Saturday, October 27, 2012

A New Reason to be Afraid of the Dark

I love House of Leaves. It's a horror story with no vampires, no werewolves, no ghosts or demons, but still scary as any other book I've ever read. Even still, I am regretting my decision to pick this for my blog subject. It is one of my favorite books of all time (not to mention perfect for the Halloween season), but it is also one of the hardest to describe. It’s difficult for me to put into words an experience so psychologically horrifying or visually disturbing as reading this book. And now I have to convince you to read it without my usual crutch of being able to simply hand you the thing and watch you flip through the pages with your brow increasingly furrowing and your jaw lolling and drool running off your chin, when I exclaim with unbridled triumph and all-out-manic delight the word, “SEE?”

Anyway, that’s how it normally happens. I suppose I’ll just have to give this way a shot.

For my sake, let’s start off with the easy stuff:
1.       House of Leaves is a horror novel by Mark Danielewski.
2.       The novel is written as a documentary
3.       The documentary is based around a series of video records that may or may not exist
4.       These videos chronicle explorations of dark and physically impossible chambers that grow and move within the House
5.       The study of these videos was written by a blind man, who is now dead
6.       A young man named Johnny Truant finds this manuscript among the dead man’s things.
7.       Johnny Truant frequently interrupts the narrative with his own observations
8.       Johnny may or may not be a pathological liar and, in addition to that, he’s losing his mind.

In summary, it’s a novel written as a documentary which is written by a blind man about videos of a shape-changing House that he obviously couldn’t see, which could also have been completely fabricated to make a great premise for the blind man’s opus, which we’ll never know because he’s deceased and so  we can’t ask him, which is then edited by a complete stranger to the blind man and the project who becomes fanatically obsessed with learning the truth of the matter, but also professes in his increasingly schizophrenic tirades that he tends to lie a lot.

With me so far?

Come along, then. We’ll pick up the stragglers later.

The house of title fame belongs to a Pulitzer-winning photojournalist named Will Navidson who resides in this quaint countryside abode with his wife and two children. Everything seems just fine and dandy until  the hallway appears.

This hallway doesn’t connect two rooms. Rather, it branches off a living room wall and extends into total darkness. It is dark, featureless, and eerily cold. The general consensus is that it’s giving everyone the heebie-jeebies. So of course, Navidson busts out the camera and goes exploring. The walk from the living room entryway to the wall inside takes him five and a half minutes to complete. Sufficiently creeped-out, the family did the only sensible thing they could do: they boarded up the hole and stuck a door on it. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t help. Unable to contain his curiosity, Navidson opens the door for a peek only to find that the hallway has stretched out even farther.

Soon, they discover an entire catacomb of corridors and chambers has manifested behind the living room wall. Navidson hires a team of explorers to investigate the area. When they don’t return, he and his own team move in to rescue them. What they step into is a dark and foreboding place whose architectural make-up alters and moves while they’re inside. Where the darkness had once been utterly silent, now an otherworldly growl begins to draw nearer.

But what Navidson and his team find in the darkness isn’t a growling monster, it’s more terrifying than that. What they find in the darkness is what slowly drives poor Johnny Truant insane, it’s what we can assume made the blind man so obsessed with Navidson’s story, and what probably drove him a bit crazy, too. The madness they uncover  starts being mimicked by the book itself, with strange cross-outs, entire missing sections, incessant and disrupting footnotes, backwards print, and formatting that makes the writing near impossible to read.

Even though you’re positive you’re reading a novel and it’s fiction and you know in your noggin that the Navidson Record doesn’t exist, even though the characters in the book are themselves doubtful anything occurring is real at all, even though it makes no sense that a blind man would review a video documentary, even though there’s that ever-present Johnny Truant who has a penchant for fabricating wild, elaborate stories, what they find there in the darkness will make you keep the night light on. Even more frighteningly, you probably won’t be sure why.

And if that hasn’t convinced you, pick up the book and flip to the middle. Trust me on this one. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Scary Book For The Season

Because Halloween is approaching, we though you may be interested in a few scary reads suggestions.  I'm not entirely sure what fascinates humans so much with frightening themselves, but I would be willing to bet whatever it is is unique to our species.  I just can't see a dog deliberately trying to scare itself.

I have a long fascination with things that are scary and an even longer fascination with Stephen King.  He was the first author that really made me want to read, and I spent a long time devouring most of what he wrote.  For some reason though, most of what he has written lately hasn't quite lived up to his older stuff.  There is just something about the older stuff that is superior.  So my first scary recommendation for Halloween is It.  It is easily one of the scariest books I have ever read.  The sort of, this book is not sleeping in the same bed with me, so it has to sleep under the bed, oh God it's under the bed, sort of scary book.

It also has a great group of characters that complement each other well.  You'll really pull for these kids, and their adult counterparts.  It was also made into a mini-series that I really enjoyed at the time, with Tim Curry doing a great job as Pennywise the clown.  Keep in mind that you are not allowed to watch it until you have read the book.

The book starts out with kidnappings of local children.  It is not long before you realize whatever is taking these kids is decidedly not human.  King has a way of taking the things that instill all people with primal fear, like losing a child, and making them into a supernatural, larger than life fear.  His evil is fear personified.  If you're looking to scare yourself this Halloween, you won't do better than It.  We have several copies, if you dare.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

All Hallow's Read

Happy October book lovers! As some of you may know, I'm a fan of the dark and creepy. The skulls over the stairs for the past year might have been a give away. So, when given the chance to mix books and Halloween, I was all over it.  What presented me with this glorious opportunity?  None other Neil Gaiman introducing The All Hallow's Read several years ago. You may be wondering what this escapade is.  Mr. Gaiman explained it on his blog in the very clever video below.

Neat right?

The All Hallows Read poses an interesting dilemma, with all the scary, creepy or just darkly weird books out there, which one to choose?

I will confess that I don't read scary books. I lean more towards darkly weird.  Allow me to share some great picks that won't actually scare, but will still capture the spirit of the season....

The Graveyard Book

It only seems right to give the event's creator top billing on the list of top picks right?

The Graveyard Book is a great choice for book loving kids all the way up to quirky adults. It's whimsical and fun while still being appropriately macabre.

It's the story of a boy whose family is murdered by a mysterious organization.  He escapes and is subsequently raised by the ghosts residing in the graveyard at the end of his street.

This tale is full of supernatural creatures and mystery. It's a perfect read for any child 11 or up, but be warned there is a vast amount of non- graphic violence (bad thing happen, but they aren't described gruesome detail).

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children 

Miss Peregrine's is a dark fantasy story about a boy who grew up with a grandfather who told him stories about the monsters who lurked in the real world, only to find out that they are all real... or maybe he's just losing his mind?

He and his father take a trip to the source of his grandfather's stories in an attempt to find the grain of truth.

This book is illustrated with truly creepy vintage photos that enrich the story without distracting from the readers imagination.

This story is a great choice for teens and up. It was written as an adult horror story, but got stolen by the young adult set.  It's a great read regardless, but not for little ones.

The Walking Dead Volume One

Season three just aired last weekend and if you haven't read the graphic novel that started it all, now is a great time to start. Standard zombie apocalypse end of the world survival story, but this one is masterfully told.

This read is a great choice for teens and up, especially for those lurking non-readers we all have.

So, there you have it. Three great All Hallows Read picks, with more to come from myself, Vickie and maybe even a guest blogger!

Which titles would you add?

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Few Words About Fifty Shades of Grey

I have recently been pondering the subject of popularity.  In particular, I have been pondering the sort of Earth shattering popularity that leads to mega-bestsellers.  Currently the top three spaces on the paperback fiction bestseller charts are being occupied by Fifty Shades of Grey, and its two sequels, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed.  I will confess to having read them, but only out of curiosity.  Generally when anything is that popular, I run in the other direction because it is my normal inclination to assume popular=bad .

I will also freely confess to only having the slightest idea about what gives the mega-bestseller its popularity.  It clearly feeds something in our collective egos that needs to be fed.  Fifty Shades by no coincidence, fed the same part of our egos that was fed by the Twilight novels it was based on.   In this case we will assume women are the example as they are the intended audience.  Women are fascinated by the love story at the heart of these books.  The typical heroine does not believe herself to be attractive, and is clumsy and lacks self-confidence.  She's an every woman, who most women see something of themselves in.  Therefore they can imagine the dashing hero wanting to be with them as well.  So it feeds their need to feel attractive, and fell that there is a dashing hero out there for them.

I have no issue with this, as I think it is a fairly common female fantasy, and it's not an unhealthy one.  The unhealthy part, is the quite obvious mental abuse that takes place in both the Fifty Shades series, and the Twilight books.  Stalking is never okay.  Nor is needing that much control over the object of your affection's whereabouts or behavior.  We all want to be wanted, but both of these books cross the line.  The romance here is suffocating, not epic, and it really concerns me that this is the type of relationship that women fantasize about.  And when do we get a heroine who is aware of her own beauty?  Men in this book are fawning all over her, and she is unaware she is attractive.

Are these some concerns that you share, or should I just lighten up a bit?  What drew you to this book?  Was it everything you expected?

Monday, June 11, 2012

One Of My Favorite Books

It is an occupational hazard that people frequently ask me to name my favorite book.  It is also an occupational hazard that that answer is never simple.  Typically my response is "that would be like asking me to choose between my children," complete with aghast look.  Seriously though, that is a rather daunting question for someone who reads as much, or as passionately as I do.  My favorite book has been the book I was currently reading, probably 100 hundred times or more in my life.  But of the many books that have been my favorite at one point or another in my life, there are several that will remain some of my favorites forever.  There are those books I would wish to read with fresh eyes again; to experience their wonders as if for the first time again.  Alas this is impossible, and I can only remember the initial experience fondly or suggest them to others as a way of sharing the experience.  

One of these such books, is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon.  This is a book about many things: comic books: WWII, the loss of America's innocence, the Holocaust, illicit love affairs, friendship, escape artists, and love.  I would be unable to describe it adequately without telling people that it simply must be read.  Random House, the publisher of this literally amazing book, has decided to re-release it in paperback, for reasons known only to them.  I would like to think it is because they realize how important this novel is, and that re-releasing it will bring it to the forefront of the American consciousness again, where it belongs.  It will allow this book to be discovered by those who missed it the first time it was released, and give those who enjoyed it the first time an opportunity to share it with those who have yet to read it.  

The book will be available for sale beginning tomorrow.  And I ask that all of you read it in whatever way you can; take it out from the library, buy the ebook, buy if from me, ask for it as a gift, or borrow it from a friend.  This is a book that truly must be read.  If you are looking for a great book look no further, for this is one of the best there is.

Monday, April 9, 2012

World Book Night is almost upon us!

World Book Night is exactly two weeks from today! I'm giddy with anticipation! I'm also looking forward to seeing the books themselves. Apparently they will look a little different from the normal sale editions, with WBN promo information all over them. I hope they don't look lame because of it.

I'm not sure exactly where I'm going to be handing books out yet, so I'm open to suggestions. I don't, however, anticipate having a whole lot of trouble getting rid of 20 copies of The Hunger Games.

The list is kind of weird. I can't for the life of me figure out why they would hand out copies of the 17th book in a series (Q  by Sue Grafton). The Stand is massive, also not a book I would have chosen for those who don't read all the time. I'm all about the diversity of the list though, Ender's Game is classic Sci-Fi that is a great gateway into the genre. Friday Night Lights is great for non-readers and Because of Winn Dixie is a fantastic kids book. 

I would have liked to see some less know titles on the list. Maybe sub out The Stand for Horns by Joe Hill, or The Bean Trees instead of The Poisonwood Bible. I'm not entirely sure The Lovely Bones hasn't out lived it's hype, I would not have included it in my list of thirty.

What book would you have liked to see on the list?

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Guest Post or A Concise Review of The Hunger Games From Someone Who Hadn't Read Them.

For a long time, I sold books for a living.

I started when Harry Potter was beginning its world domination. Over the years, I watched as the HP crowd finished the series and picked up Twilight, Percy Jackson and the Inheritance Cycle. And while I relished putting books of any kind into the hands of the Facebook obsessed, I did not read these literary blockbusters myself. When the world’s attention turned to Hunger Games, I didn’t blink an eye.

I read Economics. I read Business books. I read…Self Improvement. Basically, everything that attracts a reader - like, say, Meg - to a book is exactly what I am not into: dragons, fairies, character names with y’s where there should be i’s. Point of fact, I just typed my name into an Elven name generator, and I got Cadothyel. Yeah - go in peace, but no thanks. As soon as I learned that we were dealing with a Katniss, I knew I would not be partaking in the trilogy.

But everybody else on earth did partake, and momentum gathered. Eventually, I came across the trailer for Hunger Games at the theater, and I felt...strangely excited. Wait, it’s a futuristic dystopia? I can watch teenagers battle to the death? And everyone has normal ears? This seems more like Orwell and Margaret Atwood than Stephanie Meyer.

And when I saw it, it was great. Without ever having cracked the book, I followed everything in the movie with ease. The world of Panem was fascinating as translated to the screen. Great performances, riveting story, lots of gore. A great movie all around.

The best part? I’ll probably pick up Catching Fire the book. I’m hooked. Score one for Young Adult!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Hunger Games: A Rambling Review

So, I went to see The Hunger Games with a few companions this past weekend. I found it to be an overall emotionally fulfilling experience. It didn't quite match my vision from reading the books, but it came closer than most of the Harry Potter films to matching the world that the author had created.

I read the books when I worked at Borders. We were going to have a book club events for them and I was the most likely candidate for hosting them. I'd been procrastinating about reading them, I got about 20 "You must read this book!" recommendations a day.   Even I'm not that good no matter how hard I try, so they languished in my ever expanding 'to read' list until someone in the corporate office bumped it up in priority for me. I do not regret my procrastination. If I had read it when it was suggested originally, I would have had to wait years to finish the trilogy and might have just died of anticipation. As it was I had to wait three weeks for Mockingjay to come out and that was torturous!

I did not reread before I saw the film. I know many did (including Kristen Cashore, who wrote a very good blog about her reread, sparking my desire to reread her own books before Bitterblue comes out in  May.  So excited!) but I felt no over whelming compulsion to reread them whatsoever, so I read books that I had never read before instead.

All that being said, the film captured the feel of books flawlessly without having the advantage of taking place as a first person narrative. I did have to explain a few details to one companion who did not read the book because they were a little vague, but they were periphery details for the most part.

The world itself didn't quite match my vision. District 12 was a little less Depression era and a little more forced conformity, in my mind. Other areas were really enriched for me, I loved seeing the people of the Capitol, and the costumes were fantastic and came across as abundantly right.

Lenny Kravitz did not ruin the movie. I had been more than a little concerned. I love my rock stars as much as the next girl, but mostly they should stay on stage and out of films except for tiny cameos. I would have even been happy to see a little more of him to be honest. 

There were a few changes to the actual story that stood out. The origin of the mockingjay pin is different, which seems like a time saver more than anything else. I guess some things had to give to make the book fit into the much shorter movie. I will miss the back story of it that shows up in Catching Fire.

 Want to know what it is? You'll have to read the book,  I'm not telling.

The other bit that they changed is super spoilery so I can't tell you what it is. If you come in on a Thursday when Vickie isn't here (or if she'd just read them already!) we can talk about it. Until then, my editor and overlord has forbade me from writing things that will ruin the story for her and I must oblige, as she is after all the Literary Overlord and must be obeyed.  
Any how, I'm getting rambley. The bookseller verdict is, read the book because books are always a good use of time, but if you really feel no compulsion to do so you can watch the movie and be okay.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Some Book Recommendations For Your Not So Wintery Winter

Winter is generally a time to curl up in front of a roaring fire, under a blanket (I prefer down) and catch up on a neglected to be read pile.  Although this has been a somewhat different sort of winter, that does not mean books should be ignored.  With that I have some recommendations to transport you as we wait for the winter to end, and the sweet rebirth of spring to commence.  As luck would have it, we have all of these books available at the bookstore, in either new or used incarnations for your reading pleasure.

Storm Front,
by Jim Butcher.  

I cannot stress how great the Harry Dresden series is.  The secret here, like most fantasy, is you absolutely have to read past the first book.  It is good, but the series itself is great.  Harry Dresden is the country's only opening practicing Wizard.  The Dresden Files has an amazing ensemble cast, with a hard-boiled private detective in the lead.  Who just happens to be a wizard.  There are also werewolves, vampires, fairies, clairvoyants, ghosts, necromancers, demons,  and a host of other supernatural beings.  I often bill it as Harry Potter for grownups.  Although it is a little more based in our world typically than a fantasy world, I think, the comparison still holds true.  

Jim Butcher has written 13 Dresden books, and a short story collection, and he's not done yet.  He will release another this year, and for many years to come.  So if you run out, he'll make more.

We typically try to keep most of the series in at any given time new, because although it began over 10 years ago, I have only seen one copy of the first book used.  People love it and don't give it up.  You can't have my copy.

Also an amazing series, The Dark Tower, by Stephen King.  This one starts with The Gunslinger.  This is another series that once you read the first book, you absolutely immediately have to pick up the second and move on.  You will not regret it.  The Dark Tower is epic fantasy, and doesn't really hit it's stride until the second book when King has introduced us to most of the main characters.  It is about Roland Deschain's quest for the Dark Tower, but more than that it is about the journey.  This we do have it available used, but make sure you pick up the first two, and not just the first one.  It would be a great tragedy if you read the first and then stopped. 

Although the series is technically finished, King has written a novel that bridges the gap between the 4th and 5th books that will be released in April.  There is also a two volume concordance and several graphic novels. 

I'll leave you with these two for now, as between the two series they amount to over 21 books.  That should keep you busy.  And if fantasy is not your cup of tea, there is always something we can recommend for you.  We take recommendations very seriously, so give us a shot.  Are there any great books you have read lately that you would like to tell us about?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

World Book Night 2012

World Book Night 2011 is scheduled to debut in the United States on April 23rd 2012.  World Book Night is an annual even where people give free books away to people who wouldn't ordinarily read a book.  It's a great way to foster reading, and there's still a very small window of opportunity to sign up to be a book giver by the deadline of February 1st.  Please take this opportunity to consider signing up.  It promises to be fun time where you get to give free copies of one of 30 outstanding titles, at absolutely no cost to you, other than some of your time.  For more information please go here .  We know we'll be doing it, how about you?