Book Reviews: August 2018

It’s a good month of reading – 6 books, and they’re all more or less enjoyable, with one exception. Here goes:

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters:

I only know Sarah Waters from the adaptations of her works (Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, and The Night Watch, I haven’t watched Affinity), but I’ve never actually read her novels before. So when I came across this in the used bookstore and remembered seeing a trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation, I decided to pick it up. It takes place post-WWII and revolves around a country doctor whose life becomes entangled with an aristocratic family living in a crumbling mansion as they are plagued by increasingly strange and sinister incidents. It’s a ghost story in the vein of Henry James and Shirley Jackson, in that the supernatural elements are very subtle, and you have to wonder if they are really supernatural or merely psychological. It can be frustratingly slow at times and don’t expect a tidy explanation at the end, but Waters is so good at creating a creepy and oppressive atmosphere that I had to stop reading it before bed. 4.5/5

Spook by Mary Roach:

After a ghost story, it seems natural that I would read about the scientific studies of ghosts and the afterlife. I’ve quite enjoyed Mary Roach’s other books (Stiff and Packing for Mars), and this one, while not as informative as those two, is still very entertaining. And no, she doesn’t come up with a tidy explanation for ghosts either, but it’s fun to read anyway. 4/5

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton:

I picked this up because of the pretty cover. And also because it’s a fictional account of the life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, an eccentric 17th-century writer, which sounds right up my alley. The blurb says it’s “not a historical novel but a modern novel set in the past”, so I didn’t expect a bildungsroman, but I did expect the normal stuff – you know, plot, character developments, details about life in 17th England and Europe. What I got instead is a rambling series of prose, like the diary entries of someone with ADHD, written in an overwrought, clumsy attempt at being poetic. There is no character development; the main character comes off vain, silly, and delusional, not brilliant and misunderstood like the book tries to make her out to be. Oh and, it switches POV halfway through (the first half is written in first person, the second half in third person). Why? No reason. The real Margaret Cavendish deserves so much better than this drivel. The only good thing I can say about it is that it’s short, so I didn’t waste too much time reading it. 1/5

The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes:

With a title like this, I was expecting something in the vein of “What We Do in the Shadows” or at least “The Reformed Vampire Support Group“, something humorous that details the mundane, everyday struggle of a vampire and subverts all the usual vampire tropes. It turns out to be a series of very standard adventures with all the usual – werewolves, zombies, mages, etc. Sure, there are things like a were-pony or an ancient dragon masquerading as a 7-year-old boy, but it’s nowhere near as clever as I hoped. Also, the writing is super expository. It is trying to be personal, like Fred is addressing the reader, but it just ends up flat. It’s not terrible, actually, just disappointing. 2/5

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly:

This has a typical fantasy premise: a boy in WWII-England, mourning the death of his mother and resenting the presence of his new stepmom and his half-brother, ends up in a world that contain elements of his favorite fairy tales, but they have been twisted into something dark and dangerous (in fact, I once wrote a screenplay with a very similar premise). Although the main character is a kid, it’s not a YA book by any means – it goes to some pretty dark places. And that’s also my problem with it. The story is good and the world is interesting, but it’s just so grim. I don’t mind dark fairy tales; heck, I live for dark fairy tales (especially Neil Gaiman’s), but in those, there is still a sense of magic and wonderment. Here, aside from some communist dwarves who are oppressed by Snow White, everything is so somber and heavy all the time. 4/5

The Nature Fix by Florence Williams:

You may have known that nature is good for you, but have you ever wondered why? Well, this book goes into all the scientific research behind the restorative power of nature and how it is being used to improve our life in general, from “forest bathing” in Japan to bushcrafting (sort of like survival skills, like making fire and shelter, but less about the survival and more about interacting with nature) in Scotland, and also how much time you need to spend in nature to feel its positive effects (5 hours/month, according to the Finns). I’ve always loved being in nature, but I have to admit, I don’t go outside as much as I should, so this book has made me a lot more mindful of that. 4/5

What did you guys read? Let me know in the comments and make sure to check out my friend Mike’s book reviews here.

4 Comments on “Book Reviews: August 2018”

  1. Mike says:

    These sound like some pretty deep reads, Salazar. I’m especially intrigued by the two scientific related ones you talked about.
    A lot of fantasy/historical fiction reads, some of which interests me! Thanks for sharing and thanks for the link up! What a ride it was to get that set up! It will easier the next time now that I’ve done It.:)

  2. […] please be sure to check out my friend, Salazar’s blog over on 14 Shades of Grey to see what she’s […]

  3. […] and won’t stay for longer than 2 weeks). Plus, one of the books I read last month, “The Nature Fix“, mentions that these “drip paintings” are so pleasing to look at because they […]

  4. […] surprising (in a good way) book of 2018: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. It sounds like a typical ghost story at first, but it ends up haunting me even […]

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