. The first and last were probably the best of the bunch, but almost all of them were good. I think Oates is a pretty good writer, and when she’s on, she is ON. So, definitely going to track down more of her stuff in the future. So. Stories: The Corn Maiden - oh, man. A story about a teenage sociopath named Judith who has two followers. She convinces them to kidnap and torture a slightly younger girl named Marissa, who is mentally slow. She does this because of her HAIR. And because she saw her mother doting on her. And then Judith ends up framing a teacher at her school for the kidnapping simply because he didn’t respond to a statement she made. Girl is NUTS. Overall, this was a creepy, compelling novella, and a fantastic way to get this collection started. (In the Valley of the Shadow of Death I will protect you AMEN.) Beersheba - Brad gets a call from an unknown woman, who, it turns out is someone from his past. She has some grudges against Brad. This was short and disturbing. (He thought If the bleeding is stopped that is a good sign.) Nobody Knows My Name - another short one that was also a bit of a stab to the belly. Jessica has a new baby sister, and is not happy about no longer being the most important thing in Mommy and Daddy’s life. (Her father’s binoculars, both lenses shattered, lay on the veranda floor at her feet.) Fossil-Figures - ehhh. This one didn’t quite work for me. Twin brothers Edgar and Edward; one excels at life and politics, the other is physically ill and weak, and becomes a reclusive artist. They have separate lives, but still feel connected, like, psychically, maybe? This one didn’t really hold my interest and two days after having read it, I’m having difficulty recalling it in any detail. (...when it happened could never be determined precisely since the bodies were frozen and preserved from decay found together on a leather sofa made as a bed pulled to within a foot of a fireplace heaped with ashes in a downstairs room of the old clapboard Colonial crowded with furniture and what appeared to be the accumulated debris of decades but which may have been materials for artworks or the very artworks themselves of the eccentric artist known as E.W., the elderly Waldman brothers in layers of bulky clothing must have fallen asleep in front of a fire in the otherwise unheated house, the fire must have burnt out in the night and the brothers died in their sleep in a protracted January cold spell: the brother to be identified as Edgar Waldman, eighty-seven, embracing his brother Edward Waldman, also eighty-seven, from behind, protectively fitting his body to his brother’s crippled body, forehead tenderly pressed to the back of the other’s head, the two figures coiled together like a gnarled organic material that has petrified to stone.) Death-Cup - sort of a twin (heh) to the previous story - this was only slightly better than Fossil-Figures. It was about another set of twins, one who is a lying sexist who may in fact, have murdered members of the family in the past; the other just a regular guy who sees through his brother’s lies but is unable to convince anyone of just how bad his bro is. He decides he needs to kill his brother to make the world a better place. I was hoping for a better payoff, honestly. (But which body was which, whose charred organs, bones, blood had belonged to which brother, no forensic specialist would ever determine.) Helping Hands- a widow donates her dead husband's clothes to a thrift store, and becomes enthralled by the disabled veteran who works there. This was way too long and meandering for a short story, and I really didn’t understand it. There were moments of great writing, and the characters were well-developed, but ...I wasn’t sure what the point was, I guess. (Not ever.) A Hole in the Head - Oh, wow. A plastic surgeon (would have been a brain surgeon, but he couldn’t cut it.) descends into madness, and we are there for the ride. When a client comes in requesting trepanation (an obscure medical procedure where holes are drilled into the skull to alleviate pressure) ...it doesn’t go well. This was gory and disturbing and a great way to close out the collection. (He started out, he would cross to that farther shore.)
    12. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin - week 9 of the challenge [theme: a book from one of the top 5 money making genres (Romance; Crime/Mystery; Religious/Inspirational; Sci-fi/Fantasy; Horror)] Well, this one was a bust. It was a very short novel - essentially a novella, really - but it still took me a couple days to power through it. I picked this because it was identified as a sci-fi/horror type, and seemed interesting. The tagline: A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family. Fever Dream is a nightmare come to life, a ghost story for the real world, a love story and a cautionary tale. One of the freshest new voices to come out of the Spanish language and translated into English for the first time, Samanta Schweblin creates an aura of strange psychological menace and otherworldly reality in this absorbing, unsettling, taut novel. However, this was really difficult to follow, as tenses jumped back and forth, and it was jarring as to whether Amanda was speaking to David, or speaking in the story she was telling, and it wasn’t clear whether David was living, or a hallucination that Amanda was having. The elements were there - the overarching story was somewhat intriguing - a farmhouse has some pesticides dumped in the back, that end up poisoning the young child David. His mother, a superstitious type, takes him to a spiritualist when he begins showing symptoms of the poison, and his soul gets transported into another body. All intriguing, but as I said, the writing style was difficult for me to follow, and ultimately this just didn’t work for me. Ah well, they can’t all be gems, I guess. (He doesn’t see the important thing: the rope finally slack, like a lit fuse, somewhere; the motionless scourge about to erupt.)
    13. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt - week 10 of the challenge [theme: A book featuring a historical figure]. A fictional retelling of the Borden family, focusing on Lizzie, her sister Emma, their uncle, John (and a mysterious neerdowell named Benjamin whom John has a deal with), and of course, the parents- Andrew and Abby, who will soon meet their demise via hatchet attacks. Since the murders are, in real life, unsolved, the novel also leaves some wiggle room on how they were committed and by whom. (Although both the book and real life certainly point towards Lizzie being the culprit.) This was quite compelling. The tension and unease - even though the outcome was known - was well done, and the sense of sadness that permeated the whole family was palpable. Apparently this was a debut novel, I’ll definitely look for more from this author in the future. (I raised my arms above my head.)
    14. The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon - week 11 of the challenge [theme: A book related to one of the 12 Zodiac Chinese animals]. Set in England in 1976 (with flashbacks to 1967), 10 year old Grace and Tilly become amateur detectives when one of their neighbors, Mrs. Creasy, disappears right at the onset of a horrible heatwave. The precocious duo get it in their heads that if they can find God in their neighborhood, they’ll also be able to find Mrs. Creasy. They begin interrogating the adults in the neighborhood (under the [what’s the word for alibi or assumption or false cover story? Sigh.] of doing work for a Girl Scouts type thing) and begin to dig up secrets that go back about a decade that involve the reclusive Walter Bishop - who is described by the other adults as a “bad man”. This novel was a delight. Grace and Tilly were tons of fun, and the mystery behind what went down in ‘67 (and how it ties in with what’s going on in ‘76) was compelling. I got vibes of To Kill a Mockingbird from this, (Walter Bishop is definitely the neighborhood’s Boo Radley) and that’s not a bad thing. This was one of the best books I’ve read during this challenge, and I am sure I probably wouldn’t have stumbled across it if not for doing this. (And it felt like the end of summer.)
    15. My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul - week 12 of the challenge [theme: A book about reading, books, or an author/writer] This was more or less an autobiography, and not a whole lot of ‘plot’ actually took place, despite the promise of that in the book’s title, but I enjoyed Paul’s writing style so much that that didn’t bother me. Essentially, Pamela documents her love of reading, and how what she has read has changed over the years during different stages of her life. When she was in her teens, she decided to keep a journal of every book she has read, and by doing so has been able to reflect on what those stages of her life meant much more clearly than if she had simply been keeping a diary or journal about life itself. (They become our stories.)
    16. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin - week 13 of the challenge [theme: A book from a New York Public Library Staff Picks list]. Fantastic. The four Gold children (Simon, Karla, Daniel and Varya) go to a fortune teller in 1969. She is able to tell you the date that you will die, and she gives each of the siblings their death-date. Their father, Saul, dies unexpectedly about ten years later, and Simon and Karla leave for San Francisco to chase their dreams/escape being trapped in the family business. The rest of the book is divided into four sections that focuses on the characters as their death dates approach. This was a superb look at the way family ties weaken and strengthen over the years, and how the choices we make decide our fate, as well as whether the future really is determined. I enjoyed this a great deal. (Then she stepped through the curtain to join them.)
    17. The Walking Dead, vol 31: The Rotten Core by Robert Kirkman - sadly, most of that goodwill and intrigue from the previous volume got squandered here. I get that not EVERY installment will move the plot forward, as things have to be set up to have payoffs, but ...I don’t know. The pacing felt off in bits, and I think the Commonwealth citizens are too...I don’t know. OVerall this was just meh, I guess. I mean, I still consumed it in an hour, and I’m still looking forward to 8-9 months from now when I’m able to get volume 32, I just know that right now is one of those low moments in the Walking Dead storyline. (Or did I just join the wrong side in one?)
    18. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg - week 14 of the challenge [theme: A book with a title, subtitle, or cove related to an astronomical term]. This was a graphic novel that (re)told a lot of creation stories. The artwork was charming, and the writing was lightly humorous as well, but this was just ...okay. Like, it was pleasant enough while I was reading it, but there wasn’t a lot of *point* to it. (In each other's arms for the first and last time.)
    19. Salt by Hannah Moskowitz - week 15 of the challenge [theme: A book set in or by an author from a Mediterranean country] this was a YA book I chose simply because it was short and I needed something non-taxing (I’m currently in a lull when it comes to my reading desire. The easier and less brain power needed, the better.) Happily, it met that criteria. Sadly, that’s about all it had going for it. The story was a good concept - 4 orphans (Indi, Beleza, Oscar and Zulu) live on their boat, sailing around the Mediterranean, fighting sea monsters, and avoiding pirates. Unfortunately, the characters were flat and the setting was bland, and the action was nine times out of ten abrupt and lackluster. There was definitely potential there, but it absolutely didn’t live up to it. Oh well. (She grins.)
    20. One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus -week 16 of the challenge [theme: A book told from multiple perspectives] - a YA murder mystery that was super addictive and breezy, just what I was in the mood for. 5 students from Bayview High (Saved by the Bell?) are in detention - there’s Bronwyn, the brain; Addy, the beauty; Cooper, the athlete; and Nate, the criminal. And then there’s Simon, the gossip. Simon runs a super popular app “About That”, that spills the secrets all the students of Bayview have. During the detention meeting, Simon has an allergic reaction after having consumed a cup of peanut oil, and dies. All 4 of the students (and the teacher) become suspects - especially after it’s discovered that Simon was about to post secrets about all four of the students who were there. This was described as Pretty Little Liars meets Breakfast Club, and yeah, that pretty much sums it up. I figured out the killer around the midway mark (after discarding a couple of other suspects early on), but there were still twists I didn’t see coming, and even though I had guessed who it was, I was still invested enough to find out how it was gonna all shake out (and, you know, to find out if I was right). Anyway, this was better than I anticipated it being, so I’m glad about that. (I catch his reflection in the backseat window, and he can’t either.)
    21. Severance by Ling Ma - week 17 of the challenge. [theme: A speculative fiction] Quite excellent. Candace Chen is a first generation American immigrant from China. She’s a millennial worker drone living in New York City at a book publishing company, when, in 2011, Shen Fever breaks out globally. If you become ‘fevered’, you get trapped into repeating monotonous routine procedures, forgetting to do anything else - eat, bathe, move out of the way of oncoming traffic… The novel cuts back and forth between the time before the outbreak, and a few months after, when Candace has joined up with a small group of other people who appear to be immune, as they make their way to a safe haven. All stuff we’ve seen done before, sure, but the writing was top notch, and Candace an interesting enough character that that didn’t bother me. (I get out and start walking.)
    22. Oxygen by Carol Cassella - week 18 of the challenge. [theme: A book related to one of the elements on the periodic table of elements] Dr. Marie Heaton, an anesthesiologist, has a child die while under her care (man, that was a hard section to get through). This novel is about that, and the resulting fallout in her professional and personal life as the investigation/possible malpractice suit comes to fruition. Most of this was good, although there were slogs in the middle as Marie’s doubts and sadness were just overwhelming, and not much else was happening. But the good parts were quite good, and this was a first novel (the author is an anesthesiologist herself, and so she knows what she’s talking about), and I suspect that she’ll probably improve her craft as she writes more. I’d happily read another book by her. (Everything went well, and you are doing just fine.)
    23. Coyote Doggirl by Lisa Hanawalt - just a simple graphic novel about a half coyote/half dog woman who is being chased by dogmen through the Old West. It was all right. (My stuff…)
    24. Letter 44 Volume IV: Saviors by Charles Soule - setting things up for the endgame. (We’ll just have to hope that --)
    25. Letter 44 Volume V: Blueshift by Charles Soule - It’s the penultimate edition, and they use it as a flashback volume, showing how the crew of the Clarke got assembled. Most of that was sort of blah, but the final chapter focused on the Builders, answering a lot of their backstory, which was interesting. (1999.)
    26. Letter 44 Volume VI: The End by Charles Soule - so...that’s over. Not exactly sure how I feel about the series overall, but leaning towards underwhelming. Neat premise(s), but a lot of the execution was lacking. Might have made for an entertaining Netflix series. It felt like there were too many things unresolved, or at least unresolved in a manner that was satisfying. The whole storyline with the reporter, for instance, was like… why is this here? And Drum turned out to be a major deus ex machina, but whatever. (The last day.)
    27. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett - week 20 of the challenge. [theme: a book featuring indigenous people.] This was good, but took me a lot longer to finish than I had anticipated, partly due to our vacation/trip to Oregon that happened right as I was reading it. It was also at this time that my rhythm of reading got thrown off in regard to the challenge. This was all about a doctor, Marina Singh, who is sent down to the Amazon to track down an old mentor of hers who is currently living among a tribe, working on a new medicine. After receiving a letter stating that the previous colleague sent there had died, Marina is sent by the pharmaceutical company she works for to investigate. (And Marina brought him back, and without a thought that anyone should see her, she told the driver to go on.)
    28. Happy! By Grant Morrison - Had seen promos for the show, and while actually looking at the library website for *that*, I discovered it was a graphic novel first. So, I figured, I’d give this a go. Didn’t care for it, though. I’ll probably still check out the show to see if it’s more my cup of tea, but this was just a swing and a miss. (And a happy new year to you, too.)
    29. The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai - [week 25 of the challenge, theme: Something Borrowed] Lucy Hull works in a children’s library in Hannibal Missouri. One of her regular patrons, precocious ten-year-old Ian, has parents who are extremely religious and conservative, often limiting Ian’s reading material, as to avoid secular “dangers” (no books about wizards or witches). Lucy often sneaks him books anyway. After discovering that Ian’s parents are planning on enlisting him in an anti-gay Bible camp, Lucy wrestles with how much she should interfere with Ian’s homelife. That question gets even more difficult when Lucy discovers one morning that Ian has run away from home, hiding in the library. I really liked this, even if some of (okay, a lot of) the plot was a bit farfetched. (Let’s say that it does.)
    30. Year One by Nora Roberts - week 24 of the challenge. [theme: something new] This was the first Nora Roberts book I’ve ever read. How to describe this? Take Stephen King’s The Stand. Smother it with Charmed. And add a ton of cardboard. Man, this was...not great. It started with a virus that takes out 80% of the population. The leftover survivors band together to reform society and survive. (Or, if you’re an evil person, you band together to destroy what’s left.) Oh, and there’s magic (or “magicks”. Sigh.), which allows our heroes to continue to have things like electricity and for the main female protagonist to give herself ‘glamours’ in order to make her appearance more beautiful. (SIGH.) At around the halfway point, I found myself rooting for all of the “heroes” to die violent deaths. But, when their established homebase (“New Hope”) gets attacked, and some characters are killed, and the rest are simply abandoned for the remaining ¼ of the book, I DIDN’T CARE. All of this was just bland and stupid and poorly paced and generic and awful. The worst part is that part of me wants to read the next book, too. (And waving her hand out, set the candle to flame.)
    31. The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar - week 26 of the challenge [theme: something blue] Oh man. The unnamed narrator (known only as The Real Thing in her youth, and Mother after she gives birth) is a second generation Indian-American. At the beginning of the novel she is lying in her driveway, dying from a gunshot after the police raid her house. The rest of the novel is essentially her life flashing before her (and our) eyes, although not in chronological order at all. This seems like it might be confusing, but it wasn’t. What it WAS, was sad, infuriating and occasionally funny or heartwarming. But, man, the amount of racism and rudeness and ignorance that Mother had to deal with was just RELENTLESS. Laskar’s voice, though, is pure poetry. She had a great writing style, and while this was her first novel, i can not wait to see what else she writes. (Its voice says, “It won’t be long now.”)
    32. Buffy the Vampire Slayer vol. 1: High School is Hell by Jordie Bellaire - week 44 of the challenge [theme: A book related in some way to a tv show/series or movie you enjoyed] Yeah, skipping around the weeks of the challenge right now, but whatev. Anyway! The comics “rebooted” the series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and while the original series (and comic continuation) burned a LOT of good favor, I was curious enough to see what a reboot would look like that I opted to check it out. And was very happy with the results! The artwork is GORGEOUS (in comparison to how the original comics looked) and I actually really liked the “remixing” of storylines and characters. It’s a bit like the original characters are in an alternate universe, but I’m actually okay with it. It’s obvious that the creators of this adore the original, and they’ve actually made things better in some regards. Iffy on Cordelia’s update, but I’m on board for at the very least a few more issues to see what else they’ve got in store. (I just want help.)
    33. Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff - week 32 of the challenge [theme: A book with more than 500 pages] A young adult epic, set in the year 2575, a mining colony is attacked by the corporation (BeiTech) that they’re working for. (I’m a little unclear on the “why” part, exactly, but it doesn’t really matter, I guess.) The refugees escape in three different spaceships, and are pursued by BeiTech warships, so as to eliminate them telling the world about the attack. Two of the escapees were Kady Grant and her ex (they broke up hours before the attack), Ezra Mason. Ezra becomes a fighter pilot, while Kady is a hacker extraordinaire. Most of the novel is told as interviews, IMs between Kady and Ezra (they’re on separate ships - literally star crossed lovers), computer files and the like. Makes for an interesting gimmick, and it sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. The novel IS almost 600 pages, but there are bits - especially where AIDAN, the insane ship computer that tends to speak in poetry - that read very quickly. This was decent enough that I’ll probably at least check out the next book in the series. (Illuminae: now run)
    34. Eternal Life by Dara Horn - week 30 of the challenge[ theme: a book featuring an elderly character] This was all about a woman named Rachel who makes a vow with God in order to save her child, and ends up unable to die. Her lover, and father of her child, Elazar, also made the vow, and he’s thus immortal as well. The story mostly takes place in the present, with flashbacks to various points over the last 2000 years. I don’t have a lot to say about this book, other than I enjoyed it. (“Yochanan,” she whispered, “I’m watching.”)
    35. Girls on the Verge by Sharon Biggs Waller - week 51 of the challenge [theme: a book published in 2019] Teenage Camille finds out she is pregnant right before she is about to go to an acting camp for the summer. She decides she wants to have an abortion, but this turns out to be far more difficult than it should be. She ends up taking a road trip with her two friends, Bea and Annabelle in order to find a way to resolve her pregnancy. This was a quick read, as it was a YA book. The author’s note after the story probably bumped my rating up a bit. (I have something to tell you.)
    36. A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons by Ben Folds - Ben is a pretty cool guy. Down to earth, and yet still a rockstar. Reading about his life was entertaining. The majority of it was on his early pre-fame days (Ben Folds Five doesn’t even get formed until the halfway point of the book!). Still, hearing about how much of his life was due to stubbornness, luck, and, yes, talent and hard work was well done. Ben Folds writes with all the humor, heart and insight that I've come to expect from his music. Can’t wait to see him next month! (Fuck it, I’m done.)
    37. Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher - [week 38 of the challenge; theme - A book not written in traditional novel format] This was written as a collection of letters of recommendation written by English professor, Jason Fitger for his various students. Jason is a pompous, passive-aggressive failure. He’s divorced, after having bragged about his affairs in his novels, although he still pines for both his ex-wife and his ex-mistress. He spends most of the novel crowing about his star pupil, Darren Browles (it’s evident that Browles is NOT the ace that Fitger believes he is) and his own self-importance.This is supposedly a very funny novel, but the humor just didn’t connect with me. The idea is a neat one, perhaps, but Jason’s attitude made it difficult to get into. Oh well. (Your friend, Jay)
    38. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell - [week 52 of the challenge: theme- A book with a weird or intriguing title] This was a collection of short stories that I liked - the premise of each one was unique, imaginative, and creative, and the writing style is poetic and great and the characters are mostly memorable and well drawn. However, overall, each one just … didn’t quite connect? I don’t know. Like, i wanted *more* from each of them, if that makes sense. It’s hard to explain,exactly, why this didn’t work for me, but I’m disappointed that it didn’t. Anyway. Here are the short story titles and final sentences, as well as a brief synopsis of each one. Vampires in the Lemon Grove - an old married vampire couple, who don’t want to dine on human blood, spend their days living in a lemon grove in Italy. (In the morning, she will want to tell me about it.) Reeling for the Empire - In Japan, young women are taken from their families to make silk in a factory. They begin to transform into giant silkworms themselves. (The last thing I see before shutting his eyes is the reflection of my shining new face.) The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979 - Seagulls invade a small town, and a teenager feels they’re communicating to him. (Although very soon, Nal could feel, he would have to.) Proving Up - Farming families in the midwest share a window amongst themselves as they struggle in the 1890s. (And just as the children go rushing out to greet the rider, she has the dark feeling she should call them back.) The Barn at the End of Our Term - some of the presidents of the United States are reincarnated as horses living together in a barn. (And nobody is watching when he clears the Fence.) Dougbert Shackleton's Rules for Antarctic Tailgating - Says what it does on the tin. These are the rules to follow if you’re going to be tailgating in the Antarctic. Go team Krill! (We munch and munch on the most extraordinary silence.) The New Veterans - a massage therapist discovers she can manipulate the memories (and perhaps history itself) of an Iraq war vet who has an elaborate tattoo on his back. (In her wildest imaginings, Zeiger finds both things -- a story he can carry, and a true one.) The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis - 4 high school bullies discover a scarecrow that resembles a classmate they used to beat up. Paranoia sets in as they try to figure out why it’s there, and what it was meant to scare away. (Somewhere I think I must still be standing, just like that.)
    39. Kick Ass, The New Girl: Book Two by Steve Niles - book 1 of this reboot of the Kick Ass story was pretty great. Book 2… not so much. There was no real tension, and while there were some set pieces being moved for possible drama later on, there’s nothing happening NOW that makes it interesting. The “big bads” that were introduced were eliminated without much fanfare, and the ending was completely predictable. I’ll read book three, but my expectations have been lowered vastly. (It’s Maurice...he’s awake.)
    40. The Last One by Alexandra Oliva - [week 50 of the challenge - theme; a book that includes a journey.] so so good. Was it perfect? No, probably not, but I certainly enjoyed this enough to overlook any of its flaws. Basically, there’s a new reality show being made (combination of Survivor, Naked and Afraid and the Amazing Race) that the 12 contestants (each referred to as their main character trait/occupation, rather than a name - Tracker, Rancher, Air Force, Black Doctor, etc) believe is called The Woods, but is ACTUALLY called In the Dark. The show is a race, but the only way to truly win is to be the last contestant that hasn’t quit. (At the start of the show, they’re all given the phrase that they’re to utter if they want out. Ad tenebras dedi. (Latin for “to the darkness I surrender)) The descriptions of the ‘game’, and the behind the scenes editing and choices of what is shown to the audience were hilarious and spot on. But, things go haywire when, unbeknownst to the contestants (and mainly, to our protagonist, Zoo) ...a real life The Stand situation has hit the world. As Zoo makes her way through the woods and to various challenges, she falsely believes that the apocalyptic nightmare she’s walking through is being manufactured by the producers of the show. I would absolutely watch the hell out of In the Dark if it were half as engrossing as it was in the novel. And having a real life end of the world situation overlap with the fake one was pretty awesome. (I mean, it was also very sad and dark and disturbing, but it was still awesome.) This would make a pretty great movie, too. I loved Oliva’s writing and wit and characters. I’ll be checking out her next book. (Now.)
    41. The Last Astronaut by David Wellington - I dig the majority of the novels by David Wellington (I couldn’t get into his Chimera series, but otherwise, his stuff is pretty great). This was a good one too. Set in space in the nearish future (most of the novel takes place in 2055 after a setup/prologue in 2034) this was a neat twist on the first contact trope. When an asteroid is discovered that is on a trajectory toward earth, but is slowing its acceleration, it can only mean that it’s an alien controlled ship. NASA and KSpace (a privately owned space-exploring company) each send a crew to make first contact. Things get bad when the KSpace crew get there - and get INSIDE - first. This had a lot of great twists, and I enjoyed the characters. (Sally Jensen had always wanted to go to Mars.)
    42. City of Ash and Red by Hye-Young Pyun - [week 49 of the challenge. Theme: A book written by a Far East Asian author or set in a Far East Asian country] an unnamed protagonist works for an extermination company. He gets an (unearned) promotion and is forced to move to a city that is currently suffering from both a garbage strike and a deadly infection. As he arrives, he is diagnosed as being infected, and his company decides to have him stay home for a while so as not to infect others. While in his apartment, he loses his luggage and cell phone, essentially stranding him in a foreign land where he barely speaks the language, and paranoia and disease surround him. Things go from bad to worse when he manages to call home, and discovers that his ex-wife has been murdered, and he is a suspect. This was a short, psychologically harrowing novel filled with disgusting people and places. I read the whole thing in a day, because it was that engrossing, but I felt like I needed a shower afterwards. (He smiled at his partner through tear-filled eyes and decided he would have to stop by the megastore in his old district, to pick up something for dinner.)
    43. The Walking Dead, volume 32: Rest in Peace by Robert Kirkman - huh. So, it’s done. I’ll miss, I guess, having new volumes to pick up every few months, but, it was an ...okay conclusion? I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but even if I were to talk about what went down in these final issues, I don’t know that I’d have all that much to say about it. I feel like I should feel more than I do, considering how long I was on the journey, but I’m left just kind of...done. [shrug] (Read it again!)
    44. To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers - [week 43 of the challenge: theme - A book related to STEM] What a great novella this was! 100ish years in the future, “somaforming” (the altering of the astronaut’s DNA to be more habitable to the elements of space) has become enough of a science that deep space exploration is, while not *normal*, at least something that is being done on the regular. The Merian and her crew of four scientists are being sent to investigate four nearby planets that have life on them in order to ...well, science them up. The mission is planned on taking 80 years. The book is Ariadanne’s final report back to Earth on everything that they’ve discovered. There wasn’t a lot of plot to this, but the world building, and the philosophical ideas put forward were fantastic. And it’s very well written, to boot. (We leave that question to you.)
    45. Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman - a graphic novel reimagining of the Snow White story, told from the wicked stepmother’s point of view. I know fairy tales are (pardon the pun) grim a lot of the time, but this shit was DARK. Pretty short, though, and I don’t really have a lot to say about it.(Her skin snow white.)
    46. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward - [week 48 of the challenge: theme - A National Book Award finalist or winner from any year] This was beautiful and haunting and engrossing and powerful...until the final 20 or 30 pages, and then it just lost me. :( This tells the story of 13 year old Jojo, who lives with his mother, Leonie, his grandparents (Pop, and Mam [whom is dying of cancer]), and his sister, Kayla, who is three or four. Jojo’s father, Michael, is incarcerated at Parchman prison, and is being released soon. Pop did time years ago at Parchman, and while there, another inmate, Richie, was murdered. The ability to see ghosts, and to understand animals runs through Jojo’s family. The novel focuses on different points of view - we hear from Leonie, Jojo, and even Richie. As said, the writing for this was amazingly good - it dealt with race, history, family obligations and curses, and the baggage that makes us who we are. It was the ending that felt flat to me, for some reason. After the end of the road trip to the prison - and a harrowing interaction with a police officer - it seemed to go off the rails. I did like Jesmyn’s writing, though, and apparently her first novel, Salvage the Bones, takes place in the same universe, so I may check that out, and will certainly look forward to anything she writes in the future. (Home.)
    47. Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams - [week 40 of the challenge: theme - A book you stumbled upon] This was SO good. Speculative fiction that was all about world building, philosophical questions, and quirky characters. Totally up my alley. In 2035, Pearl works for Apricity, the name of a company (and their product) that deals with telling people how to be happy. If you provide a DNA sample, the Apricity will give you guidelines on how to live a happier life. I loved that there was ambiguity into HOW such a machine would work - or if it even really did. What IS happiness, anyway? And should it be the thing we pursue above all else? And do we need a machine to tell us how to be happy and what to do? Each chapter switched to a different POV, and each of the characters we get into the head of is unique and ...very human. Not always likable (Pearl’s boss, Carter, was someone I wanted to shake hard...even while also feeling sorry for him; and Val was intriguingly scary. Was she truly a psychopath or just mistakenly convinced she was one? Or was she just a lost soul like the rest of us?) but still each person was worth being with. I would have easily spent another 200 pages in this world, checking in on different people striving to find happiness in “this overcrowded and underwhelming world”. If *I* were to take the Apricity, it might come back with: hug your children, talk to your wife, read this book. (“Blue.”)
    48. Full Throttle by Joe Hill - another collection of short stories from Stephen and Tabitha King’s son, Joseph. (A couple of them are collaborations with dad, Stephen.) I’ve read a couple of these before, so that was a little disappointing, but overall this was a decent collection of good stories. However, there was this ...difficulty I had in getting into some of them. I don’t know. I guess I was expecting like a homerun, and instead, this collection was ...a double? I’d still recommend it, but maybe as something to get from the library, and not necessarily one that you need to own, if that makes sense. I don’t know. Anyway, there were 14 stories in it, so chances are that at least one or two of these is gonna work for ya. Throttle - one of the two stories Joe co-wrote with his pop. This was about a group of bikers who recently accidentally murdered some people. There are some bad consequences as a result of this when the discussion of what to do next is overheard by a trucker. It took me a while to get into this one, it felt like both Joe and Steve were fighting to be the main voice of this, and as a result, it was hard to appreciate. Maybe it’s just me. (But mostly he watched the fire.) Dark Carousel - this one felt like an ode to Ray Bradbury (and Joe says it is as much in the afterwards) but it was sufficiently creepy, especially once it really got going. (These days it is all the same to me.) Wolverton Station - a CEO discovers that talking wolves are among us. Ridiculous premise, sure, but it works as a quick Twilight Zone-esque tale. (I think you’re just in time for it.) By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain - I think this started out as something different than it ended up being, and the tonal switch threw me for a loop. Basically a group of young kids with overactive imaginations are forced outside, where they discover a dead dinosaur. (Gail looked out at the water, wanting to hear it again, that soft foghorn sound, and she did, but it was inside her this time, the sound was deep inside her, a long, wordless cry for things that weren’t never going to happen.) Faun - What if instead of a bunch of innocent kids discovering a secret passage to a Narnia type world, it was found by an adult who was ...not very innocent at all? Bad things, that’s what. (“Daylight,” the girl said, and with that, Fallows hoisted Charn kicking into the air.) Late Returns - A masterpiece. This is up there with Pop Art as being one of Hill’s best short stories ever. So, so good. Better to go in without knowing much about it, but ...just read it. (Are you?) All I Care About Is You - another superb story. The setting took me a second to *get*, but once I was on board, it was a great ride. So good, so sad. (Perhaps there never are for grief.) Thumbprint - this one has been turned into a graphic novel years ago, and I had read that, so this felt ...familiar, and maybe that lessened some of the impact for me. Still a good story about how war (and torture, in particular) breaks everyone involved. (“It’s the truth,” she said, and with that, PFC Mallory Grennan began her confession.) The Devil on the Staircase - the staircase font gimmick irked me at first, but eventually i fell under its spell, and the story is SO dark. (But in truth I developed a fear of heights.) Twittering From the Circus of the Dead - I’d read this one before, too. And it’s another one that is gimmicky (it’s told in all tweets) but...it worked? Even though I knew how it ended, and you’d think that 140 characters at a time would lessen the impact, but, somehow...it just worked. (Minors must be accompanied by an adult. 9:31AM 3 Mar from Tweetie) Mums - yet another that took some getting into (for whatever reason a lot of these stories had issues (for me) with the “setting the table” portion), but again, once it got into the story proper, I was there for it. (Better, he believes, than traveling alone.) In the Tall Grass - the second work that was written by Joe & Stephen. I’m sure they had a good time working on it together, but this one just felt like a misfire to me. It’s been turned into a Netflix movie, apparently, but I haven’t watched it yet. Maybe that will work for me more. (FURTHUR.) You Are Released - a commercial airline is midflight when a “flash” is reported and that “contact has been lost” with those on the ground. Disturbingly plausible. (We’re gone.)
    49. Paper Girls vol. 6 by Brian K. Vaughn - The series is over, and essentially my thoughts are, “What was the point?” It was okay, but the early love for this has pretty much evaporated. Maybe in a year or five, I’ll reread the whole series together, and see if that makes a difference in my opinion. (No punch backs.)
    50. Turned On: Science, Sex and Robots by Kate Devlin - [week 46 of the challenge: theme - a book with a mostly black cover] Originally I was going to use this book for the “book about STEM”, but To Be Taught, if Fortunate was much better for that. This went into the history of sex toys, and AI, and robots, and some of it was interesting, but not AS interesting as I was hoping it would be. (Through layers of technology we remain resolutely human.)
    51. The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal - I wasn’t overly wowed by the first book Rhett & Link put out (the Mythical Scrapbook thing… I can’t recall the title of it, but it was a nonfiction book that was meant to be a comedy thing, and I felt it fell short of their humor for most part), so my expectations for their first novel were low. And maybe that was a good thing, because I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this! There were quite a few twists I did not see coming, and it got surprisingly dark. The ending/resolution felt a LITTLE bit rushed, as they spent a lot of time setting the stage and introducing the characters, but that’s a minor complaint. I liked this, and if they want to write a sequel (they left it open!), I’m on board. The story was set in 1992, where teenagers Rex and Leif (hee!!) are best friends along with Alicia, living in Bleak Creek, North Carolina. After an accident at a church barbecue results in Alicia being sent to the local boarding school, the duo plot to help her get out. Especially after they learn, from another student who claims to have escaped from there, that the school is NOT all it’s cracked up to be. (She pedaled away quickly.)
    52. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite - [week 42 of the challenge. Theme - a book with a monster or monstrous character] short and impactful novel set in Nigeria about sisters Korede and Ayoola. Ayoola is beautiful, vain, shallow and...has a history of murdering her boyfriends. Korede, her older not quite as pretty sister, is a hard working nurse and with each murder, has helped Ayoola cover it up. Korede has a conscience, and is therefore struggling with these actions. Things ratchet up when the coworker Korede has an unrequited crush on is introduced to her sister and expresses an interest in her… This was a great little novel that I really really liked. The writing was sharp and concise, and the characters all felt well drawn and the world was well established. Recommended. (I smile back.)
    53. Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage - [week 35 of the challenge - theme: A psychological thriller] This was so damn disturbing. Page turner about 7 year old Hannah and her mother, Suzanne, who are in a bit of a battle of the wills. Hannah is quite brilliant, but chooses to not speak. Hannah is also, well, a bit of a psychopath. She HATES Suzanne, but loves her dad very much. She sees Suzanne as competition for her father’s love and is constantly plotting ways to remove Suzanne from the family. Suzanne comes from a childhood of abuse and neglect, and struggles with being a good mother. Bits of this were over the top and suspended disbelief a little much (although, dude, it’s a horror novel, that’s to be expected) but the writing was sharp, and I was absolutely invested the whole time. Apparently it’s being turned into a movie, which is not surprising - it’s very cinematic. This was a debut novel, but I will certainly read more from this author going forward. (The best girl ever.)
    54. Movies (And Other Things) by Shea Serrano - Sigh. I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. Irreverent essays about movies and pop culture (“Are the Raptors from Jurassic Park just misunderstood?”; “Are these movies better, the same, or worse, if we add The Rock?”), along with humorous artwork and wacky graphs? Sign me up! The problem was… the essays weren’t funny or insightful. It’s obvious that Shea watches movies, and likes a lot of them, but his sense of humor just ...didn’t work for me. I think I laughed at one or two of the chapters (the Michael Meyers press conference mostly fell flat, but there was some line in there that made me chuckle). But the constant footnotes were annoying rather than funny, and while I’d seen 60-75% of the movies he talks about, spoilers abound. And for some of those that I had seen (but didn’t remember) or for those that I hadn’t seen, it was just...boring. I didn’t even bother with the last couple of chapters.
    55. I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley - [week 47 of the challenge: theme - A book related to food] A collection of essays that i had discovered via some listicle somewhere on the internet about humorous books. Sadly, the “humor” just… didn’t work for me. I saw what she was going for, but my funny bone was just not tickled. The book was written in 2008, and ...it felt like it was coming from a completely different era. Maybe that’s part of it. But mostly I just don’t think Crosley uses my type of humor. Oh well. She has a bunch of other collection of essays out as well, which I had originally added to my library queue, but after struggling to get through this, I removed them. Pity. I was going to add the final sentence from each essay, like I do with short story collections, but I don’t have the energy or desire to do that. I just want to move on from this and onto something that I do enjoy reading. (I picked up the phone and ordered in sushi.)
    56. Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer - [week 37 of the challenge: theme - A book set in a school or university] I’d read (and greatly enjoyed) the short story “Cat Pictures Please”, which was about a benevolent AI who wants to help people, especially people who post pictures of cats online. This YA novel expanded upon that story, and while I think I liked the short story *slightly* better than the novel, this was still a pretty good read. Extremely LBGTQ positive, and had enough twists that I was thoroughly entertained. (Do you know me?)
    57. Gwendy’s Magic Feather by Richard Chizmar - a sequel to the novella cowritten with Stephen King from a year or two ago. This was also essentially a novella, and ...not particularly meaningful or worth much. I mean, it wasn’t bad, but ...there were several unfired Chekov’s guns, so I don’t know if the story was meant to be longer, or if there are plans for ANOTHER followup, in which they’ll pay off, or if it was just bad writing. Also, the characterization of Richard Farris - whom I had originally figured was our good pal Randall Flagg - was ...off. Unless Farris *isn’t* Flagg, but then… whatever. This was an okay story, but it read a lot like some Stephen King fanfic, which, in a way, it kind of was? I mean, it’s set in HIS universe, but it isn’t HIM writing it. (She turns around and takes Ryan’s hand and they walk into the airport together.)