Book Review: Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh Bardugo (2019)

I feel like in 2018/2019, everywhere I looked I was encountering Leigh Bardugo’s name. My Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, LinkedIn…every place where I looked at books, I was seeing her name pop up for her novel Six of Crows. Now here is something weird about me; unless it’s something I’m already invested in (like seeing The Hobbit trilogy films being the huge Tolkien fan that I am), I pay little attention to reviews. And the reason for this is that I feel like things can quickly get overrated. Like I enjoyed Frozen, but the hype all around it made me a lil disappointed, despite how much I liked it.

So I put Bardugo on my list, but it wasn’t on the top. And by the grace of an extra Book of the Month credit, I added her to my box and gave it a go.

I should have believed the hype about this author. She’s getting all my money.

Ninth House is a new approach to a world of magic. Set against the backdrop of New England and the much talked about secret houses of Yale, Galaxy “Alex” Stern uncovers the true terrifying power of magic. She has the strange ability to see Greys, a power that others are only able to acquire for a limited time after ingesting a dangerous concoction. Because of this power, she has been inducted into the ninth secret house of Yale; Lethe. But something is very, very, very rotten in the state of Denmark. Dead girls and a missing classmate are just a few of the things that are rotten.

The plot that draws you in quicker

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Photo Credit: Goodreads

than you expected, especially because the opening of the novel takes you almost directly to the end of the major events. Short interludes are dispersed between the chapters in the form of diaries of past society members that are lovely segues from one chapter to the next, and give you a view of what the house is from a student’s standpoint as opposed to a president’s (looking at you Bush…and Bush) opinion of them.

There is also something kind of cool about reading magic happening in our universe. All of the major fantasy works we have like Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Mortal Instruments, The Old Kingdom series, Mistborn trilogy, and even Percy Jackson & The Olympians or The Inheritance Cycle take place in a separate universe, or a hidden part of our world. This takes place on one of America’s most prestigious institutions, with frat boys and work-study jobs and horrible parties and young adults trying to find a way to fit in. Its remarkably read.

The pace trips along nicely, and the language and style thrust you right into the character’s world. A strong female character who is fully formed and developed, multifaceted and vulnerable. Alex is a remarkably frank narrator. Her penchant for self-deprecation paired with her confidence makes her, in my opinion, a reliable narrator. She doesn’t shy away from the guts and gore of her past or her present, yet remains oddly hopeful for her future. This is wonderful as a reader because I truly feel like I’m getting the world she lives in.

This is my first book by this author and I can’t wait to get my hands on more. Can’t wait for the sequel!

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

My favorite line:

She was no one, a girl who had lucked into a gift, who had done nothing to earn it. She was his queen (Bardugo 178).


A portion of this review was originally posted on Goodreads.


Book Review: Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix (2014)

This is not your average furniture store. Horrorstör is an intriguing book that combines the terror of modern day aesthetics, old fashion ideals, and, well, horror into one IKEA catalogue. Follow Amy as she winds her way through the mystery and horror of her job in the dead of night. If you like unique book designs, this is one of the best I’ve ever seen; several of my friends have confused it for an actual Ikea catalogue. If you have ever gotten lost in an IKEA or Macy’s or casino, your despair will deeply resonate within you as you read this book.

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Photo Credit: Goodreads

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the cast of characters that Hendrix put together. Headstrong but pessimistic Amy, regulated but annoying Basil, steadfast but innocent Ruth Anne, carefree but cooky Trinity, and intelligent but kinda douchey Matt. Each of these people cover a certain archetype that we are used to seeing in horror films, but the author gives them a kind of humanity that we don’t see on screen. Amy’s connection and thoughts as she makes her way through the most definitely haunted store allows the reader to connect with the characters in a way Saw never could…I haven’t seen saw so don’t quote me on that.

The book also has a surprising amount of humor in the book. It’s told from a sarcastic millennial’s point of view, so it has a lovely dry and sardonic taste. I was able to read it in about 4 uninterrupted hours over the course of a single day. If anything, I wish the book were longer, or maybe covered the mechanics behind the Beehive in a bit more detail. It’s a whopping metaphor, so if subtlety is your thing then maybe this isn’t the book for you. But it is one of the funnier reads I have had in a while.

Horror is not a genre I read very often, and horror comedy (comedy horror? comedic horror? horrific comedy?) even less so. But this book may make me a convert. Since I have no other books to compare it to with my limited knowledge, if you liked the movies Cabin in the Woods, or Get Out then I suggest you give Horrorstör a try.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

My favorite line:

She could not move. She could not see. She could not hear. She could not breathe. And her only thought was a single loop running over, and over, and over again.

“I’m home…I’m home…I’m home…” (Hendrix 147).


A portion of this review was originally posted on Goodreads.


Book Review: Things in Jars by Jess Kidd (2020)

I have to say that I found myself completely immersed in the story. The author, Jess Kidd, has such an original voice that really evokes the feeling of old London, the Thames, and the idea that there is more magic to this world. Dangerous mermaids, mysterious ghosts, murder, sabotage, and kidnapping; Kidd Was able to fit all of this in one book under 400 pages and I don’t feel like there’s anything missing.

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 Photo Credit: Goodreads

 The books switches back and forth between narrators and times, sometimes following the protagonist, Bridie Devine, back to her childhood, sometimes to the evil-yet-familiar Mrs. Bibby, and every so often bearing us up to the eyes of a raven flying high above the Thames. While there are examples in other novels when this switch would be distracting, or frustrating because you want to get to the storyline you favored (looking at you Martin), I never felt that reading Kidd’s novel. She drops enough of a through-line throughout each of the chapters and narrative shifts that allow the reader to piece together the different plots.

While this is my first time reading any of her works, Kidd is a master in a comedy rule; the rule of threes. Basically, its when a joke becomes funnier the second and third time around, and this technique is seen throughout her writing, though not just for comedy. She uses this to drop hints to the reader; a sort of literary “remember!” that is subtle enough that when a grand reveal happens, you’ve seen it coming in the most satisfying way.

I also must say that this is a book that is so female-driven, I am in love. Bridie Devine (the protagonist), Cora Butter (her maid), Mrs. Bibby (the antagonist), and Christabel (I’m not going to give her role away), are the characters this plot revolves around. Even the charming enigma of Ruby Doyle (wait till you find out who he is!) isn’t enough to pull your focus away from the females. And the men who interact with them see their power and acknowledge it. Men are scared of the four women, and that is lovely twist to see in literature, and all the more sweeter set against the backdrop of 1863 London.

This is a novel I might not have picked up if it weren’t for my Book of the Month subscription. I say this because so often when I pick up a mystery fantasy that is so heavily set in realism, I’m disappointed by the lack of the fantastic. However, Kidd perfectly blends reality and fantasy into such a beautifully horrific story that I may have to adjust my opinion on those types of novels.

A wonderful story with beautiful language, lovely imagery, and a hauntingly gorgeous plot. And two amazing females to boot! 

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

A portion of this review was originally posted on Goodreads.


Book Review: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2019)

A beautifully haunting book that brings a different breath of air into its particular genre. Almost reminiscent of the magic that Morrison’s Beloved first brought to readers. As I first started reading it, I wasn’t entirely sure what genre I was getting myself into, much like I felt when sunk my teeth into Morrison’s magnum opus.

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Photo Credit: Goodreads

But note how I saw almost. The language is gorgeous and lends to the pacing of the book, which is sedate but not slow. Reading it sort of feels like walking uphill with your head down; you don’t know how far you have gone until you look up. There is no major action in the novel, no grand reveals. Even when the main character Hiram discovers how to use his strange powers to bare slaves, or the “The Tasked”, to freedom, the description of this phenomenon is lyrical but also unexplained. He gets a feeling and has memories, and soon he is in an entirely different place.

While the fantasy glutton in me wants to know the mechanics and why, the introduction of Moses, Harriet Tubman herself, into the novel rids me of that want. Why? Because it is unfathomable for me to think how Harriet conducted herself and so many others across hostile lands, states, past slave catchers, past the thickness of her own oppression that she must have felt being a black woman in that world, to freedom. I don’t need to know how, I just know that she did. It’s magical. Which is just like the “conduction” both she and Hiram are able to do.

Not quite a heavy read, but not light enough that I would suggest someone just pick it up for a read. As I mentioned before, the pacing is grueling, and because of that actually getting through the book can be a bit laborious if you are not fully invested in the story. Though Coates immediately starts us off with death and drowning, you are so disconnected to the characters at first it doesn’t impact you, possibly because Hiram is so disconnected to everything around him; a helpless apathy almost.

There is no treacherous climax or triumphant ending. In fact, when I finished the book, I wondered if I was actually finished. But that is a credit to the book! Whenever I read African American literature, I am always afraid of the major losses that will be incurred by the end. The life of a black person in America is a hard one, and even harder during the times of slavery. It’s never a truly happy story. But this was a hopeful one, filled with magic and love and a grounding reality that no matter what, a person has to forge their own path. I have a feeling that this will make its way into classrooms in a decade or so.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

A portion of this review was originally posted on Goodreads.


Pandemics: Literature Brought to Life

I’m going to start off by saying I have NOT done research on what I’m about to say. Normally I like to be backed by some sort of vetted article from JSTOR or an encyclopedia, but this article will be more about feeling.

As you are aware (I hope) the Coronavirus has become the pandemic of the decade (and we are barely 3 months into the roaring 20s). Around me senior centers are shutting down, schools are shutting down, the stock market is tanking, places, where large people gather together, are closing. I work for a university and a theatre, and run my own lil theatre company; my immediate livelihood is becoming more and more precarious.

I recently watched the movie It Comes At Night with my boyfriend, and one thing I brought up was how though I didn’t find the movie to be scary, it fits along with the style of horror that we have seen become a main horror staple of the late 2010s (Birdbox totally beat out It Comes At Night in my opinion).

I feel that we are all fascinated by the idea of pandemics, whether based off of actual pandemics such as The Ghost Map or Love in the Time of Cholera, or fictional, extraordinary pandemics like World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (yes I include zombies, and most other transformation horrors brought on by contact with another being, as pandemic). If you do a basic Google search on books about pandemics, there is a headline by The Vulture named “The Best Pandemic Books to Read During Coronavirus”. And it’s not the only one!

These stories, whether based on fact or purely fiction, play on a very real and viable fear. Getting sick. Because we have all caught something from someone else. That’s the basis of all those weird sex education videos we watched in health class. It’s always something that could happen but it seems far away and distant. We hear about Ebola in Africa all the time and I rarely see that get news coverage. But if Ecoli outbreaks in our precious romaine WATCH OUT! That’s not to make light of the situation, but as soon as that sickness, that outbreak, that pandemic hits home (I guess it becomes an epidemic then?), its all suddenly very real and very scary.

Not only that, but it gives way to xenophobia. And as I touched on in my previous post, America’s climate is ripe for xenophobia and for distinct lines between me and you. Almost all of these stories focus on the survival after the onset of the disease; we are immediately thrust into the barren wastelands of a post-apocalyptic, dystopian world where the protagonist kicks ass, has a trusty sidekick who has a 50/50 chance of catching the virus and dying/turning, and they meet someone along the way who they think they can trust and ends up screwing them over and that is who the protagonist has to overcome. A basic formula, but one we keep returning to. Ridding ourselves of the other and keeping our identity. We are craving to see ourselves survive and triumph.

And I have to admit I have had Mandel’s Station Eleven on my list to read for a while. I watched the movie World War Z with my friend and we swooned over the courage of Brad Pitt. I devoured The Ghost Map when it was required reading in college (and even wrote a very odd slash fanfiction as a gift for a friend because obviously these two people who never came in contact with one another and were busy focusing on solving a deadly disease spreading throughout London were meant to be together).

It’s completely morbid and absolutely horrifying to be living through it, yet we have these best selling novels, some of which become blockbuster movies, flying off the shelves. It’s like living through it isn’t enough. Or maybe it’s too much to live through and it’s better to focus on the bizarre fictional world, or sicknesses that have come and gone and have almost been forgotten. A disassociation by association.

In a fit of curiosity, I wanted to see how mainstream movies about pandemics are in American popular culture…and it seems that the ’80s was when this genre really broke out onto the scene and has continued strong ever since. Blade and Underworld are major franchises built off this genre. In literature, it goes back even further (anyone else had to read The Decameron?).

Pandemics are nothing new, we have lived through them and will continue to do so. I think the presence of social media has made everything that much more immediate. Our fascination for the horror of something real and threatening will never go away. It’s like a sort of weird cousin of the high-place phenomenon. But you can experience it in bed, snuggled up under covers.

This all makes me wonder a couple years down the line, what stories are going to be written about the COVID-19. Who will write the story of a potential 2% of the world population becoming infected (which is well of 6 million people). Will they capture the hushed horror that is blanketing those who are at risk? The outcry at the dropping stock market? The lines in stores for water and toilet paper? Will they even cover what led to the destruction of life as we know it, or jump straight to the action and ignore the panic that happened before? If so, what will our wasteland be? Who will be our protagonist? And will we be saved?


Book Rambling: Atlas Shrugged

So, I did a thing that I said I was going to do. Read Atlas Shrugged. It was a behemoth to tackle, but I am proud to say I did it. Now this is a book that seems to evoke strong reactions in it audience, both positive and negative. Before I go any further in my lil spiel, I would like to frame this post with what type of audience member I am, which I think will help illuminate my opinion on this particular novel.

I am an African-American (with a touch of Puerto Rican) female who grew up with a single mother in the largest and extremely urban city (Newark), in an extremely blue state (New Jersey). Neither of my parents held a college degree, and my artsy self graduated with a B.A. in Theatre and English from a liberal arts college in NJ. Several areas around where I live proudly post “Refugees Welcome”, “#BlackLivesMatter”, LGBTQ flags of all sorts, “Dump Trump”, and in the current climate many a car sport some sort of Democratic candidate bump sticker or decal.

In essence, I’m pretty heckin’ liberal.

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If you haven’t read the book, I shall summarize. Moochers will continue to stay moochers because they don’t have to work for anything, and will demand more because they don’t have anything, while those with intelligence, talent, money will be bled dry to support them. It’s one of the thoughts behind why universal health care is the snake that will poison America, why we shouldn’t let in immigrants (or at least only let those with money in), why we should further restrict SNAP programs and welfare and all that jazz.

So in short, do I agree with the message of the story that Rand was portraying? Hell no. It’s nothing short of a bourgeoisie musing on what the working class appears to be. It’s a classist generalization that I believe most working-class, blue-collar people would reject.

BUT! It is a generalization that I believe a good amount of people would like to believe of each other. It works off the anxiety caused by fear or dislike of the other, and generalizing groups of people. “I work hard and I have made it so so should everybody else”.

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And there is enough of that rhetoric and the different responses to it to go around without me expounding upon it.

As I was saying, this particular way of thinking boosts the more negative aspects of America’s capitalistic ideals and values. In fact, I feel that Atlas Shrugged is more of a self-masturbatory epic to how great it is to be one of the fortunate elite, but how it comes with the heavy heavy curse of being better than everyone else and being forced to help out the little guy.

That being said, I can appreciate the style in which Rand portrayed this. It’s quite a long book, and some of the language really is beautiful. The characters are a bit monochromatic in a way (the beautiful people are utterly gorgeous and are the good guys, while the bad guys are described in a slimy, grotesque or odd manner), but it does support Rand’s theme. There was a romantic element to the story that I wasn’t expecting, and it actually brightened up the 30-page monologues some characters went on when extolling their own virtues.

All in all, I’m glad I have read it if only to say “Why yes I have read Rand’s manifesto on objectivism” while holding a glass of wine and tittering into my hand with a haughty sniff…who am I kidding I read it and I’m glad it’s over, it took me like 2 months to get through and thank the heaven’s it’s over.

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Actual footage of me after I read the first 20 pages of the book.

Now to play Bioshock, which I hear was heavily influenced by this book…


Oscar Predictions 2020

Emily does it again!

Clash Cultures

By: Emily Miller

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The Oscars.Oscars-new-logo-and-statue-620x359 

While last year was a bit of a wild ride, this year’s ceremony is shaping up to be a bit calmer. With more wrapped up categories and less last minute races, Oscars bloggers can breath a little easier.

So hang tight y’all. Together we are going to win that Oscar pool..

BEST PICTURE:

1917imaxticketsonsaleWill Win: 1917

Could Win: Parasite

Dark Horse: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

What once was a crowded and chaotic Best Picture race has settled down nicely between three films, 1917, Parasite and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. While all the films have a chance at winning, ultimately the film with the best shot is 1917. It has won some crucial top prizes like the Golden Globe, BAFTA DGA and PGA for Best Film. The big award it…

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