Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Night Film 

Synopsis: Ashley Cordova, the mysterious, gifted daughter of the reclusive film director Stanislas Cordova, is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Her death is ruled a suicide, but veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. What happened to Ashley? As McGrath tries to uncover the truth, he is drawn into a spellbinding quest in the underworld of the Cordova family's life. With breakneck speed and dazzling inventiveness, Night Film will hold you in suspense until you turn the final page. 

Date Published: July 16, 2013
Published By: Random House
Number of Pages: 640
Rating: 4/5

This is definitely one mind-fuck of a book. Once you start this book, it is almost impossible to put it down. Full of twists and turns and written like an old-fashioned noir novel updated for the 21st century, it is sure to please the most discerning of thriller fans. 

It's hard to talk about the book as a whole because all I keep thinking about is the ending but I'll try my best. 

It starts a seemingly straightforward mystery. Did this girl commit suicide or was it murder? Pretty standard stuff for a mystery novel. But then you get sucked into this entire world that the author has created. Stanislas Cordova is the real mystery in Night Film. Is he just an eccentric, reclusive director who values his privacy? Or is he something much more sinister? 

In the book, Cordova's films are described as so disturbing that they have been banned in most countries and the only way to view them is through underground screenings or buying bootleg copies. The films are such an integral part of the story that I found myself wishing I could watch them. I loved how elusive and mysterious this guy was and it definitely kept me hooked throughout the story. 

I love how the author scattered things like blog posts, police reports, photographs and interviews throughout the narrative so it really feels like you are investigating the crime along with the characters. I tried to keep track of every little hint and detail, every conversation but I still didn't figure out the ending.

And, oh boy. That ending.

I would say that there are two parts to the ending - the part dealing with Ashley and the one dealing with Stanislas. The one dealing with Ashley is fitting and makes sense but I suppose I was hoping for a bigger, more shocking twist than the one I got. I guess I was hoping for something a bit more sinister than...well, I won't spoil it but if you've read the book you know what I'm talking about. 

The true ending of the book is the one dealing with Stanislas Cordova. I'm not going to spoil it but HOLY AMBIGUOUS ENDING, BATMAN! I think the ending definitely fit the kind of story Pessl was trying to tell. Part of me liked it but another part of me (the part that wants a book to reveal all of its secrets) was like NOOOOOOOOO!!!!! IT CAN'T END LIKE THAT!!!

But I am aware that the author intentionally kept it ambiguous to fit one of the main themes of the novel: sometimes, no matter how hard you try or how much you dig, some things will forever remain unknown. 

Review: Salem's Lot by Stephen King

'Salem's Lot 

Synopsis: Ben Mears has returned to Jerusalem's Lot in hopes that exploring the history of the Marsten House, an old mansion long the subject of rumor and speculation, will help him cast out his personal devils and provide inspiration for his new book. But when two young boys venture into the woods, and only one returns alive, Mears begins to realize something sinister at work - in fact, his hometown is under siege from the forces of darkness. And only he, with a small group of allies, can hope to contain the evil that is growing within the borders of this small New England town.

Date Published: October 17, 1975
Published By: Doubleday
Number of Pages: 653
Rating: 4/5

Ah, yes. Stephen King's classic vampire novel. Seeing as how vampires in pop culture have evolved so drastically in the 40 years since this book was released, can readers today still enjoy vampires that bite instead of sparkle? 

I can't speak for everyone, but this reader sure did. 

I have read this novel before but I decided to revisit it because I seem to have a vampire theme going this month. (I also read Christopher Moore's vampire comedy series.) It was nice to read about vampires that were scary and disturbing as Bram Stoker originally intended. (Confession: I have not yet read Dracula. It's on my TBR list.)

I can best sum up Stephen King's story about vampires by saying that it's basically your typical All-American novel where it focuses on a small town and the people in that town. And then, he adds vampires into the mix. And that's why it's so brilliant. 

King really takes his time describing the daily lives of the resident's in Salem's Lot in the first half of the novel. You get to know the main character, his love interest, her parents, the milkman, the town drunk, the school bully, the real estate agent, even the guy who works at the town dump. And quite a few other characters besides. Sometimes, it's a little hard to keep them all straight but I think, for the most part this technique works. People might complain that the book is too slow in the beginning but I think that's actually what makes it work so well. You get invested in Salem's Lot, it becomes so real that when vampires show up it doesn't feel forced or like an impossible plot twist. It feels like the most natural thing in the world. 

And that is what makes this book so terrifying. King creates such an atmosphere of slowly-building terror that your dread increases with each page until about mid-way through when all hell breaks lose (literally.) By then, you're entranced and it is impossible to look away. You just sit and read in horror as evil descends on Salem's Lot. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

 The Book Thief 

Synopsis: By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife library, wherever there are books to be found. But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.
In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time. 

First Published: September 1, 2005
Published By: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Number of Pages: 550
Rating: 5/5

I cannot believe it has take me this long to get around to reading The Book Thief. It's got so many things on my have-to-read checklist:

-Takes place during World War II? Check.
-Features a female protagonist who loves books? Check.
-Lyrical writing? Check. 
-Is narrated by Death? Check.
-Is guaranteed to break my heart into a million pieces? Check.

I had such high expectations for this book and it met every single one of them. The writing was so gorgeous it was like reading poetry. I found myself lingering over every single sentence and marveling at the beauty of the prose. It's over 500 pages but I wish it was longer. 

The story is deceptively simple. The way Death narrates it in a slightly detached way makes it so you don't realize you care about these characters until something happens to them. And I found myself caring so much. I cared about Max and Liesel and Hans and Rosa and Rudy and my heart broke for every single one of them at multiple points during the book. 

I loved the relationship between Max and Liesel. It was so nice to see them go from complete strangers, awkward and unsure around each other, to becoming friends and forming a deep, loving bond. It was so beautiful and so heartbreaking. 

I loved the portrayal of Death in the story. He bears witness to all of the atrocities that humans commit against each other and yet he is still able to care about a young book thief. He sees the ugliness of humanity but is still willing to look for its beauty. That was so powerful to me. 

I cannot say enough good things about this book. It definitely deserves all the hype that it's gotten. I didn't want this book to end. That's how much I loved it. 

This book deserves to be read by everyone. If you haven't read it yet, READ IT!

(Be on the lookout for the 10th Anniversary edition coming out in March 2016! It's available for pre-order.)

Review: Bite Me: A Love Story by Christopher Moore

  Bite Me

Synopsis from Goodreads: The city of San Francisco is being stalked by a huge shaved vampyre cat named Chet, and only I, Abby Normal, and my manga-haired love monkey stand between the ravenous monster and a bloody massacre of the general public.

Whoa. And this is a love story?

Yup. 'Cept there's no whining. But there is everybody's favorite undead couple, Tommy and Jody, who've just escaped from imprisonment in a bronze statue. And now that they're out they've joined forces with Abby, her boyfriend Steve, the frozen-turkey-bowling Safeway crew, the Emperor of San Francisco and his trusty dogs Lazarus and Bummer, gay Goth guy Jared, and SF's finest Cavuto and Rivera to hunt the big cat and save the city. Really.

First Published: January 1, 2010
Published By: HarperCollins 
Number of Pages: 333
Rating: 4/5

This is the third and final book in Christopher Moore's vampire comedy series and it is the best one. You want to know why? Two words:

Vampire. Cats.

That's right. Jody, Tommy, and Abby fight an army of vampire cats in the book. (Plus, some evil older vampires.) And it's glorious. It's so absurd, so ridiculous, so insane but it works! It's hilarious and so much fun. 

I love how Abby is basically the main character in this novel. She is the most fun, compelling character so it makes sense. Now I know what the first book was missing - Abby!

This series is definitely for people who are looking for a different sort of vampire story. It's not horror and it's definitely not romance. (Fans of traditional romance novels will absolutely hate the ending.) I liked the ending, however. It was a fitting, bittersweet ending. There may have even been some feels involved. 

Review: You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore

 You Suck (A Love Story, #2) 

Synopsis from Goodreads: Being undead sucks. Literally. 

Just ask C. Thomas Flood. Waking up after a fantastic night unlike anything he's ever experienced, he discovers that his girlfriend, Jody, is a vampire. And surprise! Now he's one, too. For some couples, the whole biting-and-blood thing would have been a deal breaker. But Tommy and Jody are in love, and they vow to work through their issues. 

But word has it that the vampire who initially nibbled on Jody wasn't supposed to be recruiting. Even worse, Tommy's erstwhile turkey-bowling pals are out to get him, at the urging of a blue-dyed Las Vegas call girl named (duh) Blue. 

And that really sucks.

Date Published: February 19, 2007
Published by: William Morrow & Company
Number of Pages: 328
Rating: 4/5

This book came out 12 years after Bloodsucking Fiends but it picks up right where the first book left off. Jody turned Tommy into a vampire so now Tommy is adjusting to the whole bloodsucking creature of the night thing and he's not enjoying it that much. Oh, and they also have to deal with a whole bunch of people trying to kill them. 

I enjoyed this book so much more than the first one. I thought it was way funnier, the plot was more intriguing and one of my favorite characters in the series is introduced: Abby Normal.

Abby is your typical goth-wannabe teenager full of snark and attitude but with an undeniable perkiness that shines through no matter how hard she tries to suppress it. I love how the chapters featuring her are told from her POV in the form of diary entries. They are the most hilarious part of the book. Her style is a combination of a pretentious imitation of 19th century gothic novels and 15-year old teen slang. It's so delightful to read. 

Also, I like how Tommy grows up a little bit and takes more initiative. He definitely becomes less annoying. Jody continues to be a badass. 

If you read the first book and were a little lukewarm on it like I was and are unsure of whether or not to continue with the series, I strongly urge you to keep going and read You Suck. It's a marked improvement over the first book and you won't be disappointed. 

Review: Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story by Christopher Moore

 Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story 

Synopsis: Jody never asked to become a vampire. But when she wakes up under an alley Dumpster with a badly burned arm, an aching back, superhuman strength, and a distinctly Nosferatuan thirst, she realizes the decision has been made for her.
Making the transition from the nine-to-five grind to an eternity of nocturnal prowlings is going to take some doing, however, and that's where C. Thomas Flood fits in. A would-be Kerouac from Incontinence, Indiana, Tommy (to his friends) is biding his time night-clerking and frozen-turkey bowling in a San Francisco Safeway. But all that changes when a beautiful undead redhead walks through the door...and proceeds to rock Tommy's life-and afterlife-in ways he never thought possible.

First Published: September 1, 1995
Published By: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Humor/Fiction
Rating: 3/5

This is the first Christopher Moore book I've ever read but I had always heard how hilarious his books were. I was really looking forward to reading a vampire story that was free of angst, shirtless werewolves, and sparkliness. 

It was (mercifully) free of all of that and it was funny. But I found it to be more clever funny than laugh-out-loud funny. Moore peppers the story with jokes on every page and a lot of the humor is quirky and fun and doesn't take itself seriously but something was kind of missing for me. Have you ever watched one of those network sitcoms with a laugh track and when a joke is made you acknowledge that it's funny but you don't laugh? Instead you sort of smile or shake your head and roll your eyes but you don't actually find it funny enough to laugh? Reading this book was kind of like that. 

The above paragraph makes it seem like I didn't enjoy this book but I did, for the most part. I really liked Jody and how she went from an insecure career girl to a badass vampire chick. As a vampire, Jody still has a conscious. She only preys on terminally ill people and doesn't kill for sport. She does, however, relish in her superior strength and when a trio of thugs make the mistake of attempting to assault her, she fulfills the fantasy every woman has by fucking obliterating them. So yeah, Jody's pretty cool.

I was less fond of Jody's love interest, Tommy. I found him to be really whiny and annoying and insecure. However, it was refreshing to see the gender roles flipped on their heads. The woman is the powerful, older, supernatural creature of the night and the man is the younger, insecure, slightly dopey love interest. That was nice to see. 

I would say this book is enjoyable enough but it does have some issues. For one thing, it incorporates so many different genres that it's hard to figure out what kind of story this book is supposed to be. Is it a vampire story? Is it a romance? Is it a murder mystery? (Yeah, the author throws in a murder mystery too. Kind of.) I'm not against combining genres but there's a point where it all becomes too messy and confusing. Also, I felt the ending was a bit rushed. 

Overall, enjoyable if you're looking for a fun vampire story but approach with caution. 

Review: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn't play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone's business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he's been emailing, will be compromised. 
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon's junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he's pushed out - without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he's ever met. 

Published By: Balzer + Bray
Number of Pages: 303
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 5/5

This was the first book I read after completely immersing myself in the world of Harry Potter. (For more on my #HarryPotterProject, check out my Youtube channel). So I was a bit worried that I might not be able to get into a YA contemporary.

But then, ten pages in...BAM....a Harry Potter reference. Oh yeah, I thought to myself, me and this book are going to get along just fine. 

Immediately, from the very first page, I fell in love with Simon. He's smart, witty, a bit nerdy, but not without his insecurities. And the thing I really love about Simon is that he is not one of those self-loathing LGBT characters that we have seen far too often in the past. (I'm looking at you, Brokeback Mountain.)

Simon doesn't wish he was straight. He isn't depressed or have suicidal thoughts. Instead he has crushes on guys (boys at his school and celebrities), navigates the changing dynamics in his group of friends, deals with annoying family problems, and, oh yeah, fantasizes about sex and masturbates.

Yes, Simon does have to deal with coming out to his friends and family and he also has to deal with assholes harassing him at school. But it never once feels cliched or unrealistic. His family and friends are accepting of him when he comes out, even if it does create some awkward moments. And the bullies at school aren't malicious. They're just a few ignorant teenage boys who, for whatever reason, think gay sex is inherently funny. Simon deals with these issues the best way he knows how to and of course feels some anger and frustration along the way. Mostly, Simon just wants to be understood. And the only person he feels really gets him is the mysterious Blue.

I love the relationship between Simon and Blue. Their emails are so funny and sweet and I love how they become more and more flirtatious as time goes by. But they have their misunderstandings sometimes too. Simon is frustrated that Blue isn't ready to meet him and it makes him insecure. He tries to figure out who Blue is and there are a couple of red herrings planted throughout the story but I will say that I had a pretty good guess who it was when I was about 2/3 of the way.

The ending was so satisfying and I'm happy with the way things turned out. I recommend this book to YA fans looking for realistic portrayals of LGBT teens. Actually, I recommend this book to every reader. It's just such a cute, fun read and it has quite a few LOL moments. It is definitely one of my favorite books of 2015.

On a side note, Becky Albertalli has announced on Goodreads that she is currently writing a companion novel and it is tentatively slated for release in Fall 2016! I can't wait!