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Joined 1 year, 6 months ago

I love books, grew up among, and still live among, teetering piles of To Be Reads. In my dotage here, I admit I have less patience for plots that feel too familiar, and I tend (even more than I always have) toward the strange and surreal. But a beautifully-written and perfectly normal book can also bowl me over.

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Ngaio Marsh: Death in Ecstasy (A Roderick Alleyn Mystery) (Paperback, 1997, St. Martin's Paperbacks) 4 stars

When lovely Cara Quayne dropped dead to the floor after drinking the ritual wine at …

A perfectly acceptable little Marsh

3 stars

There is a murder in a somewhat notable setting, a group of somewhat interesting suspects, there are Inspector Alleyn and the inevitable Fox of Scotland Yard. Eventually it turns out that one of the suspects is guilty, and is arrested and will presumably be tried, and likely convicted.

Nothing (and I suppose this is a spoiler, if only a negative one) especially mysterious or puzzling happens, there are no particular surprises or twists, and as a result one comes away with rather a neutral feeling about the whole thing.

Still, there are much worse ways that one could have spent the time.

Thomas Ligotti: The Shadow at The Bottom of The World (Paperback, 2005, Cold Spring Press) 4 stars

Very good weird horror

5 stars

Lovecraft only quite different.

Mostly more conceptual than body-horror, definitely weird and unsettling, certainly not cliched.

A friend pointed out, based on the stories in another Ligotti collection but also true of this one, that while Lovecraft's narrators are usually a normal human reporting on their contact with the weird and uncanny and mind-bending, Ligotti's narrators are more likely to be part of the weird and uncanny and mind-bending themselves, even if for the first few sentences we don't realize it.

And that's an important difference.

Definitely worth reading; what more can be said?

John Wyndham: Foul Play Suspected 5 stars

Foul Play Suspected is a 1935 crime novel by British writer John Wyndham. It was …

A solid comfy British mystery, but also beyond the genre.

5 stars

The author of "Day of the Triffids", but no aliens here. In form and basic setup it's a well-crafted comfy British mystery: plucky girl returns from India to find that her brilliant eccentric scientist father has disappeared, she appeals to her two somewhat ne'er do well witty young male friends who have a housemaid named Mrs. Roberts, eventually Constable Pennywise is involved, and ultimately the sharp-minded Inspector Jordan of Scotland Yard, we have a side-plot about which of the young men if any may be in love with the girl, and so on. Quite nice!

But also we get some rather weighty addresses from more than one of the characters about how there are bad trends in the world and people are just hiding their heads in the sand, about how war is bad and (private, capitalist) weapons makers are very bad, and ultimately the message of the book is …

Osamu Dazai, Donald Keene: Flowers of Buffoonery (2023, Norton & Company Limited, W. W.) 4 stars

Probably an excellent book

3 stars

Content warning Mild spoilers for the basic background premise

China Miéville: Railsea (EBook, 2012, Tor Books) 4 stars

"On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses …

An amazing adventure!

5 stars

Just such a wild and good book. It could be described as "Moby Dick, except that instead of chasing a whale in a sailing ship, they're chasing a giant mole in a railroad train", and that would be accurate but also not. And it sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it works, and it's terrific.

It's also steampunk of a sort, but steampunk that's fresh and unique and not Just Steampunk.

It is a wonderful time, a rollicking adventure, a sweet romp, complete in itself, the loose ends not exactly tied up but not exactly left dangling. It is easy to imagine (and even long for) sequels, or other stories in the same universe, but it's also easy to imagine there won't be any; this was about perfect.

Highly highly recommended.

Nick Land: Phyl-Undhu (2014, Time Spiral Press) 3 stars

An expedition into the indescribable.

Ineffective horror

2 stars

I came to this book from Sandifer's "Neoreaction a Basilisk", and even though that book is partly a commentary on this one, the commentary is in this case more interesting than its subject.

It may be that different people just have very different susceptibilities to horror, and that mine and Land's have little or no overlap. This brief story shows us two parents worried about their daughter, the three of them going into a somewhat interesting sensory-immersion video game together, and then coming out again (OR DO THEY??? [portentous orchestra hit]).

Even including that obvious final trope, nothing about it struck me as disturbing, scary, horrible, or anything else related to horror, although there were lots of multisyllabic words telling me how terror-inducing it all was. Okay, I guess? For some people?

Various promising elements introduced early on (a creepy stuffed animal, a classmate attempting suicide after the daughter said …

Andrea Camilleri: Death at Sea (Paperback, English (in translation from Italian) language, 2018, Penguin) 3 stars

Eight short stories about Inspector Montalbano and his crew.

It was... okay?

3 stars

I feel as though I ought to have enjoyed these little police mysteries more, given how famous and well-regarded the author and the character are.

I read the first story and half of the second a while back, but bogged down and put it aside. Today I picked it up again, more determined, and read from the beginning of the second story all the way through. It wasn't bad?

These are simple crime mysteries with a homey feel; one is clearly supposed to like Inspector Montalbano and his setting: the general feel of small-city Sicily, the housekeeper who cooks so well, the young girlfriend from Genoa whom the housekeeper dislikes, the various foods and drinks that are so often and lovingly mentioned, the colleague that knows the history of every attractive woman in town, the eccentric unreliable secretary or something at the station who talks in a barely comprehensible accent …

Instant Zen (1994) 5 stars


5 stars

Remember that no teacher has ever spoken or written a single word of teaching!

About halfway through this book, Foyan writes:

"I will settle something for you right now: the ultimate rule is to see your own mind clearly. This is what Buddhism is, as far as I am concerned."

That's it, that's the whole thing. Every other section of this book, every other sentence, is not saying anything different.

So, why? Because, I would speculate, even though it is all the same, and all free of any content or teaching, each different series of words, like a different set of bird cries or patterings of raindrops, might be the thing that someone needs to hear to be freed, or to attain a little insight. Or to smile.

And Foyan may have been a wily expert at arranging especially effective ways of saying exactly the same empty thing.

Therefore, read …