Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Review: Carrie by Stephen King


Carrie was the odd one at school; the one whose reflexes were always off in games, whose clothes never really fit, who never got the point of a joke. And so she became the joke, the brunt of teenaged cruelties that puzzled her as much as they wounded her. 
     There was hardly any comfort in playing her private game, because like so many things in Carrie's life, it was sinful. Or so her mother said. Carrie could make things move - by concentrating on them, by willing them to move. Small things like marbles , would start dancing. Or a candle would fall. A door would lock. This was her game, her power, her sin, firmly repressed like everything else about Carrie.
    One act of kindness, as spontaneous as the vicious jokes of her classmates, offered Carrie a new look at herself the fateful night of her senior prom. But another act - of furious cruelty - forever changed things and turned her clandestine game into a weapon of horror and destruction. 
    She made a candle fall and she locked the doors...

Stephen King's debut novel was published forty years ago,back in 1974. Since then Carrie has had three movie adaptations, the most recent one released last year. Thanks to the staying power of Stephen King, Carrie  is now a horror classic. But does this little horror novel still have the power to scare audiences in this age of gore fest films like Saw and Hostel?

I'll say it does.

Reading Carrie again, I am always impressed by King's ability to build tension so masterfully throughout the story. His technique of integrating the surviving character's testimonies into the narrative is seamless and even though, in some moments, King reveals exactly what is going to happen it does not dull the drama - it heightens it. The reader is no longer concerned with what is going to happen but how it is going to happen. And it works perfectly. 

The novel also captures teenage brutality so well. Girls really can be that cruel to each other, as depicted in the infamous shower room scene. As readers, we sympathize with Carrie and that sympathy can be hard to reconcile when Carrie goes off on her murderous rampage. But we do sympathize with her because we've all had those thoughts - violent, destructive thoughts when we've been wronged or humiliated. The urge to just let rip, to teach people 'a thing or two.' No girl wants to be Carrie- but we all crave having her power. 

I suppose that's what makes the book so frightening. Carrie's telekinesis scares us - and thrills us. 

If you're new to Stephen King, or horror in general, I highly recommend starting with Carrie. Don't just see the movie - read the book.

Here's my Video review of Carrie.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Reading Wish List: June 2014

June 3

1) Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern
Say What You Will

Any book that is being compared to John Green's The Fault in Our Stars is sure to grab my attention. Say What You Will tells the love story of two disabled teens: Amy, who has cerebral palsy and Matthew, who has obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

2) The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu
The Truth About Alice

A book about a bullied teenager-told from the perspective of her tormenters.

3) Hungry by H.A. Swain

In a future dystopian world, the need for food has been eradicated - until Thalia begins to feel hunger pangs.

4) Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Mr. Mercedes

I am a huge Stephen King fan and I am so excited that he has two books coming out this year. This one is being described as a 'hard-boiled detective tale.' 

5) Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
Elizabeth is Missing

Maud finds a note in her pocket that reads 'Elizabeth is missing.' The trouble is she can't remember where the note came from. Even with her faulty memory, Maude is determined to find her friend.

6) The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
The Book of Unknown Americans

A book that tells the modern story of immigration in America through the love of two teens.

7) I'll Be Right There by Shin Kyung-sook
I'll Be Right There

The story of a South Korean woman in the 1980s who must confront her tragic past when an ex-boyfriend unexpectedly comes back into her life. 

8) China Dolls by Lisa See
China Dolls

I loved Lisa See's previous novels, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love. I was so excited when I heard she had a new book coming out this month. And I just love the cover.

9) Euphoria by Lily King

I'm just going to quote Goodreads since I don't really know what this book is about; I just really like the cover. (I'm sure it's very good) 

Set between two World Wars, and based on the adventures of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, Euphoria is a luminous and remarkable story of the power of possibility, imagination, and memory, from accomplished author Lily King.

10) The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber
The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food

Technically this book came out in May but I only heard about it last week and I really wanted to include it on my wishlist. 

June 10

11) The Murder Complex (The Murder Complex #1) by Lindsay Cummings
The Murder Complex (The Murder Complex, #1)

The Murder Complex is set in a dystopian world where the murder rate is higher than the birth rate. The new Hunger Games perhaps?

#12) Wings (Black City #3) by Elizabeth Richards
Wings (Black City, #3)

The final book in the Black City trilogy.

13) Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters
Lies My Girlfriend Told Me

Alix learns that her recently deceased girlfriend, Swanee, was secretly seeing another girl behind her back. Feeling betrayed and angry, Alix texts Liana pretending to be Swanee to find out what's really going on.

14) (Don't You) Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn
(Don't You) Forget About Me

In Gardnerville no one gets sick or ever dies. Except every four years, when teenagers are filled with an inexplicable urge to kill. 

15) Born of Deception (Born of Illusion #2) by Teri Brown
Born of Deception (Born of Illusion, #2)

Continues the story of Anna Van Housen, a budding illusionist in 1920s London. 

 16) My Last Kiss by Bethany Neal
My Last Kiss

Cassidy can't remember the details of her last kiss - or the details of how she died. Was it suicide, as everyone assumes? Or was it murder?

17) The Madonna and the Starship by James K. Morrow
The Madonna and the Starship

In the 1950s, beloved TV star Uncle Wonder must create the ultimate TV show - or else crayfish from outer space will destroy the planet.

18) The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
The Girl with All the Gifts

This is supposed to be the science-fiction book of the month - Melanie is a very special child; so special that she requires a military escort to school. 
June 17

19) Ruin and Rising (The Grisha #3) by Leigh Bardugo
 Ruin and Rising (The Grisha, #3)

This is the book I'm most excited about - I loved Shadow and Bone. I haven't read Siege and Storm yet because I'd like to read the trilogy all in one go and not have to wait for the next one. And that cover is so gorgeous, I can't even stand it. 

20) #scandal by Sarah Ockler

First of all: I hate the title. Anytime someone actually uses the work 'hashtag' in conversation (or any other internet slang), my butthole clenches up. And now they're appearing on book titles. (Sigh) I suppose it was inevitable. But I loved Sarah Ockler's The Book of Broken Hearts so I'm willing to give this one a chance.

21) Dark Metropolis (Dark Metropolis #1) by Jaclyn Dolamore
Dark Metropolis (Dark Metropolis, #1)

This book is said to appeal to fans of Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series. It's described as 'a haunting magical thriller set in a riveting 1930s-esque world.'

22) Fan Art by Sarah Tregay
Fan Art

Jamie Peterson has fallen for his best friend, Mason. Will he risk their friendship for a chance at love? 

23) The Fever by Megan Abbott
The Fever

A deadly contagion threatens to tear apart a family's idyllic life in the suburbs. 

24) The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) by Robert Galbraith
The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)

The second book in Robert Galbraith's (a.k.a J.K. Rowling's) Cormoran Strike series. 

25) That Night by Chevy Stevens 
That Night

Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of murder and sent to prison. Years later, when she is released on parole, Toni is determined to prove her innocence and find out what really happened.

26) Cibola Burn (Expanse #4) by James S.A. Corey
Cibola Burn (Expanse, #4)

This is a science-fiction series I've been meaning to get into for a long time. It's supposed to be a phenomenal space opera. 

27) The Long Mars (The Long Earth #3) by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
The Long Mars (The Long Earth, #3)

Yet another sci-fi series I've been wanting to read. I am so behind on book series, guys. I haven't even started A Game of Thrones yet. 

28) The Quick by Lauren Owen
The Quick

From Goodreads: An astonishing debut, a novel of epic scope and suspense that conjures up all the magic and menace of Victorian London 

June 24

29) Rain (Paper Gods #2) by Amanda Sun
Rain (Paper Gods, #2)

The second book in a YA paranormal series that takes place in Japan. 

30) Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica
Child of a Hidden Sea

Sophie is transported from San Francisco to the world of Stormwrack, a series of island nations. I seriously want that cover as a poster. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Review: The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

 The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories 

Marina Keegan's star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash. 
As her family, friends, and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her unforgettable last essay for the Yale Daily News, "The Opposite of Loneliness," went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. She had struck a chord.
Even though she was just twenty-two when she died, Marina left behind a rich, expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation. The Opposite of Loneliness is an assemblage of Marina's essays and stories that, like The Last Lecture, articulates the universal struggle that all of us face as we figure out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world.

I read this for Chapters/Indigo's #WorldsBiggestBookClub on Twitter. The discussion will be on June 25th, 3 p.m. EST. 

I really enjoyed reading this book. Marina Keegan showed a lot of promise in her writing and it's sad that she will never write anything else. Her stories are well-written and have a raw honesty to them that is impossible to fake. Her non-fiction work is excellent as well and through them, Marina is revealed to have been an intelligent, thoughtful young woman who could write about damn near anything and write about it well. Her work is not perfect but it shows the great potential she had and, over time, she could have have been a literary giant. 

Book Review: The Secret History of Las Vegas

 The Secret History of Las Vegas: A Novel 

Synopsis: Before veteran detective Salazar can retire, he's determined to solve a recent spate of murders of Las Vegas's homeless. On Halloween he encounters a pair of conjoined twins wading in Lake Mead and is sure he has apprehended the killers. Their names: Water, strikingly handsome, and Fire, disfigured and sharp-tongued - members of a sideshow on the outskirts of Las Vegas called the Carnival of Lost Souls. When they can't explain the container of blood found near their car, Salazar enlists the help of Dr. Sunil Singh, a South African transplant who specializes in the study of psychopaths.
Dr. Singh is conducting a series of shadowy experiments on violent behavior for a local institute. Over the course of three days, as Sunil tries to crack the twins, the implications of his study grow darker and it becomes clear that he has his own demons to reckon with. Fire and Water, whose deformity is the result of their mother's exposure to radiation from the U.S. government's nuclear testing in the Nevada desert, have their own revenge in mind. 
Suspenseful until its final pages, The Secret History of Las Vegas is Chris Abani's most accomplished work to date, with his trademark visionary prose and a striking compassion for the inner lives of outsiders.

Reading the synopsis, this book sounds like it will be amazing. A murder mystery where a pair of Siamese twins are the suspects? It just has to be good. What could possibly go wrong?

Hoo boy.

This book is billed as a murder mystery. After reading it I thought to myself What murder mystery? The book does not focus on what is described in the synopsis enough for it to even be a major plot point. This is what the book is actually about: Dr Sunil Singh did some really bad things in South Africa during apartheid and now another guy from South Africa is seeking revenge on him. That's it. The Siamese twins who are by far the most interesting characters in the book are barely mentioned after the first few chapters. There's a 'twist' at the end that I suppose is supposed to be shocking but in all honesty it wasn't. It was kind of boring actually.

I couldn't really get a feel for any of the characters. Even though Abani provided his main characters with a lot of back story, it seemed forced. I don't want to be told about a character through pages and pages of exposition. I want characters to be revealed to me as I read through what they do, say, and think. But to be honest, dialogue wouldn't have really helped because it was unnatural and clunky. I can't count how many times I thought while reading this book: Nobody talks like this. Seriously, one of the characters says to Dr Singh at one point: 'What? There was something in your look.' Who talks like that? The characters didn't so much talk to each other as spout information at one another. They were all like walking Wikipedia entries.

At this point I will be discussing revealing plot points. If you don't want any spoilers, read no further.

The mystery of the murders of the homeless men is revealed to committed by, not Fire and Water, but by the institute that Dr Singh works at. They rounded up a bunch of homeless men, did a bunch of psychiatric experiments on them, and when they didn't work, they killed them or let them die, I don't remember exactly. But they dumped them and Detective Salazar was investigating their deaths. Here's where it could have gotten really interesting: Salazar calls in Dr. Singh to help him investigate the case. Dr Singh knew what happened to the homeless men, he was partially responsible for it. And he deliberately mislead Salazar. Now we, as readers, just know that this is leading up to Salazar finding out the truth somehow and there will be some epic showdown between the detective and the doctor where the word 'betrayal' is thrown around a lot.

Can you say missed opportunity?

Detective Salazar never finds out that Dr Singh helped kill a bunch of homeless people. Instead he saves Dr Singh from the revenge-seeking South African guy. That's the climax of the book.

I'm sorry, but that is just stupid. Chris Abani actually had a chance for some really interesting conflict and he let it just slip away.

Reading The Secret History of Las Vegas was a frustrating experience. I was tempted several times just to put it down and walk away. But I like to finish books I start and it is not impossible for me to go from hating a book to actually liking it. Sadly, that didn't happen with this book. There's not much else I can say about it except I'm glad it's over with and I can move on to something else.

Just a quick note: I know this is a negative review but just because I didn't like this book, doesn't mean that you won't. Even though I might not recommend this book, I highly recommend forming your own opinions.