Reading in 2014

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[I took this picture on a clear, cold day in Travemünde, just a few days ago.]

It’s done and over with – 2014, that is. And I’m glad of it ’cause it really wasn’t a good year, overall. The reading was okay, even though I didn’t read nearly enough. I only started in March, 26 novels and anthologies in all. They were mostly good, also mostly lesbian romances and some rereads. I want to spread out more this year but for 2014, it was okay.

My favorites among the new ones I read were Sometime Yesterday by Yvonne Heidt, Wicked Things, edited by Jay and Astrid Ohletz (which contains my short story ‘A Lesson i Magic’), and Roller Coaster by Karin Kallmaker.

But apart from the books I’ve read there were some I haven’t finished in 2014. There are always some of those each year. I often lose interest in books, but that’s not the only reason for not finishing a book. Let me just run down those unfinished books of 2014.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth – While I liked the first volume of the series, the second part has too many elements of that other series that treats its female protagonist like a second-class character. There were also some plot bunnies that didn’t make much sense, apart from the basis of the whole series being a little far-fetched.

The Age of Innocent by Edith Wharton – I love Wharton’s work and I would really like to read more from her. The problem is that I want to study her, but I’m not quite at a point where I can solely concentrate on a body of work by one author, especially one who has been studied by far more intelligent heads than mine. I haven’t gotten beyond the first chapter – though I rewatched the movie this year.

When the Clock Strikes Thirteen by Ylva Publishing – I contributed a story to this year’s Halloween anthology and wanted to read last year’s. I have read the first few stories but I haven’t gotten beyond them yet. I will pick this anthology up again to continue reading, I just got side-tracked.

Coming Home by Lois Cloarec Hart – This is one of my all-time favorite Xena-Uber fanfictions and now I have the paperback. But I haven’t gotten around to reading the whole book yet. I want to, but it’s been a while since I read it and I would hate to discover that it’s not as good as I remember it. That’s stupid, of course, Hart is a good story-teller. I’m just being silly, is all.

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton – This is part of my research about supernatural creatures. I’m looking forward to writing my first supernatural story this year (probably come June) so I may finish this one yet. It’s good, so far.

Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran – I’m trying to get involved in some gay (male) reading, but so far haven’t been very successful (as I’ve started and not finished At Swim, Two Boys last year). I like the narration so far but it’s a little more heavy-duty than I want to engage in at the moment.

Empress of the World by Sara Ryan – This is a sweet story about a coming out of a lesbian teen. I’m going to continue reading this at some point but not right now.

Heart’s Surrender by Emma Weimann – I really like the beginning of this one and if you ask me why I haven’t finished it yet, I can’t even tell you. My focus got diverted and I haven’t redirected it at this novel yet. I will, probably sometime this year. It’s been a lot of fun so far.

Emerald Green by Kerstin Gier – The third part of the series, a good, solid series. But I got a little tired of the narrator’s voice by the third book. Sometimes listening to teen first narrators gets a little tiresome. I like the premise of the story and the story, too. I will finish it, though I’m not sure when.

Blind Bet by Tracey Richardson – The Candidate by the same author was brilliant, I loved it. The Wedding Party was all right but I had some beef with it. And now this one… I don’t know. There were just some things in this I had a hard time working through. The writing is good but some of the plot bunnies are positively rabid. Not sure I’ll pick it up again.

2014 is over. Let’s see what 2015 brings. I’m looking forward to reading in 2015.

 

Wicked Things: Lesbian Halloween Short Stories, edited by Astrid Ohletz & Jae (The Reader’s Edition)

wickedthings

Here it is, Ylva Publishing’s Halloween anthology 2014 – which might include a short story by yours truly. But since this is the ‘reader’s edition,’ I’m not gonna talk about that. I have a different post for the ‘writer’s edition’ here.

Let’s talk about the anthology.

14 authors have come together to create 14 amazing stories for our Halloween pleasure. And a true pleasure it is. What I found really wonderful with this anthology is the wide range of (scary) topics these stories cover.

Andi Marquette writes about ghost hunters in a haunted house, May Dawney about a local urban legend seemingly come to life, and Eve Francis about a vampire cop falling off the blood wagon.

And where there are vampires, there are werewolves and hunters. There are also witches and ghosts. But there’s also a lot of attraction between women and some sexy times.

As a person who truly loves Halloween, I couldn’t help but love this anthology. It’s a great read to enjoy with your chocolate-y Halloween treasures or some hot chocolate on a cold October night before a toasty fire. Some of it is scary, some tragic, some erotic, and then there’s somethng for the romantic among you.

All stories are well-written, all are entertaining and some are even better than all that. My favorites? S.M. Harding’s A Winter Story, R.G. Emanuelle’s Strega, and after that all the other stories.

This is an anthology for all those of you who like a good scare, love Halloween, or maybe just enjoy supernatural stories. But even if you only want to read some really great stories about lesbians and their loves – read it. You won’t be disappointed.

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

salemslotIt’s been awhile. It’s been awhile because I have read very little. It’s March and I’ve only finished reading my second novel for this year (both I had begun in 2013, by the way). Slow reading, indeed. Faster writing because that is what I spent most of my time on – which is good but I find that without reading writing is… less valuable, certainly less stylish. My ramblings become stunted and prosaic without the ‘food’ of words written by others.

But that wasn’t my reason to return to King (returning always in the sense that he was the first adult author I ever read and also inspired my own writing). I’m currently investigating the supernatural (in case I have mentioned this already, I apologize for the repetition) and a vampire novel by Stephen Kind was hardly something I could ignore.

Here’s what happens:

Ben Mears is a writer who returns to ‘Salem’s Lot – scene of his most vivid childhood nightmare – to write a novel about the Marsten House as it is called in town. It seems to be one of those sinister places that exude evil. But it’s not the house, it’s its new resident who stirs the dead in their graves: Barlow is a vampire and he begins his evil trail through town around the same time that Ben starts writing his novel.

The desease of undeadness spreads quickly and Ben, together with young Marc Petrie, has a hard time keeping up and score of living, dead, and undead. And it seems that more than just one house is infected by an inherent evil in Jerusalem’s Lot.

‘Salem’s Lot is King’s second novel and he already picks up the theme of evil places that is probably most elaborately told in It – my all-time favorite King novel. Indeed, some paragraphs about evil that inhabits a place is reminiscent of those in It. I’m not criticizing this, I actually enjoy the thoughts as well as the concept. The mingling or merging of a supernatural evil and the way it changes a place is fascinating. King also has a good grip on the vampire lore. I like that instead of giving vampires a new spin, making them his own, changing everything about them, he goes back to the basics – making them more elusive and yet more vulnerable than it has been done lately.

The book comes equipped with an introduction by King, two short stories to enhance on the story of Jerusalem’s Lot as an evil place, and even deleted scenes. I haven’t yet read those last ones, I’m not sure why and I’m not sure I will. The ‘extras’ have been added to the original text after almost 25 years. King seems to return to his earlier stories quite frequently, probably the tales never quite let go of him. I’m not sure about the value of returning to stories or places those stories have taken place. But maybe that’s just me liking an ending better than an ongoing mystery.

‘Salem’s Lot is a good read. It’s not above criticism but it’s the same kind of criticism that one can apply to all of King’s books – too few good female characters, not a single female hero, a writer as hero, a little boy as hero. It all comes down to characters for me. But the issues I have with his texts are almost as vintage King for me as what he writes, how he writes. Reading a King novel can be as frustrating as it is exiting and enchanting.

Well, if you’re tired of all the new takes on vampire lore, if you want to go to bed avoiding to look into shadows because you’re afraid of what might be lurking there, if you like the thrill of a good horror story combined with extensive quirky details of the lives in a small town – read ‘Salem’s Lot (and remember that it’s been written and told in 1975).

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

fledglingThis is the third time I’ve read Fledgling. The first time, I read it for a class, the second time for the paper for same class and now I’ve read it for a kind of research I’m doing about different vampire-myths. And Fledgling has a lot to offer on that account because Butler invites the reader to share in a new myth that is not necessarily based on mythology but science.

Shori Matthews loses her memory. As she re-learns and understands the world around her, it becomes painfully obvious that she is not human. She is what humans would call a vampire, what her own people call ‘Ina.’ But as her story unfolds, the distinction between these two species of humanoids mght not be as clear-cut as it seems and there are certain people who would do anything to ensure that humans and Ina don’t mix.

Fledgling was Butler’s last novel, and she ventures more into the realm of fantasy than she has before. But even this novel is based more on science than on fantasy as she demystifies the vampire and pulls them into her scientific field of expertise. Vampirism is not a demonic possession in her novel, it is a medical condition, a blood-mutation that may have originated in outer space. It is a gripping tale with a lot of exposition about this very different vampire lore, their beliefs, their symbiosis with human beings.

It is also a tale about racism, as Butler’s novels usually are. Butler weaves Shori’s story around her difference, which is a genetic alteration that makes her able to walk in sunlight and that gives her dark skin. This is also the part of her that is human and this is a genetic experimentation some of her fellow-Ina cannot accept. Racism is very much a double-edged sword among this culture that is dependent on human blood but sees the human race as inferior – and racism as a foolishness of this inferior race. Butler uncovers some of the hypocricy behind racism in our culture through a culture that sees itself above such nonsense, as long as it doesn’t effect them directly.

Fledgling is a fascinating story, in part because we discover the Ina much like Shori does (and through her narrating voice), in part because the Ina are very different from the usual vampire myths but still related to them, but also because it’s simply a good story. It combines the mystical with the explainable and then adds a trial to the mix. It’s a fascinating read, certainly one of my favorite vampire novels.

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

This is bad, this is very bad, the voice in my head repeated again and again.”

This is a quote from the book but it also describes my feelings toward it perfectly. Because it is indeed bad, very bad. It’s been awhile since I read the first book of the series, Twilight, and found it abominable. The whole franchise seems to me to be a money machine without reason of existence. I guess you can say that about a lot of things – especially things that come out of Hollywood. But this is actually a book series that was successful before it has been made into movies. And this is just something I do not understand. So, I read the first book mostly to find out what the hype was about. But I wasn’t any wiser after reading it. Nor did film one and three of the series enlighten me at all.

The biggest problem of the series, in my opinion at least, is the I-narrator, Bella Swan herself. She seems like a typical teenager, the voice in the book is annoying, it is self-centered. But I am not sure that this is the writer’s intention or merely the voice of the writer as well as the narrator. In other words, is Stephenie Meyer just skillfully producing a teenage voice or is she writing in this voice because her skill is that of a 17-year-old (18-year-old in New Moon). I think it is the latter. The fact that Bella is self-centered, though, is not the biggest problem she has. She is painfully insecure, and though I see many a female teenager having this problem, I do hope that in most of them it is not quite so severe. The way she worships her boyfriend is not healthy. She sees him at mainly a god to her own insignificance, cannot understand how someone like him can love someone like her. Another quote:

“The contrast between the two of us was painful. He looked like a god. I looked very average, even for a human, almost shamefully plain. I flipped the picture over with a feeling of disgust.”

Unhealthy. This girl needs a confidence boost and quick. In the novel she seems to get this when Edward leaves her. I know she is mainly complaining about that whole in her chest for the next 300 pages but her desire to hear his voice in her head leads her to some independent decisions that defy the strong patriarchal hold that Edward and Charlie have on her. The motivation might be an idiotic one but at least Bella is starting to live like a more normal teenager, rebelling against paternal supervision. Of course, she always has Jacob Black with her for protection, just so that it doesn’t get too wild. But though also has the tendency to treat her like a rag doll rather than a young woman, he at least does not have a god-complex. While many have complained about the boredom of the middle of the book, I actually liked that part better than the rest for the fact that Edward was not in it and that Jacob behaved more like a friend to Bella than Edward could ever be. In this part, I actually thought I got a glimpse of what makes the books successful. But it is actually all that stuff that I abhorr that other people love, the destructive relationship between Bella and Edward.

Sometimes I see Edward as a stalker, than as an emotionally abusive boyfriend. His hold over Bella is tight and he does not even understand how many issues Bella has with her own self and how she only lives to look at his beautiful face, hear his voice. He always repeats that he loves her (in the end) but never gives a reason. He does not assure her, it seems to be only her smell that binds him to her, not her personality (what personality?), not even her beauty. It’s more animalistic than Meyer wants us to realize. Altogether Meyer seems to want us believe that there is something nobel, something beyond pure animalism about the vampires but she can never quite convincingly discribe what that noble part is. The fact that they don’t eat humans? The fact that they have their temper under better control than their nemeses, the werewolves.

In comparison, the werewolf is a much more likable figure than the vampire. At least, Jacob understands that his werewolf-self makes him into something “other,” not better – as Edward seems to think of his vampire-self. And maybe it is me, I mean, I have realized while watching the Underworld-movies that I like the story about lycans better than the vampire-stuff but honestly: would you rather sleep next to a cold marble pillar or a warm puppy dog? Even I would chose the puppy and I am actually afraid of dogs.

To sum it up, this is a bad novel. If you’ve never encountered one of those you may think this is tolerable but it is not. The writing is poor, Meyer clobbers her readers over the head with foreshadowing, when she is not throwing weird analogies at us. Subtlety is obviously not in her repertoire, nor is character-development or interesting story-telling. It actually makes me very sad that this is the vampire-story that sets the standard for coming vampire-stories, simply because it was so successful. And I still don’t know why that is.

Meyer, Stephenie. New Moon. Little, Brown, and Company, London (2009).