Darth Pony

Ruling the galaxy is so overrated.

Darth Pony's Halloween Bingo 2018 Tracking Post

Update 18/9: Thus far illness and insomnia have worked in my favor, but I'm pretty sure I can't keep this up indefinitely. Sooner or later I'm going to hit a wall and start wishing I wasn't quite so fond of longer novels. Oh well. In the meantime, four squares! Woo! Six books read! Wooo! Almost one whole row called! Woooo!

 

 

Update 11/9: Three squares! Wooo! I have no strategy! Woooo! XD

 

Update 09/9: I marked off my first square! Wooo!

 

Dead Lands – Grave Peril by Jim Butcher, read 14/9

Genre Horror – 

Genre Suspense – 

13 – 

Darkest London – 

 

Southern Gothic – Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon, called 10/9 - read 30/8

Cryptozoologist – Uprooted by Naomi Novik, called 04/9 - read 08/9

Shifters – 

A Grimm Tale – called 14/9

Terrifying Women – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, called 12/9 - read 18/9

 

Creepy Carnivals – called 18/9

Fear the Drowning Deep – 

Free Space – 

Diverse Voices – 

Modern Masters of Horror – called 16/9

 

Relics and Curiosities – called 20/9

Doomsday – Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, read 03/9

Ghost Stories – 

Amateur Sleuth – 

Terror in a Small Town – 

 

Supernatural – 

New Release – Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, called 08/9 - read 11/9

Spellbound – 

Murder Most Foul – 

Country House Mystery – 

Rebecca

Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier

Once upon a time, about 20 years ago, I saw the PBS production of Rebecca really, really late at night. I only remember enough to picture Emilia Fox and Diana Rigg in their respective roles as the second Mrs. De Winter and Mrs. Danvers. As for the story, I didn’t remember much beyond the broad strokes. I’m glad. Reading this book wouldn’t have been nearly as much torture/fun if I’d remembered more of the story.

 

In the beginning, I felt like I was reading the excruciating tale of an introvert struggling to fill the shoes of an extrovert in a position she was completely unqualified for, and I identified with the unnamed narrator on a deep and uncomfortable level. Soooooooo uncomfortable. Totally introverted? Definitely. Hiding when someone rocks up to the house, unexpectedly or otherwise? I do that. Fantasizing endless scenarios and possible outcomes? I do that too. Giving inadvertent outward signs that I’m engaging in said fantasizing? Yep, that’s happened once or twice. That’s about where our similarities end, but I saw enough of myself in her that the secondhand embarrassment was frequent and intense. I didn’t know whether I wanted to hug her or slap her. Or both. The first note I made while reading the book was “Holy Hand Grenade, am I going to cringe ALL THE WAY through this book?” with the addendum of “(Yes. Yes I am.)”

 

Boy. Did I ever.

 

The writing is fantastic. The characters on the page can be having the most banal conversation ever recorded (which they frequently do), and all the time du Maurier is tightening the screw, building tension and stretching nerves past the breaking point. It is beyond atmospheric. I know I’ve already used the word excruciating, but IT IS SO. VERY. EXCRUCIATING.

 

Ahem. Sorry for shouting. Anyway, despite the excruciating excellence of this novel, I can’t give it five stars. Spoilery reason under the tag:

 

This is very much a me thing and not a book thing, and it’s one of the same problems I had with Jane Eyre. I HATED Maxim. Just as I wanted to see Mr. Rochester die in that fire, I wanted to see Maxim done up for murder. And I never wanted to slap the unnamed narrator harder than when he basically said, “I hated my wife and I murdered the bitch!” and she responded by going “Squee! He hated her! I’m so happy!” I swear she’s the type who would fall in love with her serial killer prison pen pal. I WAS ACTUALLY ROOTING FOR SKEEVY JACK FAVELL TO PROVE THE MURDER. But all he managed to do was tip Danvers over the edge and get her to burn the house down. Or so I infer from that super-abrupt ending. Meh. Whatever. I hope the dogs made it out okay.

(show spoiler)

 

I read this for the Halloween Bingo 2018 Terrifying Women square.

 

Reading progress update: I've read 22%.

Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier

It's been ages since I've felt the need to do a progress update, but I just got to the part where the new Mrs. de Winter hears a car drive up to the house and she takes off running because she can't face the thought of meeting people and I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE IDENTIFIED SO MUCH WITH A FICTIONAL CHARACTER. I just had to mark the occasion. XD

Grave Peril

Grave Peril - Jim Butcher

It has probably been close to a decade since I read the first two books in this series. It didn’t seem to matter, as I remembered enough to get right back into it. That’s the magic of these addictive brain candy books. Once you get to know Bob (you incorporeal sexist pig, you), you never forget him. Oh, and Dresden too, I guess.

 

Book three brings back a bunch of old characters from previous books as well as introducing some new characters. I especially enjoyed Michael, whose devout Christianity and faith-based magic was an interesting and often amusing counterpoint to Dresden’s pentacles and demon summoning. I hope to see a lot more of him throughout the series. He and Harry have great chemistry as an odd couple of occult investigating.

 

I can’t remember how the first two books treated female characters. I remember Karrin and Susan being strong and independent, but I don’t remember if they and their fellow femmes were dumped on as horribly as they were in this book. Maybe I’m just more jaded and aware of misogynistic tropes. Maybe forcing every single sympathetic female character into a damsel-in-distress role was overkill. Either way, this 17-year-old book didn’t age well in that regard.

 

In my Pedant Corner, the writing got super repetitive in places and I found myself skimming without meaning to. It turns out you can only describe Harry drawing a circle and pushing power into it so many times before my eyes glaze over. I also noticed a bunch of laying vs lying problems. A whole bunch. Unless all those people doing the laying were actually werechickens. This is urban fantasy, so I guess I can’t entirely rule that out. :P

 

I read this for the Halloween Bingo 2018 Dead Lands square.

 

Dread Nation

Dread Nation - Justina Ireland

Behold! The second ever zombie book I didn’t hate! Well, I still hated the zombies themselves, but it turns out when you throw them in a story full of interesting characters, a snarky not-so-reliable narrator, a rich historical setting, and skillful applications of critical race theory, I don’t mind them so much. The real monsters in this book are the living. The undead are just victims of circumstance.

 

Today in Darth Pony’s Pendant Corner: I’ll never love present tense and I occasionally found it jarring here, but it wasn’t too obnoxious. That and a teensy bit of repetition were the only drawbacks for me. When the sequel comes out (which I think has been pushed back to 2020), I’ll be ignoring my zombie dislike once again and buying a copy.

 

I read this for the Halloween Bingo 2018 New Release square.

 

Uprooted

Uprooted - Naomi Novik

Every once in a blue moon, buying a book because of the gorgeous cover actually works out for me. (Which is probably why I keep doing it against my better judgment.)

 

This book is sooooo good!

 

“The power in the Wood isn’t some blind hating beast; it can think and plan, and work towards its own ends. It can see into the hearts of men, all the better to poison them.”

 

Uprooted has an amazing Brothers Grimm fairy tale vibe, weaving magic, suspense, horror, and a little romance into a tapestry every bit as gorgeous as the cover promises. This is one of those times that I want to gush about how much I loved the characters and their journeys, but I can’t find the words. I don’t even want to try. I just want to bask in this good-book afterglow.

 

One thing I will say, though, is that Agnieszka’s name is pronounced ag-NYESH-kah, which, being wholly ignorant in the pronunciation of Polish names, I thought would have been REALLY nice to know BEFORE I got to the Acknowledgments at the end of the book. So there you go. I saved you a Google search. ;)

 

I read this for the Halloween Bingo 2018 Cryptozoologist square.

 

Station Eleven

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel

Fun fact: Nearly every time I read a book involving a pandemic wiping out 99% of humanity, it coincides with me catching a cold. My immune system is not only totally sucky, it’s also highly suggestible. Apparently.

 

I was hoping to love this more than I did. Literary doomsday novels are possibly my favorite brand of doom and gloom. This one had a good story, but the writing didn’t float my boat. I wasn’t a fan of the excessive sentence fragments or the fragmented narration style, and some of the stylistic choices just led to confusion. Thoughts weren’t differentiated from prose in any way, so there are sudden skews from third person to first, and sometimes the effect was disorienting.

 

Still, the writing is good, even if it wasn’t exactly my cuppa, and the characterization was pretty stellar. If Ann Patchett wrote doomsday novels, I think they’d feel a lot like Station Eleven.

 

I read this for the Halloween Bingo 2018 Doomsday square.

 

Boy's Life

Boy's Life - Robert R. McCammon

I meant to space this read out over the course of a week. I had the time, and I thought this book was the kind I’d like to savor. I did all right the first day, not so good the second day, and then my plan went out the window and I devoured the rest of the book yesterday. The onset of the book hangover was immediate. I went to bed last night without picking a new book to read. Do you know how often that happens? It doesn’t. It doesn’t happen. Half a day later, I’m still struggling to articulate what this book did to me.

 

Let’s talk about foreshadowing and how diabolically good Robert McCammon is at it. You can absolutely tell when he’s dumping foreshadowing on you, but you can’t always tell if the payoff is going to be some heartwarming home-made muffin of literary delight or some gut-wrenching tragedy or gore-splashed horror. Have you ever seen that old Bambi meets Godzilla short? It’s a bit like that, only it’s even odds whether the giant foot comes down or not and there’s more blood and guts when it does. (This inept metaphor is also applicable to what this book did to my feelings, my feelings being Bambi and the book being Godzilla. I’m sorry, guys. This book sucked out my soul and I’m reduced expressing my trampled feelings with references to a 50-yr-old low quality animated short. It was either that or a nothing-but-gifs review.)

 

In me are the memories of a boy’s life, spent in that realm of enchantments.

I remember.

These are the things I want to tell you.

 

Oh, reader, let him tell you. This book is hard on nerves, feelings, and family pets (holy cow, what has this book got against pets?!), but you want this to be you. Trust me.

 

 

 

I read this for the Halloween Bingo 2018 Southern Gothic square.

 

Halloween Bingo: Markers and Head Starts

After playing with some free image editors and realizing my limitations and managing my expectations accordingly, I think I've finally found a marker system I'm happy with.

 

Blue Lightsaber = Called, Red Lightsaber = Read, Crossed Sabers = Called & Read

 

 

I scoured free Star Wars clip art and agonized over aesthetics and readability for I don't know how many hours to get here, and I'm pretty happy with the results. Finally. :D

 

For my head start, I'm going with Boy's Life by Robert McCammon for the Southern Gothic square. It's one of the longer books on my list, and Char got me so excited for it that I'd like to read it free of any hurry-up-and-finish bingo pressure.

 

Look at all the decisions I made today! This is huge for an indecisive person like me! I think I've nearly filled my weekly decision quota! Everyone spare an encouraging thought for my husband, who will have to decide all by himself what we're doing for dinner tonight. I need to save up a decision for when I go sticker shopping for my physical card. LOL

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi (Star Wars) - Jason Fry

Movie/book spoilers abound. I’m kind of just disgorging rambling thoughts and impressions here.

 

On my scale of Star Wars New Canon Writers, Jason Fry rates a “Pretty Good” (it’s a very scientific scale – sorry for dazzling you with technical terms), and I think he did a pretty good job with this movie novelization. I enjoyed (most of) the movie even though I thought the pacing was kind of a mess and wished they could’ve found a better alternative to the whole Canto Bight sequence. The book unsurprisingly has the same problems, but nobody can blame Fry for that.

 

The timeline feels a bit shaky. Rey spends days on Ahch-To trying to get through to Luke. The space chase can’t have lasted much more than 12 hours from start to finish (the book states the Resistance Fleet will run out of fuel after 12-ish hours of flight time), but interspersing the space chase scenes with Ahch-To scenes makes the chase feel so much longer, even before the Canto Bight scenes are thrown in. It really screws with the sense of urgency and kills the tension extra dead in spots.

 

If you thought Poe was punchable in the movie, the book may have you howling for his blood. Seeing his thought process as he chooses to disobey direct orders, ignore chain of command, and incite a mutiny is a little on the excruciating side. A whole lot of people die unnecessarily in service to Poe’s character arc. Blargh.

 

Rose is still a damn delight, and Finn is a more interesting character when seen through her eyes, though I’m still not sure I buy her falling in love with him over the span of half a day.

 

I’m also still not sure if I buy Finn as the new Han Solo (and by that I mean his character arc is similar to Han’s, going from “this cause is stupid, all y’all gonna die” to “this cause is actually worth dying for, I’m all in” only in a fraction of the time). It . . . kind of works? I guess? He’s still figuring out who he is after a lifetime of First Order brainwashing, so I suppose I’ll forgive him a few super-abrupt swings in ideology.

 

All of the Rey and Kylo stuff was pretty good. The book offers a slightly deeper insight into each character, which helps explain motivations and reactions a bit better. Same with Luke. I loved these three in the movie, and I loved them in the book. (Well, I didn’t love love Kylo, but you know. I enjoyed his further descent into a whiny, entitled, evil man-baby with incredible Force powers.)

 

And lastly, in Pedantic Nitpicky Corner, I’m going to take a moment to complain about POV skews in third person close narratives. That first space battle above D’Qar is rife with POV skews, and I get wanting to show the chaos of battle and all that, but when you’re bouncing from character to character every paragraph or two with no sections breaks, at what point do you cross the line between daring but effective literary device and confusing, crappy writing?

 

I think I’m done rambling for now. If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here hoping against hope that Phasma isn’t dead and actually gets to DO something in Episode IX. I know, I know. *sigh*

 

Edit: I lied! One more thing! Luke's stupid alternate timeline dream in the prologue was a great way to set completely the wrong tone, so thanks to whoever thought that up. Thanks a lot.

PSA: Murder By Death Is THE BEST (But We Already Knew That)

I got my printed Halloween Bingo card in the mail today!!! My excitement cannot be contained, so here's a bad picture of it on my overburdened nightstand, taken with my crappy phone camera:

 

(Yes, that's four stacks of unread books the card is mostly hiding. No judging.)

 

I took an equally bad picture of the surprise that came with it, but Darth Tater and Jr. threatened to Force choke me if I spoiled it for the other people getting cards. (It's super thoughtful and neat-o. That's all I'm saying.)

 

To recap: MbD is THE BEST, Moonlight's lovely card design looks FANTASTIC, I'm a TERRIBLE photographer, and I'll likely be killed someday by books falling off my nightstand.

Leia: Princess of Alderaan

Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi Leia, Princess of Alderaan (Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: the Last Jedi) - Claudia Gray

Dear Powers That Be, this is my second or third petition entreating you to give Claudia Gray all the money and let her write all the Star Wars she wants to write, please and thank you.

 

I haven’t read any of Gray’s non-Star-Wars books yet. She writes YA when she’s not knocking Star Wars novels out of the park. I had trouble imagining that until I read this book. (Lost Stars is marketed as YA but didn’t feel very YA to me.)

 

This book feels very, very YA and it surprised the hell out of me.

 

In the beginning, Leia is a mopey, angsty sixteen-year-old politicking with the ease of long practice while her teenage hormones rage beneath her poised exterior. Basically, Gray took everyone’s favorite space princess and made her even more relatable, which I had no idea was even possible. (Surprise!) Leia feels neglected by her parents, she’s desperate to be noticed by them, she meets a boy she likes, and she struggles with her sense of self. It’s stock standard YA fare woven skillfully into an engaging tale of Leia learning to navigate the pitfalls of Imperial politics as she comes of age during the Rebellion’s tumultuous infancy.

 

Some of my favorite parts were the descriptions of Leia’s home life in the royal palace on Alderaan and her relationship with her adoptive parents, Bail and Breha. Bail gets most of the fanfare in the movies and novels, but let me tell you, Queen Breha is so badass she ought to eclipse him. Not to diminish Bail’s contributions to the galaxy far, far away, but they should be erecting statues of Breha too. Bigger, shinier statues.

 

Oh, and about Amilyn Holdo. We get to see her as a gangly, awkward teenager and she is basically Luna Lovegood. It explains SO. MUCH. I love her even more now.

 

I would have scored the book a solid 9 out of 10 until I got to the last line. Damn it, Claudia. That was a cheap shot. Minus one point. Feel free to earn it back with your next Star Wars novel, Master and Apprentice, a tale of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, now available for pre-order. Everybody go buy it so they keep giving Claudia Gray all the money to write all the Star Wars, please and thank you.

Star Wars: Ahsoka

Star Wars Ahsoka - E.K. Johnston

It was probably a coincidence, but at the same time, Ahsoka had been around long enough to know that coincidence and the Force rarely went together. There was always some sort of link.

 

When Lucas created the Force, did he know he’d be forcing countless future authors into lazy (if entertaining) writing? Force Ex Machina: the easiest way to get your characters from point A to point B. For example:

 

Ahsoka – “I’m going to hide on this tiny Outer Rim agricultural moon that couldn’t possibly be of immediate interest to the Empire.”

 

Empire – “We are immediately interested in this tiny Outer Rim agricultural moon because reasons.”

 

OMG, WHAT ARE THE ODDS?! (Never tell me the odds!) The Force is to Star Wars books what London fog is to cozy mysteries, and the number of Force non-coincidences in this book is high.

 

Blatant for(c)eshadowing aside, I was hoping for an entertaining account of what Ahsoka got up to between her last appearance in The Clone Wars (which I absolutely recommend watching before reading this novel) and her first appearance in Rebels, and this delivers. Mostly. The climactic confrontation was a bit meh. Based on this book, I’d say writing action isn't E.K. Johnston’s strong suit. Her characterization is pretty good, though, so I’m looking forward to her upcoming Padmé novel.

My Halloween Bingo Card!

 

So this is what I did yesterday instead of adulting. I want to use books already in my physical or digital TBR, and I don't want to do any re-reads. The only category I'm stuck on is Creepy Carnivals, but I've got the rest of the month to dig through my uncatalogued books. If all else fails, I can use a Wild Card for that square.

 

Here's my tentative plan, subject to change depending on books available and my current mood when squares are called. (?)'s denote books I'm not 100% sure fit the criteria.

 

Dead Lands – Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

Genre Horror – Fellside by M.R. Carey

Genre Suspense – Prey by Michael Crichton (?)

13 – Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Do I need to read Grisha trilogy first?)

Darkest London – What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris or A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab or Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

 

Southern Gothic – Boy’s life by Robert R. McCammon

Cryptozoologist – Uprooted by Naomi Novik or His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

Shifters – Beastly Bones by William Ritter

A Grimm Tale – The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Terrifying Women – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

 

Creepy Carnivals –

Fear the Drowning Deep – Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

Free Space – The Child Thief by Brom

Diverse Voices – The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

Modern Masters of Horror – The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

 

Relics and Curiosities – Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Doomsday – Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Ghost Stories – Ghosts of Tsavo by Vered Ehsani

Amateur Sleuth – Spying in High Heels by Gemma Halliday or Murder on Cue by Jane Dentinger

Terror in a Small Town – Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

 

Supernatural – The Rook by Daniel O’Malley or The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks or American Gods by Neil Gaiman

New Release – Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Spellbound – Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Murder Most Foul – The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith or The Corpse Reader by Antonio Garrido

Country House Mystery – Crooked House by Agatha Christie (?)

Phasma

Phasma (Star Wars): Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Delilah S. Dawson

Star Wars Episodes VII and VIII’s most underutilized badass in chrome gets her own novel . . . in which she continues to be underutilized as her story is told by someone who heard it from someone else who was “there.”

 

This is only the second work by Dawson that I’ve read, the first being The Perfect Weapon (Star Wars short story), and I have to say I liked TPW much better. And it’s not that Phasma isn’t good. It’s got plenty of action and adventure and aliens and the requisite super-harsh Star Wars desert environment. I didn’t care for the third person present tense shifting to past tense, but that was a minor issue. The framing of the story just didn’t work for me.

 

Resistance spy Vi Moradi is caught by the First Order on her way back from a fact-finding mission. What was she digging into? Phasma’s past. What does her captor just happen to be interested in? Phasma’s past. WHAT ARE THE ODDS?! (Never tell me the odds!) So the majority of the book is Vi reciting—in the prosiest of non-conversational basic—the story of how Phasma met Brendol Hux and came to join the First Order. Her interrogator just lets her indulge in prolixity for twelve hours or so, and Dawson has to go to the trouble of establishing his inexperience in interrogation to explain his remarkable forbearance. Alas, I never really bought into it.

 

What really got my goat was that such a huge deal was made of Phasma’s survive-at-all-costs personal code, including a strong implication that if the First Order’s best interests ever conflicted with hers she’d burn the whole thing down, and that could have led to a payoff in the films so much bigger than what we got. In the end, this just felt like a weak 378-page justification for Phasma lowering the shields on Starkiller Base when she had a blaster to her head. *cue Sad Trombone soundbite*

The Complete Father Brown Stories

The Complete Father Brown Stories - G.K. Chesterton

As advertised, this modest kitten squisher contains all five collections of Father Brown stories, as well as both parts of The Donnington Affair. That’s nearly 800 pages of everyone’s favorite short, round priest with the funny round hat. I’ve pretty much been fibro-fogged up the wazoo for the entire month of July, so I figured a book of short stories would be perfect reading and not tax my impaired concentration abilities. I was sort of right.

 

The Blue Cross, the first story in the first collection, is funny, clever, five-star gold. I absolutely loved it and couldn’t wait to read more. The second story went downhill from there, and then my Father Brown experience plateaued in the mildly-entertaining-to-mildly-disappointing range and I found myself skimming or outright skipping entire stories. (Especially any story in which early 1900’s racism reared its ugly head. There was some pretty gross Orientalism and more N-words than I was prepared to encounter. Oh, and if the first person to perfect time travel can go back and ban white British novelists from writing anything to do with voodoo, THAT WOULD BE GREAT.)

 

In hindsight, I probably should have taken a break and read something different between each collection. It turns out my ability to binge-watch the TV series inspired by the stories doesn’t translate to the stories themselves and there is indeed such a thing as too much Father Brown.

Currently reading

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden