Sunday, January 8, 2017

Twin-Bred

Hello, everyone! I recently received my first full-time job as a teen services librarian, so my adult fiction blog will have to fall by the wayside for now while I focus on Young Adult literature. In the meantime, here’s one final review.

Twin-Bred (Twin-Bred #1) by Karen A. Wyle (Oblique Angles Press, 2011, 359pp.)

As a young human girl growing up on planet Tofarn, Dr. Cadell saw the unrest that results from the inability of two species to successfully interact. As a young woman, she vowed to make it her life’s mission to bring the planet’s native species, called the Tofa, together with humans. The idea she proposes is radical: what if a select group of human and Tofa females agreed to carry twins—one of each species—to term? What if the resulting children were raised together, educated in the same school? With enough diplomatic training, these “Twinbred” just might bring about a lasting peace to the planet…


First of all, major points to Wyle for creating an alien species that is both completely believable, and completely inhuman. While many authors craft aliens that are simply humans with green skin and extra arms, Wyle manages to make the Tofa everything that humans are not: they have no system of writing, no creative impulse, and even perceive colors much differently than we do (the color blue, apparently, makes them drunk). With differences like these, no wonder the two species have trouble getting along! However, the cast of characters is quite large, and not everyone gets the fleshing out that they deserve. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend it for lovers of character-driven fiction. But for devotees of Asimov, Heinlein, and other classical science fiction authors? Look no further!

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Quick But Sobering Read


Image Source: Author Website
Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola (Grand Central Publishing, 2015, 240pp.)

For most of her life, Texas-born writer Sarah Hepola used alcohol to combat her painful shyness and meager sense of self-worth. She started drinking at age 12 and didn’t stop until decades later, when it threatened to ruin her life, friendships, and career. Her memoir mostly covers the memory blackouts she suffered, but also confronts societal double-standards about drinking. While some “issue-driven” memoirs lapse into preachiness as they strive to push their agenda, Blackout has surprisingly few of these moments. For the most part, it’s a genuinely honest account of how the author dealt with her blackouts, with added commentary on how alcohol affects issues like consent. A quick but sobering read that gives the non-drinking public a glimpse into the mentality of alcoholism.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Suzuki Reinvents Ring's Premise in Thrilling Sequel

Source: Publisher Website

Spiral (Ring #2) by Koji Suzuki (1995; Vertical, 2016, 283pp.)

In Ring, newspaper reporter Asakawa and logic professor Ryuji tackled the mystery of a cursed videotape that left four teenagers dead. They learned that the videotape, which causes you to croak in a week’s time after watching it, was created by a beautiful, but vengeful young psychic who died at the bottom of a well. Despite their efforts, Ryuji succumbed to the videotape’s curse, and, in Spiral, winds up on the dissecting table of his former grad school classmate. The last person Ando expected to dissect is his old friend, but even more disturbing than that is the result of his autopsy findings: in addition to a perfectly healthy man dying from a sudden heart attack, Ryuji was also suffering from smallpox. To those who don’t know, smallpox was eradicated by scientists decades ago, so its appearance on an autopsy report should be impossible—except a little investigative work reveals that at least seven other people have died of similar causes. To make things even more bizarre, Ando finds an encoded note in Ryuji’s stomach cavity which may have the answers to defeating this mysterious new “ring virus.”

In this souped-up science fiction/medical thriller, Suzuki reinvents his curse, causing it to evolve from the simple case of a cursed videotape to a radical new life-form. The author’s new explanation for the curse is interesting, well thought-out, and works well with the rules previously laid down in the Ring universe. On the downside, however, Suzuki spends way too much time educating the reader on code-breaking and DNA in order to validate his premise, and thus runs the risk of alienating impatient readers to an otherwise excellent thriller.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Slow-Moving, Bleak Tragicomedy


Source: Publisher Website
On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light by Cordelia Strube (ECW Press, 2016, 372pp.)

Life hasn’t been fair to 11-year-old Harriet. The adults in her life are too consumed by their own thwarted desires to pay attention to her needs, and her hydrocephalic little brother, Irwin, faces a life of pain. Just as unbearable is her mother’s insistence in dating the awful Gennedy, a man convinced that Harriet is trying to kill her brother—which might be true, but when everything she’s faced in her too-short existence has convinced her that a life of pain is not worth living, how could she not try to free the brother she loves? The story, divided into two parts, first covers Harriet’s unhappy living situation, and then follows her brother years after a devastating family tragedy. On the Shores is a book that is as hard to read as it is to review. If I had to cover my opinion of it in a single sentence, I’d call it an incredibly bleak, though sometimes redemptive, tragicomedy. While some parts of it are very touching and almost subtly quirky, some readers will be unable to see past its slow-moving pace and depressing content. Readers who encounter this unusual novel will either treasure its discovery, or discard it before they even reach the story’s half-way point.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Moving Creep-Fest Serves as Tribute to Female Friendship and 1980s Pop Culture

Source: Publisher Website
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix (Quirk Books, 2016, 336pp.)

Ah, the ’80s. When most people think of this decade, they probably think of three things: shoulder pads, big hair, and the distinctive sound of its pop music. They probably do not automatically think of Satanic cults. Alas, thanks to a commonly shared belief that lack of religion and sleazy pop culture was causing teens to turn to Satanism, the concept of demonic possession isn’t that far a reach.

The story told in My Best Friend’s Exorcism belongs to Abby and Gretchen, two childhood friends who grow up sharing late-night phone marathons, forbidden Judy Blume novels, Seventeen Magazine, make-up techniques, and later, drugs. During one drug-fueled evening at a friend’s lake house, Gretchen, a sweet, loving girl, gets lost in the woods and emerges hours later, a cruel, sadistic wraith. When Abby later learns that the woods by the lake was once the rumored site of a Satanic sacrifice, she is left to wonder: is the Devil at work?

Although the story suffers from a slow start, patient readers will be rewarded with a surprisingly moving creep-fest that is as much a tribute to female friendships and 1980s pop culture as it is to the joys (and terrors!) of high school. Yet while the heroines are both teens, I definitely would not shelve it in the teen section of your library. As I said before, the beginning is a little slow, and the plot itself is so steeped in '80s nostalgia that most teens probably wouldn't appreciate the references. That said, although it exhibits drug-use, discussions of sexual activity, and several gross-out scenes, it's nothing that most older teenage horror fans won't be able to handle.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

If Stephen King Wrote the Screenplay for "127 Hours," It Would Look Like This

Source: Goodreads
Gerald’s Game by Stephen King (1992; Pocket Books, 2016, 480pp).

Hoping to jazz up their sex life, Jessie’s middle-aged hubby, Gerald, handcuffs her to the bed at their secluded summer cabin for a good, old-fashioned sex game. What could have been just another unpleasant evening for Jessie to endure suddenly takes a deadly turn when, minutes after slapping the cuffs on her, Gerald drops dead of a massive heart attack. Now she’s trapped, miles from help. The handcuff keys are located on a far-away dresser-top. The telephone is in the other room. And—as she soon finds out—there’s a starving stray dog outside looking for meat. Unfortunately for Jessie—but especially for poor Gerald—someone forgot to close the back door…

Do you remember that movie 127 Hours, where James Franco finds himself trapped in a ravine with a boulder crushing his arm? Gerald’s Game is kind of like that: like Hours, it focuses on a protagonist trapped in dire circumstances, who experiences a requisite period of self-examination, and comes to a personal revelation that prompts her to attempt an all-or-nothing escape. Unlike 127 Hours, which is well-paced and inspiring, Gerald’s Game is by turns fleet-footed and plodding, an absorbing character study that runs on for far too long. Had King pared his idea down to a short story, he probably would have been the better for it. And while there are some genuinely prime scares in the story, these moments are all too often out-weighed by grisly descriptions of the stray dog nomming on pieces of dead Gerald. In other words, if you gross-out easily, avoid this book like the plague. For King’s regular fans? It’s not bad, but certainly not his best.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Try Not to Breathe


Source: Publisher Website
Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon (Ballantine Books, 2016, 368pp.)

Alex, a struggling freelancer, is visiting the Neuro-Disability ward of a local hospital when she stumbles upon former media sensation Amy Stevenson. A little more than a decade ago, news channels captured the unfolding drama of then 15-year-old Amy’s kidnapping and brutal assault by an unknown assailant. Miraculously, Amy survived—but just barely. For the last 15 years, she’s been in a coma at Tunbridge Wells Royal Infirmary. Her only regular visitor is Jacob, her now-married high school sweetheart who still surreptitiously visits her bedside. Inspired by the story that haunted her own youth, Alex decides to put Amy’s story to paper, and in doing so, ends up digging up dirt that some people don’t want exposed. Narrated by multiple points of view (including the comatose Amy herself), Try Not to Breathe is a fast-paced stand-alone thriller, as well as an intriguing character-driven mystery. It will mainly appeal to fans of Paula Hawkins’ Girl on the Train, and similar mystery/thrillers.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Poetic and Grotesque


Source: Publisher Website
The Vegetarian by Han Kang (2007; Hogarth, 2016, 192pp.)

Mr. Cheong finds his mild-mannered existence interrupted when his wife, Yeong-hye, wakes up from a horrifying nightmare where she is surrounded by meat—bloody, dripping meat. The dream so disturbs her, she declares that she will henceforth live as a staunch vegan. Her family, who see vegetarianism as an unnatural act of social deviancy, is shocked and upset. Her artist brother-in-law, however, sees her as the key to completing his next masterpiece—an act that could destroy his peaceful marriage.

Ponderous, poetic, and grotesque, The Vegetarian is a short novel that flowers into a kind of intellectual horror story over the course of just 192 pages. Being psychological fiction, it may prove boring to lovers of slasher stories, however those who like their books slow and surreal will find it to be a literary treat. Just don’t read it while you’re eating.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Seriously, Don't Bother


Source: Author Website
Hanover House by Brenda Novak (Brenda Novak, Inc., 2015, 244pp.)

Twenty years ago, Evelyn Talbot was raped and brutalized by her high school boyfriend and left for dead. After years of therapy, she’s now a forensic psychiatrist who studies the psychopathic mind. Her latest achievement is the opening of a new facility in Hilltop, Alaska, where she can study the worst humanity has to offer. Not surprisingly, there’s resistance from the locals, who protest her facility’s arrival by defacing its buildings. When she reports the damage, it brings her into contact with good-looking Sergeant Amarok, an Alaskan state trooper. Although Evelyn feels that her early-life trauma ruined her for romantic relationships, she is surprised when her interactions with Amarok awaken long-dead feelings of physical desire. Is the time finally right for her to move on from her tortuous past? Possibly. Except what she doesn’t know is that her past, i.e. ex-boyfriend Jasper, is close behind.

Hanover House is a short prequel that serves as the foundation for a new romantic suspense/thriller series. After finishing it, however, all I can say is that I hope the rest of the series is better, because this founding installment stinks. Okay, so I do have to give Novak credit for her idea: Hanover House has a lot of elements to make an interesting story. For example, Evelyn’s desire to pursue a rewarding career conflicts with her worry-stricken mother’s desire to keep her safe. Evelyn also desires to have healthy romantic relationships, despite the crippling intimacy issues that stem from her early trauma. Oh, and let’s not forget the angry Alaskan locals who fear for their families’ safety, despite the research breakthroughs that might occur at the facility. Although that’s just three items in a list, it’s quite a bit of ground to cover—and a novella certainly isn’t the proper medium one should use to explore that much material. However, that’s just what we get. At 244 pages, Hanover House covers a novel’s worth of story ideas with the brevity of a “serial killer of the week” episode you might see in a weekly crime series. As a result, it’s more of a shallow preview than a proper work on its own. Add to this the story’s unremarkable cast of characters, and an anti-climactic ending, and you have one poorly written excuse for a story.