I read a book: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

I put off reading The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins for a long time. It was published long after my YA days and was often mentioned adjacent to the hype of other popular YA series of the time that I was completely uninterested in for various reasons. My kid was never interested in it, so I didn’t have it on our shelves. There are some from that era that I loved (Divergent, The Giver), some that I will get to eventually (The Maze Runner, everything Rick Riordan has ever written), and others yet that I will never read (Harry Potter). If you’re sensing a pattern here, it’s because there is one. I like bleak dystopian stories and demigods and I don’t care about child wizards written by turds.

My knowledge of The Hunger Games was limited to what I’d gleaned from memes and Jennifer Lawrence’s appearances on late night comedy interview shows. I never read a synopsis and never saw the movies (not even clips!). I picked this up on a whim while browsing Kindle Unlimited. And because I enjoy listening to the audiobook while I read along, I checked it out from the library on Libby. Reading can be an expensive hobby if you buy every book you read. I read so much and am eternally grateful for the existence of libraries, not only because I have the joy of working at a great one, but because I don’t have to buy as many books as I read.

So, the games. This story takes place in a place called Panem, which is a post apocalyptic North America. There’s a huge gap between the haves and the have nots. Katniss and her family have not, and she spends her days illegally hunting game in the woods outside her district and then hustling to sell what her family doesn’t need. The game itself is a fight to the death. The contestants are children, whose names are basically drawn from a hat. Scrawny little 10 year olds are pitted against brawny teenagers. All these kids are thrown into an arena that looks like a forest that the game masters have complete control over, given minimal opportunities to acquire survival supplies, and everyone else must watch these kids kill each other off until one remains. If they aren’t killing each other fast enough, the game masters will trigger things like forest fires or torrential rains. It’s like a weird reality show and the prize is survival and PTSD. And what is the point of the game? Why do they have to go through this year after year? It is never really spun in a positive light, as the story is told by Katniss. The games exist to remind people of how good(?) they have it after the remaining population was districted off. Remember how we used to fight for our own survival by reliving it year after year. But the people are smarter than that and understand that the games are a means of control.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. I thought this book was great. While the premise is about the deaths of many children fighting each other for survival, I didn’t feel like it was overly violent or gory, and the reactions of our heroine were realistic. I felt like a spectator rooting for my district representative to win. The ending is the beginning of a whole new trial for Katniss. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that considering that there are two more books in the series. And I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

You can borrow The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins from Kindle Unlimited, your local library, or buy it at any major bookseller.

Monthly roundup – August 2022

August reads. So many good ones this past month, I can’t pick a favorite. I am pretty partial to the Murderbot Diaries series though. 22 total, my least favorite two not pictured because only 20 fit in the grid template.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:
Dad Jokes, by Justin Hunter
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
The First Day of Spring, by Nancy Tucker
Artificial Conditions (The Murderbot Diaries #2), by Martha Wells
Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries #3), by Martha Wells
Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries #4), by Martha Wells
These Alien Skies (Black Stars #4), by C.T. Rwizi
Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries #5), by Martha Wells

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:
Left to You, by Daniel J. Volpe
The Lady and the Orc (Orc Sworn #1), by Finley Fenn
Or Else, by Joe Hart
We Travel the Spaceways (Black Stars #6), by Victor LaValle
Heartstopper: Volume 1, by Alice Oseman
Fugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries #6), by Martha Wells
The Heiress and the Orc (Orc Sworn #2), by Finley Fenn
Hidden Pictures, by Jason Rekulak

⭐️⭐️⭐️:
Everything else in the collage.

Let me start by saying that some of my favorite reads this month won’t have wide appeal. Dad Jokes was short and not particularly well written, but it was a wild ride that had me laughing and WTFing, typical of the bizarro genre that I love so much. Full review incoming. Left to You was dark, combining the real world horror of the holocaust with fictional extreme horror elements. I’ll think of Josef every time I shit my guts out. Thanks for that, Daniel J. Volpe. Read my full review here. And the Orc Sworn series, well, orc smut. It’s not for everyone, but it is for me. ‘Nuff said.

I can’t say enough about The Murderbot Diaries, so I won’t say much. I loved the whole series. I have a little crush on Murderbot. Not sure what that says about me.

Two titles not pictured were ⭐️⭐️ reads for me. I didn’t call them out on the ‘gram or Book Lovers Cafe, but I did rate them on Goodreads and I will list them here. The first ⭐️⭐️ was The Vital Function of Constant Narrative, by Marlys West. This was an ARC provided by NetGalley. You can read my complete review here. The second was 2043…a Merman I Should Turn to Be (Black Stars #3), by Nisi Shawl. I am only now learning that this was based on a Jimi Hendrix song. Most of the stories in the Black Stars series left me wanting more of the story and more from the author. This one just left me wanting.

On the agenda for September? More orcs. One Book Lovers Cafe book club read. Two Cool Ghouls Book Club reads. The Obituaries. Heartstopper 2. Hunger Games 2. Maybe I’ll make a dent in the ever growing TBR. Maybe I’ll even complete some more of my review drafts. I’ve got lots of them in the works.

I read a book: Bunny, by Mona Awad

I finished Bunny yesterday. I read that it was sort of Heathers + The Craft + Frankenstein, but I’d switch out Frankenstein for Fight Club. That’s all I can say about that without super spoiling things.

I would rate this one ⭐️⭐️⭐️. I did really like this one despite being super annoyed at the bunnies’ baby talk early on. I listened to the audiobook and read along on my kindle. The narration was on point. She did a really good job of portraying the main character’s state of mind without giving away the twist too early in the story. I think I might have missed some of the nuances without the audio narration. Actually, I think I might not have finished the book.

I would also probably not consider this one horror. Early on it was creepy in a horror/cult sort of way but then it was more a study of mental illness manifesting itself by means of a fantastic story about a young woman making her way through her MFA. And it reads like it was written by an MFA student…comments about “overeducated poverty” and “skins glowing with health insurance”, overly descriptive comparisons (Her voice is the feathery baby voice of children in horror films.), ridiculous vaginal/sexual references that would get a response from other MFAs but make the average reader roll their eyes (The legs of her voice wide open.). Was this book Samantha’s (or the author’s) thesis? I do feel like a big part of this was critique of MFA programs and fancy schools as well.

I borrowed the audiobook version Bunny, by Mona Awad from the library on the Libby app, but you can buy it on Amazon or any major bookseller.

I read a book: Or Else, by Joe Hart

There was a lot that I liked about this book. Every time the main character thought he had figured it out, new info would pop up and he’d be back where he started. And then when the case was considered solved, the reader gets a glimpse at what really happened. But is that what really happened? Or just Andy’s writer brain writing up a more interesting ending? Either way, I find both endings satisfying enough.

I also enjoyed the idea of a mystery book author who lives out a real life mystery and makes all the mistakes he’d never write into his books. There were so many times I found myself saying “Oh, Andy…no….” and the like. Which. Is fun.

That last line cracked me up. Andy doesn’t know when to quit.

⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 stars for me. This was an Amazon First Reads choice recently. If you picked it up because it was free, maybe read it? It’s short and fast paced and pretty good.

I read a book: The Pet Project, by Amanda Milo

Really cool concept.

The titular Pet Project is an alien species’ attempt at domesticating abducted humans. They call the human pets “tenders” because of their tender skin. The story is told from a Cryptop scientist’s point of view.

There are some things that make it difficult to suspend disbelief enough to make the story make sense. The Cryptops are working under the assumption that the tenders are not sentient and describe them in the way one might describe a dog. The longer the scientist works with his little herd, the more he notices that they seem to have languages and that not all tenders speak the same language. He also notices that they seem to understand him in a way that seems to be more than just reading his body language. They respond to him, sometimes verbally and other times just by doing what he says. What I don’t understand is how these aliens came to Earth and saw everything the tenders had built and how they lived and thought they were not sentient, that they were not people. The scientist seems to ignore how they understand him and each other. I guess acknowledging that they are people would put the breeding program at risk, because at that point they are not pets. They are slaves. Which, from the reader’s perspective, they absolutely are slaves.

Props to the author for writing a story about a human breeding project that doesn’t involve any aliens sexually abusing the human pets. (Not entirely true if you take into account the forced breeding between an unwilling pair, but at least the alien isn’t using them as living fleshlights.) The scientist actually cares about his tenders enough to (eventually) choose their own partners. There are some dark scenes that lead up to that.

When I read what I just wrote, it seems like I hated this book. But I didn’t. I actually liked it quite a bit and will read the rest of the series. I almost wish it was more fleshed out, novella length rather than a short story, because there are details and world/character building missing that left me wanting.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. That’s a lot of words for “I liked it and want more, but I’m conflicted.”

You can find The Pet Project, by Amanda Milo on Amazon available as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription, buy it for 99c, or grab the audiobook.

A woman cannot survive on books alone

She also needs a cat. And at least one solid friendship.

A while back, I was asked to choose between a couple colors. I didn’t know what I was choosing, but if green or grey isn’t an option, I will almost always choose yellow. I had honestly forgotten about that conversation, so it was a nice surprise when this package showed up at my door.

I don’t have a lot of close friends. I’m not good at connecting with people. I’m terrible at reinforcing those connections over the years.

And yet somehow I do have at least one solid friendship. A few actually, but this is about one specific person. We met in a place unlikely to produce real friendships. We’ve have had our share of disagreements and drama and learned to trust that we could lean on each other as that superficial in world friendship turned into something real and lasting. We’ve watched each other grow as people, offering guidance along the way. We are very different people in a lot of ways, but I think those differences are what helped us grow over the years.

14 years.

Love you, bestie.

I read a book: The Heiress and the Orc (Orc Sworn #2), by Finley Fenn

Again with the orc-pricks and buckets of seed and other decidedly unsexy descriptions. Again with the lies upon lies upon lies. Again with men and orcs using wealthy women against each other for personal and political gain. Again with the women who take way too long to find their voices.

Very spicy, but I find most of the scenes lacking. These orc dudes will lick a lass from asshole to vulva but don’t spend any time on the clit. Orc-pricks in the butt without any foreplay/prep. I guess they’re dripping with natural lube? I guess. The spice is fine if you let yourself get caught up in the orc magic and just go along for the ride.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. So why 4 stars? I really enjoyed the storytelling. It’s like a soap opera. It’s ridiculous and dramatic and will have you screaming at the characters when they do or say something dumb. It’s fun, and I’m here for it.

You can find The Heiress and the Orc, by Finley Fenn on Amazon as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription or for sale in various formats.

I read a book: Hidden Pictures, by Jason Rekulak

Hidden Pictures, by Jason Rekulak is wildly popular in the book groups on Facebook right now. The waitlist in Libby was super long. Months. I wasn’t sure I’d get to borrow before the Cool Ghouls Book Club group read was over, but the library came through and here we are.

I’m not sure what I expected going into this, but it’s not what I got. It’s was really good, but usually the books I see hyped in Books of Horror are significantly more horrifying. This felt like horror-lite, horror for people who don’t necessarily want to be scared. Which is fine. I enjoyed the book, it just wasn’t what I expected.

This is the story of a recovering addict named Mallory who takes a job as babysitter to a young boy in an affluent neighborhood. She loves everything about the job, the little boy, the parents, her cottage in their back yard. Everything about this job is perfect, up until the little boy’s drawings take a dark turn. He goes from drawing happy images of the family and animals to darker things like a man in a forest dragging a woman behind him and dropping her in a hole in the ground. Not only does the subject of the drawings change, the skill level changes drastically as well. He was drawing stick figures and clouds with smiley faces and suddenly is drawing realistic fully shaded things that make Mallory suspect that something is amiss. She learns of the story of a woman who was murdered in the very cottage she is staying in and naturally assumes the place haunted or the boy is possessed. Mallory thinks she’s figured it out and goes on a quest to find proof to present to the parents, accompanied by her new friend, the gardener. The pair does find the information they were looking for, but it is not the solution they’d hoped for.

There are some things that I felt didn’t really add anything to the story, namely most of the things the neighbor lady says. She rants about liberal parents, rapist Mexicans, atheist know-it-alls, etc. all in her first conversation with Mallory. Is this meant to establish that she’s a bit of a kook like the Maxwells say? Is this the author inserting his own narrative under the guise of character building? Who knows. There’s also the juxtaposition of the main character’s religious beliefs and the Maxwells’ atheism. They are very quick to dismiss Mallory’s concerns and have her convinced that she’s losing it, despite things we learn about them toward the end of the book.

The plot is fairly predictable, even with the twists. But don’t let that dissuade you from reading this book. Even my paragraph of gripes isn’t a huge part of the story. As a know-it-all atheist liberal parent of rapist Mexican descent, I can safely say that while none of that adds much to the story, it doesn’t really detract from it either. I’ve seen some reviews say that certain parts were just not believable, like the one twist about the little boy. How would a babysitter not know, they say. To that, I say that this is a ghost story. Horror. Remember all those old horror movies where you see the teenage girl go outside in her underwear to investigate a scary sound and you’re screaming at the television for her to quit being an idiot? This called suspension of disbelief and is present in nearly every work of fiction, even moreso in horror with supernatural elements. Shit’s not gonna make sense in the real world and that’s okay. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Certainly not the scariest book, but it’s well written and engaging and has enough of a twist to not be completely predictable. I would recommend it to people looking to dip their toes into horror but not get too wet. And if you read a lot of darker books, this is a nice palate cleanser.

You can find Hidden Pictures, by Jason Rekulak at all major retailers and many libraries (though you might have to wait a bit).

I read a book: The Vital Function of Constant Narrative, by Marlys West

The Vital Function of Constant Narrative, by Marlys West is marketed as both memoir and poetry. I love poetry and I love memoirs, and a crossover of the two genres is something I haven’t seen before.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel like this was executed particularly well. I was bored a quarter of the way through. I know it’s a bit harsh to say that the story of someone’s life is boring, but it didn’t feel like a memoir.

And it barely felt like poetry. This is coming from a person who reads and enjoys a lot of bad poetry. Here’s the thing. Poetry is emotion. I don’t care about the technical aspects of poetry if it doesn’t make me feel things.

This collection isn’t bad, but it is largely forgettable. It’s the type of book an academic library adds to the collection because the author is faculty.

I usually try to share some passages that touched me, but nothing really stood out. Every page is like the title of this book, unnecessarily verbose without leading to a point. It’s the kind of poetry that makes me feel like I’m missing something. Or like maybe I’m not smart enough to get it. That puts me off reading more of this author’s work.

⭐️⭐️ for me. I’m sure there’s an audience for this, but it’s not me. Big thanks to NetGalley & V Press LC, Independent Book Publishers for the ARC.

I didn’t love it, but you might! You can buy The Vital Function of Constant Narrative on Amazon, BN, or Indie Bookstore.

I read a book: Left to You, by Daniel J. Volpe

I decided to expose my book group to more Daniel J. Volpe this month. Cool Ghouls hasn’t picked up much steam, but there are a few people who join every time and that’s enough motivation to keep doing it. If I can get one person to read something I like, I’m a happy camper. Speaking of books I liked…

There is so much to say about Left to You, by Daniel J. Volpe. It is haunting and intense, and that’s before you even get to any of the splatter parts.

A good chunk of the story is a Holocaust survivor recounting his days at Auschwitz in great horrifying detail. I knew this going into it. I also knew there was a splatter twist that would set it apart from the usual real world horror tales. I’ve read a lot of WWII stories from multiple perspectives. I’ve read first hand accounts of real survivors. I’ve read descriptions of the smells in the camps. But this was the first time I’ve seen the smell of the gas described, and I admit I thought about it when I opened my bottle of almond extract while baking this weekend. Little details like that can turn a generic fictional Holocaust story into something special, something that sticks with the reader. And it’s the big details, like figurative demons (Nazis) capturing literal demons and using them to grant their wishes, that turn a sad story into one that kicks the reader in the teeth. And that ending…wow.

In a way, the ending felt open. Will there be a sequel or spinoff? Who knows, but I know one thing. I’ll read that too.

This is my second Daniel J. Volpe read (Talia was the first). I loved both. I will eventually read my way through his entire catalog. Splatterpunk and indie horror can be a gamble. It’s a genre I enjoy and while most books I’ve read at least have good stories, some could benefit from a little editing finesse. Volpe’s books are just plain good though.

You can find Volpe’s books available on Amazon, Kindle Unlimited, and Godless. Borrow Left to You on KU or just buy it!