Top 10 Books Read in 2018

(Now that we’ve finished with the bad, we get the good. Click on book covers for Amazon links.)

Paperbacks From Hell



Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted Horror of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction

Grady Hendrix (2017)

Beautiful book that can be read in an afternoon but a joy to flip through for years. If I had a coffee table, this would be on it. The quality of the prints is amazing and any horror fan will accumulate a list of authors and books to check out by the end. I love Stephen King’s Danse Macabre and this is a close cousin.


One year later, I woke up squatting in the middle of an aisle at Sullivan’s Trade-a-Book in the heart of South Carolina, surrounded by piles of musty horror paperbacks. Apparently I was buying them. Apparently I was reading them. Apparently I was addicted.

(p.8) Continue reading

Bottom 10 Books Read in 2018

(as always, bad first, best tomorrow! Click on book covers for Amazon links.)

Strange Weather



Strange Weather

Joe Hill (2017)

Full review

Four novellas which feel paradoxically too long and too short at the same time.






Colson needed stories to tell like a gun needed bullets, and for the same reason – to slay.


Read instead: Hill’s short story collection 20th Century Ghosts. Continue reading


Pin pic

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

An early one by Andrew Neiderman, published in 1981. I read a first edition paperback with a cool cover.

Buy the Book.

4 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

Seen the Movie: Yes and it’s totally eighties-low-budget-horror fun.

The Plot:

Two teen orphans continue living in the family home – along with the brother’s closest friend, an anatomical dummy named Pin.

For what could be cheesy schlock, Pin is written shockingly well. I’m used to pulp-paperback-horror having some awkward writing (see notes [1], [3] of The Fog’s review…)  but Neiderman is a damn good writer.

The two siblings, Leon and Ursula, are genuinely complex characters. While the story is told from Leon’s point of view (which makes the reality of many events questionable), we see Ursula’s conflict and feel for the messed-up situation she’s been raised in. This poor young woman is genuinely trying her best. Leon, the narrator, is a twisted piece of work but the story is so far off the rails that it’s sort of fun to be on the ride with him.

Pin also hits one of my sweet spots: the majority of the book takes place in a single location with a very small cast. Has anyone made a weird stage play out of this? Continue reading

“First Love, Last Rites”

First Love, Last Rites

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Ian McEwan’s first published collection of short stories, released in 1975. I read a 1976 Picador paperback.

Buy the Book.

2.5 out of 5 stars (all stories averaged).

Times Read: 1

This did not go as well as I hoped. McEwan goes for shocks in many of these eight stories but the shocks usually involve sexual abuse or violence against women or children. And I’m just done with it. I’ve read enough rapes from a male narrator’s point of view.

A couple of the stories (“Last Day of Summer” and “Butterflies”) rise above an average rating but I was mostly unimpressed and uncomfortable.

Also, a quibble: McEwan’s style in this collection has crazy, ambitiously long sentences and paragraphs, especially for short stories. If I had been assigned any of these for school, I would have lost my mind trying to write papers.

Continue reading


Suicide pic 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Edouard Leve’s last novel, seen by some as his own public suicide note. Published originally in 2008; Jen Steyn’s English translation published in 2011. I read a Dalkey Archive Press paperback edition from my library.

Buy the Book.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

A stream-of-consciousness communication with a friend who committed suicide at 25.

I try to review books on their merit alone, not delving too deeply into the author’s background. But this book refuses to be discussed without the first line of Suicide’s description in the paperback edition I read:

Edouard Leve delivered the manuscript for his final book, SUICIDE, just a few days before he took his own life.

I had never heard of Leve before reading Laura van den Berg’s The Third Hotel (read it!), which opens with this Leve quote:

I want this epitaph engraved on my tombstone: “See you soon.”

The quote is from his work Autoportrait but could very well have been nested in Suicide, which is a perfect companion book to The Third Hotel; both capture many of the same sensations of memory and finality/incompletion that the living grapple with after death.

Suicide is ultimately more about life than death and there’s a feeling that the “you” being addressed actually may be very close to, if not the same person, as the “I.” No one could ever know this much about another. Spouses don’t have the intricate understandings that Leve asserts about his deceased friend.

The biggest hurdle in Suicide is that the dead man is difficult to like. I feel compassion for his family and friends but no connection or sympathy for him. Leve handles this well, acknowledging that if this man had lived past twenty-five, the two friends would likely have drifted apart and the narrator may not even have thought of him two decades later.

I don’t know. This subject is so tense and upsetting (and Leve’s own suicide creates a wall against criticism) that I’m having a hard time examining the book. There’s a tendency to listen more closely to a suicide. Reverence in a weird way. The idea to not speak ill of the dead is increased infinitely when that subject brought it to themselves.

Any complaint or criticism I can think of could be refuted by saying that Leve has done this on purpose: the story feels incomplete (so is every ended life), the subject seems uneven (so is every human; no one knows anyone as well as they think).

A note: translator Jan Steyn does an incredible job. This book doesn’t feel translated; the language is straightforward and clean, even when handling the intangible. The narrator has a sustained style and voice. Continue reading

“The Third Hotel” (Post 2/2)

The Third Hotel 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1

Buy the Book!

Part 2: Morbid Urges

[35] Reference:

Drinking cafecitos on the café patio.



Café Cubano (also known as Cuban expresso, Cuban coffee, Cafecito, Cuban pull, Cuban shot) is a type of espresso that originated in Cuba. Specifically, it refers to an espresso shot which is sweetened with demerara sugar which has been whipped with the first and strongest drops of espresso.

[36] Reference:

In an in-flight magazine she’d once read the quietest place on earth was an anechoic chamber in Minnesota. The longest anyone had ever lasted in there was forty-five minutes.


From Atlas Obscura:

Orfield Laboratories in South Minneapolis is the home of a space that was once dubbed “the quietest place on earth” by Guinness World Records. (As of 2015, that title now belongs to a quiet room developed by Microsoft in Washington state). The lab is called an anechoic chamber, meaning there is no echo as the room absorbs 99.99 percent of sound. It is used by various manufacturers to test product volume and sound quality – it can also drive a person mad.

Members of the public must book a tour to visit the room, and are only allowed in for a short and supervised stay. (…) One reporter lasted up to 45 minutes, and most people leave after half the time, tortured by the eerie sounds of their own body. (…)

Mr. Orfield explains that the only way to stay in the room for an extended period of time is to sit down. A person’s orientation is largely secured by the sounds made when walking or standing, and as those sound cures are taken away, perception becomes skewed, and balance and movement becomes an almost impossible feat.


My father calls left-handed people twin eaters.

(p.87) Continue reading

“The Third Hotel” (Post 1/2)

The Third Hotel 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2

Laura van den Berg’s second novel, released in 2018. I read a first edition hardcover from the library (but will be buying myself a copy very soon).

Buy the Book!

5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Clare takes the trip to Havana that her recently dead husband had been planning. She soon sees a man who looks just like him.

I cannot be impartial about this book. I’m going to try to give you reasons that, even if you are not me, you should read The Third Hotel, but ultimately some things just speak to you and it’s impossible to rationalize the reasons.

Van den Berg’s style is effortless and clean. The book is told in third person, past tense, but stays always with Clare’s thoughts. She speaks, people speak to her, but there are no quotations (something I didn’t notice until around page 50; it works very naturally and doesn’t seem gimmicky). The Third Hotel follows the way memory and thought works better than any other book I know. Figuring out where we are in the timeline is never confusing but I have no idea how van den Berg pulls it off. Clare may be talking to someone in Havana and remembering the person who sat next to her on a plane months before and I follow every beat.

Because this is a newer book, and because I desperately want you to read it, I’m going to hold back some of the best quotes. They should be surprises. Continue reading