Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Top Ten Horror Novels

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is a Halloween freebie. Since I really like horror, I'm going to stick with a very basic list of ten favorite horror novels. As always, links go to my reviews.

1. Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics
This was my favorite book I read in 2015. It's a teen novel about a pioneer family who come across a new homestead and shit is just not right in that place. It's super creepy and you should read it immediately if you haven't already. Or read it again - I imagine I would like it just as much if I read it a second time.

2. Cell by Stephen King
I mean, there are SO MANY of his novels that could go on this list. I read all the classics in high school and then discovered other authors and didn't read anything of his for a while. I read a couple here and there, like Lisey's Story, but there were different from his old stuff. Then in 2007 I read Cell and it felt SO like old-school Stephen King in the best way possible.

3. 14 by Peter Clines
This started off as a totally delicious creepy-house story (except it was actually an apartment building), but turned into something very unique and unexpected. I have really got to read this guy's other novel, The Fold.

4. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
One of the most unusual books I've ever read, both horrifying and satisfying.

5. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Hill seems to have inherited talent from his father, Stephen King. If you like horror, definitely check out his books. I'm way behind but I've read a few of them and want to read more.

6. House of Leaves by Mark L. Danielewski
This is such a weird book to recommend because I didn't totally love it, but certain aspects were so effective and it was very unusual in its style and format. Although it's not widely known, I've seen it appear on several lists over the years and a lot of people consider it their favorite horror novel.

7. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
I read this a lot of times when I was a teenager. Although I haven't read it again as an adult, I think it deserves a spot on this list because I always think of it when I think about classic horror novels and what I read growing up. I bet it's still creepy. I mean, the flies.

8. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Isn't Shirley Jackson the best? Yes, she is.

9. The Passage by Justin Cronin
Somehow I don't usually think of this as horror, but it is, isn't it? I waited so long for him to finish the second book that I couldn't remember this first one, and I have't even tried the third for the same reason. My fantasy is that I will someday read all three in a row to get the full effect.

10. Carrie by Stephen King
It would be weird if he only appeared once on any list related to horror. I read this a few years ago for the first time since high school and it really held up.

What are your favorite horror novels? Please share your recommendations in the comments!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Quick Review: Cocktails for Drinkers

Cocktails for Drinkers: Not-Even-Remotely-Artisanal, Three-Ingredient-or-Less Cocktails That Get To the Point by Jennifer McCartney (2016)

This isn't a real review because I didn't read this entire book, but I want to recommend it anyhow. It's exactly what it says it is - easy-to-make cocktails, arranged by type of alcohol. But the title doesn't warn you about the humor, and that's what makes it so special.

Here's a sampling:

The author does not hide her distaste for eggnog in the introduction to that recipe, and it is followed by: "Mix the ingredients together and top with grated nutmeg. Or, honestly, just drink a beer."

The Paloma recipe (tequila, Fresca, lime wedge) advises, "Drink up, fancy-pants. You're basically Kate Middleton."

"Margaritas taste like a vacation. Drink one for lunch at your cubicle with your sad desk salad and see how much better you feel."

Whiskey Soda recipe (whiskey, soda) followed by: "Drink until you get nostalgic about your life-changing trip to Scotland or Ireland when you were twenty-two, or until you're asked to leave the house party."

White Russian (vodka, Kahlua, light cream): "Everyone from Vladimir Putin to your landlady loves these. Whether you're horseback riding shirtless or hanging out on your front stoop slathered in suntan oil while painting your toenails, this is your drink."

I only read a couple of chapters and skimmed a bit more - one can only read so many cocktail recipes in a row after all - but the commentary was such a delightful I surprise I had to share it. That's what you don't get from just looking up cocktail recipes on the internet. I can't think of anything more fun to read through while enjoying a cocktail (or three.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ten Characters I'd Name Someone Else's Kid After

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is Ten Characters I'd Name a Child/Dog/Cat/Car, etc after. I won't be having any kids, and don't love people names for pets, so I'm going to fantasize that other people will let me name their children. I'm always fascinated by what people choose to name their babies, and I kind of love naming, but not enough to make a person so I can name them.

The trick is coming up with ten characters I really like who also have names that I like. Here goes!

1. Lyra Belacqua from His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Ok, this one was too easy because my coworker did, in fact, name her daughter Lyra after this character and I find it incredibly satisfying. It's such a great name I'm glad someone I know is using it.

2. Frankie Landau-Banks from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
I admire her so much, and I kind of love the name Frankie for a girl.

3. Eleanor from Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
I like old-timey names and have always admired Eleanor Roosevelt, so.

4. Simon Snow from Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
It's so British and charming.

5. Jane Bennett from Pride and Prejudice
I mean, Lizzie is my favorite character but I really like the name Jane more.

6. Natasha Rostova from War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
I think the character I liked best was Marya, but I'm not crazy about that name. It's fine, but it's no Natasha. Her character was naive and annoying and dramatic, but it's still a great name.

7. Alice from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
As mentioned earlier, I like old-timey classic names, and this is one of my favorites.

8. Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I especially like the kind of name that makes you picture an elderly lady but actually belongs to a teenage girl.

9. Grace from Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm
Such a classic, elegant name.

10. Cameron Quick from Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
I felt like I needed another male name to round this out. But it can't just be Cameron, it has to be both names: Cameron Quick!

So what I've learned from this little exercise is that there isn't a ton of crossover between names I like and characters I like. I kept thinking of great characters who had names that are fine but not special, or great names belonging to characters who I wouldn't want to name anyone after. Also I apparently don't like many male names, or at least very few of them stand out.

What characters would you name a person or pet after?

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer (2016), narrated by the author

Although I'm not much of a tv watcher and have only seen clips of her show, I have long admired Amy Schumer for her feminist wit and down-to-earth style. And I really liked her movie Trainwreck. In this collection of essays, Schumer writes about her family, relationships, and career. Many of her topics are serious, but her trademark humor shines through, and since I listened to the audiobook I got to hear her read it all to me.

She grew up with money - new money, as they call it - and is very candid about what it was like to be from a modest background but be wealthy, and then to lose it all as her family did. I really appreciated that she talked about this because money is such a taboo topic in our society and I think it's a shame that we're so secretive about it. I especially enjoyed her anecdote about playing with lobsters on the floor before cooking them, which I also did as the child of a lobster fisherman (the opposite of wealthy, but we still ate lobster frequently.)

She has a very close relationship with her sister Kim, which I loved hearing about. They were arrested for shoplifting together and got terrible ill-advised tattoos together. They are pretty much BFFs and Kim appears in many of her essays.

I really liked an essay about her experience when she was very young and worked at a camp for people with disabilities. She took the job only because a boy she liked worked there. When she arrived, she was assigned not to the children as she had hoped and assumed, but to the senior ladies. These women didn't try to impress anyone, weren't afraid to ask for what they wanted, nor were they ashamed of their bodily functions. Though the situation wasn't what she had expected, Amy realized, "I had finally found my people."

A firm believer in the "fake it 'til you make it" school, Amy once got a job because she pretended that she had gotten a second interview. She just showed up and said she was there for her second interview and the employers just assumed someone screwed up and didn't tell them. She did whatever she wanted at her jobs too, and as much as I like her I wouldn't hire her. (Of course her strengths quite obviously lie outside of traditional jobs.) Although I'd never in a million years act the way she did at these jobs, I kind of admire her bravado, and her determination to find a job that fit her rather than trying to conform herself to a job.

On the more serious side of things, she talked a lot about her dad who has MS, and didn't spare anything about what that means in all it's sad messy details. She also revealed an abusive relationship she stayed in longer than she likes to admit. Most tragically, she discusses the movie theater shooting at a showing of Trainwreck, in which the shooter specifically chose that movie and women as targets.

So this wasn't 8 hours of stand up, as some of the reviews seemed to expect. It was just one imperfect human offering up her thoughts and insights about her life. I found her very relatable and introspective and inspiring. Parts were funny, other parts were serious, but it was all great. I also read some reviews of the audio that were critical about her performance, calling her flat and bored-sounding, but I completely disagree. She sounded like a person narrating an audiobook and I'm glad that's the way I chose to experience this book.

What else? There was more poop in these essays than I expected. I was happy to find through an internet search that she's still dating the guy she talked about meeting through a dating app in one of the essays. She's friends with a lot of professional wrestlers. She's Jewish, and really likes even the most disgusting foods of her people. I just really enjoyed everything about this and getting to know her through her stories only makes me like her more. She's not otherworldly like some celebrities who seem incredibly distant from our own real-life experiences. She's one of us and she's not afraid to show us all the ways in which she is imperfect: "I wear my mistakes like badges of honor and I celebrate them. They make me human."

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Women in the Walls

The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics (2016)

Lucy has grown up in a remote Victorian mansion with her father, aunt Penelope, and cousin Margaret. Lucy and Margaret are homeschooled, and the estate is a frequent meeting place for the country club their family is involved with. Lucy's mother died when she was still a little kid, so she has grown up with Penelope as a mother figure. But as the novel opens, Penelope wanders into the woods and disappears and Lucy learns there is a lot about her aunt - and the house where she has grown up - that she doesn't know.

All of the relationships in this book are complicated and uncertain and filled with secrets. It made me feel like I didn't know who to trust, or who Lucy should trust. In true horror novel fashion, things are far weirder and scarier than they appear and not everyone is going to get out of here alive.

I loved the setting and the atmosphere of this novel. Old, isolated Victorian mansion with dark secrets? Yes, please! Although the story is contemporary, Lukavics gives it a timeless quality that added to the overall dark creepy feeling. There is no mention of computers or cell phones until quite late in the story and even those references were minimal. Earlier mention of Lucy doing research must have meant that she was using the internet, but Lukavics carefully didn't say that.

We all have different things that scare us and I think her last book, Daughters Unto Devils, pushed more of my particular horror-buttons. Still, this worked quite well as a horror novel and I was surprised a few times when I really thought about the fact that it is written for teens. There is a part late in the book that is shockingly, horrifically gross. Just before it there was something that hinted at what was coming but I thought "Oh no, she won't go there." But she went there! I don't even know if I liked or disliked certain parts of this novel, but they were certainly effective at conveying horror. Wow.

This is a very quick-to-read, well-crafted, true horror novel - which you don't see nearly enough in teen fiction. I think Daughters Unto Devils is still my favorite (I gave it 5 stars and it was my favorite book I read last year) but this was a great follow-up!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Ten Books I Read Based on Recommendations

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is all about recommendations: from other book bloggers, from podcasts, whatever we choose. I decided to highlight books I've read specifically because they were recommended by friends, family, or coworkers. As a librarian, I am constantly consuming reviews, trends, podcasts, and various media about books. But I've stopped falling for official reviews once I realized that literary merit has nothing to do with my enjoyment of a book. What means a lot more to me is when a person I know tells me that I'll love a book, or buys one for me because they think I will like it. Here are some of those!

1. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Last winter I dropped in at a publisher's event at ALA Midwinter and there were galleys of this book everywhere! Even though I really like this author, I was skeptical of a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. But then one of my coworkers raved about it, and then one of my friends raved about it, so I was powerless to resist. They were right. This book is amazingly fun and wonderful!

2. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Despite being a local author, I hadn't heard of this book until a friend recommended it for our book group. I can't believe it's not more popular, but ever since I read it I've been doing my part to recommended it to anyone who will listen.

3. The Likeness by Tana French
My coworker Jenny loves Tana French and says this one is her favorite. It took me a couple of years of her telling me about Tana French before I finally picked this up, and it was everything she had promised.

4. Dreamland by Sam Quinones
I had heard of this book and am sorta interested in learning about the opiate crisis, but I'm pretty sure I would never have picked this book up had my friend Kevin not told me how infuriating it is.

5. Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
My husband, who is not even much of a reader, recommended this book to me after coming across a copy at a used bookstore. (In fact, every time he mentions books or reading, I joke "But you don't know how to read!") When he does read, it's almost exclusively science fiction written in the 50s and 60s. This book, however, was first published in 1980 and it turns out to be one of the best dystopias I've ever read.

6. The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin
I hadn't even heard of this book until a friend bought it for me a few years ago for either my birthday or Christmas. It's one of the most original teen books I've read, both in story and format (it includes lots of art and photos) and it has really stuck with me.

7. Sunshine by Robin McKinley
This is what a vampire novel should be. I only wish I could remember who told me about it. I think it may have been a former coworker.

8. The Tea Rose series by Jennifer Donnelly
This is an odd one to include because I actually bought this series for my mother and several other people in my family ended up reading it. I can't remember how I heard about it but I wasn't planning to read it myself until my mother, niece, sister's boyfriend, my coworker Jenny, and the bookseller where I bought it all raved about it. I still haven't read the third one in the trilogy but I have definite plans to do so.

9. City of Thieves by David Benioff
Another book group pick that I wouldn't have heard about otherwise. I've been recommending this to everyone I know since I've read it.

10. The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield
 I would not have ever picked up a book about Buddhist psychology, but my aunt recommended it. She doesn't strike me as the audience for a book on this topic (she has actually been Catholic all her life) so I suspected it might not be as woo-woo as I would assume, and we tend to read a lot of the same things, so I decided to try it. It is definitely the sort of book to go back and reread.

I don't think of myself reading a lot based on other people's recommendations, but that is clearly not the case. This list could have easily been 20 books long!

Do you read based on the recommendations of other people? What's the best book that you read because someone you know suggested it to you?

Monday, October 10, 2016


Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix (2014)

It may look like an IKEA catalog, but it's actually a very clever and funny horror novel that takes place in a store called Orsk. ("Questions? Just Orsk!") Orsk is an IKEA-like store (though IKEA does also exist in this world), complete with labyrinthine showrooms, assemble-it-yourself furniture, and meatballs. But there's something more going on in the Cleveland Orsk store, and manager Basil is determined to figure out what. Thinking that someone is sneaking in after hours and wreaking havoc, he recruits Amy and Ruth Anne to stay overnight and investigate.

Basil is super uptight and is always quoting the corporate dogma, while Amy is just biding her time until she can get transferred to another store. I'd say Amy is in her 20s probably. Ruth Anne is in her 40s, doesn't seem to have much going on outside of her job, and is eternally optimistic and pleasant. They aren't very chummy with each other and make an unlikely team, and of course they have no idea what they're really in for. (Hint: it's much more sinister than what they expect.)

Look, this isn't going to win any literary awards. The plot is not completely without holes, the characters aren't terribly well-developed, and the writing can be a bit clunky in spots. But it's very good at what it is, and I kind of loved it. I love satire and horror and comedy and it's all of those things. But it's the presentation that really gives it that extra special something. As I pointed out earlier, it looks like an IKEA catalog from the outside, but that design carries through the book. Each chapter begins with a catalog page highlighting a particular piece of furniture such as the Brooka, Liripip, and Hügga, complete with descriptions and available colors and they are all relevant to the story. The furniture and catalog copy become more...unusual as the story progresses.

It's not super-scary, but I do have a special love for and fear of creepy buildings so it worked for me on a horror level even while I laughed at the Orsk corporate culture. I always want to be reading horror in October, and I'm so glad I happened to have some time between library books to finally pick up this book that's been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years now. It's not my last horror novel of this month either - I'll be posting about a newly-released teen horror novel sometime soon!