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Scary Books to Last a Lifetime

25 Oct

October is such a good month to snuggle in with a creepy read. Unless you’re a scaredy cat like me. In that case, it’s a good month to ask the bravest reader you know for her list of favorite spooky reads. My friend Kate reads waaaaayyyyy more than me – she also reads a much wider range of things. Here are her suggestions if you’re in the mood for some scary reading.

 GHOST STORIES

Heart Shaped Box – Joe Hill – We are our own worst demons. Also, don’t buy and subsequently wear haunted suits. (side note: Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son)
NOS4A2 – Joe Hill – Creepy AF. Terrible villain who cuts through reality and has a haunted car that no one can escape from.
So Cold The River – Michael Koryta – Haven’t read in a long time, but I remember it being super good and scary. Mean ghosts!
The Cypress House – Michael Koryta – More creepy ghosts!
Ghost Story – Peter Straub – the scariest one I’ve ever read.
Dracula – Bram Stoker – Scarier than I remembered – kept me up at night!
Unquiet Grave – Sharyn McCrumb – Based on a folk tale or a true story where a new bride dies soon after marriage and her ghost wants to be avenged.
Meddling Kids – Edgar Cantero – this one was so weird but REALLY managed to scare me. Not sure why it’s YA.
Slade House – David Mitchell – Mean brother and sister messing with people’s minds! Not necessary to have read other David Mitchell but in the same universe as his other books.
Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales – Yoko Ogawa – Translated from Japanese – so good, so creepy.
The Hunger – Alma Katsu – Retelling of the Donner Party. Something is stalking the pioneers trying to reach California but everyone has their own haunted backstories, as well.
Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury – classic, scary.

 THRILLERS

Lying In Wait – Liz Nugent – good murder mystery! Best twist ever.
The Naturalist (series) – Andrew Mayne – super fun connect-the-dots, find-the-clues to track a killer series.
Black Fall (series) – Andrew Mayne – another highly enjoyable series by Andrew Mayne.
Ripper – Isabel Allende – There’s a killer in San Francisco and a kooky cast of characters is hunting for it (and being hunted)
Under The Harrow – Flynn Berry – Think ‘Girl On The Train,’ but better.
Perfume – Patrick Suskind – A classic, totally bizarre murderer whose entire existence is just wrong, but SUCH a great book.

 Ghost stories for Kids.

 

Isn’t that such an amazing list? Seriously. Thanks, Kate! I also asked my cousin and she had some good ones too. Helter Skelter and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark are true crime and I always finds those a little extra frightening.

Top Ten Litpicks of 2017

10 Dec

I’ve been postponing putting this list together in hopes that one more might make its way on here, and the one I’m reading now MIGHT be a contender (Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak) but who knows. This year I’m feeling a little shaky with my list – I know people who haven’t loved these in the same way I have. But these definitely topped my list. I read 67 books this year and here are my ten favorites, roughly in order, followed by some runners-up:

1. One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain. Chances are good you haven’t heard of this one, that your bookstores don’t stock it and your library might not either. BUT boy is it good! It’s the story of a woman named Sarah Creamer who ends up raising a boy on her own (even though she has not one good mama bone in her body, as her mother told her). They are so, so poor and she worries that she won’t be able to provide for him – can barely provide for him now. She reads in the paper about the huge cash prize awarded to the 4H’s Grand Champion steer and decides that she will sell every last thing she owns and buy a calf for her boy to raise, thinking of course he’ll win the next year’s competition. It’s not as easy as it sounds, turns out, to raise a calf into an award-winning steer and she finds help in some unlikely places. Perfect small town family story, highly recommend.

2. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. My cousin described reading this book as “feeling constantly carsick” and that’s definitely true, it’s not an easy read. It’s dark and back-woodsy but written so, so well and so compelling that it tops my (and many other’s) list. It’s the story of a young boy living with his elderly black grandparents. His white grandparents want nothing to do with him or his little sister, his mom is deep in a drug addiction and his father in jail. When his father calls to say he’s being released, the mom grabs both kids and heads to the prison to pick him up. I loved the grandfather, the boy himself, the way it was written.

3. Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan. I’m coming to think of J. Courtney Sullivan as sort of an Alice McDermott with much more plot. I loved this story about two young sisters who come over from Ireland – and then don’t speak for 50 years. We go back and forth between their arrival in New York City and their reunion years later, the mending of fences.

4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. This is on a lot of lists this year and I’m sure it’s crossed your radar. I loved this story of two families that get all tangled up in Shaker Heights..little fires sparking up everywhere.

5. Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout. She is just a beautiful writer – I never read Olive Kitteridge but I get the feeling this is similar. Short stories about a lot of people in a small town that are somehow connected to Lucy Barton (the heroine of her previous novel). I didn’t read My Name is Lucy Barton but it’s in my stack now, I loved her people so much.

6. The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak. It’s sort of shameful that this is the only book by a male author on my list (and I only had one last year? seems crazy). This guy reminds me so much of Kent Haruf and I loved this story of a young man and his mother living on the outskirts of town and waiting for their brother/son to come back from Vietnam. Krivak’s previous novel, The Sojourn, was a National Book Award finalist when it came out and tells the story of the father/husband of these characters – and I believe there is a third that will pick up where this one left off, or perhaps with the next generation. I didn’t read the last one, you don’t need to to love The Signal Flame.

7. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti. Something about this novel really hit me the right way. I loved the quirkiness and the heaviness and the whole atmosphere. It’s the story of Samuel Hawley and his twelve bullet wounds (12 was maybe too many, my only criticism) and also the present day story of his daughter’s coming of age struggles.

8. Salt Houses by Hala Alyan. I love a good sweeping generational story every now and then and this one was just what I needed at the time I read it. Set in the Middle East, it opens with Salma reading her daughter’s tea leaves on the eve of her marriage. The forecast is fairly devastating, but Salma keeps it to herself. We follow Salma, her daughter Alia and Alia’s children as they bounce from Jaffa to Kuwait to Paris.

9. I Found You by Lisa Jewell. These last two are pretty much thrillers with a slight literary twist, more my usual now than ever before because they really suck you right in. Pretty much the only way I can get a book finished now, sadly, is to be sucked right in. This one was a creepy story starting with a man who washes up on the beach and cannot remember who he is. As he learns more about what he was doing at the beach far from home, as we learn more about him – eeek I thought this was really good.

10. If We Were Villains by M.L Rio. Kind of a modern-ish day retelling of Secret History. Or at least similar enough to be compared. Fast-paced story about seven young Shakespearean students at a small but elite college for the arts. There’s a death, an investigation…10 years later the detective still isn’t sure the right person is serving time in prison.  Again, maybe not the best work of literature to hit the shelves in 2017, but it worked for me.

RUNNERS UP:

These were all close runners-up for 2017 – definitely worth checking out. I cried pretty much the entire way through Arthur Truluv and would recommend it completely for anyone who likes those sweet, feel-good stories that deal with life after loss and aging and unlikely friendships. You can find reviews of all of the other titles back in the archives. I’m looking forward to a great year of reading in 2018!

The Thing About Clownfish…

21 Mar

Ok, guys. I hardly ever recommend gift books. In fact, I can’t think of one I’ve ever mentioned but I want to RAVE about this little gem of a thing from Maja Safstrom. It’s amazing. And everyone, everyone should buy one and put it on their tables or by their toilets or in their nurseries or guest rooms. It is full of AMAZING animal facts that will delight child and adult alike.

illustrated

The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts comes out on March 26th and is a small (maybe 6in by 6in) hardcover full of these perfect drawing accompanied by tidbits of information, 90% of which I’m sure you didn’t know. The only image of the inside I could find came from Maja’s Instagram account and is this:

FullSizeRender

Maybe you knew this, I didn’t! Here is my favorite tidbit. Maybe not favorite but one that surprised me the most: “All Clownfish are born male. When the female Clownfish in a group dies, the most dominant male will turn into a female to take her place.” Who knew? 5 very big stars.

 

One Up, Two Down.

15 Sep

If I have to read a dud, let it at least be a fast-moving dud! I read two this week. On the up side, I read one that I liked! And it was non-fiction, how about that?

EileenI thought this was such a promising premise, so darkly intriguing and strangely timely. The story is about a young woman, Eileen, who works as a secretary in an all male juvenile detention center. The question on the jacket is something like “can she be persuaded to commit a crime” or something like that. Immediately after starting it I pictured Eileen as a young Kim Davis, and simultaneously the woman at the Dannemora prison that helped those two convicts escape not so long ago. Here’s what: this book was so uncomfortable and vulgar. Eileen is maybe one of the most disgusting creatures I’ve read, just in a purely hygienic sense. She doesn’t shower, talks disgustingly about her bowel movements and periods. Ugh so gross I’d like to forget her. 2 stars.

harriet chanceAnother dark one, although you’d never guess it based on the cover. The cover sets it up to read like Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (which I liked). And there are funny parts, to be sure, but it was also so sad and twisted. This is the life’s story of Harriet Chance. Her husband is recently deceased, her children grown and moved out. After her husband’s death, 87-year-old Harriet learns that he had bid on and won an Alaskan cruise. So she decides to invite her best friend and have an adventure. Turns out to be a whacked out trip. 3 stars.

boys in teh boatHere is the one I liked! Along with just about everyone else in the nation who has read it. It’s the true story of the mens rowing team from Washington University in the 1930s. Comprised of a bunch of poor farm boys and scholarship students, the team shockingly pushes past its competitors and qualifies for the 1936 Olympic games in Germany. I loved the parallel stories, most heavily the boys in the boat but also the German preparations that went on ahead of the games. If you haven’t read this, you should. 4 stars.

Is it too late for a Spring Break post?

28 Mar

I hope not – because I just got back from mine and I got a lot of reading done. Probably not the best stuff I’ve ever read, but most of it was just perfect for lounging around during Bahamian rain storms or frying on the beach.

Before I headed for the Islands, Loren and I spent a long weekend in Austin. Luckily I finished the one book that probably would’ve been weird to read on a beach – an old book I’d never heard of until lately (although I can see why it’s perfect for a cult following).

Geek LoveI was pretty surprised to find myself loving this book. 2013 marks the 30th (I think) anniversary of its publication and boy is it WEIRD. WEIRD in the way Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex made me feel weird. Here is the set up: Al and Crystal Lil Binewski fell in love at the circus/freak show that Al’s dad owned. When it seemed their traveling lifestyle was dying, the two lovebirds decided to take matters into their own hands and create their own freakishly freaky acts by getting pregnant and then consuming all sorts of drugs and radioactive things (horrible, right). So our cast of characters, besides Al and Lil, are Arturo (aqua boy with flippers instead of limbs), Iphy and Elly (beautiful conjoined twins), Oly (our albino/humpback/dwarf narrator), and Fortunato (the baby, who looks normal but can seemingly move things with his mind). I thought the whole thing was bizarre but captivating – say Middlesex meets The World According to Garp.

Now on to the beach reading. I think I’m going to lump these next four together, because they share a lot of classic beach-elements: family/marital drama, hidden secrets, single surprising twist at the end. Also, all but one of these are narrated in multiple voices, switching narrators with the chapters.

And the DarkGood HouseGeminiComfort of Lies

These may actually be in order of how I liked them. The Julia Glass is due out April 1 (next week!) and stands out because it centers around a man. Christopher “Kit” Noonan has been out of work for a while, and his wife sends him on a mission to (finally) discover the identity of his birth father. Of course there are ups and downs along the way, as well as a cast of (mostly) loveable characters. There were some I loved way more than others, but that’s ok.

The Good House is next, recommended by one of my trusted aunts. I’m a huge sucker for unreliable narrators, and I really got one with Hildy Good. I loved her from the first minute. She is THE real estate agent in a small north-eastern town who seems to know everything about everybody. When Hildy strikes up a friendship with the wealthy new neighbor, she finds herself in the middle of a small town scandal.

Gemini by Carol Cressida is one I’ve been putting off for a while. I don’t know why, something about the cover maybe? But it is maybe the most classic “beach read” of the four. It starts with a woman named Charlotte who is the doctor on call when a Jane Doe trauma patient arrives at the hospital. As time passes and  she tries to save the patient, she becomes consumed with finding out the woman’s identity. Pretty good, with a weird/unbelievable twist at the end.

Lastly, Comfort of Lies. This one came out last year, and was mentioned in some sort of prestigious publication as one of the best five books you never heard of from 2013. I disagree. I thought it was completely predictable. It’s the story of three women – one falls in love with a married man, produces a baby which she gives up for adoption. Another is married to a man who, she discovers, had an affair that produced a baby. The third is a woman who, though not quite sure she’s cut out for motherhood, adopts a baby with her husband. Pretty easy to see how these three connect, but then they ACTUALLY connect in a series of eye-rolling ways.

AND I had one more to get me back home. Purchased at the lack-luster Ft Lauderdale airport where I spent most of my vacation, this one is a little outside of the norm for me.

Brain on FireMostly because it’s non-fiction. The choices were VERY limited. But. I thought this was a great fast read. I had it finished after my long layover, two plane changes, three flights. Brain on Fire is the true story of Susannah Cahalan, a New York Post reporter, who was 24 when she went off her rocker. I mean literally went quite mad. After weeks of erratic behavior, she was finally hospitalized with an impending diagnosis of bipolar or schizophrenia, things her family refused to believe. Of course there was ultimately another diagnosis – one that allowed her to recover enough to write a book and head back to work. But still. Fascinating medical mystery with really short chapters that let you fly right on through.

Tsunamis and Missing Persons.

11 Apr

I have two books to write about today – and I think I’m out of my reading funk. These are not the most upbeat books – but they were good!

wave

Driving to work yesterday, I was listening to a reader podcast and one of the hosts mentioned this book, Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, as one that was hard to talk about, but important to be aware of. She said that she felt as though she was in a vice the entire time she was reading it. As I was listening, I remembered that the smartest book rep I know had sent me a copy of this book – and that it was teeny. Seriously. The package is small, much smaller and narrower than an average book, and I figured I could probably get it read between work and book club. Now I can totally agree – this is a tough book, but worthy of talking about. And it’s non-fiction, which is sort of a change-up for me.

Sonali, a Sri Lankan by birth and a Londoner for college and beyond, was vacationing with her parents, her husband, and her two small children in Sri Lanka for Christmas in 2004, as was their family tradition. They were staying in a hotel not too far from the water. The day after Christmas, she looked out the window and noticed that the water seemed a little closer than usual. She called for her husband to come look – and then. Sonali’s husband, parents and two boys were killed in the Tsunami that struck but somehow she survived. This is the opening chapter of Wave, and the rest of it is a spiny, sharp, dangerous exploration of her grief. Grief that was not graceful – that involved alcohol and drugs and self-injury. But gosh it was hard to put down.

isthistomorrow

Caroline Leavitt hit it big with her last one, Pictures of You, which was heavily endorsed/promoted by Jodi Picoult. I liked it well enough. But I liked this one MORE for some weird reason. Is This Tomorrow is the story of a single mother and her son, set in a very Mad-Men like small town where everyone smokes and drinks and lives in nice family units (divorces were shameful and uncomfortable for everyone). While this starts off appearing to be a story about a young boy’s struggle to make friends and survive while living with his divorced-pariah of a mother – it quickly becomes something more when one of his only two friends disappears. I would have kept reading even if it had only been about the boy and his mother – but thought that the added kick of the missing child gave the whole thing a dark sense of urgency. And I loved the way it ended up – in a very twisted manner.

Dear Favorite Random House Rep…

25 Jul

Thank you, thank you for recommending this book. I very much loved it – even though it ended as I suspected it would, with tears. I am going to post about it later since it doesn’t hit bookshelves until October 2nd. I just wanted you to know that I agree with your blurb. Fantastic.