What it looks like when stream-of-consciousness analyzes an unfinished book

I did not know what I was getting myself into with Samantha Hunt’s The Unwritten Book: An Investigation, but I am so very glad that I was lucky enough to receive a Netgalley ARC. Hunt’s writing is thoughtful, interesting, intelligent, wandering… and in my opinion, well worth the read.

Although Hunt is probably best known for her fiction work, such as Belletriste’s pick The Dark Dark, this book is mostly nonfiction. I say “mostly” because interspersed throughout the book are excerpts of Samantha’s deceased father’s unfinished book. In addition, this book reads more like a collection of loosely related essays/musings than a more traditional narrative non-fiction book where each chapter builds on what came before. Hunt’s book could literally be read in any order, except for the excerpts of her father’s book. This book, which analyzes the writing from the partial book that Papa Hunt left behind, experiences Samantha had with both her father and her own experiences parenting her children, and general musings/information, is interesting. It feels like spending time with a friend — a very educated, empathetic, slightly lost friend. This friend is trying to navigate her way through losing a parent, being a parent, and being a person.

And really… aren’t we all? I highly, highly recommend.

Book Review: Lost Coast Literary

Today, I will be reviewing Ellie Alexander’s Lost Coast Literary, a book that I received an e-galley for from Netgalley. I thought this book was a cozy mystery with a fantasy twist, featuring a literary-loving protagonist named Emily. In actuality, it’s a beach read that’s full of family melodrama. Reading the book synopsis again, this actuality is not even surprising — this is what I get for skimming descriptions:

Book editor Emily Bryant finds herself unexpectedly in the charming town of Cascata on California’s Lost Coast, holding the keys to her grandmother’s rambling Victorian mansion. While sorting through her grandmother’s things, Emily learns that she must edit old manuscripts to inherit the estate. It’s a strange request from a family member who was basically a stranger.

Emily quickly realizes that there’s something different about these manuscripts. Any changes she makes come true. At first, she embraces the gift. She has a chance to help characters find true love or chart a new course for their future. But then things go terribly wrong. Her edits have the opposite effect. The sweet and funky seaside community of Cascata is reeling from the chaos Emily has created. Everything she thought she believed about her family and her past is in jeopardy, and no amount of editing can fix the damage she’s done.

Then she finds one last manuscript. If Emily can get this edit right, maybe she’ll have a chance to create a new narrative for herself and everyone around her.

Suffice to say, I wasn’t a huge fan.

I mean, the writing was… fine. The plot was kind of fun and… fine.

The characters were annoying, not least of all Emily herself.

I should have known this wasn’t my book from the opening scene, in which Emily tries to figure out which phone case she wants to put on her cell – Emma or Jane Eyre. What kind of literary aficionado prefers Bronte to Austen? I mean… seriously, would you rather spend time with someone fun and witty and engaging, or someone who acts like a moody teenager as an adult that wants to be screwed by the inspiration for one of the first written vampire stories?

… Michael Thomas Ford gets it.

Emily is insufferable. For example [disclaimer: quoting from an ARC, with chance that final printing could be updated/different], here, where she’s talking about her aunt, an amazing jazz singer:

I appreciated that she wasn’t jaded or trying to pose as something other than her artistic self.

Emily Bryant, annoying protagonist

This is because her aunt admits she gets butterflies in her stomach before she goes onstage. But… like, it’s a problem if your aunt is awesome and totally owns it? She has to be humble and feel slightly sick to her stomach, or she’s not being honest? Like, it’s okay to not be a nervous mess and to be okay with being awesome. Get over yourself, Emily.

Or let’s talk about the crux of this novel, which is that Emily has no memory of the family she hasn’t seen who live in Cascata, even though she lived with them for at least 8 years. This amount of time is supported by her absolute surprise to find “a recipe for red velvet cake where Gertrude [her grandmother – don’t call her by her freakin’ name, show some damn respect Emily!] had noted: ‘Emily’s 8th birthday. A birthday in red for our little red.'” THEN, only after she has read the notes left by her grandmother, does she remember a birthday party where she’s dressed like Little Red Riding Hood. Like – you were eight, not two. I find it very odd that she has no memory of these people until she reads a note in a cookbook. Also, can we even assume that she’s a reliable narrator? If I thrust a book from the 17th century where I wrote in it that Emily Bryant likes to suck cock, is she suddenly going to remember that she had a past life or is a time traveler who had to whore herself out to make a living in the 1600s? Like, did she even have this birthday party? Maybe her grandma was just hella smart, and left weird gaslighting notes all over her cookbooks to make it seem not-weird that she left this girl who can’t even remember her an entire house instead of the relatives she saw pretty much daily.

… because some granddaughters (*cough cough* Emily *cough cough cough*) deserve it

Another problem with Emily is she only seems to assume people can be “connected” if they both like books. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big reader. But I’m okay with the fact that not everyone reads as much as me. And I don’t think your romantic and personal relationships should be solely based on people who exclusively do the same hobbies that you do. How are you going to grow as a person if you only do the same things? But here is a literal passage from this book:

‘I don’t know.’ I thought back to his first interaction with Sienna. They had much more in common, namely a deep love and appreciation for literature. Did he and Martine share the same passions? ‘They seemed so different. So mismatched,’ I said to Shay. ‘Apparently he wants to write children’s books, and she hasn’t read a book in five years. Can you even imagine?

Emily Bryant, annoying protagonist

So, basically, if someone reads, you approve of them and they deserve love and all good things. But if someone doesn’t read, or doesn’t read enough, they should just feck off and go to the Bay Area? Let’s not forget, these ridiculous opinions are coming from someone who has no memories of the first 8 years of her life and whose literary interpretations fail to appropriately elevate Jane Austen’s work above that of Currer Bell. I’m sorry, Emily, but no dice. Actually, I’m not sorry. Stop being ridiculous. It is appropriate to have friends, lovers, etc., with a variety of interests and backgrounds.

#stophobbyshaming

Keeping in mind that I am a character-reader, and I severely disliked our protagonist, this book was… fine. The cover is cute. The plotline is kind of interesting, although it features a heroine you are definitely supposed to be rooting for who I definitely was not rooting for. The California setting seemed accurate. It has some of that small-town and everyone in it likes books except for Martine because there needs to be some reason her husband is not into a woman who’s fierce and smart and beautiful and well-dressed and driven, which is, apparently, that she finds it difficult to read while she’s out there living her life, vibe.

Overall, I do not recommend. But if you are not a character reader and/or like to read books that are “fine,” then this one may be worth checking out.

Book Review: Tales from the Darkside

In the mood for a spooky read, I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Tales from the Darkside: The Repeater Book of the Occult, edited by Tariq Goddard and Eugene Thacker.

I really like the concept of this book – an anthology of lesser-known stories featuring the supernatural. Each story is selected and introduced by an author published by Repeater Books. Released in February of this year, October is a fitting month to read through it. Unfortunately, the rambling introduction was a harbinger of the let-down to come. Many of the stories in this collection are very well-known, and an avid reader of horror short stories has probably already read them. In addition, the introductions to the stories, if you have not already read the story, is really an essay for why the particular author selected it, and generally includes spoilers.

Here is my review, on a story-by-story basis:

  • Squire Toby’s Will by Sheridan Le Fanu
    • Decent read. Not amazing, but appropriately spooky. Includes a family of some of the worst men ever and demons.
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
    • I’m just going to assume you have read this. Great story, and one I am always up for re-reading.
  • On Ghosts by Mary Shelley
    • An essay by the authoress of Frankenstein, this essay doesn’t necessarily advocate for ghosts so much as lament the lack of magic in a world that insists on rational explanations. I did enjoy reading it, and would recommend.
  • Par Avion by Marlene Dotard
    • Yuck. This story was… not good. The glowing essay talking about how this weird chick was friends with other authors who are well known and how Marlene was so smart, and insisted on trying to draw relationships between science and belief in the supernatural is better than the story itself. Do yourself a favor, skip this story, which has generally not been well-known for a reason.
  • The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
    • Also assuming you’ve read this one. It is well-written, and the essay beforehand includes multiple interpretation, which are interesting to read as well.
  • A Haunted House by Virgina Woolf
    • I guess this one was inspired by a stint Virginia and her husband spent in a haunted house, which… of course it is, because wasn’t Virginia always writing about herself? It’s fine. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it.
  • Green Tea by Sheridan Le Fanu
    • The essay before this one mentions how popular this story is, although I myself hadn’t actually read it. It’s fine. I actually didn’t much like it, but it definitely involves the supernatural.
  • Punch, Brothers, Punch by Mark Twain
    • Short, punchy, funny, and a little spooky. Very good short story, that again – you have probably already read. If you haven’t, ignore the essay and just read the story.
  • Unseen – Unfeared by Francis Stevens
    • A weird detective story that also deals with fear of “other-ness” and indicates that perhaps the monsters are created by us because we are all awful. Not terrible, but don’t know that I would recommend, either.
  • The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
    • Great story that you have probably already read. In my opinion, the best short story in the collection, but also, like… it’s Poe. Like, of course it’s good… in fact, it feels a bit cliche to include it in this collection.
  • The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
    • This story is one of those naturalist things where the author is like isn’t nature amazing and fearsome? I actually don’t much like naturalist things, so I didn’t finish this one.

In summation, 4 good stories you have probably already read, a short essay by Mary Shelley that is enjoyable and that you can probably also find pretty easily on-line. Unless you want these particularly short stories in a collection, I would not particularly recommend.

What about you – have any spooky reads to recommend this Halloween?