Saturday, February 27, 2016

Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I wish I had read this book as a kid.  I would have been in love with it.  It was delightful and creepy - and I think as a kid it would have scared the shit out of me in the best possible way.

Coraline is exploring in her home and finds a door that appears to lead nowhere.  It opens to a brick wall, except one day the bricks are gone and she's able to go through.  Inside, she finds a house just like her own but slightly modified.  The colors in her room are brighter.  The toys are more fun.  Her other mother and other father are there too.  They have paper white skin, long, sharp fingers, and buttons instead of eyes.  And they are very interested in convincing her to stay in their version of the house.  Forever.

If the idea of a kid going through a secret door has you thinking The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, think again.  Coraline is dark.  I found parts superbly unsettling, and I think the suggested reading age is 9 for this YA novel!  As I said above, this would have totally freaked me out as a kid, but I love scary/creep stuff so it would have been right up my ally.  Also, this was my first experience reading Neil Gaiman.  He's great!  The version I had on my eReader included an interview with him about writing Coraline and what inspired the story.  If you decide to pick this up, go for the enhanced version, it's worth it.  Click here to check it out on Amazon.

I loved reading about a strong, smart, brave, and witty little girl figuring things out for her own.  And although this was technically a YA novel, it didn't feel young to me.  I used Coraline as my eReader/iPhone read.  I've been trying to keep a book going on my device for on-the-go reading and as an opportunity to grab a few pages when Dominic is playing.  After the week I've had, a nice, immersive read was just what the doctor ordered!  Highly recommend!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ghost Summer - Tananarive Due

I received Ghost Summer in my Book Riot horror box this fall.  I purposely saved it for the week before Thanksgiving because I knew I'd be super busy.  A short story collection was just the thing I needed.

About a year and a half ago I read my first collection of short stories.  I've been hooked ever since.  It takes so much talent to pull the reader in when your'e dealing with only a few pages.  I think a good short story not only conveys a plot in a limited page count, but also makes the reader really understand and/or connect with the characters right away.  For me, my favorite short story collections also have the element of the surreal - not necessarily supernatural, but the feeling of something being slightly off.

Tananarive Due does an amazing job at all the things I mentioned above that make a short story collection fantastic.  Ghost Summer is divided into four sections.  The first section features stories all set in Gracetown, a fictional Florida town.  In Gracetown, in the swampland, strange things happen - particularly to children - in the summer months.  The second section is called "The Knowing" and all of the stories have something to do with folks who able to see things and know things they should't be able to.  The third section, "Carriers" explores the idea of pandemics (this was my favorite section).  Finally, the fourth section is about vanishings.

I really loved this collection.  Due does an amazing job of completely immersing the reader in the story after only a few pages.  Before I got into short stories, my fear was always that by the time I really got into the story, it would be over.  This is not the case with well-written short stories.  You're pulled in right away.  If you've never tried short stories, give this one a try.  It's fantastically written and just a little bit suspenseful.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins

I think we all know this book has gotten a lot of hype.  All of it is well deserved.

Rachel is an alcoholic.  She commutes back and forth on the train each day to London.  The train always makes a stop in front of a house on the street where she used to live.  After seeing the same house out the window every day, she's invented an entire history about the couple who live there - Jess and Jason.  One day, Rachel sees "Jess" kissing a strange man.  The next day, Jess is missing.  This story is told from Rachel's point of view, and also from the point of view of Megan ("Jess"), and Anna (the woman married to Rachel's ex-husband).

This book was fantastic.  I can see why it has received so much attention.  I'm a sucker for books told from multiple points of view.  I listened to this on audio, and I loved hearing the different narrators.  Each point of view left me with the urge to continue the story in order to hear what happens next - not cliffhangers necessarily, but I definitely wanted to get back to that person's storyline asap.  

I have trouble reading about people with substance abuse problems.  This was a little hard for me at times.  I felt the same about The Goldfinch.  There's something about that loss of control that really freaks me out, and although the story is supposed to be chilling because Megan is missing, the substance abuse thing added another layer of uncomfortable for me.  I originally chose this book because it was October and I thought a suspense would be perfect for the Halloween season.  I didn't find the book "scary", but it was certainly suspenseful.  

This is an example of a book I loved despite disliking all of the main characters.  I think this is difficult for an author to accomplish - keeping the reader interested when there's nothing redeemable about the characters.  I felt for Rachel, especially after understanding why her alcoholism started, but I still didn't like her very much.  I definitely disliked Megan and (especially) Anna.  And don't get me started on the men.  The premise was so captivating it made up for the fact that I wasn't really rooting for anyone in particular.

This is a great book - it kept me guessing and was fantastic on audio.  I had a particularly long week of driving ahead of me, and this was absolutely perfect.

Interested? Pick it up!

How about you?  Have you read The Girl on the Train?  Did you enjoy it?  Was it worth all the hype?  Did you like any of the characters?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Finding my local comics shop

A little over a year ago, I started getting interested in reading comics.  It really started when Book Riot started a sister site - Panels.  I had never read a comic book.  But here were a bunch of readers talking about comics - and although they are not people I've ever met in real life, they are people whose blogs I had been following before Book Riot existed.  So I paid attention.  I added Panels to my feedly and started learning in bits and pieces.

A couple of months later, Dominic was away for the weekend visiting my parents.  I had a night to myself.  I stopped at the mall and found myself in Newbury Comics.  Despite having the word "comics" in the store name, there is really only a small section of the store devoted to comics.  This was a little surprising to me.  A very nice gentleman came up to me and asked if I needed any help.  I did.  I had absolutely no idea what I was looking at.  This guy was really helpful and seemed really excited I was buying my first ever comic book.  

Because I'm me, I had researched and decided what I wanted to pick up before I even entered the store.  I came home with Thor #1 (because it was a #1, and Thor was now a lady - which is pretty awesome), and the first trade of Saga (because I didn't have to wade very far into the comics pool before I found out that people universally think Saga is amazing).  (Saga is indeed amazing.)


I devoured these comics when I got home and decided this was a medium I was ready to get behind.  So the next day I went back to Newbury Comics.  The nice guy wasn't working that day.  So I had to talk to a teenager, which is normally not a problem for me, except this kid knew as much about comics as I did.  Not a good sign.  Whatever, I grabbed the next two trades of Saga and went home.

Now here is where the story gets amazing.

I remembered seeing a store on my drive to work.  It had a bunch of super heros painted on the front.  I looked them up and found out that this was indeed a comic shop and it was right near my house.  I had been driving past it on my to and from work for years.  YEARS.  

The guys who work at this shop are so great.  They took the time to go over a lot of terminology with me.  They asked me about things I liked and they set me up with my very own sub box.  

My sub list has grown a lot in the past year.  I pop into the shop every week.  

They give Dominic a lollipop when he comes in the shop with me.  

I can browse for hours and they're always there to answer questions (even when my questions are about basic things).  

They go through the preview catalogue with me so I can check out new releases.  

One time, it was raining and they saw me unbuckling Dom from his carseat and they ran out into the parking lot to tell me I had nothing in my sub box - just so I wouldn't get all wet in the parking lot with an overexcited toddler.  

And here is the best part.  They've gotten to know my tastes.  When I pour over the preview catalogue they point out what's getting the buzz.  These last couple of weeks they've pulled some neat looking #1s before they sold out and put them in my sub box.  (And they were spot on - I added them all to my list!)

This is a new experience for me.  Frequenting a place so often that they get to anticipate things I may be interested in.  I don't have an indie bookstore (closest bookstore is a Barnes & Noble), and I've always been kind of jealous of people who establish a relationship with their booksellers.  I finally get it - I'm not sure I would be reading half the titles I love if I had continued to shop at the mall.

So a year in, this has been one of the best things I've tried as a reader.  Thankful!  

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Review: The Devil in Silver - Victor LaValle

Pepper finds himself an inmate of a mental institution.  A terrifying creature with the body of an old man and the head of a bison visits his room.  He is almost killed.  This happens on more than one occasion, and every time, the hospital staff just ushers the creature away.  He is not imagining this - everyone else in the ward knows exactly what is going on.  The devil roams the hallways and the floor above the institution.

This book was great.  I received it in my "horror box" from Book Riot.  (Side note - these boxes are awesome and worth checking out.)  It was expecting a scary tale, but I was more pleased by the story I actually found.  Yes, the devil is scary.  It was definitely a scary tale.  However, there was a lot more going on.

Scarier than the devil roaming the hallways was the idea of being in a mental institution.  In this particular book, the conditions and treatments were totally sketchy.  And the people really had no recourse.  There's this being roaming the hallways preying on the patients.  Inmates are drugged to the gills.  Restraints are used as punishment.  And if these people said anything, who is going to believe them?  They're mental patients.  The idea of being in this institution is far scarier than the devil roaming the hallways.  And that's saying something, because the description of this devil is pretty damn scary.

If you're looking for a scary read that has a lot of substance, pick up The Devil in Silver.