2018 Reading Challenge

My goal this past year was to read 36 books by the end of December. Where I ended up, however, was 80 books. That’s more books than I’ve read in a long time. I made a careful list of what I wanted to read for maybe the first 35 books, but after that I just read whatever seemed interesting. Now, most of the books, by the nature of the word, were average. Some, though not many, were truly awful. But a few were utterly brilliant. These were my favorite books that I read in 2018, in no particular order.

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

This book is not going to be for everybody. It deals with pedophilia and consent. It’s a (gasp!) vampire book. But it is so imaginative and deep, dealing with very important issues of racism and terrorism, among other things. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I read this book because of all the hype, and was completely shocked and amazed when it lived up to it. In my experience, that is something that rarely happens. But it’s a spectacular heist novel, exciting from the very beginning to the very end. I highly recommend it.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

This is the sequel to Six of Crows. Not only is it deserving of the first book, it may even be better. In any case, it was a totally satisfying conclusion.

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

This is a fine example of new weird. I loved it. Just the right amount of gross, which is a hard balance to strike.

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola

This book is nuts. And very sexist (written in the ‘70s and in Africa). But it’s so fun I couldn’t put it down.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Ugh. Nadsat is brilliant. I thought a whole novel of it would be tiring, but it isn’t. Alex is such an intriguing (and awful) character, I could listen to him speak forever.

Railsea by China Mieville

This book is just fun. Period.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Tyler speaks to my soul. While I don’t support toxic masculinity (and Tyler is without a doubt toxic), I believe it is the fault of the very system against which he rails.

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski

This book was very interesting. A lot of it was dry, but that’s exactly what it was meant to be, as a satire of academic criticism. This is not a book I would ever reread, but I’m glad I read it once. It is truly unique.


And the best book I read:

Kindred by Octavia Butler

It handles all Octavia Butler’s favorite issues: slavery, freedom, consent, resistance. It was the first book of hers I read, and I’m glad I started here (though they are all brilliantly written). Five enthusiastic stars.



Ada listened to the beeps of her heartbeat slow. Each tone sounded softer as her body relaxed its grip and prepared to let her go. The drugs helped. Each beat of her heart wedged them further between her soul and her senses until there was nothing left to hold on to.

“I love you, Mom.”

Ada sighed, and with that last breath, told her baby girl she loved her too.

Her soul drifted up through atrophied muscle and brittle bones, leaving behind parchment skin and cobweb hair to be free from the bed for the first time in years. Who knew death felt so light? All these months, she’d imagined a deep, dark hole, buried under the weights of her sins for eternity. This was not that. This was freedom.

The lights of the hospital glimmered through her like a prism. She tried to hold that light, give her daughter one last rainbow kiss as she floated away. But a new type of gravity held her now—less violent than the one she was used to, but just as unrelenting.

Ada passed through the ceiling. It didn’t hurt; she didn’t even feel it.

A man slept in a chair beside a bed in the room above. Salt and pepper stubble covered his chin. Dark bags tugged at his eyes. His hand rested palm up, brushing the fingers of a hollow woman on the bed beside him.

Machines pumped her lungs like a bellows. But Ada could see, even if he couldn’t, the woman’s soul had already come loose. It swirled and tumbled, unable to break free of her body, trapped there by the machines keeping it alive.

Ada’s soul wafted through the man. His sadness seeped inside her and slowed her ascent with its heaviness.

“Let her go,” she whispered.

He shifted in his chair and closed his fingers around the woman’s hand. Then he drifted deeper into sleep and Ada lost him beneath the ceiling tiles.

The wind took her as she left the hospital. She floated along on its undulating currents and gazed at the world beneath her. Ribbons of concrete threaded through blocks of towering glass and steel buildings. Red lights crowded their lengths like tired eyes staring longingly at the horizon. Other souls joined Ada and they cruised the breeze in silence as it took them ever higher.

Feathery clouds fluttered past. Dampness clung to Ada as the wind carried her up. Darkness billowed above and swallowed every wisp that came near it.

Ada had always been afraid of the dark. From the moment she had been born into the light, she’d feared she’d lose it again. But that fear had died with her body, as had everything that had weighed her down. Without it, she could fly. And that was so much better.

So she let the storm clouds engulf her, and her soul smiled.

Water, light as air, surrounded her. It flowed in and through and around her. She laughed a peal of thunder and danced the wild dance of a storm. The other souls joined, churning the air and whipping the wind.

Clouds and souls pushed tighter and tighter. Water soaked her until she brimmed with it. The sudden weight sent her stumbling. She crashed into another soul and tumbled over the edge of the cloud.

No longer lighter than air, Ada plummeted through the sky. She pushed and writhed, but couldn’t break the surface tension of the water engulfing her. Souls screamed around her as the drops that held them prisoner reached terminal velocity.

Flashbacks of a lake, of her brother pulling her under and letting the game go too far, choked her as if she were really drowning. And all the while the wind lashed and the thunder crashed and the glass and steel rushed closer.

Ada cast her mind at memories of her daughter, desperate in her panic to recapture the love that had buoyed her in death. But nature and the universe cared nothing for love.

Windows flashed by like mirrors, the blacktop speeding toward her, no longer a ribbon, but the crushing vacuum of space. But maybe it would be like before. Maybe she had to die again to regain her wings. Red lights glared through the wetness as she held breath she had no means of drawing.

Souls below her smashed on the pavement. The ground surged closer and closer, faster and faster. Ada steeled herself for impact before shattering into a million bleeding pieces.

Ada’s daughter stepped out of the hospital and swiped at her cheek, unable to tell if the water on the back of her hand was a tear or just the rain. She swallowed her grief and raised her umbrella against the storm.

Top Villains

It’s no secret that I love villains. In fact, whether I like a movie or not almost always comes down to how the villain is portrayed. Here are some of my favorites from books and movies.

  1. Tyler Durden

I gotta say, I think he’s on the right track about a lot of things.

  1. Crake

Again, his plan is rather elaborate, but I think it’s coming from a good place.

  1. Dracula

He’s just doing what vampires do.

  1. Norman Bates

Sweet boy. He knows not what he does.

  1. The White Witch

Honestly, Aslan’s kind of a dick. I get it.

  1. Lady Midday

From Experimental Film by Gemma Files. Human conceptions of morality should not apply to supreme beings.

  1. Hans Gruber

Be still my aching heart.

  1. Maleficent

I’ve had it up to here with Disney princesses, myself.

  1. Darth Vader

That voice, that mask, that CAPE. Ugh.

  1. Mr. Dark

Those tattoos, though.

Honorable Mentions:

Alien Queen from Aliens: I mean, she’s just a single mom trying to raise a family of xenomorphs.

Alex from A Clockwork Orange

Experimental Film

Experimental Film by Gemma Files is about Lois—a former film critic who stumbles upon footage made by an eccentric woman who was perhaps the first ever female Canadian filmmaker. What follows is her journey to document this haunted and obsessed woman who left behind a series of increasingly disturbing retellings of the fictional Lady Midday fairy tale before mysteriously vanishing. This journey ultimately leads to progressively alarming similarities between the two women until Lois is forced to confront what haunts them both.

What was great about this story was the almost constant tension that intensified gradually throughout the whole novel. It created the eerie atmosphere necessary for any great ghost story. Lady Midday was all I wanted from such a powerful being. She was beautiful and terrifying and without anything resembling human morality. She was perfect. Lois herself was a refreshing main character in that she was so flawed as to be almost unlikable. But even when she said and did things that were off-putting, she was never unsympathetic.

My only real criticism would be that I didn’t care for the way the story jumped between the past and present. I feel like it gave away some of climax and reduced tension unnecessarily. But that’s just a personal opinion. Plenty of people like that method of storytelling.

All in all, I would recommend this to anyone who likes a good ghost story and a grisly fairy tale. 3.5 stars.

Where I Give You Life

In this post, I will bring you to Life. The supermarket, that is.


For those of you who have never been to a Japanese supermarket, they’re mostly murders of tiny squids:


Massacres of bigger squids:


Slaughters of octopus feets:


And carnages of fish heads:


But they also have multitudes of tofus (which all taste the same):


Swarms of misos (which don’t):


Legions of instant ramens:


Hordes of flan:


Shoals of canned cocktails:


And perhaps the greatest food to ever live—Black Thunder.


That Expat Life

Question from Facebook: What are some of your favorite things about being a gaijin?

So giajin means foreigner in Japanese, and I am definitely that. Have been (unintentionally) for nearly 10 years. Ouch. There are a lot of unfortunate things about being…unique…in a culture that likes conformity—which most cultures do.

But there are also some great things. My favorite is probably that when I am totally over something I can suddenly lose the ability to speak. As in, I’m sorry, I’m just too tired to Japanese right now. Gets me off the hook for a lot of stuff I’d rather not do. Like paying for public television. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love public TV in the US. Public TV in Japan is not that. It is the mouthpiece of the right-wing government and I am not paying for it. So when the NHK guys (it’s always a guy) come to the door, I get to dust off my Spanish, politely inform them I don’t speak Japanese, and then throw some random words in there as I shut the door, like mariposa and estornudar.

Beyond that, I really just try to live my life the same way I’d live it back home. But some things I love about Japan are that it’s clean, the public transportation is convenient, and nobody will try to rob you. Probably.

Also public baths and karaoke. At the same time if you’re nasty.

Reading Challenge Progress

Like most people, I have an account on Goodreads. It’s really the only way I can keep track of all I’ve read and have yet to read. And I can also spy on what my friends are reading and steal their reading lists. But right now, what I’m using it for is to motivate me to read more. I spent most of last year reading almost exclusively the works of amateur writers in my various critique groups. And while I read some great stuff, I needed a reminder of why I wanted to write in the first place.

So this year is the year of the book. Or the many books. I originally set my reading challenge at 24 books. But as the year is only half over and I’ve already read 20 books, I thought I should revise higher. So my new goal is 36.

Part of this challenge is to get back into reading, and part is to get a better feel for weird fiction. To that end, these are the books I’m hoping to read this year:

The Glittering World by Robert Levy

The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson

The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington

The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett

The Vorrh by Brian Catling

The Deep by Nick Cutter

Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

The San Veneficio Canon by Michael Cisco

I’m still a few books short, so if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

What are your favorite weird books? What is the weirdest book you’ve ever read?

For me, the weirdest and bestest would have to be Perdido Street Station, American Elsewhere, The Hearing Trumpet, or The Library at Mount Char.

And if anyone would like to read along, I’d love to discuss. Who’s up for a little weird book club?

Top Movies Based on Books

Most movies based on books are horrible, some are hilarious (looking at you, Dune), a few are just as good as the book, and a tiny number are even better. These are my favorites (I’m only including movies for which I’ve also read the book).

10. I am Legend

The movie and book are completely different animals. People who enjoyed the book hated the movie for exactly that reason (and perhaps others…that ending…). I hated the book. So I found the movie to be a vast improvement.

9. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Just because this was my least favorite book. Made the movie so much better by comparison.

8. The Hunger Games

I was expecting this movie to be bad. When it wasn’t, I decided to read the book, also expecting it to be bad. I was pleasantly surprised on both accounts.

7. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet

With a dreamy Leo DiCaprio and a charming Claire Danes. What a captivating setting for this story.

6. Pride and Prejudice

With Keira Knightley. Perfection.

5. The Last Unicorn

They made just enough changes to fit the story into an hour and a half, and kept just enough to preserve its spirit.

4. The Sword in the Stone

Madam Mim is my patronus.

3. The Neverending Story

Damn you, Artax.

2. Fight Club

This book speaks to me on so many levels. And the casting was flawless at every turn. Let’s face it. You can argue with Tyler Durden’s methods, but he’s not wrong. I am Jack’s raging commiseration.

1. Lord of the Rings

I struggled to get through these books. Every chapter was painful. The movies, on the other hand, remain the most immersive I’ve ever seen.

Honorable Mentions:

Holes with Shia LaBeouf and Interview with the Vampire with a mesmerizing Kirsten Dunst.


Motorman by David Ohle is a tough book to summarize. It doesn’t have much going on in terms of plot, and that’s not really the point. It’s about Moldenke, who who is sequestered in his apartment, for reasons unknown, but it’s hinted at that this isn’t necessarily something unusual for the world he lives in. He is convinced to make a break for it by his doctor—the one who implanted the four extra hearts in his chest. He leaves to find this doctor and…that’s about it.

That’s it in terms of plot, anyway. But like I said, this book isn’t about the plot. It’s about…weirdness. It reads like the stream of consciousness description of a dream. While this novel is a delight in terms of strange worldbuilding, it is not for people who need to understand everything that is going on and its significance. There are certainly things that can be gleaned and parallels that can be drawn to modern society (it was written in the 70s, but the lessons still hold up). But those expecting a novel, in the traditional sense, will likely be disappointed.

That said, I really enjoyed this book. I love the bizarre, and Motorman delivers with every word on every page, from the jellyheads to the main character’s girlfriend, Cock, with the punctuation disorder. Moldenke takes the world and the things that happen to him in it in stride, which could have something to do with the emotions he lost in the mock war. This could easily have been a whiny, preachy dystopian novel. But Moldenke’s go-with-the flow attitude made for a quite enjoyable read. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for something really, really, weird. 3 stars


I’ve always been a very low-energy person, so I don’t have any horribly exciting hobbies. I like to watch TV (and by TV I of course mean Star Trek), read books, SCUBA (whenever I find myself somewhere tropical), and sing karaoke, though Hubs hates karaoke. He’s a very bad Japanese person. They’d take away his card, but the bowing required would take days.

Recently I decided to pick up another hobby. The only requirement was that I could do it in my pajamas and without looking at, speaking to, or thinking about another human being even once. So I bought a sewing machine.

I’m obviously not very good, as I’ve just started, but I made 3 throw pillow covers and a table runner yesterday. Though I’ll admit, I did spend most of the day wondering why my new sewing machine was broken when I’d just threaded it wrong. Or maybe that’s what it wants me to think.

My plan is to make a whole mess of tote bags and then maybe move on to skirts. I even bought a pattern, but I’m pretty sure that’s broken too. I have the worst luck. Yeah. Definitely that. It’s not that I have no idea what I’m doing and too little patience and sense to learn properly. Stuff be breaking.