Thursday, September 14, 2017

Strange Weather

Joe Hill’s Strange Weather is a stark examination of the duality of man.  The four short novels expose the individual and societal pressures that motivate our sometimes fateful decisions.  The first story, Snapshot, is nearly a sentimental coming-of-age tale with an added bit of horror, both real and imagined. Thirteen year-old Michael, a self-proclaimed coward, begins to examine the impact we have on others, when his kindly neighbor, Shelly Beukes, begins wandering the neighborhood, hiding from the “Polaroid Man.” Forced to confront his own fears, Michael discovers that Shelly’s Alzheimers may not be what it seems.
The second story, Loaded, is an unflinching look at what has become a common tragedy, mass shooting.  The lives and histories of Aisha, a young black mother who, as a child, witnessed a family friend gunned down for being in the wrong place at the wrong time; Becki, a young white woman who becomes entangled in a messy affair with her boss; and Kellaway, a veteran whose family life has fallen apart as he falls into a pattern of domestic abuse. No clear villain emerges, and each find themselves under Hill’s perceptive microscope.
The third novel, Aloft, is an unrequited-love-meets-the-Twilight-Zone story that touches on loneliness and the lies we tell ourselves.  Aubrey Griffen, fool-heartedly agrees to a bucket list challenge in honor of a deceased friend and bandmate, but he mostly does it for Harriet (despite being consciously aware of the fact that there is absolutely NO CHANCE that she would ever be in love with him). A strange occurrence forces his jump after he chickens out, and he finds himself stranded on a “cloud.” The cloud appears to be sentient and eager to fill his needs, though he quickly realizes that all might not be well in his cloud kingdom.
The final story, Rain, is a tad more poignant and introspective, though less-than-kind in its imagining of our response to real and unexplained catastrophe. Filled with satirical, and frighteningly realistic, portrayals of consumerism and corporate hegemony, Rain, is a what-if tale that will stick with you.  What would you do if the rain was suddenly transformed into piercing crystals? Would your loyalty take you as far as Honeysuckle’s love for Yolanda took her?

All four tales often gave me pause and made me think. The horror was often a side show that augmented a close look at our own human frailty.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of character-driven works of horror and/or drama.
Reserve a copy of this October 24th release here: https://goo.gl/oTQjPE

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker





Norway is an astonishingly beautiful country.  Cascading waterfalls, vibrant flowers, birch trees intertwined with the deep tones of pine trees, and waters so clear you can see the fish swim past your legs. It was spectacular! When I went to visit an old Norske village I wondered what the people of Norway were like back in the day, these so-called "savage vikings" who pillaged and plundered wherever they went. I just had to pick up this historical read, The Half-Drowned King.

    Marriages for political gain, wars, battles, betrayal, assassinations, family disputes, and of course, scandalous relationships were all a  part of any royal family, in this case the "royal clans".  When Ragnvald Eystein, the son of a chief, was betrayed and left to die by whom he thought was his close shipmate, Solvi, revenge overcame him. To regain his lands, fortune, and his betrothed, Ragnvald pledged his allegiance to Hakon who was a neighboring Lord, but there is a twist to all this delicious madness.  
 This book is a must read.  A deliciously written masterpiece!

~Dani

"Anger is a pilot who always steers his ship onto rocks. It is a poor guide."
Lord Hakon

Little Fires Everywhere

I don't give too many five-star reviews, but this one from Celeste Ng earned a very definite five stars from me on Goodreads. Little Fires Everywhere is something special. And the title fits perfectly, both literally and figuratively. Life in Shaker Heights for the families at the heart of this story is a series of little fires that start small and then join and grow to consume their lives. Like a fire's "multiple points of origin," each character contributes to the conflagration in his or her own way. The Richardson family is one of the wealthy scions--and longtime residents--of the Shaker Heights community. Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl live a very different lifestyle, a nomadic life, a path that leads them to Shaker Heights and a rental property owned by the Richardsons. Ng has a way of simply and clearly describing each of these characters in such a way that you feel connected intimately to the story. There are no villains or heroes, just ordinary people. And having an overall view of the goings-on enables you to see the disaster as it builds and entangles them. And there is not just one heart of the story. Ng deftly weaves in the complex topics of art and photography, cross-cultural adoption, teenage pregnancy, poverty, wealth, parenting...and big life choices. A stellar book with fascinating characters and a potent storyline. Highly recommended.

Kelly Currie

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

It is estimated that over 15,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln. Many of these are straightforward biographies, while others take quite a few liberties with his life (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter comes to mind). With all of these published works, it is quite easy to think there could be no new way of looking at the life of our 16th president, but George Saunders has proven that it can be done.

In February 1862, Lincoln is embroiled in the Civil War and fighting battles of his own in Washington. He and Mary Todd Lincoln are hosting a political party while their 11-year-old son Willie lies upstairs sick with typhoid. When Willie dies the next day, he is interred in the cemetery across the street where he encounters the other residents of the cemetery including Hans Vollman, Roger Bevins, and the Reverend Everly Thomas. These residents and Willie are in the “bardo” a Tibetan word for a transitional zone; in this book it is the place these ghosts inhabit between life and what comes after. When President Lincoln visits in the middle of the night, consumed with grief, Willie vows not to move on. Vollman, Bevins, and Thomas take it upon themselves to convince him to go as children do not fare well when they stay behind. As the night wears on, the ghosts go to more extreme measures to ensure young Willie goes on.

Saunders tells this tale by interweaving narration from these three and others ghosts with first-hand accounts of events in Washington and from the war from newspapers and letters from the time. This format is confusing at first but quickly becomes natural to navigate and gives an impression of the turmoil surrounding Lincoln and the scrutiny of his every move during this time. He was not yet the lauded “Lincoln” we know today, but a man heartbroken for his family and his country.

Normally a writer of short stories and essays, Saunders’s first novel is reminiscent of those forms as well as the works of Dante and Beckett. Lincoln in the Bardo is at times haunting and poignant and others laugh-out-loud funny. The audiobook version is a real treat. With 166 actors including Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, and George Saunders as Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend, it sounds more like a reader’s theater performance than a normal audiobook.

- Portia Kapraun

Thursday, September 07, 2017

A Dark So Deadly by Stuart MacBride.


     MacBride is the author of the Logan McRae and the Ash Henderson novels. This is the beginning of a new series about the Misfit squad, where Police Scotland dump the cops who are troublemakers or don't fit in. DC Callum MacGregor is there because his superiors think he took a bribe to destroy a crime scene. This is a funny book full of banter and jokes and neurotic policemen. Callum is first shown chasing a suspect and of course armed only with a large baton holder and a taser. By the time the chase is through, he is bleeding and bruised and has discovered a mummified body.
     His superior's opinion is that it was stolen from a museum, and Callum is given the job of tracking it down. But then they are called out on a missing persons case and find a mummified body in the trunk of a car, then to an apartment for a noise complaint and there is another mummified body in the bathtub. All of a sudden there is a serial killer on the loose in Oldcastle, and the Misfit squad is given the job of finding him.
     Callum  has to deal with the other members of the squad and their peccadilloes, his dying boss, his pregnant former cop girlfriend, and the constant everyday rain.  Unexpectedly, the body of his mother is found after twenty-five years missing along with his father and brother. He also has to face the pedophile who tried to molest him on the day his family went missing.
     These are trying times for Callum, but this case cements the squad together. This book has many twists and turns but hums right along for all 608 pages. Hopefully this will not be the last of the Misfit squad.