Apropos of the season, I just finished Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstör. I saw this book on display at BEA14 and was lucky enough to snag a review copy from the lovely people at Quirk once it the review date loomed.

Horror as a genre isn’t typically my thing because I’m am the biggest wimp that ever wimped. But there is no resisting this book. It screams “pick me up and never put me down.”

Welcome to Orsk, the European box-store to which American suburbanites flock en masse for affordable some-assembly-required furniture and home goods. Start off on the showroom floor, following the Bright And Shining Path, which will usher you through your shopping experience onto the market floor where you will mindlessly fork over all your money ever. The store environment is expertly designed to subtly disorient and keep shoppers moving and spending, but what if something more sinister is at work?

Every morning shop partners at the Cuyahoga Orsk open the store to find broken furniture, graffiti, and smelly, unidentified substances smeared on displays. Before a corporate review, some employees will take an overnight shift to get to the bottom of these midnight mysteries, but what they discover is more baffling — and horrifying — than they could ever imagine.

Who among us hasn’t had the momentary fear of being lost in an Ikea forever? Horrorstör takes that fear, along with about every other fear you’ve ever had, and twists it into one masterful work.

Bonus points go to this book for the packaging. At first glance it looks like an Ikea catalog, with a glossy cover and illustrations of various furniture pieces with vaguely European and/or Scandinavian-sounding names. As the story progresses, the furniture begins to look more and more like torture devices, which is just a spectacular touch.

Horrorstör is at turns hilarious and terrifying, but always riveting. I definitely recommend it. And what better time to read a creepy book than on Halloween?

Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation is another book that I initially heard about on the Book Riot podcast (I might be saying that a lot — I finally managed to catch up on roughly a year’s worth of episodes and my TBR list is noticeably longer as a result).

I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you that I really liked this book. So much so that I’m planning to buy a physical copy of it at some point (I read a copy from the library). That being said, I get the impression that this book isn’t for everyone.

“The wife” used to exchange love letters — postmarked Dept. of Speculation — with her husband. The book is a glimpse into the joy, despair, and uncertainty of relationships and life.

It reads as a very internal and personal reflection, not quite stream-of-consciousness, but edging toward that border.

Lungs Full of Noise is a mesmerizing short story collection by Tessa Mellas. I first heard about it while listening to the Book Riot podcast. I’ve been trying to explore more short story collections recently and this one sounded so fascinating that I decided to give it a shot.

Many of the stories in this collection have a weird, creepy, almost sinister sense to them. They remind me of Karen Russell’s work, but a bit darker.

The Goodreads blurb gives a good idea of what to expect

This prize-winning debut of twelve stories explores a femininity that is magical, raw, and grotesque. Aghast at the failings of their bodies, this cast of misfit women and girls sets out to remedy the misdirection of their lives in bold and reckless ways.

Mellas explores the struggles and relationships in women’s lives with an edge that makes the stories all the more exciting to read.

I really enjoyed Lungs Full of Noise and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to read some fantastic short stories with a little edge. These stories might not be everyone’s thing, but if you really enjoy Karen Russell and slightly twisted fiction this might be in your wheelhouse.

John Niven’s Straight White Male is another one of the books that I picked up at BEA 2014.

The titular straight white male is Kennedy Marr, an Irish novelist of the high-functioning alcoholic, womanizing, roguish asshole variety. He has a number of Hollywood script projects that are delinquent and he’s in the midst of a terrible bout of writer’s block, not to mention all the back taxes that he owes to the IRS. Then Marr is unexpectedly awarded the W. F. Bingham Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Modern Literature — a prize that could fix all his problems, but comes with a catch: the honoree must teach English for a year at the awarding university. And guess where his ex-wife works.

Straight White Male is kind of just about Kennedy boozing and womanizing and, maybe occasionally trying to be a slightly better person while dealing with growing older, but definitely not wanting to grow up.

Not a whole lot happens in terms of character development, or even plot really, but it’s an entertaining enough read if you enjoy this sort of character. Marr is someone who I would be inclined to punch if I ever actually met him in person, and while he is often insufferable in text, it is somewhat interesting getting into the head of such a character.

You might think that a book detailing a cholera outbreak and the beginning of a shift in understanding how the disease spreads wouldn’t make great middle-grade/YA literature. And yet…

In The Great Trouble Deborah Hopkinson introduces us to Eel — an orphan and mudlark who searches the banks of the Thames for things to sell. Eel has somebody after him, so he keeps a low profile, but he manages to get by and he has some people that he can count on along Broad Street. Then cholera, or the “blue death” hits and people are falling ill all around him.

Eel goes to the famous, if eccentric, Dr. John Snow for help and while Dr. Snow cannot help the people who are already sick, he has an unusual theory about cholera that could potentially save countless lives. It is up to Eel to help Dr. Snow gather enough evidence to prove his theory and save the neighborhood.

The Great Trouble will appeal to a variety of audiences. Eel is a relatable character and the action is fast-paced, with bits of mystery thrown in for good measure.

The Grisha Trilogy

September 15, 2014

OK, so one of my friends in real life and on the interwebs wrote about Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy for Book Riot not too long ago and after reading her recommendation I flitted off to an online bookstore that shall remain nameless and bought Shadow & Bone immediately. I didn’t actually start reading it until a week or so later, but once I did I blew through the entire series (the other two books are Ruin & Rising and Siege & Storm in that order) in a matter of days. I may not have slept much…

The Grisha trilogy takes place in Ravka, a Russian-ish nation where the First Army of fighters and the Second Army of magic-wielding Grisha work together to keep the country safe. Alina grew up in the home of a benevolent duke after she was orphaned as a young girl. Now grown and studying to be a mapmaker with the First Army, she enters the Fold with her regiment. In the midst of an attach halfway across, Alina unleashes a power she never knew she possessed — one that could be the key to destroying the Fold and saving her country. But not everything is as it seems and Alina must master not only her power, but her own desires in order to succeed.

I was all over this series guys. There’s a badass heroine coming into her own, magic, reality meeting mythology, a bit of romance, and so much more.

Bardugo has received a bit of criticism (at least on Goodreads) for the Russian elements being kind of flawed. I don’t know enough to comment on that, but really, this series doesn’t take place in Russia, so while this criticism may have legs, it’s important to remember that Bardugo may have just used aspects of Russian culture or folklore as a jumping off point. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, anyway.

If you want to get lost in a world for a few days, I definitely recommend this trilogy. I really enjoyed the characters and the story. Bardugo also wrote a few companion folk tales that I’ve bought, but not yet read. I am, as you might imagine, super excited to dive into those as well.

Reading Vampire Academy

September 12, 2014

Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series follows the adventures of Rose Hathaway — a dhampir, or half human/half moroi bodyguard race— and her best friend Lissa, a moroi — or mortal vampire. Rose is training to become a guardian, which means she’ll spend her life defending Lissa and other moroi against strigoi— ruthless, immortal vampires more in line with the vampires of human nightmares.

I’m not going to go too much into the plot here because there are six books. Let’s just say that there’s adventure, romance, intrigue, and plenty of fighting.

I thought Mead’s treatment of the vampire tropes was really interesting. She made vampires her own in these books, but didn’t depart too far from tradition as to be snicker-worthy. They also help to draw distinction between the good, magic-wielding moroi and the evil, undead strigoi. I appreciated the nod to the older vampire legends.

I personally found some of the plot points through the series a little bit eye-roll inducing, but I think the books are written for a slightly younger audience, so maybe I’m just a cynic.

Overall though, these books made for some quick, enjoyable reading. I’d recommend them for older teens or young/new adults (that’s a genre now, right?).

I’ve spent the past few months making my way through Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I usually finished the books in a day or two, but they’re in high demand and so I often had to wait a little bit for each one to become available at the library. The last book in the series was published in 2009, so the fact that there are still holds on all copies in the series speaks to its popularity with readers.

I genuinely enjoyed reading each of these books. They’re fast-paced and the characters are fun. I especially enjoyed the riddles from the Oracle and the representations of the Gods and mythical creatures. I think I’d call these Mythology Lite, but really, Riordan manages to pack a good deal into each book.

By now you know that folk tales and mythology set my heart aflutter, so I hope that these books have sparked a deeper interest in myths in some (or all!) of Riordan’s readers/

I would classify this series as sort of middle grade/ young YA (with the disclaimer that judging age ranges is not at all my forte), which is not typically my thing. Even so, I (as previously stated) really enjoyed it. I could get all nit-picky, but 1) it’s been a while since I’ve read some of them and 2) any criticisms I had were fairly minor. I would recommend the series, especially for kids, but also kind of just across the board if youi’re looking for a fun, quick read with a mythology tie-in. Have at it!

Attachments — Review

September 10, 2014

Rainbow Rowell is best known for her YA novels, but Attachments — written for an older audience — shows her ability to write for and connect win any reader.

Meet Lincoln. He’s wandering a bit through life — living with his mom and not totally sure what path to take. He has a new job as an “internet security officer” at a newspaper and while he thought this would mean putting some of his coding skills to use, it actually has him working nights so he doesn’t interact much with the people whose email he reads.

Beth and Jennifer work on opposite sides of the newsroom, but exchange copious emails about all the inner workings of their personal lives. In this informal, definitely-not-work-related correspondence, their wit and personalities shine. They know in the back of their minds that there is “someone” who monitors the company email, but it’s hard to take an invisible (possibly voyeuristic?) entity seriously.

Beth and Jennifer’s emails — with all their personal information and PG-13ish content — get flagged by the program Lincoln uses to monitor computer activity. Technically he should do something about this, but their emails are so entertaining and the women seem so endearing. But what will happen once Lincoln realizes that he’s developing feelings for one of the correspondents?

Attachments is quirky and cute and it tells a slightly different story. There are parts that are fairly predictable, but that doesn’t take away from any of the enjoyment.

I would definitely recommend this. It’s clearly for an older audience, but is in Rowell’s captivating style. To be frank, I think this book would appeal to a number of YA readers as well. It’s an irreverent look at early-mid adult life, navigating the world and social situations, and determining what we want in life. Rowell treats these topics with honesty and humor and the results are fantastic.

When I saw a blurb about Marja Mills’s The Mockingbird Next Door on Book Riot I was so excited. I think Harper Lee is amazing and this book promised a glimpse into the famously reclusive author’s life and an answer to the question everyone asks: why didn’t she write another book?

Now, having read the book, as well as Lee’s statements against it, I’m feeling a bit conflicted.

There’s an NPR piece that looks at things from a slightly different perspective and doesn’t make Mills seem quite so predatory/opportunistic, but I still have lingering doubts and that makes me somewhat uneasy and unsure of how I should feel about this.

I will say that this does read much more as a memoir than a biography (whether that was the initial intention, I can’t say). Mills reflects on the time she spent with Lee and her inner circle and shares some of their stories and anecdotes, but this isn’t the all-encompassing story of Lee’s life. I enjoyed the glimpse into the everyday lives of Nelle Harper, Alice, and their group of friends.

All the same, the book doesn’t quite deliver on all of its promises. We get a partial answer to the big question, but nothing really solid. And while Mills paints a picture of what a day spent with Harper Lee is like, readers don’t get a full idea of her life or much of the Lee family history. There is also a bit of repetition in some of the descriptive language and the anecdotes that Mills shares.

If Mills was a close to that group as her book suggests, then she lived the dream. I always want to know what it would be like to spend time with a great author — to simply share stories and talk about life and literature. Lee comes across as a woman with incomparable intellect and wit, with a unique take on life. If Lee never gave her blessing to the book, then I respect that, but I’ll still cherish the peek at her personality and the spectacular relationships she has with those around her.

***

There will be a lot of reviews in the coming days. I appear to follow a very loose pattern in which I post reviews regularly for a while and then accidentally stop for a period of time (I don’t stop reading, of course. That would be absurd). I’ll work on being better at that, but no promises. If anything, we’ll say that my sporadic posting encourages appreciation of each individual post.

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