What I’ve Been Reading: September 2020 Edition

Okay. So I lied last month. I did not in fact read any anthologies. Fanfiction? Yes. Sci-Fi/Fantasy? Doubly yes. A smidge of Young Adult thrown in for something soft? You betcha buns I did.

That being said, I’m not going to review all of the fanfiction or books I did read. Instead, like every month since I started this, I’m going to pick out the most recent, easily remembered three I can name off the top of my head and give you, dear reader, the briefest of rundowns.

Here we go!

Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Wyoming in winter is fucking cold. Why do I even stay up here? I’d rather be in New Mexico, in the mountains. Yeah, it can be cold there as well, but at least it’s not a deep-freezer three months out of the year. Maybe the people around here would be a little less crazy then. Unlikely, but one can hope. I’m on the outs again with Vic, my newest officer is thinkin’ on leaving, and the local junkman (ahem, excuse me, Municipal Waste Management director) has found a loose thumb in a beer cooler. Things could only get worse if a corpse were to- Aw, dagnabit to hell!

Once again, the Longmire series proves that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong in the sleepy little town of Durant, Wyoming. There are dogs in this one! More dogs that just Dog (who, btw, is a good boy, yes he is! The best boyo!)!! There’s also a feud between the owner of the junkyard and a homesite developer, a stranger living off the grid, and a host of cranky personnel.

A mix of modern-day western and murder mystery, this is a great book to read in between stories that are much longer and more in-depth. There is just enough pull in the dialogue and character development that you won’t want to put it down, but it has just the right amount of predictability that you don’t have to think too hard.

Read this if you like being inside an older white dude’s head. Don’t read this if you hate frozen burritos from the gas station.

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ollie’s mom is… nope. Not gonna think about it. Let’s instead think about books and all the books there are left for her to read. So much nicer. The newest book, the one that she happened to rescue from the crazy lady at the creek? It’s weird and familiar and too good to put down. The story seems too strange to be true. But when the school bus breaks down on the blacktop miles away from their destination, Ollie must push aside her own doubts and save her fellow classmates. By the way, does it seem like there are more scarecrows out there than before?

This is more of a middle-grade novel than a strict YA, but whatever. It was good and I liked it and I’m not changing my mind anytime soon.

Very much a scary story, this tale of friendship and survival is intertwined with our main protagonist’s grief over the loss of her mom and her struggle to keep it together when everyone else expects her to fall apart. Ollie holds so much anger and frustration at all of the people in her life that she can’t see how lonely she is. Luckily, she can channel all of that anger and frustration into defeating the Smiling Man, an entity behind the disappearances stretching back to the late 19th century. Can Ollie and her friends escape the scarecrows? Will they be able to save their classmates? Why is the Smiling Man doing all of this? I’m not going to tell you, you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

Read this if you like scary stories where the children aren’t in immediate danger. Don’t read this if you’re afraid of the Autumn months.

The 71/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Every time I fall asleep, I awake to find myself in a body I do not know, a face I do not recognize, and thoughts that can’t be my own. I can’t trust anyone, but I know that if I don’t, I’ll never leave this place alive.

Hey look! It’s another mystery!

But there’s a twist: instead of being yourself and solving the murder before it happens, you get to jump around into other people and see the whole day again from their perspective! Part Quantum Leap part Agatha Christie mystery, this novel is sure to scratch the itch you didn’t know you had.

I started this book with only the knowledge that the protagonist didn’t know much of anything except that he had to solve a murder mystery. With a cast of diverse characters(sorta? I mean, they read like a bunch of well-off men…), each with their own tragic-ish backstory and unsurprising history of substance abuse, this tale of mystery and suspense reads so much like a knock-off Agatha Christie novel that I had no problem picking it back up every time I laid it down. Things really don’t get weird until well into the book, but by then you are bond to be hooked by the plot, side-plots and inner dialogues. I liked it for the fact that I did not guess who the would-be murderer was (that’s alway a nice thing, to not do the detective’s job and solve the crime before the end of the story). However, with the very not diverse setting, I had a hard time sympathizing with any of them. Which… that may have been the point. Hold on, I’m going to go look that up…

Read this if you wished you could live in an Agatha Christie universe invaded by body snatchers. Avoid this book entirely if you can’t stand the sight of Scott Bakula.

This month has felt like a mystery-filled holiday. Every book I picked up had some theme or another about one or several people trying to solve a crime or mystery, sometimes with supernatural elements trying to stop them. Am I craving something I can’t have? Most definitely. Do I know what it is? That’s a hard no.

My favorite has to be the Longmire book Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson. It’s comfort food wrapped in cozy winters indoors and garnished with a sprig of mUrDeR. The way the words flow and meld, the descriptions of the town and the people who live there, and the overall sense of justice getting done give me a sense of peace and warmth that only a worn quilt can do. Granted, this is a series that I’ve dipped in and out of for several years; that probably skews my opinions on the matter of which of these books was the “best” this month.

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden is a close second. This is the kind of book I needed when I was in middle school. Instead, all I ever read were books about girls doing whatever it is society thinks girls should do and horse books from the 1950s. Not that expansive. Having a strong female lead dealing with her own issues and finally finding closure and solace without the explicit help from a male role model? Best. Thing. Ever. There were even a few parts that I actually got a little frightened (scarecrows are freaky, especially when they can move by themselves!). A good jump scare is good, every single time.

The last book I read, The 71/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, was by far the most interesting of the three. I don’t think I’ve ever come across something as this. I’m thankful that this author took all of the Quantum Leap fanfiction out there and turned it into something really really good. Do I agree with any of the characters? No, and that’s perfectly okay. You don’t have to like a character for the book to be excellent. Sure, there were some instances that I felt a slight sympathy for one of them, but that doesn’t mean I agree with 100% of what they did or were going to do in the future.

I’ve got to say, all of these books were great. There wasn’t a dud among them (unlike last month), and I will probably either read them again next year, or at least find something else by the same authors.

Tune in next month to see if I actually keep my promise and bring you three of the many anthologies sitting on my bookshelves. Will they be something other than science fiction? Very unlikely. But hey, predictability isn’t all that bad.

If you haven’t heard of any of the books above, I urge you to check them out! (Also, buy secondhand if you can’t get it from the library!!!) I’m all for supporting authors and whatnot, but times are tough and we need to work on reusing instead of buying everything new).

Pssst! Some websites I link to are affiliate links. It costs nothing extra for you (if you make a purchase), & it gives me a little something in return!

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