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Portable Magic

Reading, for me, is entertainment and an escape from the real world. But it can also inform and stretch the boundaries of the life I live.

Currently reading

I am No One You Know
Joyce Carol Oates
Progress: 17 %
The Return of the King
J.R.R. Tolkien, Rob Inglis
Progress: 35 %

Book Haul! Audible 2 for 1 Sale

The Elementals - Michael Rowe, Michael McDowell Blackwater: The Complete Caskey Family Saga - Michael McDowell, John Langan The Android's Dream - John Scalzi 'Salem's Lot - Ron McLarty, Stephen King

Usually I don't find anything I especially want at the Audible sales, but I think I got 4 good ones this time. And for you Halloween Bingoers, they have a number of horror and mystery/thriller books that fit the categories. 

Beartown ★★☆☆☆

Beartown: A Novel - Fredrik Backman

I have a strong suspicion that this book is going to take a very dark turn at some point and probably get to be much more interesting, but I’ve been struggling to make myself keep on with it for several days now and have decided to give up. I keep yelling at the book: “Just get on with it!” I don’t care about hockey, and the characters and their motivations and this story of a dying town and the residents’ hopes and anger and despair have just not been very compelling so far.


DNF at 37% after almost 5 hours of listening time. Audiobook, borrowed from my public library via Overdrive. Marin Ireland’s performance is not the problem.

Is it September 1 Yet?

***stolen & modified from Twitter

PM's Halloween Bingo 2018

First of all, thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU to Obsidian Blue and Moonlight Madness for once again organizing and hosting Halloween Bingo and Murder by Death for maintaining the reading suggestion lists for all the categories. I'm delighted that this has become an annual event, and I know you put a lot of work into it. 








I don't have a specific plan for achieving bingos, I'm just going to read as many books as I can and see what I accomplish. My primary goal, besides having fun, is to knock as many books off my TBR mountain as possible, using the bingo categories as a guide. So I'll be prioritizing books I already own, and supplementing with the library TBRs. The only new purchases will be a new release already on my TBR, or Audible credits that I already have to spend. I already have some alternates lined up for my planned books, in case the library books don't come available in time for the game. 



  1. Creepy Carnivals – The Devil in the White City (Erik Larson); bound; owned
  2. Southern Gothic - The Pecan Man (Cassie Dandridge Selleck); audio; library
  3. Doomsday – Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel); audio; owned
  4. New release – October: A Novel (Michael Rowe); audio; owned
  5. Genre: Suspense – What She Knew (Gilly Macmillan); ebook; owned
  6. Baker Street Irregulars – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (JK Rowling); bound; owned
  7. Modern Noir – The Scarf (Robert Bloch); bound; owned
  8. Ghost stories – Bag of Bones (Stephen King); audio; owned
  9. Thirteen – The Bad Beginning (Lemony Snicket); audio or bound; owned
  10. A Grimm Tale – Andersen’s Fairy Tales (Leonard R Vosburgh); bound; owned
  11. Relics and Curiosities – Charlie the Choo-Choo (Beryl Evans); bound; owned
  12. Deadlands – My Life as a White Trash Zombie (Diana Rowland); audio; owned
  13. Modern Masters of Horror – 20th Century Ghosts (Joe Hill); audio/bound; owned
  14. Supernatural – A Night in the Lonesome October (Roger Zelazny); bound; owned
  15. Genre: Horror – Rage (Richard Bachman); bound; owned
  16. Classic horror – The Halloween Tree (Ray Bradbury); audio; owned
  17. Country house mystery – The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins); audio; owned
  18. Cozy Mystery – Curiosity Thrilled the Cat (Sofie Kelly); audio; library
  19. Darkest London – A Darker Shade of Magic (VE Schwab); ebook; owned
  20. Amateur Sleuth – Home for the Haunting (Juliet Blackwell); ebook; library
  21. Terrifying Women Authors – After the Funeral (Agatha Christie); audio; library
  22. Murder Most Foul – Keeper of the Castle (Juliet Blackwell); audio; library
  23. Diverse voices – The Ghost Bride (Yangsze Choo); audio; owned



I Almost Forgot About You ★★★☆☆

I Almost Forgot About You - Terry McMillan

I appreciate a romance that is acerbically funny rather than cloying and this one gets bonus points for a main character and her romantic interests who are middle aged and dealing with all the life issues that go with it. The characters, their relationships, and the events felt real and not too improbable and the dialogue was snappy. I enjoyed it so much that it mostly overcame the usual fatal flaw of having been written in first person, present tense. Normally, I’ll DNF those immediately, but I was actually able to forget the style and fall into the story for the most part.


Audiobook, borrowed from my public library. Audiobooks read by the author tend to be pretty hit/miss, but MacMillan did a terrific reading, especially with the dialogue.

Summer Sisters ★★★★☆

Summer Sisters - Judy Blume

I wish I knew what magic makes a book so compelling that you just get sucked right into it and look up hours later, thinking, “I should go to bed, but just a few more pages, but ohhh I’m really going to be sorry when my alarm goes off at 5:30, but just a few more pages, ohhh what the heck okay another chapter.”


In another author’s hands, maybe, this would not have been that kind of book. There were a couple of twists but it was otherwise fairly predictable. The characters were not especially complex and yet I just wanted to know what happened, what they did, why did they do it, and yes I even needed a few Kleenex at the end. The brief little peeks into every (with one key exception) character’s innermost thoughts following key events should have been annoying, but I was instead delighted with them.


I can’t explain it, but this was one of those books. More than 400 pages and I am a slow, stodgy reader, but I gobbled this one up in 2 days. Go figure.


Paperback version, picked up secondhand on a whim 3 years ago.


Previous Updates:

7/16/18 – 297/416

An American Killing ★☆☆☆☆

An American Killing - Mary-Ann Tirone Smith

Ugh. It started off so well. The characters seemed interesting and the writing was okay and I was curious to know more about the powerful politician found dead in an apparently accidental case of autoerotic asphyxiation, but maybe was murdered instead. Then it all went to heck on page 18, when the first person narrator suddenly began swinging between present tense and past tense, the story became clogged with celebrity name-dropping, and it became painfully obvious that the author was drawing so heavily on the Ann Rule/Ted Bundy story that it completely kicked me out of the story. I did power through to page 50, but there’s no way I could bring myself to finish the book.


DNF on page 50. Hardcover, purchased years ago on a whim from a clearance table at a big box bookstore that has long since gone out of business.


Previous Updates:

7/15/18 – 15/368 pg

Summer Sisters - 297/416 pg

Summer Sisters - Judy Blume

Oh thank goodness. It feels like it's been forever since I sat down with a non-audio book and really enjoyed it. I was starting to worry that my brain was broke and didn't like reading fiction anymore. 


I started this yesterday afternoon and stayed up well past midnight reading. I finally had to make myself close it and go to sleep so I wouldn't be completely dead at work today. 

Lock In ★★★★☆

Lock In - John Scalzi, Wil Wheaton

Loved it. Loved the writing, loved the characters, loved the story. I loved the “what if” of the idea of the story. I loved how the concepts of body autonomy and consent and disabilities and discrimination and community are toyed with. The only reason this wasn’t a five star is that I was a little too distracted by the plausibility of the *how* of the disease, but that’s something I tend to always get wrapped up in with this sort of story and not at all the writer’s fault.


Audiobook, purchased via Audible. Wil Wheaton’s performance truly makes the story come alive. He is amazing. Many thanks to Obsidian Blue for recommending this one to me!


An American Killing - 15/368 pg

An American Killing - Mary-Ann Tirone Smith

A serious writer like me gains notoriety when her books are made into successful movies with A-list stars, the same way nonserious writers gain notoriety. 


This book is off to a good start, in spite of the setting. I don't usually care for national politics/intrigue kinds of stories, but I think that's just going to be the stage for a murder mystery thriller. The main character is sort of fun, an unlikeable cynic for whom every human interaction is a self-centered negotiation. 

On the Divinity of Second Chances ★☆☆☆☆

On the Divinity of Second Chances - Kaya McLaren

I hate first person present tense. Even worse, though, is a story told from the alternating viewpoints of five separate characters, when all five use first person present tense. ALL FIVE. The only exception is the opening passage, which is written from the moon’s (literally, the moon) POV… in third person present tense. Hell, for all I know, we are also treated to the dog and the imaginary friend as narrators in first person present tense, but I only got to page 37 before I closed the book and threw it across the room at the garbage can.


Paperback, which has been sitting unread on my bookshelf for so long that I no longer remember when or why I even bought it. I suspect it was a recommendation from the (now defunct) Books on the Nightstand podcast.


I Am No One You Know - 9%

I am No One You Know - Joyce Carol Oates

I've read 2 of 19 short stories so far. It's... different. I love her writing style, and I love the way she creates her characters, even if those characters are themselves not very likeable. But both stories don't *feel* like complete short stories. They're more like fragments of stories - longer than flash fiction, but incomplete. It's a little maddening. And I'm not entirely certain what the point is of these stories. If they have a point? 


Curly Red: Being exiled from a family of terrible people is worse than being a terrible person to belong?


In Hiding: A woman can comfortably expose herself through her poetry while hiding from real people when they seek her out? 


To be continued...


Fascism: A Warning - Reshelving

Fascism: A Warning - Madeleine Albright

I'v e been trying to make myself pick this up and move beyond the first chapter, but the subject matter is just too heavy for me right now. I'm reshelving it and will try again later.


Right now, I'm doing comfort re-reads on audio, and for my bound book reading, I'm going to do some light fiction for a while until I'm in a better frame of mind.

Book Haul! Or: I already blew up my goals


I went to the flagship Half Price Books after work yesterday, because I decided I wanted to do a tandem read/listen on Albright's Fascism. It's serious material, and the performance by the author is difficult to listen to. Some authors do great, even though they are not professional voice actors, but Albright is not one of those. 


Once I picked up the book I came for, I somehow found myself taking a *very* circuitous route to the checkout and accidentally browsing the shelves for other books. And I found a Nancy Drew that's missing from my collection, so of course I had to have that. Then I found one of their $3 bundles, where they wrap up 4 paperbacks with a ribbon and you get whatever's in there. The top book on the bundle was Subb. I mean, look at that fantastic vintage cover art. I was admiring it, and it somehow fell into my basket. 


My goal this year is to only buy 1 new bound book for every 2 that I read. I can justify not counting Albright's book, because it's just supplemental to the one I'm already reading. The Nancy Drew doesn't count, either, because it's an ongoing collection. But I had already bought 2 books, so for the year I'm at 6 books bought and 6 TBR shelf books read. 


I guess I better pick up the pace. 0_o

Fascism: A Warning - 2%

Fascism: A Warning - Madeleine Albright

If we think of fascism as a wound from the past that we had almost healed, putting Trump in the White House was like ripping off the bandage and picking at the scab...


The United States has had flawed presidents before. In fact, we have never any other kind, but we have not had a chief executive in the modern era whose statements and actions are so at odds with democratic ideals.


From the early stages of his campaign and right into the Oval Office, Donald Trump has spoken harshly about the institutions and principles that make up the foundation of open government. In the process, he has systematically degraded political discourse in the United States, shown an astonishing disregard for facts, libeled his predecessors, threatened to lock up political rivals, referred to mainstream journalists as the enemy of the American people, spread falsehoods about the integrity of the US electoral process, touted mindlessly nationalistic economic and trade policies, vilified immigrants and the countries from which they come, and nurtured a paranoid bigotry toward the followers of one of the world's foremost religions. 


None of this is a newsflash to me. It's what has concerned me most about this administration and so thoroughly alarmed me when elected officials in other branches of government - the ones supposed to provide the checks and balances our entire system of government depend on - failed to rein him in. 


This is depressing as hell. I'm going to have to take this book in small sips. 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s ★★★★☆

Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote

It was then that she asked about Jose. The instant she saw the letter, she squinted her eyes and bent her lips in a tough tiny smile that advanced her age immeasurably.


“Darling,” she instructed me, “Would you reach in the drawer there and give me my purse? A girl doesn’t read this sort of thing without her lipstick.”


Guided by a compact mirror, she powdered, painted every vestige of twelve-year-old out of her face. She shaped her lips with one tube, colored her cheeks from another. She penciled the rims of her eyes, blued the lids, sprinkled her neck with 4711, attached pearls to her ears, and donned her dark glasses. Thus armored, and after a displeased appraisal of her manicure’s shabby condition, she ripped open the letter and let her eyes race through it while her stony small smile grew smaller and harder.


Having seen the movie several times over the years, before ever reading Capote’s novella, it’s impossible to think about or review one without reference to the other. It’s a shame, because the book deserves to be judged on its own merit. I was mesmerized by the way Holly was written and her character revealed. Much like the movie, she commands all the attention and leaves everyone else cast in shadow. But they are very different people, the movie Holly and the book Holly. Both are damaged, but the book Holly is wholly unsympathetic. She is selfish, shallow, and mean-spirited. She takes everything, and gives nothing except what it pleases her to give. She is tough, the ultimate survivor. But she’s no sociopath. It pains her, sometimes, this selfishness and the knowledge of the misery she causes a few that she leaves behind. But not enough to stop her. I also had little sympathy for the people left in the wreckage, for they knew what she was and still loved her, still yearned after her.


Like the movie, the book is problematic for modern sensibilities. What I found bizarre was that the movie created this monstrous Asian caricature from an innocuous side character who barely registers in the book’s action, while sanitizing the book’s portrayal of African Americans and Holly’s overtly racist and homophobic remarks and attitudes. Holly Golightly and the author that created her both originated from the Jim Crow South, so I’m unsurprised by the book, but I guess by 1961 the wider US audience was sensitive to such treatment of black Americans but still delighted by a white man in yellow face.


Audiobook, purchased via Audible. While I wasn’t enamored with the voice Michael C Hall used for Holly, his performance was otherwise stellar. His pacing and inflection really highlighted Capote’s writing.