Monday, February 23, 2015

Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss

In her first foray into fiction, punctuation expert Lynne Truss brings us an absurd, completely horrifying novel about the evil inner lives of cats. I'd forgotten how subversively funny Truss can be, but her nonfiction books were both informative and hysterical. This novel sneaks up on you with the laughs ... and the cold heebie jeebies.

A man on a grief sabbatical gets bored and begins reading a document emailed to him by a former colleague. What starts out fantastical and unbelievable begins slowly to make more and more sense until you're scared of your own housecat and can't put the damn book down.

It's a gothic horror premise: Let me tell you my tale of death and immortality. But it's told in a more contemporary manner, in a shifting variety of forms: sometimes it's straight narrative, other times it's transcripts of oral recordings, descriptions of images, email correspondence and more.

I love horror, and I have a cat. That said, I had to put this down for a bit in the middle because I made it half-way through after dark and I got the creeps. I finally got up the guts to finish, and I loved it - but I'm still giving my cat the side-eye treatment.

Friday, February 20, 2015

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

Things are inexplicably different this summer for Rose's family on their annual beach vacation: Mama's not herself and won't even go into the water, and eventually their fighting drives Dad to go back home to work for a few days rather than stay.

Rose and her "summer cottage friend" Windy (a slightly younger girl whose family always rents a neighboring bungalow) hang out, watch horror movies, and spy on the local kids who loiter at the one-and-only store.

It's a book about that awkward time when you're too old for baby games and not old enough to really understand what's going on around you. Even though she thinks she knows, Rose doesn't really understand why her parents are fighting. Also, the things she overhears from the local kids lead her to imagine a whole drama that's going on there - which she may or may not be right about, also. Despite the year-and-a-half age discrepancy, Windy may actually have a better understanding of the summer's many plot threads.

This wonderfully inked graphic novel was highly lauded this awards season, and I can see why. It's the kind of story that sticks with you and would be a fantastic book discussion title.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan

When a Las Vegas magician with true magic is hunted by a fetch, she whisks her children away to the place where she was born - a New England ghost town and haunted forest thick with family secrets. But all the secrets make this "safe" place dangerous too in unexpected ways.

It's a good book with a unique angle in the very crowded genre of supernatural novels. Reve is a well-drawn character, flawed but also likeable, and her kids act like typical kids ... even though Nana is not your ordinary kind of grandmother.

It looks like Szarlan is working on making this a series called The Revelation Chronicles (this book ends well, but leaves it open for more stories). I'll be interested to see where she takes this.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak

If you've seen his comedy you know there's a certain amount of hipster snark to B.J. Novak's "voice." These short stories (some very, very short and others actually quite long) all contain a kernel of that, a virtual eyebrow arch in the delivery. Perhaps it helps that he read his own audiobook.

There's not really a theme at work here, so it's hard to summarize the book. Stories range from an emotional personification of the stock market to a boy violating his parent's moral imperative to tips on how to give good advice.

It's good, and it's funny. But there's a lot of smarminess crammed into one volume here, and I found I needed to take a break from the audiobook every so often. Perhaps best consumed a bit at a time.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen

I wanted to love this, and I really, really tried: The title! The cover! The premise! But alas, no.

There's a new (male) school librarian, and he's got Cyn's best friend Annie seeing stars and hearts and K-I-S-S-I-N-G in her daydreams. And while that could be creepy in an inappropriate-student-teacher way, it's actually much, much worse ... because he's actually a demon come to suck the souls of hapless teenagers for power and he wants Annie as his human consort.

That would be drama enough for most teen novels, but this one goes further to add another layer: actual drama in the form of a school production of "Sweeney Todd." Cyn's all tied up in knots trying to rig a barber's chair for the production that's dramatic and scary and perfect.

The novel's too slow - there's a lot a lot of wringing of hands about the fact the big evil showdown is coming right after showtime (because apparently demons love Sweeney Todd and the battle can wait until after they've seen this production). But that's 10 days away! And then, that's 7 whole days away! Oh no! In any event, it's too far away.

I persevered for the sake of saying I did, but I'm not sure I can recommend it for anyone over 17; teens may be slightly more in-tune with the loves-me-loves-me-not substory than I was.

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

In this beautifully written novel, four generations of one family live, love, fight, and much more all under the same, solidly built roof; it's the story of a family and the story of a house.

Great-grandfather Junior built the house in Baltimore as a craftsman working for a wealthy family, but it was always his house and soon the other family moved and sold it to him. Grandpa Red grew up in the house, and raised his kids there with his wife Linnie. Now oldest son Stem, his wife, and their children have temporarily moved in to "help" his aging parents.

Tyler's got a Pulitzer Prize medal, and it's easy to see why with luminous storytelling and gorgeous writing like this. This is a very real family with often-told stories, sadness and laughter, petty annoyances, and a few skeletons in the closet. Not much happens, plot-wise - there's no big mystery or hurdle to overcome. It's more about their relationships with one another, and their family legacy in the big old house.