Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Whoops! I completely forgot to mention this.

Last month I reviewed Stephanie Garber's amazing book Caraval for the web blog I currently write for, Speculative Chic, which features everything from book reviews to writing help to talking about the best geeky stuff out there. In such cases for books that are in the area of speculative (fantasy, science fiction, horror, etc.), the reviews will most likely end up over there. Everything else will stay here. Will the reading list/goal/thingy continue?

Eh, who knows. I'm just reading whatever I can whenever I can and reviewing it....whenever. HA.

Anywho, here's Caraval - and yes, you should absolutely read it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Horrorstör (A Book You Can Finish In A Day)

Pro: A creepy, crawly, excellent idea.
Con: Aw man, why you gotta end it like that?

The Bottom Line: After wanting to read this for well over a year, all I can now say is I read it in a handful of hours and I'm sad there isn't a sequel.

At this point in time I don't remember how I first found Horrorstör, only that when I did discover it, I decided I ought to read it. The cover and the summary sounded like it was a bizarre sort of horror/comedy blend. Taking the concept of the big box store that lets you in but forces you to traverse the entire place before it ever lets you out with, well, never getting out. Coupled together with something clearly supernatural and not nice. Turns out that it's actually just horror, but the author, Grady Hendrix, may have very well worked retail at one point (or perhaps just been through one too many Ikeas) in order to take some very well-deserved and cheeky-sharp jabs at the world Orsk represents. As a retail manager myself, I appreciate it.

Orsk is basically a ripoff Ikea. But hey, a job is a job, so everyone drives there, clocks in, does their job, clocks out. Some are more into it than others. Although a few weird things do keep happening. Inventory is always jacked. Things are starting to break or malfunction. Amy just keeps doing her thing – it pays the bills, after all. But when Orsk higher-ups are scheduled to make an appearance, the general manager decides it's time to find out what's going on once and for all. Amy and four other employees find themselves in the store after close. In the dark. Hoping that maybe it's just some random person doing a bit of vandalism. It can't be supernatural. And even if it is, ghosts can't hurt you anyway. Right?


There's nothing really comical about this. I mean, yes, you get the bits and pieces of satire which, if you've ever worked retail will make you smirk, but sooner rather than later the shit goes down and stuff stops being funny. When you're stuck in a store specifically fashioned to keep people in rather than out with a lot of horrible coming at you, you're gonna have a bad time. I liked how Hendrix kept up with all the specific furniture names a la Ikea, and had interesting little ideas that made for important details later on, like the Magic Tools (putting together your new Orsk furniture? Be sure to have a Magic Tool on hand!). And like many horror video games today (and recently, my read of Nick Cutter's The Deep), the main folks don't have the chance to fight. How can you when the stuff you're fighting is maybe kinda already sort of not alive? Being stuck in a situation in which you can't fight back is terrifying – especially when it's a case of wanting to but literally not having any effect on the bad stuff. You are powerless. And that is awful.

The characters do make their share of typical stupid horror-trope decisions (i.e. Yes, let's follow the man with one dead-eye and a slit throat who's standing in a corner into a hallway that literally doesn't exist and we know it), but as annoying as that is, I suppose it's kind of par for the course in order to get said characters from Point A to Point B so the terror can happen. Besides, a lot of supernatural awfulness doesn't play by the rules as it is, so in the end it's kind of a moot point. Though it still may not be enough to keep you from occasionally yelling at the pages.

The end is great, in a way, but it also really leaves me wanting more. I want a second novel, or even a novella just to know how things went down. The main story wraps up fairly well, but there are definitely some very large loose ends that linger which would be lovely to see tied up. However, I doubt that's going to happen, so I'll simply take my own Magic Tool (brain) and fabricate a story and ending that I like. Though it would probably end up different than Hendrix's since I like it when bad stuff burns and good guys prevail.

If you've been looking for a good horror read, this is a great way to go. It's fast (read it in a handful of hours), freaky, and might make you think twice before you step into a an Ikea. But don't worry, you'll be fine during the day.

Any questions? Just Orsk!


Monday, February 6, 2017

The Deep (A Book That Scares You)

Pro: Perfect for horror fans
Con: I can't say I'm a horror fan.

The Bottom Line: Dear God, WHY DID I READ THIS BOOK??

First and foremost: Fuck this book.

Normally I might say sorry about the language, but seriously.

Fuck. This. Book.

Now, I don't mean that as an insult to the author, Nick Cutter, at all. The writing is excellent. The characters are solid and well-crafted. The story is interesting and compelling. The atmosphere – the fear – is top notch. But it's all those things put together in just the right way to make this a true blue horror book. Normally I don't do horror. But I like to step outside of my comfort zone from time to time and read something different, especially if it sounds interesting. And the description of this book certainly sounded interesting. A disease that makes everyone forget everything until they simply forget how to live? A sudden miraculous cure found on the bottom of the ocean? Going from one topside, end of the world disease to 8 miles under the ocean only to discover the real horror is down there? Sure. Why not? What could be down there? Sea monster of some sort? The miracle cure turns deadly? People simply going nuts from being down there too long? The possibilities were endless.

Mr. Cutter picked out all the things I didn't see coming. Or maybe just did all the things my "I-want-happy-endings" brain doesn't like to think about. Plucked all those nasty ideas out and slapped them on the page for me so they're out there, clear as daylight, leaving me unable to avoid them. Creepy grasping clawed hands in the dark coming out of trunks with clowns on them. Insanity inching its way into people's brains with insidious fingers, all the while telling them it's okay. Animal experimentation gone wrong. Perversions of natural creatures. I mean, that book is sitting over on my bed right now. I want to move it, but I don't really want to touch it again. It's like I've got the Necronomicon over there and touching it is the last thing I want to do.

Oh, and he totally kills the dog. I'm going to lay that out there for you right now. The dog dies, and it's awful in every way possible.

The main character, Lucas, had me shouting at him by page 40. Yeah, it doesn't take long for you, gentle reader, to realize that things are seriously, horribly wrong already and going down 8 miles under the ocean is a monumentally bad idea. I should think that a weird, blood-scrawled message from a dead man should be enough NOPE for anybody, but according to Lucas he doesn't have anything left to lose and besides, humanity is dying out so might as well. Maybe I'm just selfish. After they climb into the mini-sub to drop down the Mariana Trench, you know it's too late. It takes some time for the other shoe to drop, but when it does, it does so hard and with a spiked heel.

There's a lot of back and forth in this book as Lucas's awful childhood memories surge up, often unbidden. I felt bad for the poor guy. He's had a lot of bad things happen to him, and he really doesn't deserve any of the things he gets in this book. None of the people involved do. And the frustrating thing for me is that I'm a creature of duality – I believe in opposites. Light/dark, good/bad, that sort of thing. But there's nothing but darkness in this book. There is no happy ending, or even an ending that can be considered remotely decent. Frankly, I feel pretty certain that it's just the end of the world happening.

I will give credit that as I read, the things involved invoked a lot of other familiar horrors I've come across. The first description of the miracle cure – dubbed ambrosia – reminded me of the Blob or even the Thing. There is a very Thing-like moment with the dog. Beckoning hands made me think of Pennywise in the drain. The hive made me think of Michael Crichton's Prey (an excellent although also creepy book, but at least the main character can and does fight back). And as the end revealed itself, I got a lot of Lovecraftian vibes and even a bit of Hellraiser. I kept thinking of how, the way horror videogames are these days in which you run scared, hide, and remain weaponless the entire time, this book would make for a solid horror game. Although I'm not sure how people would respond to the end. Or the dog.

If you're into horror, this is top notch. The choicest bits. There is some gore, but not a lot, and it appears when and where it needs to. The fear is in everything else. What's around the bend. What will manifest next. The inability to fight back as you run with Lucas through metal tubes and squeeze through even smaller ones. You wonder if he's even a reliable narrator; and if that's his fault or something else's.

So go, enjoy the terror if you please. But as for me, I'm sorry Mr. Cutter, but I'm never going to read any of your books again.

Consider that a compliment.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

And the Trees Crept In (A Book That Made You Cry)

Pro: Perfectly creepy and with a surprising, satisfying ending
Con: Nope.

The Bottom Line: I got more horror than I expected, but I also got an ending I never considered and it all worked together perfectly.

Dawn Kurtagich's book is the sort that you end up reading by accident. Kind of. I'd seen the cover dozens of times at work, and finally one day curiosity won me over and I thought, "What is this book about?" I knew it was supposed to be creepy, but what else? So I read the summary – cursed house, crazy aunt, terrible woods, odd boy, and tall eyeless man who plays with the little sister and who no one else can see. Well that's uncomfortable. Horror isn't exactly my top choice, but I cracked the book open anyway and scanned a few pages in the middle.

And then a few more.

Aaaaand then a few more.

And then I realized it was too late. The book had sunk its hooks into me and dragged me in. Time to read.

Oh. My Goodness.

Things start out normally enough but it was astonishing just how fast everything went downhill. I was on page 73 when someone asked me what the book was like and with wide eyes I said, "It's good, but I really don't know what's going to happen with all the rest of this to go because I've barely started and the trees are already moving toward the house." It didn't take long for me to start racking my brain for answers as to what the hell was happening in and around this house. Why the hell didn't Silla ever ask for more information when it came to where Gowan lived? How the hell hasn't Silla starved to death by now? And every now and again this one will pop back up – who the hell is that old man at the beginning of the book? Questions upon questions which only get answered with a resounding, "OOOH," at the end of the book.

You also come to realize that Silla is not a reliable narrator. But then again, neither is Aunt Cath. Can you trust anyone in this book at all? You think maybe, just maybe, you've figured out a little something, but then you remember the Creeper Man and it all just falls apart. Again, you won't know everything until the end, and having zero clue is something I appreciate in a book these days. And there's so much batshit crazy stuff happening, I almost started to wonder if this would be a good sampling for what Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves might be like.

This book was good. Very good. And even though the end did in fact – wait for it – actually make me cry at the end in a mixture of both sadness and gladness, you need to be able to wade through heaps and heaps of horror in order to get there. And I'm not talking gore – that's not what horror is. Not in its entirety, anyway. This is weird, unsettling, and often psychological stuff. This is dark houses with gaping holes full of roots horror. Rotting sunken mud in the woods horror. Endless creaking and giggling and screaming in the dark when no one is there horror.

Let me tell, you – it is quite the ride. But the end is like stepping out into the sunshine with clear eyes as you finally get to discover everything that's happened. While there is one mystery yet to be solved, it is not Silla's, and that's okay.

The funny thing is that I never expected that this book would make me cry, or that I would be able to find a book for the reading challenge that would hit that mark, but I guess one should always expect the unexpected, even if we can't, really.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Running Man (A Book That Became A Movie)

Pro: Solid story, unexpected finish
Con: Nothing, really. Unless you prefer happy endings.

The Bottom Line: This isn't the movie. And that's a good thing.

For some reason I got a weird desire to read The Running Man. It might have been a combination of wanting some dystopia and the fact that Stephen King is actually the author of the story – Richard Bachman was just a pseudonym. Whatever the case was, I read it, and it was good.

In the hopes of gaining his wife and sick child some money and the ability to survive, Ben Richards decides to risk his life in the ultimate hit reality television show – The Running Man. If he can survive 30 days, he wins it all. Except no one has ever made it past 8. But Ben is an unexpected wild card, and he's going to give the all-knowing Games Network a run for it's money.

A lot of other dystopian novels – especially those in the teen areas – are all about bringing down The Big Bad Society and changing things for the better. This is not one of them. This is, in a way, more realistic in that you could be reading about any poor sonofabitch on the run, traipsing through the woods and hoping to find help where there isn't really any to be had. Yes, this is in the future so we do see splashes of future-tech and hear future-talk, but things are darker, grittier, and Ben sure as hell isn't zipping around in a silvery, flying car to escape pursuers or anything like that.

And rather than be stuck in some arena, he actually has the entirety of the country to run around in. From lurking in old buildings to seeking a way to maybe escape the country entirely, you keep wondering how long Ben can keep up his lead and just how things are going to end. And let me tell you, they don't end the way you might think. At all. I was left there sitting at the final page for a long moment thinking, "Wow. That's it. Huh." Not disappointed, mind you, just surprised. But I also like it. It's a very stark contrast to something like The Hunger Games, or even something like 1984. While it may not be wholly satisfying in that you don't see the whole crap society crumbling and rebuilding itself, it's more realistic anyway since that wouldn't be likely to happen. In fact, I almost wonder if anything would change at all, but in the end, Ben won in his own way, and that's something I'm good with.

The funny thing (and I mean that very tongue-in-cheek) is that this particular dystopian is more relevant today than ever. And not like 1984 in terms of free-speech suppression or cameras everywhere. But in terms of the language used and the way people are looked at and spoken to. A prime example? "They were queer-stompers. Queers, of course, had to be eradicated. Save our bathrooms for democracy." And this was written in 1982. Funny how well science fiction authors can so easily peer into the future, no?

Definitely something worth reading, if you feel like something slightly off the beaten path, or just need another solid story to bulk up your dystopian library.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Mistborn (A Book With More Than 500 Pages)

Pro: Some really unique stuff I've never seen in fantasy before.
Con: I got nothing.

The Bottom Line: I had a great time reading this and was prepared to finish the trilogy. Then I discovered there are at least 6. DAMN IT.

Not that I don't like reading a good series, it's just that I hate that I'll be stuck in another long series. Sure, there's Janet Evanovich, but I can read her books in a day and it's just too late for me in that line of books. Leave me behind, cut the rope, and all that. Sanderson's books are fairly sizable and take some time even for me to get through. So I suppose we'll see.

As for the first book, I actually found it in a little library that my town has. I just went to drop books off and there it was. A friend had encouraged me to read them, so I thought, "Why not?" and then read it during a recent vacation. Good stuff.

Kelsier is on a mission. The greatest challenge of them all – not to steal, but to overthrow the Lord Ruler himself. An immortal emperor who has been in power for over a thousand years. In a world where ash falls like rain, and the very idea of a green plant is foreign, Kelsier uses the power of Allomancy – the ability to burn metals and use them for amazing abilities. With the help of his crew and a new addition – a skilled street urchin girl who also has the gift of Allomancy – it is time to see if the impossible can be done.

That's probably the worst summary of this book ever, but there's a lot going on inside that demands attention. But it's all quite entertaining. Allomancy alone is a fascinating idea – in fact, a lot of what Sanderson does in this book is fantastic because it's stuff I've never seen before. Even the metals he chose are great because one might immediately think he'd use typical stuff – gold, silver, copper, etc. But he doesn't. He uses a few, but then switches to alloys – including pewter, one I'd forgotten about for a long time. He lays out his rules for each metal and follows them well.

The bulk of the book is planning, but that's okay because it still doesn't ever really give you time to breathe. Kelsier is robbing nobles and fighting people. The urchin, Vin, is learning to use her skill and infiltrate society to gain intel. There are Inquisitors – which are probably the most interesting creatures I've come across in a long time. The world Sanderson has built is rich despite it's desolateness, and all the little details are highly appreciated.

While I will say that I was proud to have guessed correctly about Marsh's fate (though the red herring did fool me – and made me disappointed. I was stupid excited to see things go the other way later), I never expected Kelsier's. Never. Sanderson got me good with that one and I applaud him for it.

If you're looking for a good fantasy read while you wait for Game of Thrones, pick up a copy of Mistborn. With it's grand scope, intrigue, excitement, and unique magic, it's a truly enjoyable read and very hard to put down.


Note: Clearly at this point I've missed my own deadline for the reading challenge. Still, I'm going to press on since each individual challenge will force me to read something I may not have encountered before. Also, fun fact - I finished Mistborn back in August and just completely forgot to set this review to post. Oopsy!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (A Book That Was Originally Written In A Different Language)

Pro:A solid story full of fun, feel-good stuff
Con: None

The Bottom Line: This is the kind of fiction I enjoy. I'm glad so many folks recommended it.

Whoa, what a blog title.

But it's true. Written by Jonas Jonasson, this book originally came out in 2009 in Sweden. It didn't make it into English until 2012. It was eventually made into a film in 2016, but as often happens, folks stated that the book was better than the film. Surprise. I hadn't heard about it until our store chose a book to try and handsell – something light and fun. This book was the choice and everyone started reading it. And now here we are.

Allan Karlsson is about to have his 100th birthday celebrated at the old folks home in the little town of Malmkoping. But he's not too into that – he's a quiet guy and the woman running the place is kind of rude. So he decides to quit the place via window. From there he gets a bus ticket to however far his money can get him. Along the way he ends up taking a briefcase a young man asked him to watch. From there things get rather interesting considering there's a couple million in that case. Hilarity and hijinks ensue.

The book actually flips back and forth from present day with Allan to the past where we get Allan's full life story in chunks. And Allan's had an interesting life. In fact, I enjoyed his story leading up to the present even more than the silliness of the present. It reminded me of Forrest Gump in that Allan met scores of famous figures from history and was the focal point of dozens of important historical events, from the creation of the atom bomb to meeting with Mao Tse-tung. Everything is weaved in so seamlessly it's great – Allan is such an easygoing guy that he slips into situations, causes things to happen (sometimes on purpose, often not), and then leaves while the consequences rain down upon everyone else behind him. It's great.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud or simple giggle-worthy moments, and for me this was a refreshing change from what I usually find myself faced with when it comes to fiction books. Characters I discover are often SO SAD about something; husband left, child died, traumatic event now means they're an alcoholic, they have to get back on their feet after they lost their house, etc. Now, no disrespect to those who love all sorts of fiction, but the vast majority of it isn't for me – hence why I read genre stuff. But this was totally different and exactly the sort of thing in the fiction section I'd sign up for more often. Fun, funny, lighthearted, all while still being unexpected and wholly unique.

It really is something you can enjoy reading at any time. If you need something off the beaten path, definitely give this book a go. It's just not something you'd expect, and that's what makes it such a delight.


Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Whoops! I completely forgot to mention this. Last month I reviewed Stephanie Garber's amazing book Caraval for the web blog I curre...