Bookclub · stuff I read

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

If you are looking for a book of short stories that are eerie, dreamy, whimsical, strange, unsettling, and sometimes just plain weird have I got a book for you!

Ben Loory’s collection of stories, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, has a little something for everyone.  The tales range from the very short (“The Shadow”) to much longer (“The Graveyard”).  One is an homage to Ray Bradbury.  One reminds me of Stephen King.  A few remind me of Roald Dahl or Philip K. Dick.  “The Hat” reminds me of Gogol.

One (“The TV and Winston Churchill”) made me laugh.  A lot.  It’s my favorite.
As a bookseller, I found “The Book” meaningful in a time when we debate the future of books and literacy.

I read this with my friends from the bookstore and, through the magic of Kat’s enthusiasm, we got to Facebook chat with the author.  It was a really nice hour or so – slightly complicated by needing to dictate our questions to Kat who was serving as amaneuensis – where we talked about influences, his imagery, and how much we all liked the cover.  Then Ben dropped an interesting tidbit – he really hadn’t wanted to include “The TV”, a longer piece that is included in an appendix at the back of the book.  There is a note saying it was included at the request of the publisher, even though it wasn’t part of the same project that produced the other pieces, but I hadn’t thought too much about it.  It is a different piece, stylistically, and it contrasts with the rest of the book.  I liked the story, and was glad to read it, but I got the feeling Ben wished he had fought the publisher/editor more to keep it out.  I can understand why the publisher would want to – this is a thin book already, so the inclusion of “The TV” added a few more pages at the end – but it does contrast a bit too much with the other stories so perhaps wasn’t necessary.

For another perspective on Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, Goodreads users need to go read my friend Kat’s review.  She wrote it as an homage to the author.  I think it’s lovely.

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stuff I read

Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously

Some of us knit to make small things, knitted-up while watching TV.  Some of us knit to learn a new technique.  Most of us knit to keep our sanity.  And then sometimes, we knit something to prove that we can despite our sanity.

Adrienne Martini decided to knit Alice Starmore’s Mary Tudor sweater.  In one year.  And she wrote a book about is:  Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously. 

For those who don’t know, Alice Starmore is the (in my opinion) undisputed Queen of Fair Isle colorwork and Aran knitting patterns.  Beautiful, complicated, gorgeous (sort-of boxy in fit, but that’s just me).  Only Alice Starmore could take the colors she does and make such lovely patterns.  The Mary Tudor is like the Holy Grail of sweaters.  The pattern book, Tudor Roses, is out-of-print (Adrienne will tell you exactly how much she spent online…be ready to have a lie-down).  The exact colors of the yarn aren’t available in the US and the yarn company actually quit making the original yarn.  You can substitute colors but it doesn’t come out looking quite the same (Ravelry link – there aren’t many users with completed projects). 

Adrienne recounts her adventures in finding yarn, finding substitutes, knitting such fine-gauge colorwork, keeping her family (kids, pets, husband) and work going while knitting this crazy sweater.  She’s a really funny writer and I chuckled and groaned right along with her.  She interviews other knitters and visits a “con” for knitters – if you ever want crazy-amazing support from other knitters go to Rheinbeck, Sock Camp, Stitches…Ravelry (that would be me, since I have no travel moneys).  Sweater Quest was a great, fun book not just about knitting to finish a project, but knitting to appreciate the process.

Nostalgia Project · stuff I read

Robin McKinley: Beauty and the Beast

“Beauty and the Beast” is one of my favorite fairy tales.  The Disney movie adaptation and the Jean Cocteau adaptation are two of my favorite movies.  I quite liked the TV series (when I was allowed to watch it) and even have a soft spot for that odd Rebecca DeMornay musical adaptation.

I read Robin McKinley’s Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast back in junior high.  It’s a really great adaptation in that it gives Beauty’s family more depth.  Her sisters aren’t jealous and grasping as in the original and are quite good at the make-do scenario.  They all pitch in to help with housekeeping and earning money for the household.  When Beauty’s father returns with the rose and she agrees to live with the Beast, McKinley’s tale aligns with the fairy story.  Beauty and her Beast have their happy ending.

I decided to re-read Beauty because, while looking at McKinley’s bibliography, I noticed she also wrote a second re-telling, Rose Daughter.  Say what?  Sunshine rekindled my interest in McKinley so reading both Beauty and the Beast retellings would be interesting.

Rose Daughter incorporates more magic into the story.  In this world roses must be grown with the help of magic and are, therefore, very rare.  Beauty’s talent lies in making plants and flowers grow.  Beast’s roses are dying which partially explains why he’s so upset when Beauty’s father picks a rose for her and demands that she come in his stead.  Although Beauty only stays seven days in Beast’s palace caring for his roses, as months go by for her family, the alternate reality of the castle and garden allows McKinley to spend a great deal of time thoughtfully exploring the situation Beauty finds herself in.  The end of the tale carries a true twist.  Once she declares her love for Beast, Beauty is given a choice: choose between the handsome Prince (Beast’s former human form) or the Beast as he is now.  Beauty has her happy ending, just in a different form.  It’s quite refreshing.

BNBC · stuff I read

DNF: Three Seconds

After slogging through about 100 pages of this as an ARC for BNBC’s First Look program, I put it down.  Everytime I look at this book, it makes me heave a sigh of resigned “I really must finish this” sentiment.

Sadly, I have no desire to finish this – no sympathy for any of the characters, no identification, and I think the undercover-prisoner-drug-smuggler plot is far too nuts for my to follow.  I have so many books to read that I have to let this one go because the thought of reading it no longer brings my joy.  Just drudgery.

And that isn’t very fun when I have shelves and shelves of books I would rather be reading.

stuff I read

Sunshine

I was almost certain, putting down Breaking Dawn after yawning my way through the final boring chapter in the early hours of Breaking Dawn-day-after-release-party, that I’d read a much better vampire/human story several years before.  Or at least part of one.  But I couldn’t remember what it was….  Hardcover….had things other than vampires in it….

Kate came to my rescue: Sunshine by Robin McKinley.

Aha.  I had borrowed it from the library in a sort of post-graduate-school-thesis-writing-defense-giving-induced fog.  I actually didn’t remember reading it nor did I ever write it in my book journal (pre-blog).  Guess I was due for a true re-read.

Sunshine is the story of Rae Seddon, nicknamed Sunshine, and what happens to her when she ignores all sense of safety to visit her grandmother’s old house out by the lake.  The vampires just appear out of nowhere – because they don’t make any noise – and drag her off to a different abandoned house where she is forced to change into a blood-red silk dress and chained to the wall.  Next to another vampire, also chained to the wall.  She’s apparently an apperitif…or a form of torture.  It turns out Constantine, the vampire chained to the wall isn’t quite like the other vampires.  He would prefer not to kill her.  Rae isn’t just a garden-variety human, her ability to make the best cinnamon rolls ever aside.  She has the latent power to use sunshine to transmute objects.  Using Rae’s powers and Constantine’s vampire senses the two forge an alliance and escape from the house.

But the story doesn’t end here.  This is only about page 75 or so – the rest of the book is about how Rae deals with the aftermath of her kidnapping and the very unlikely bond that she and Constantine now share.  The Special Others Unit (because this world abounds with vampires, were-whatevers, demons, wardkeepers, etc., etc. – this is a post-VooDoo Wars world) is interested in Rae because she not only escaped from a gang of vampires (they can track humans by smell, obviously) but also because she wastes a vampire all on her own in an alley.  Rae’s boyfriend, Mel, is heavily tattooed with magical ward signs from a past he doesn’t reveal and she never asks about them.  Rae’s absent/possibly dead father, Onyx Blaise, is a magic handler with mythic powers.  In essence: this world is crazy-balls and it all snowballs into an explosive (literally) show-down with the vampire gang.

There’s a lot going on in this book.  Because the book is told in the first person, McKinley allows Rae to explain what she knows about her world, which is decently extensive in certain areas but lacking in others, particularly her own family history.  If Rae needs something explained to her, we get to hear it, too.  Even though the plot exposition gets a bit long on occasion it has to go somewhere.  The SOF officers are a riot, particularly in one scene where it is revealed that at least one of them isn’t quite what he seems.  Even the little quirks of the world – like a vampire can’t drink your blood without asking your permission, but they can hypnotize you by breathing on you (or something) so you’ll just agree to whatever they want anyway…which would be to drink your blood – make for little jokes. 

There is so much unexplained in Rae’s world that I wish there was a sequel.  Or maybe a prequel.

I think fans of Sookie Stackhouse would like Sunshine (this is less “sexy” but has that really crazy mix of supernatural elements) and this is definitely for Twilight fans looking to graduate to something with more of an edge.  From my Goodreads review:

“This is what Twilight wants to be when it grows up, but only if they jettison that whiney Bella and creeper Edward.”