The Scarlet Gospels

Clive Barker, The Scarlet GospelsClive Barker
The Scarlet Gospels

My only real exposure to Clive Barker’s work was when I sneaked reading The Thief of Always back when I was probably like, twelve. And that book is super creepy. Beyond that, I somehow knew he was associated with Pinhead and the Hellraiser movies, but the closest I ever got to watching those was walking by the cover of the VHS at my local Blockbuster, not able to stop staring despite the fear that the devil would somehow get into my soul through my inability to look away. (I may have been slightly brainwashed by an extreme Christian upbringing.)

When I saw this book was available to download from the library, I figured it would be a a perfect kick-off to R.eaders I.bibing P.eril. Demons and witchcraft and talking to ghosts? Why not.

The book starts with a resurrection of a powerful witch who learns that since his death the last majority of witches have been killed off, forced to reveal their secrets to the not-so-affectionately nicknamed Pinhead. The remaining witches have brought him back in hopes of him somehow helping them escape his fate.

No such luck. Bloody mayhem ensues.

From there, Pinhead is basically trying to take over hell, with only supernatural detective Harry D’Amour and a couple friends to stop him.

I liked the descriptions of hell, and all its various inhabitants. I wasn’t sure, exactly, how Harry and his plucky team were going to be up for the task of taking down the MOST POWERFUL PRIEST OF HELL EVARRRRR, but I guess that’s pretty much any David v. Goliath book. I do want to know more about the characters, especially Harry. What is he like in Barker’s other works? I guess anytime you are wanting more it’s a sign the author has done at least something right.

Peril the First

Joining in R.I.P.

I’ve decided to join this year’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril challenge. I had in my head I was going to, as I’ve been wanting to read some spooky, creepily atmospheric books this season. In fact, I may have started the reading before I actually officially joined. Somehow, I don’t think this crowd will hold it against me.

I’m jumping all in, joining at the highest level: Peril the First

Peril the First: Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between.

I’ve already read The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker and The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel. I just started Graveyard Shift  by Angela Roquet, which is already grabbing my attention and making me want to curl up on the couch and not come up for a breath until I’ve finished.

I have never read anything by Lovecraft, and have been wanting to, so maybe I’ll meet Cthulhu during this challenge. Anyone have any other suggestions? This genre is definitely out of my comfort zone.


I am *finally* reading If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carson. This is one of those books that I knew I’d love from the moment I heard about it. Fortunately, I haven’t been disappointed. Phelps Lake

Inspired by the title poem, and a recent trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I sat down and wrote a poem of my own:

Long summer days

So many hours in the hot sun

Burning skin

Until refuge is taken in the shadow of a mountain

If not, winter

With its crisp icy beauty

Broken by the crunch of our feet in the snow

Cold puffs of hot breath

Anticipating your hands

Building a fire

My Year in Review

2014 was quite a year for me, in many respects. My reading patterns reflect this in many ways. The first part of the year was incredibly stressful. When I was reading, I was drawn to comfort type books that didn’t require much work on my part. I finally read the Harry Potter books – well, 2-7, as I did read the first one a couple years ago. Then there was Tamora Pierce, who I pretty much always love. The middle of the year found many middling type books, and it wasn’t until September and my discovery of Alison Lurie’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Foreign Affairs” that I found myself excited about reading. Of course, that was just in time for me to give my notice at work and start a new business. So there really wasn’t much reading from October through the end of the year. When goodreads told me I’d ended the year only 8 short of my 100 book goal, I was shocked.

Another shocking aspect of my reading in 2014: I read more books on audio and in ebook form than I did physical books. I’m still not a huge audiobook fan in general. I think some books really work in that format, while others might not.

One that worked great as an audiobook was “Frog Music” by Emma Donoghue. I’m certainly no expert, but I thought the accents were great – very fitting for the characters. And the songs were so lovely! I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much out of it as I would have had I read it in print. 


year in books
On to the stats!

92 books total

Audio:                           17     18%
Ebook:                          41     45%
Fiction:                         78     85%
Non-fiction:                 14    15%
Female authors:         70     76%
Male authors:              22    24%
Authors of color:         22    24%
Books in translation:    1       1%

Obviously some of these categories are overlapping. The one stat I knew was going to be bad was my books in translation. I usually read a lot more than one a year, but not this year. One of the things about translated books is that they take more effort to seek out, and my efforts this year went places besides my reading.

Despite the upheaval in my personal life I still managed to keep reading and read a lot of good books. Here’s to 2015!

Currently Listening to…

Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird Song.”

And like woah.

I heard about this album on npr (where else?), while I was driving to work one day last week. I went ahead and downloaded the album, which has Dr. Angelou reading her poems to hip hop beats.

Dr. Angelou said this about who she wanted to reach with this project:

“Some young woman, who had decided that life owed her nothing and she owed nothing – she had decided that life had no promise for her. But she’ll turn on the radio or pass a car with the radio booming and it will be playing something that came out of our meeting. And the young woman’s eyes will open, and her heart will be lifted up.”

So in addition to listening to it myself, I had it playing in the car today when I was with my “little.” While I hope that she doesn’t feel that low, I’m all for all young women’s eyes being opened and hearts being lifted up. So often they are broken down instead.

My favorite song on the album is “Ain’t That Bad.” I dare you not to do a little dance in your car when it plays.

Listen to “Still I Rise,” which is less hip hop and more a blend of gospel and Motown:

Recent Very Good Reads

I’ve read quite a number of books this year, but many of them were only ho-hum. I find that sometimes when I am caught up in reading st such a fast pace, quality gets lost in the quantity. That said, these are some books I’ve recommend wholeheartedly:

 americanah Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Confession: I’ve read both Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus, and liked them fine, but never really understood the gushing over them. Well, now I am gushing over an Adichie. Americanah is the story of a young woman from Nigeria who comes to America for school, then eventually moves back to Lagos. In the meantime, she learns about what it means to be black in America, grows up, has relationships (romantic and otherwise). Through it all, there is a sense of what she left behind, of not quite fitting in despite learning the intricate ins and outs of American culture.

Foreign Affairs, Alison LurieForeign Affairs, Alison Lurie
This book broke the ho-hum. I wasn’t expecting to love this like I did. Essentially, two New England professors go to London on sabbatical, and the novel follows their unexpected romantic liaisons. A rather simple story, but incredibly  masterfully rendered. This book won a Pulitzer, and it is a well deserved award. It reminded me of Edith Wharton’s insight into both character and class. One difference is that Wharton’s characters’ selves are revealed to the reader, they still seem hidden to themselves. Lurie’s eventually seem to come to a bit more self recognition, though they still have further to go. It makes for a slightly more satisfying resolution.

I am Forbidden, Anouk MarkovitsI Am Forbidden, Anouk Markovitz
This one is intense. It is based in the world of the Satmars, a sect of Hasidic Jews. The author was brought up in the sect, but left as a young adult. The book follows the story of two foster sisters, one who stayed and one who left. Since the author left, I expected the narrative to follow the sister that left. Instead, it followed the sister who stayed. Markovitz was able to paint a picture of the religion and its followers are complex, principled people who still hurt each other in such deep ways.

***Edited to add: Um, wow. I didn’t realize this post went live, when it clearly wasn’t finished. Oops!

Month in Review: September

So, it’s been awhile since I last posted a Month in Review. I like these check ins, to see how much I’m reading, and to keep an eye on some categories I care about. This year I’ve been terrible about reading books in translation. September was no exception. Out of the 13 books I read, all were originally written in English.

September actually got me blogging again, so that’s certainly something. It was Aarti’s Diversiverse event that did it. And I’m glad. Not only did I manage to post about three books, I also visited the blogs of other people enthusiastic about reading widely. The book blogging community is really great, and this event was the perfect way to plunge back in.

What’s next for October? I’m committing to reading something translated. I’ve got Hella Haasse’s The Black Lake, originally written in Dutch. I’ve been meaning to get to that one for awhile, so this might be the month. I’ve also been wanting to read a Murakami for way too long.

Do you have any favorite translated books to recommend? I love seeing what other people read.

September in Review

Total books: 13
10 Fiction:                    77%
3 Non-fiction:              23%
10 Women Authors:   77%
0 Translated:                0%

Oh, and I know Gone Girl is now a movie. No, I won’t be seeing it. I absolutely hated the book, and can’t believe the movie would be any better.

A Spy in the House

A Spy in the House (The Agency, Book 1)
Y.S. Lee

Teenager in Victorian dress  looking back at building

We meet Mary as a twelve year old destined for the gallows. Somehow, she is spared that fate, and next time we see her she is seventeen and about to become an undercover investigator for the very people who saved her life.

This is the first book in the “A Spy in the House” series. At first, I was thinking that the series might focus each book on a different Agency spy, but I looked at the cover again and saw that it says “A Mary Quinn Mystery.” That makes me happy, I’m looking forward to seeing Mary grow into her own even more fully.

In this book, she is to play a minor, supporting role in the Agency’s investigation into a shady London merchant. I was rolling my eyes, convinced she was going to swoop in and save the whole case and be the hero, but it didn’t exactly work out that way. And I was glad. We see her as a baby investigator, still with plenty of pluck, but it seems to be a more realistic depiction of how a situation like hers might actually happen.

I *love* that this book is concerned with social justice issues (and in a non-preachy way!) The main investigation centers around artifacts stolen from a Hindu temple in India, possibly brought to London from traders and installed in private collections. Stealing another culture’s treasures is something that pops up in the news now and again, bringing with it questions about where these items belong, and who should have the rights to them.

There’s a scene where Mary comes across obscene materials owned by the merchant she’s investigating. The subject matter is African slaves being sexually abused by masters – and this is recognized as particularly bad, as abuse, not just average titillating images. (It’s not something that is mentioned in explicit detail, and is not a feature of the book, for anyone that might have concerns.)

There are also questions surrounding Mary’s identity, which I won’t go into, but are sure to provide more material for future books.

Glad I read this one for #Diversiverse!



Laurence Yep

Book cover for Dragonwings, showing young Chinese boy holding a kite, standing next to his father, who is looking up towards a plane

This is my second review for #Diversiverse

I originally picked up this book intending it as a gift for my BBBS “little.” I figured I’d read it before I gave it to her so that we could talk about it if she wanted to. I finally got around to reading it recently, but now I’m debating whether or not to give it to her.

One one hand, the book is written in a very simplistic, almost childish tone. On the other, it seems like it might be a bit longer than a ten or twelve year old might want to read, especially since it took a good while for it to start capturing my attention.

Dragonwings  did capture some of the violence and resistance that many Chinese immigrants faced from whites. It also showed a fleshed out Chinese immigrant community, complete with family businesses, codes of conduct, a system of justice, and more. The characters help readers see the community as made up of more than flat characters with funny accents and an odd way of wearing their hair.

Overall I found the book too slow to get started and too choppy feeling with too abrupt an ending to be to my taste. But to each their own!

Want more like this? Try:

  • Hiroshima, Laurence Yep. I preferred this book to Dragonwings. Short, easy to read novella explores the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II from the perspective of some of the city’s young inhabitants. I appreciated that it also talked about the aftermath, and introduced me to the Hiroshima Maidens.
  • American Born Chinese, Gene Luan Yang. Graphic novel in three parts, focusing on the modern day Chinese American youngster.
  • Daughter of Fortune, Isabel Allende. A Chilean woman immigrates to California in the midst of the Gold Rush.