I Don’t Know Why I Do This To Myself?!

Everyday Adventures

I don’t watch movies that I know will make me sob (Nicholas Sparks, I’m looking at you), The news is usually depressing, so I avoid the local broadcasts and newspapers, settling for what various feeds filter through to me, knowing I’ll get the important stuff that way. I avoid people that I know frustrate, take advantage of, or otherwise cause drama whenever possible. And I don’t watch horror movies before bed so that I can sleep in the dark without having to meditate for an hour to feel semi-safe.

In other words, I guard my mental health rather carefully. It makes for far better days and nights.

And yet…

I have a penchant for end-of-the-world books and movies. Not necessarily dystopian stories, more like the actual here-comes-the-end stories. Some are tame and a degree removed from my reality–movies like Twister and Volcano feel more remote thanks to geography and small in scale, for instance. But others are decidedly less removed and send the creepy crawlies up my back and into my brain.

Case in point: my current audiobook is Cyber Storm by Matthew Mather and re-reading Life After War by Angela White. But this really started way back in the day when I read Alas, Babylon because it was on the high school reading list and I’d found a copy in the used book store by Mom’s office. I still have that same copy, though the back cover is missing and the pages are beyond worn.

Alas, Babylon was very close to home, dealing with a pocket of survivors in a Florida town, after a sudden and swift nuclear war. While the town was fictional, plenty of other things weren’t, and I think about scenes from that book almost every time we head to the central or southern parts of the state.

Back then, of course, all I could do was worry and fear. Fear was a big part of those years from one source or another. While I enjoyed the story I certainly can’t say that I enjoyed the feelings it provoked.

These days, with the “prepper” mentality becoming more and more mainstream, I admit that stories like these turn my thoughts to stocking up on dry goods and buying a rain barrel or three. When the story centers around a natural disaster it’s easier to distance myself from the fear and worry. After all, you can only do so much and worry doesn’t help. But in the case of Cyber Storm, well, that one feels a little more real.

I mean, just think about how many times someone in your circle (if not you, yourself) have had a credit card or other account compromised by low-life hackers just because they can. (And, yes, that’s a broad generalization but I think it’s justified for the havoc they wreak.) Or the data breaches going on at large retailers. Or even the DDOS attacks that are focused at any given large governmental network for any given time.

The idea that a city’s (or country’s) infrastructure could be compromised and crashed? Not so far fetched. That nuclear codes, missile launch keys, and other such systems could be triggered by a dedicated few out to cause mischief? Sobering to say the least.

But I’m really enjoying the story, too!

Part of it is the resilience of a tiny group of people banding together to survive. It lessens the fear by knowing that it’s possible to survive. But part of it is that the story has a definite, focused conflict. There’s no schmoopy romance (or very little), no time for extensive navel-gazing, and a fair amount of action to keep the story moving. Those are the things I enjoy most in almost any book, this genre just tends to supply it more consistently.

So while I debate the merits of storing rice in recycled 2L bottles, here are some of the books I’ve been both enjoying and fearing:

  • The Last Girl by Joe Hart
  • The Brilliance Trilogy by Marcus Sakey (Brilliance, A Better World, and Written in Fire)
  • The Wayward Pines Trilogy by Blake Crouch (Pines, Wayward, The Last Town)
  • The Origin Mystery series by AG Riddle (The Atlantis Gene, The Atlantis Plague, The Atlantis World)

Do you ever read books or watch movies that intentionally scare you? Why do you think you do it?

July Reads: WWII Aliens are Responsible for Everything!

Everyday Adventures

Or so some of this month’s books would have you believe.

July reads--book cover images via Goodreads

July reads–book cover images via Goodreads

I started the month with the Origin Mystery series by AG Riddle:

  • The Atlantis Gene
  • The Atlantis Plague
  • The Atlantis World

What does genetic-level autism research have to do with the lost city of Atlantis? And what does a clandestine, worldwide paramilitary group have to do with either of the above? Excellent questions!

What started out sounding like your usual doctor does good, powerful people make something evil out of it, the world is about to end story trips its way into WWII Nazi weapons and a conspiracy that moves around the world in three books describing ancient races, extinction level events, and genetic experiments over millennia. Then it goes to space.

This trilogy is long and involved, but it definitely leaves you wondering what the author is going to pull out of his ass next. You have to suspend a lot of disbelief, but it’s not tough because the side of the world we see int he Origin Mysteries is complex and fleshed out and has just enough recognizable truth to it to make the lie that is fiction work.

Coincidentally I also started reading the Wayward Pines books about the same time:

  • Pines
  • Wayward
  • The Last Town

I’d watched the first several episodes and decided I was intrigued enough to find out “the rest of the story” as it was. Right around the time that Riddle was explaining about how a bigger portion of the earth was covered in water than currently, due to bombs set off in Antarctica (not really a spoiler, more a plot device, and an effective one), we have Crouch explaining how our DNA is degrading each generation and we’re going to die out.

Common elements of the two series are the extinction level events, bands of survivors, and suspension chambers that make the dead not exactly so (though in different ways).

Having completed both the book trilogy and the television version, I think I prefer the book’s “ending” over the screen adaptation. If you ever thought there was something… more to Pilcher and co., you definitely want the background that’s in the books.

The combination of these different dystopias is enough to make someone want to pack their bug out bag! Sheesh!

Needing a break from the doom and gloom, I went hunting for something lighthearted and came across the debut novel by Hunter Murphy: Imogene in New Orleans. It’s a murder mystery, sure, but set in one of my favorite places on earth and the main characters have a bulldog sidekick. It was a sure bet, right?


I had trouble connecting to the characters, they were all very one-note to me and far too many of them. It’s Character Soup! You have the titular character, an old woman from Alabama who is, at best, a caricature of the cantankerous spitfire; Miss Marple she is not. Her son, Billy, is the worrier, his partner, Jackson, is eventually revealed as the man of action among them, though his actions are often ill-considered. Their friends, whom they are visiting in New Orleans on holiday, Neil and Allen, are the hot-head and silent type, respectively, and despite being such close friends Billy and Jackson still can’t help but suspect them of doing-in their mutual friend Glennway–a supposedly brilliant artist beloved by many in the community.

Now, that’s a lot of people to meet in the first bit of a book, but soon we also have Lt. Rogers (a dirty cop–and, no, I’m not giving anything away, the fact that he’s not on the up and up is painfully transparent as soon as we meet him), hotelier Hill (snob), Lena (the local counterpart to Imogene, to the point that you could almost swap the two and make no impact on the story whatsoever) and the colorful (in name, at least) Buddy, Catfish, TH, Canebreak, and Blue Moon–code names bestowed upon friends and lovers in the dead man’s journal, which Imogene swipes from the crime scene.

Aside from the 2-dimensional characters and the stilted dialog, if the dead man is so freaking famous an artist in the city of New Orleans, exactly why wasn’t there more outcry when he died? Why was there only this one cop “handling” the investigation so ham-handedly than this Scooby Gang had to step in?

I put the book down several time, only finishing it because I hate to leave stories unfinished. There are, apparently, more books to come with the Billy, Jackson, Imogene and Goose (the bulldog–poor thing didn’t even get to stumble over any clues himself, he’s just barking window dressing). Maybe in future books the author will find his character’s other qualities, but I’m not curious enough to pledge my support at this time.

So it was back to history of varying degrees.

  • Miramont’s Ghost
  • Maude
  • War Brides

Miramont’s Ghost is a creative stringing together of some known events surrounding the Catholic priest (Jean Baptiste Francolon) who built Miramont Castle in Manitou Springs, Colorado, back in the late 1800s. Of course, it starts way before the castle is even a thought, back with the family in France, the grandmother and then granddaughter who had visions, and the lengths certain family members would go to protect their little (and not so little) secrets.

I didn’t know until the reading the author’s note at the end that this story was based on real people and real places. Even though there’s a lot of conjecture in the book based on what is known, it lends an already fantastical and macabre story some heft and credence!

About the time that Miramont’s story is ending, along comes Maude, a girl born at the turn of the century in the Midwest, loses her parents in a fire, and the tragedy doesn’t stop there. She lives through both wars, the loss of a husband, a then the child, nursing people through the Spanish flu (which, incidentally, was a pivot point in the Origin Mystery books, above–it’s more than a little disconcerting when book worlds collide like that), a second mother in law who literally wants her dead, the Dustbowl and the Depression, moving finally to Detroit where things pick up a bit for what’s left of her family, only to lose more sons to war and illness, respectively, and a daughter to a freak car accident. She supports herself and her family, first by taking in sewing as a young wife in the Midwest then, in Detroit, eventually buying property and running a series of boarding houses until she no longer had the strength to do so.

It’s an astonishing look of the day to day existence of someone who lived through the greater part of the last century. Maude’s granddaughter, Donna, wrote it all down at the urging of her own daughter when she went to retell the stories she’d been told on weekend and summer visits to her grandmother’s home.

Finally, War Brides.

I don’t know what it is, but the 1940s and WWII have fascinated me since my middle school years and continues to this day. I think it’s the whole triumph of the human spirit, thing, if I had to guess, and reading about how people dealt with daily life while juggling the needs of a country at war, well, it’s pretty impressive! Doesn’t hurt that the music and clothing styles back then were pretty awesome, too.

So War Brides is set, primarily, in a place called Cromarsh Priors on the Sussex coast of England. A little village that ends up being home to its native residents as well as an Admiral’s daughter (her godmother is one of the important ladies of the town), a New Orleans belle escaping bad situation (after tricking a Naval officer from another big family into marrying her and bringing her to England), and refugees from London (including a young Jewish girl who barely escaped Austria ahead of the mob by marrying a boy from their city who had a teaching position at Oxford). At first the book was just the day to day adjustments having to be made for rationing, air raids, etc., but instead of being dull and plodding, it was fascinating to get to know more about the characters and see the minutiae of their lives. As the war goes on and the possibility that a German sympathizer is in their midst, perhaps even aiding the air raids, things get even more interesting, and carry us through to the somewhat surprising, yet fitting, end.

And squeaking in before the end of the month, I also read The Sisterhood (not pictured above), by the same author as War Brides.

Like War Brides, it flips between the present and the past, but where War Brides was bookended by the present but spent the majority of the book in WWII, The Sisterhood flips back and forth a bit more. While some reviewers complained it was like reading two different books at once, I didn’t see it as quite that disparate, though I think the two parts of the narrative could have been woven together a bit more. The story revolves around a convent, more specifically an Order of nuns with locations in Spain and South America, their story told via their Chronicle, which is currently in the hands of a teenager who was adopted from the South American convent who, as an adult, goes to Spain to research an obscure artist for a scholarship thesis.

Her plane detoured, the naive Menina gets separated from the tour group she’s loosely connected to and attempts to make her way to Madrid via bus. Of course things don’t go smoothly and she winds up at, you guessed it, a little convent in the Spanish mountains, stranded there during the week before Easter, no phone, no electricity, and nothing to do but look through the old, dirt-encrusted paintings at the convent and maybe she can find something for the remaining nuns to sell so they can have a little money to fix up their crumbling convent.

I enjoyed the chronicle of the convent part of the story much more than Menina’s at least until she comes into her own near the end of the book–I have little patience with milquetoast heroines, which is what her sheltered, small-town upbringing created. By the end, though, I liked our main character far more and loved the way the author handled the not-exactly-an-epilogue. To say why would give away the ending, and this is one of those books I’d actually recommend to any fans of historical fiction. Though Catholics should be advised that there’s some Davinci Code-level alternate religious history speculation that seriously pissed off one Amazon reviewer. That just made me more curious to read it.

I’m looking forward to more historical fiction in August! What are you reading?