Monday, January 26, 2015

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring wardrobes, shattered Brooka glassware, and vandalized Liripip sofa beds—clearly, someone or something is up to no good. To unravel the mystery, five young employees volunteer for a long dusk-till-dawn shift—and they encounter horrors that defy imagination. Along the way, author Grady Hendrix infuses sly social commentary on the nature of work in the new twenty-first century economy. A traditional haunted house story in a contemporary setting (and full of current fears), Horrorstör comes conveniently packaged in the form of a retail catalog, complete with illustrations of ready-to-assemble furniture and other, more sinister accessories. We promise you’ve never seen anything quite like it!

My take: 5 looks

This book was so much fun that I will not hesitate to make it my first "5 look" book of the year!

Patterned after IKEA, one of my original "happy places" on earth, the sheer brilliance of the premise makes this a delight to read. Each chapter begins with the description of a piece of furniture, beginning with a sofa and ending with a medical gurney. While some of the horror routines are rote, like hands reaching out along the walls, and being buried alive, the setting and wit makes everything in this book fresh and new.

Hendrix's interwoven spotlight on today's capitalistic and greed-centered mentality make this a cutting commentary on how business's manipulation of customers is not quite as subtle as they think.

Pick this one up and get ready for a fun ride!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Truly deserving of the accolade a modern classic, Donna Tartt’s novel is a remarkable achievement—both compelling and elegant, dramatic and playful. Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

My take: 3 stars ***SPOILERS***
I have come and gone on this one. I disliked it, loved it, and finally, upon the last page, wonder if I should dislike it again.

Let me explain.

While I read to around 200 pages, I was struck by the similarities in this book and the move from 1989, "The Dead Poet's Society" (DPS). I even went as far to chart the characters in each:


Todd = newbie
Neil = son of overbearing father
Knox = calm
Richard = overachiever
Gerald/Charlie = best friends
Charlie also described as a beatnik

The Secret History, published in 1992:

Todd = Richard = Newbie
Neil = ?
Knox = Francis = Calm
Richard = Henry = Overachiever
Gerard/Charlie = Charlie and Camilla = Best Friends
Charlie = Bunny = Beatnik

See what I mean?

Then, I kept reading and the story blossomed for me. The characters were richly drawn, and I was completely involved in the story. Meeting Bunny's family gave me a new understanding of his outlook on life, and the reasons behind his parasitic nature. Seeing Camilla and Charles spiral apart from one another was also interesting. Henry progressed from benevolent to malevolent, which I loved. Francis also started coming apart at the seams. Richard, as the narrator, was probably the least-known character to me.

However, I then come to the end. I warned of spoilers, so if you don't want the main one, STOP READING NOW.

When Henry kills himself, I was right back to DPS. Remember when Neil's father forces him to leave his beloved school and go to a military academy? And all because he wants to play the lead in "A Midsummer Night's Dream"? Neil shoots himself that very night, in his father's study. Ouch.

I know there are more differences than similarities, but the similarities are so striking that they are hard for me to discount.

"A Separate Peace" by John Knowles also deals with life among boys at a prestigious prep school. There is also a death. However, this is where the similarities end. Knowles' book stands on its own. Which is not quite what I can say about Tarrt's first novel.

All-in-all, the book was very well-written, prompting me to make numerous notes and highlights. If the path of the book were not so close to DPS, it would have been a solid 4 looks. However, the best I can do right now is 3.


Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 Book Challenge

Found a link on my Bibliophile reading group to a very doable book challenge for this year. I will update it throughout the year, as the books are read.

A book with more than 500 pages - The Secret History by Donna Tartt
A classic romance
A book that became a movie
A book published this year
A book with a number in the title
A book written by someone under 30
A book with nonhuman characters
A funny book
A book by a female author - The Natural History of Uncas Metcalfe by Betsey Osborne
A mystery or thriller - Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix
A book with a one-word title
A book of short stories
A book set in a different country
A nonfiction book
A popular author's first book
A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet
A book a friend recommended
A Pulitzer Prize-winning book
A book based on a true story
A book at the bottom of your to-read list
A book you mom loves
A book that scares you
A book more than 100 years old
A book based entirely on its cover
A book you were supposed to read in school but didn't
A memoir
A book you can finish in a day
A book with antonyms in the title
A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit
A book that came out the year you were born
A book with bad reviews
A trilogy
A book from your childhood
A book with a love triangle
A book set in the future
A book set in high school
A book with a color in the title
A book that made you cry
A book with magic
A graphic novel
A book by an author you've never read before
A book you own but have never read
A book that takes place in your hometown
A book that was originally written in a different language
A book set during Christmas
A book written by an author with your same initials
A play
A banned book
A book based on or turned into a TV show
A book you started but never finished

Thursday, January 15, 2015

How I read more than one book at a time

It's really not that difficult to read more than one book at a time. And don't worry that you will get confused by the storylines or mix up characters. Unless you are reading two similar books, that doesn't happen as easily as you may think.

Here are some tricks that I use when reading more than one book at a time:

1. Have a primary book.
This is usually the book that I am reading for my Wednesday night book club. We very frequently read one book per week, so this is the book that I must concentrate on if I am to get it read. I read this during breaks in my day and in the evening instead of watching television (unless one of my "must see" shows is on, of course).

2. A book while walking.
You would not believe how people make fun of me because I read while I walk! I walk in my neighborhood, know the streets well, and always face on-coming traffic, which is sparse. It is not dangerous under those conditions. And it helps to pass the time while I am getting a health benefit. I always choose a paperback for this, since they are lighter to carry. I walk about an hour, so I can cover quite a few pages in this precious, uninterrupted time.

3. Choose a secondary book on a mobile device.
If my primary book is fiction, I will choose a non-fiction here. Some non-fiction that I have read lately include "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks", "Killing Kennedy", "Killing Lincoln", and "The Witness Wore Red". Likewise, if your primary is non-fiction, choose a fiction book. It is very easy to keep subject matter and characters separate when the genre is so different. I read these when I am waiting in line, at the doctor's office, or any other time I am away from home with down time. That's why it's important that this book is located on your mobile device.

4. Audio book.
I have to admit that I am not a good audio book "reader". My mind wanders and my heart is just not into it. Usually, I am multitasking while a book plays in the background, so that is not a good thing when retention is needed. This is great media, however, for a memoir or a book of comedy, like Tina Fey's "Bossypants".

See? That's four books at a time!

And if you feel up to it, add this:

5. Before bed.
This is a wind down time when you need just a few pages or so to help you transition from sofa to bed. For this, I suggest short stories, like Flannery O'Conner's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" or Shirley Jackson's "The Magic of Shirley Jackson". Read a story or essay a night, and you will be finished before you know it!

You are up to 5 books now!

Get to reading, reader!!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Witness Wore Red by Rebecca Musser

Rebecca Musser grew up in fear, concealing her family's polygamous lifestyle from the "dangerous" outside world. Covered head-to-toe in strict, modest clothing, she received a rigorous education at Alta Academy, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' school headed by Warren Jeffs. Always seeking to be an obedient Priesthood girl, in her teens she became the nineteenth wife of her people's prophet: 85-year-old Rulon Jeffs, Warren's father. Finally sickened by the abuse she suffered and saw around her, she pulled off a daring escape and sought to build a new life and family. The church, however, had a way of pulling her back in-and by 2007, Rebecca had no choice but to take the witness stand against the new prophet of the FLDS in order to protect her little sisters and other young girls from being forced to marry at shockingly young ages. The following year, Rebecca and the rest of the world watched as a team of Texas Rangers raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a stronghold of the FLDS. Rebecca's subsequent testimony would reveal the horrific secrets taking place behind closed doors of the temple, sending their leaders to prison for years, and Warren Jeffs for life. THE WITNESS WORE RED is a gripping account of one woman's struggle to escape the perverse embrace of religious fanaticism and sexual slavery, and a courageous story of hope and transformation.

My take: 3 looks
From one of the "highest-ranking" members of the FDLS, Rebecca Musser, one of the wives of then-prophet Rulon Jeffs, this account is full of first-hand, privy information of this very secret religion. Easily readable and eye-opening in the accounts of polygamy, abuse, and power, the book is well-written and engaging.

This is a very distasteful story, with young teenage girls given to older men as a "thank you" for their obedience and service to the church, the constant direction to be completely obedient to "the prophet", and both mental and physical abuse of the leaders of the church to obtain these things from its members.

The fact that the new prophet, Warren Jeffs, is in prison for the rest of his life is of no comfort. He continues to direct, deceive, and control the members of the commune from his jail cell.

Where did this book take me emotionally? I came to look at the parallels of FDLS and all other organized religions, including my own. To be honest with yourself is to see that there are commonalities to all of them: teaching of a doctrine, sacraments that are closed to believers only, male-dominated hierarchy, the donation of money/property from members, and segregated schooling apart from non-believers.

We must be very careful to bemoan that a cult like this can exist in today's United States, given the current state of mainstream religions into the "megachurch". The FDLS is blatant about their abuses, using God as the reason for their behavior. With the exception of polygamy, including the heinous act of marrying young teenagers off as a reward, this looks like many evangelical Christian churches today.