A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens ★★★★★

Reading for A Very Merry Readathon

I don’t know when I first read A Christmas Carol. I think it probably in (or after 2009) because I remember Jim Carrey’s take on Scrooge in Robert Zemeckis’ animated A Christmas Carol. I read it, and I know I’ve tried to reread it these last view years. Reread so is to say, relisten to it. There are so many amazing versions.

Let’s start with what is probably my favorite: narrated by the late Frank Muller. He is my favorite narrated of all time for any audiobook because he did such fantastic voices with an unbelievably pleasing main voice (check out all the audiobooks available by him) . Another worthy mention is Jim Dale, who is famously known for his narration of Harry Potter. Lastly, Patrick Stewart does an amazing rendition; sadly, it is abridged. In my opinion, it’s still worth listening too! You can find many others as well (e.g. Tim Curry, Tom Baker, Simon Prebble, Simon Vance).

Read 12/15/19 – 12/16/19

That was just as amazing it always is. I chose to read the Frank Muller narrated version which was magical. I tried to read along with the illustrated edition shown above in my instagram post, but unfortunately that edition is abridged/modified. I decided to give it away as I continue my quest to find the perfect edition of a Christmas Carol (or until I read the other books in the compilations I own).

I want to think about what it is that makes a Christmas Carol so effective. I’ll start with Dickens writing. I don’t usually care for Victorian dialect, but I find it adds an ere of magic to the story. What’s more, Dickens writes in a type of prose that is itself magical. The descriptions convey every drop of emotion we are meant to feel in each moment. That is magnified by the amazing Frank Muller. I have never read any other Dickens stories because they are huge and intimidating, but I was always afraid they would be dull. After reading the Goldfinch, I do have a desire to explore more of Dicken’s writings.

Dickens writes for the lower class. He brings light to the horrible conditions that they are forced to live under. That is ever present in this story as well. In fact, I think a key trait of this work is its ability to make it about the plight of the lower class while revolving around a wealthy white man. That brings me to my second point on why it is such a great novel.

Dickens story is about empathy and charity. Scrooges problem is his selfishness and his own desire for personal gain. The point Dickens tries to convey is that Christmas is, above all else, about sharing and caring (forgive the poor choice of words). As an atheist, naturalist, agnostic, externalist, etc. I have to decide what the purpose of my life is. Of course, I have my drives and my desires. What I try to be cognizant of is that my happiness is irrevocably linked to the well being of others. I care for myself, my family, and my friends. I also care for my country and my world. I care for life itself. This is because all of these things are extensions of myself. My life is finite, but I (we) are a part of a greater system that we can help flourish to ensure we do live on, at least in part.

Forgive the soapbox, but it is worth thinking about. The core flaw with the Afterlife of Holly Chase is its missing of the point. There is an obsession of saving souls with minimal focus on actually becoming a better person. That requires a fundamental rethinking of how you see the world. The story of Holly Chase constricts it down to being nice to a hot guy you want to hook up with. Sure, it has some of things A Christmas Carol has. We have magic, ghosts, time travel (more or less); these are all my favorite things in books. Nevertheless, it wasn’t enough to give it the same heart as we see here in A Christmas Carol. That is why A Christmas Carol is a favorite. 5/5 stars.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware ★★★★★

Start 11/26/19

This book may have been my most anticipated book of the month. That’s because I saw BooksandLaLa’s thriller recommendation video where she discusses some great thrillers. Among those, is The Turn of the Key which she happily calls her favorite thriller of the year. That really set my excitement for this book, so much so I may have entered it hesitantly. Admittedly, there have been a couple books I haven’t loved as much as her or vice versa, but I am hoping for some good recommendations nonetheless.

Books and Lala discusses some great thrillers. Jump to 6:35 for her discussion of The Turn of the Key.

Same Day Update (~40%)

I am definitely enjoying this story so far. This is about a nanny who is in prison for the murder of one of the children she cared for. She writes this detailed account of her innocence via letter to a desired attorney. The set up reminds me a lot of Dolores Claiborne which I really like. Also like that, our main character may no be a reliable narrator. I think I see myself really liking it, and so far it isn’t disappointing!

Finished 11/28/19

This was the last book I am going to start (and plan to finish) this month. I had plenty of reason to scarf it down first, but of course there is also the benefit of saving the best for last. I am so glad I did. This novel is a fun and engrossing ride. I was a little hesitant on how much I loved it, but any uncertainty I had about it was resolved by that fantastic ending. I can’t say much about it without spoiling it, so I’ll just say it’s everything I need it to be to be a satisfying ending.

The story is about a woman who takes on the position of nanny, like a full time baby sitter. Except, she is telling her story from a jail cell as she tries to convince a lawyer she isn’t guilty of a crime (I won’t say what, but it’s revealed very early) committed after she takes the job. While there, she find the children to be very difficult and obstinate. All that is couple with stranger occurrences that are happening around the house.

The book has a perfect atmosphere. It is a mix of mystery and the paranormal much like The House of Dies Drear. Except, Ware’s story was far more effective. I mentioned (or thought) before how this is very similar to King’s Dolores Claiborne, and that sticks. The format is very much the same. Although, I think Rare’s story is slighlty less effective at that format because it read almost entirely like a regular novel where the mystery, while engrossing for me as a reader, seems overdone for someone who is supposedly trying to tell her story and convince the lawyer to fight for her.

That doesn’t really hurt the story itself. I think the biggest flaw of the book isn’t even a flaw so much as it is a preference. I enjoyed all of the book, but it took longer than I would have liked to really connect with the story. That isn’t enough to rate it poorly because it comes together in the end. However, it was on my mind as I read it. 5/5 stars.

The Bill Hodges Trilogy, by Stephen King ★★★★☆ (#Kingathon 2019)

Introduction (9/23/19)

With Spookathon fast approaching, I am inspired to do a quick test run. I have yet to read Stephen King’s Bill Hodges mystery series and was thinking, why don’t I do a readathon for his birthday? When is that, oh the 21st, I really should have known that. That means this week I’m going to read the entire trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch). That wasn’t my intent when I had this idea, but hey, what the hell? I have had a pretty good turn around rate with recent books, so I figure I wouldn’t be losing too much reading time if I get it out in a weeks time. I also kinda want to give horror a break for hot minute before the spookathon.

I am giving myself until the end of Monday next week to finish, just in time for horror (and maybe the Outsider, the horror mystery follow up to this series). With ~14hr books, my average speed will take about 30hrs. That should be enough if I listen every morning and evening, still leaving time to read a bit of Gather Together in My Name.

Update (9/26/19)

The Trilogy is done in record time (yay!), and I am turning this into a full on readathon and try to read as much Stephen King as possible! (See update at the end)

Update: Finish Mr. Mercedes (Book 1) (9/24/19) ★★★★☆

This personal readathon is coming along great! A day in I am done with book one and nearly half way through book 2 (Finders Keepers). Mr. Mercedes was a perfectly fine book that gives exactly what you would expect. A mystery thriller written in the writing style of Stephen King. King, for me at least, is naturally entertaining. This book isn’t exceptional, but it was a solid build up and progression. I’d give it 3.75/5 stars.

The story was compelling and effective at what it wanted to do but nothing exceptional. One problem with King’s works is most of his villains are caricatures without any depth. They are monsters through and through. I can tell King tried to give Mr. Mercedes, a mass murder and psycho, some backstory, but it wasn’t very redeeming. He was messed up from the get go making his life the way it was. There was a romance included, and that felt rushed or unearned. It was necessary to give the story emotional weight. A great example of what a romance can do is seen in 11/22/63, but this is not even close to that work.

If I hadn’t committed to this #kingathon, I probably wouldn’t be continuing the series. However, I am enjoying book 2. It is as enjoyable as the last and probably more. The structure is different. I’m halfway in and Hodges has barely even appeared. Instead, we get to see the history of crime told along side a present day story that quickly shows itself to be tied to the crime of the past. 25% of the book is spent walking us through the crime, a killing of an author by a disgruntled fan. This is an interesting exploration of the author-fan relationship, but again, this feels like a rehash of a better previous work (e.g. Misery). The more I read King, the more I should notice overarching themes. Although, they shouldn’t feel like cardboard cut outs of previous plot lines. To be clear, this isn’t a terrible book. I am glad I am reading it. I like the structure of this book more than the last, and I am primed to rate it 4 stars instead of 3.5. Of course, this is subject to change.

Lastly, I want to touch on how fast I am getting through these books. I am more comfortable with King, so I have experimented with faster speeds. I can tolerate 1.7 speed even as I grade (tedious grading that requires minimal thought). I think this really bodes well for my spookathon coming up in a couple weeks. I may even go so far as to read the spin of book, The Outsider, before the week is out.

Update: Finish Finders Keepers (Book 2) (8/25/19) ★★★★☆

Yet again, I am glad I chose to do this challenge. I have a better appreciation for how much I can handle and how fast I can listen to audiobooks and still enjoy them. It is hard to justify listening too fast. I listen to podcasts at accelerated speeds, but some of these are news that I want to here but it is more out of obligation than pure enjoyment. Listening fast forward can be a great way to save time, but when I’m re-listening to things like Harry Potter or 11/22/63, its because I want to savor every last detail of the text and the narration. I know I can’t be getting as much listening faster. At the same time, it is nice being able to enjoy these books and have time for another! 7 days was the plan. Instead, I’m 70% through book three, and I’ll probably end in less than 3 days. What’s more, this challenge and decision to speed read led me to reading books I never had any real interest in. There are so many great books I need to read and a lot of older books by King as well. I figured this would be a good chance to try it out. I am glad I did.

Finders Keepers was a solid novel. Despite its similarities to King’s other works, I enjoyed it more than the first novel. One key difference is the focal point isn’t Hodges. Hodges just isn’t that interesting in my opinion. I have no interest in an ex cop story line. The premise alone is what turned me off to this series, but let it be known, this series is much more than that. It spans the first novel and continues as a side plot throughout the series. Still, King knows how to be mostly original. He takes his ideas and reforms it. I found myself with characters I liked more and stakes that felt more emotionally significant . A tragic killing in the first book shocks us, but I felt little because the pain was mostly focused on Hodges point of view. That is no longer the case. This is a Mystery but not like the first. This is a story of a crime and an innocent boy caught in the middle with Hodges tacked on to make it fit into the trilogy. 4/4 Stars, maybe 4.25.

This story is also the one that sees Holly Gibney, a major character of The Outsider (I believe), a main character in the Hodges gang. I am intrigued because, like i said, I am not a fan of Hodges himself. I am especially intrigued because with the third installment, End of Watch (of which I am nearly finished), we finally enter the world of the science fiction/supernatural of Stephen King. I love this stuff. As a story, it is a continuation of book one and less of a stand alone like book two. It reminds me of our one dimensional villain. Even so, King makes it work, and we find our-self in a truly impossible situation. A situation I think would be next to impossible to solve or fix. Unfortunately, I think they will. I feel this series suffers from a bit of predictability. King shocked me once, twice, three times. Each time, I was surprised to learn these were all fake outs. Moments framed to be more severe then they were. It makes for a great excitement, but these can only work for so long before you become predictable. I mean, I finally care about your characters and what happens to them. Why not do something seriously lasting? (Possible spoiler: With the title of this novel, End of Watch, and a new series featuring Holly, I sort of expect Hodges to die in this one)

Update: Finish End of Watch (Book 3) (9/26/19) ★★★☆☆

I hate to say it, but my opinion went down with the ending. It wasn’t that it was particularly bad. I just kind of stopped caring. Shocks and sad moments were present, but the fact that I thought the ending was pretty much what I expect made it sort of anticlimactic. Long story short, what happens when a villain gets supernatural powers. You can blame it on my speed reading if you like, but it all felt rushed. The super powered villain felt like a plot device to achieve a certain “crime” that may be thematically appropriate but not necessarily a natural progression of where this concept will take you. Like Captain Marvel in the Avengers, you can’t let this character break the story line you want, so you have to shape the narrative to make it work even if it isn’t completely natural. I really thought this would be a solid 4, but it is more like a 3.25/5 stars.

Total Score for the Trilogy is 3.67/5. It is far from my favorite, but it is a fun and engaging read with a few great moments.

#kingathon 2019 Update

I’ve completed three books completed in less than three days. This #Kingathon is going better than I expected. I am going to keep reading through next Monday for a full 7 day stretch. I’ll read Outsider, but I am sure I have more than enough time. I am going to take a break from the Hodges “Universe” and switch over to another mystery by King, Dolores Claiborne. Then Outsiders, and if I am lucky another book or two before Monday night. I am officially calling King’s birthday week the week of the #Kingathon (Stephen King Readathon). Granted, I am off by a week, but I got the idea late. I am also just one person, so who cares! #Kingathon 2019 will hopefully become a yearly thing. It will give me an excuse and chance to dig through King’s backlog (I have so many on my shelf I haven’t read, and more still to buy) without taking up too much of my normal reading time that I could spend on new authors throughout the year.

Fledgling, by Octavia Butler ★★★★★

Introductory thoughts 9/4/19

How can I say I am trying to read more women of color horror writers and not read Octavia Butler? Kindred is arguably one of my favorite books I have ever read. Butler is a master writer of Science fiction, and there is plenty of abject horror in Kindred as well. Fledgling follows the life of a young girl who is/becomes/discovers (?) she is a vampire. Whether this is urban fantasy or horror is yet to be decided (by me). Nevertheless, I’ve wanted to read Fledgling, and this is great excuse to do that. The reason I had looked over it up to now was just my own dislike for vampire books. That seems almost absurd considering how much I love Anne Rice’s first couple novels in her vampire chronicles, but after the third in that series and all the press with Twilight, True Blood, Vampire Dairies, and so on I became very annoyed with the genre. I finally choose to read this, not for the subject, but the author.

Started 9/19/19

I was a bit slower starting this one than intended, but I am happy to say it was worth the wait. Both interesting and enthralling, I did not struggle to become interested in our young (yet old[ish]) protagonist. It isn’t exactly horrific, but it is unnerving. The story follows a young girl who was hurt and forgot her memory. She seems to be ~11 years old, but in reality, she is a vampire maybe in her 50s I think it is. Right off, Butler dives into the issue with this sort of scenario. You have a mature woman, stuck in the body of a child. She apparently still has sexual urges, or at least feels the need to have sex. Her motivations are still a bit of blur, aside from her basic vampiric drives and her desire not to harm.

Even though I know she isn’t a child, it is impossible to remove the fact the situations she are in are as a child. I don’t question her ability to make these judgments. The issue is with anyone who would be sexual with her. I feel like there is more I could say, but honestly, I don’t know how because it is such a weird subject. Coupled with it are serious questions of consent from her partners who she is able to enact some form of hypnotism that feel most akin to drugging a person. In this case, they aren’t just immobilized. They are made to want it. How does one get consent when the consent comes from an altered state. All in all, its fascinating. Its fun and not too long. ~14% through with 8 hours to go.

Finished 9/23/19

That was an astonishingly quick read. I only started it four days ago, and I barely listened at all over the weekend because I was enjoying a trip up north to a beautiful cottage. This book was great. I wish I could say it was one of my favorites of the year, but no matter how original this was, I am still not that into vampires. Again, Butler creates a story that pierces into issues around race and bigotry. I am curious what her thoughts were on polyamory as well because this book is very much a proponent of that. On top of that, it is still a great discussion on consent. What’s more, when does a relationship go from being mutual to one sided? This does an amazing job of giving us a protagonist who does not shy away from these questions. She works to recognize them as the only way of addressing them. Sure, this is fiction, but it is all too common that people in a position of power have sway they shouldn’t necessarily use. These questions make this over a decade old novel still very much relevant to society today.

I would rate this 4.5/5 stars. Whether I would round it up or down is the tough question. My instinct is to round it down based solely on the feelings it triggered, but the depth that we see in Butler’s characters and societies and the reflection upon our own elevates it, leading me to round it up. I wish I could say it was the best vampire novel I’ve ever read, but it isn’t. I haven’t read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles in several years (probably more), but my reelection of those first few books (I only read 3 of the however many there are) was of world much darker in tone than Fledgling. These are the type of feelings that I would like to get from the horror genre. That is the only reason I wouldn’t give Fledgling a full 5/5 (personal preference).

The Good House, by Tananarive Due ★★★★☆

Started 9/10/19

I was going to start Fledgling first, but I ended up ending Dies Drear on my bike and only had the Good House on hand. I am liking the book so far. I thought this was a horror ghost story, and it may prove to be that. However, it begins about a family that seem to be witches or magic of some how. It seems to relate to their African ancestry, but I am not sure exactly how. I am intrigued. I love it when fantasy mixes with every day life (basically urban fantasy). Hopefully, we’ll get a bit of horror from this too. I think the hardest part of this will be staying focused through the entire 21hr book, which is a bit longer than Dies Drear.

Update 9/13/19

I’m over 5hrs (23%) into the book, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. The book has a interesting and compelling story about a women who early on gains ownership of her grandmothers house, an old house known famously by everyone in the town as the Good House. Except, tragedy strikes (the Goodreads synopsis is far more spoilery, beware), and she ends up leaving the house before fate draws her back. As time goes on we begin to wonder if this house may not be as good as everyone thinks.

The story itself is solid. Beyond the plot, the story telling is very well done. I am a big fan of Due’s style. It is engaging and amusing at times. I feel like I am really there experiencing the narrative, and that is the best kind of book. The story is a mix of paranormal horror and modern day urban fantasy. There may be African magic or dark forces at work in a way that feels like new take on classic ideas in urban stories. I am hoping we dig deeper into the African (and maybe Haitian) roots. I can’t help but compare this to my experience of The Children of Blood and Bone that used African myths. The difference being that story had a worn out plot and a less effective writing style. Furthermore, this story exists in the contemporary world, and that makes it more capable and effective at articulating what it’s like to be a black woman in society. This is not to suggest that I, a white man, know what it is like to be a black woman, and that is why I appreciate having these stories that can give a slightly better understanding.

Update 9/18/19

I am over half way now, nearly 60% through the book. I did notice a slight lull in the book about half way. This may be the book or myself getting a bit tired after pushing through so much so fast. To give you some prospective, this books word count is on par with Harry Potter (closest to book four). This book is even longer than To Say Nothing of the Dog, which I didn’t even realize. It certainly doesn’t feel like that. Even with the brief lull, I am amazed at how fast I am pushing through the book. It is interesting, unnerving and engaging. Apart from the unnerving though, there isn’t much horror. Again, this may be more urban fantasy than horror, but I think it still works for the Halloween theme.

The lull doesn’t last. The story is quick to pick up and make me eager to keep reading. The problem is, it felt like an abrupt change of pace from the slow part to going full throttle. The story spends a lot of time slowly introducing and explaining the back story of the house and Angela’s grandmother Marie. The next thing you know, it’s a flood of information that was necessary for things to pick up. It isn’t a major flaw; I’ll probably dock it half a star for it.

Update 9/19/19

The novel has managed to maintain a surprising level of speed. Not everything was revealed as I suspected. Around half way, we begin a flood of information that is disconcerting at first, but it is easy to get into the new pace of the story. Then, it’s hard to get out. There are only 5 hrs left (77% through).

Finished 9/20/19

I think I have been misjudging the horror in this book. I lept seeing all the horror pieces as less effective, but I think it is better to refer to it as different. Many stories build suspense to this notion of will our characters be okay while Due completely disregards this in our most intense moments. She isn’t afraid to foreshadow and outright state that a persons death is impending. The horror of it is that she doesn’t turn away. Instead, we find ourselves in the perspective of the dying, forced to share that most horrifying of moments as you realize this is death. It is less effective at maintaining dread, but it is great in its own right.

In the end, it was a great book, but I am sad to say, this has the most undermining ending I have ever read. I say undermining because, in general, I think a story stands on its own, and the ending is but a small piece of my enjoyment. The issue here is the ending really just undercuts everything I read in a way that hurts the book unlike any ending I’ve read before. I read one reviewer saying it was like a fairy tale. I thought I knew what to expect, but this ending was way more fairy tale than I expected. This coupled with the lack of dread many times makes it a less effective horror book. Nevertheless, it is still a really good read. It just isn’t on par with Stephen King at his best.

On that note, there are multiple references to King in this book, and the story-line it self feels like a take on the Shining with a bit of paranormal activity and voduo magic. I loved seeing callbacks to Marie Laveau and Papa Legba who I first learned about in the third season of American Horror Story, but they predate the show as does this book. With these inspirations, Due creates an amazingly original and well done novel, taking similar ideas, introducing a different culture, and still reworking the parts she uses here. Furthermore, it’s all weaved together with a writting style that feels natural and easy to follow. I will be reading more of her books!

Papa Legba as seen in American Horror Story

I would rate this 4.5/5 stars. There were moments here I enjoyed more than Fledgling (which I rated 4.5 rounding up), but the ending really does cause it to round down.

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones ★★★★★

Image result for mapping the interior

Read 8/11/2019 – 8/12/2019

Winner of the 2017 Bram Stoker Award and the 2018 World Fantasy Award, Mapping the interior is a short novella about a young native american boy, his mother and mentally impaired younger brother who leave their reservation after their father dies. The story is told from the perspective of the young, 12 year old boy, and it works really well. It leaves the reader wondering, is this real or is everything just the imaginings of a young boy whose lived a hard life. You see, the boy is sure his father has returned from the dead. He convinces himself his dad is back because he and his brother need him. The story continues essentially with him trying to get a better connection with his father. Stranger things continue to happen, and you never quite know if it is what the boy thinks it is or something more natural.

As far as horror goes, this story doesn’t have a lot of dread so much as it does matter-of-factness. Granted, the narrator (of the audiobook), who I grew to enjoy, may have contributed to it, but it felt like I was listening to a story that the narrator thought was retelling of a completely mundane and normal experience rather than strange or unique. Part of that definitely comes from the 12 year old perspective that narrated the story. My point is that it isn’t your average horror story, but I think it works. The things that my or may not be happening are still dark and disturbing. I thought the author did a great job surprising us and going in directions I wasn’t expecting.

One common aspect of the story was this idea of the dead “recreating” themselves by feeding on the dead, dying, or injured. It reminded me of how Frank returns in Hellraiser or the revival of the dead in Pet Sematary. I don’t know if the author was reusing this idea, but it makes me wonder if this is a belief from some forms of native american culture. Stephen Graham Jones is himself native american. The story seems to make use of other native american beliefs. I say “seem” because I am not familiar with many native american beliefs. I’d love to hear the author discuss how native american culture influences the story. Nevertheless, it creates a unique story with an interesting take on a ghost story.

(Frank returning in the original Hellraiser)

All in all, it was a great story. The cover quotes one author saying it is part S. E. Hinton and part Shirley Jackson. I’ve never read Hinton, but she is known for her YA series called the Outsiders. I can definitely see the Shirley Jackson side. If you loved the recent the Haunting of Hill House TV show, the original 1963 film (ignore the 1999 film), or the amazing book it is all based on, then you’ll probably like this. It shares the same feel of not knowing what’s real and what’s not. All in all, the story taunts you with just enough to keep you reading and intrigued. 4.5/5 stars rounding up.

(A haunting scene from the 1963 film)


Like I said at the start, this was a very short novella just over 2 hrs or ~100pgs. I was going to take on this discussion to another post discussing another novel of his, but it looks like this one produced more thoughts than I expected, so it gets a post of its own!