Books are cheaper than heroin, but they DO add up....

Amy, Carrie, Chanin and Sarah buy (and read and review) their own stuff. They've been known to shop around from dealer to dealer looking for the best price. If you're interested in slipping them something to try out, just contact us.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Shining by Stephen King

Scary; in a completely different way than the books
we've been reviewing this month.
So.....anyone want to talk about the weather?  Anyone? Yeah, me neither.  Hurricane Sandy was comparatively kind to us in Maryland, though my in-laws are struggling with her wrath in New Jersey. I just want to say that I'm very grateful that we have advance warning, emergency service providers, and sturdy structures here.  It's not like that everywhere in the world, and I'm grateful that I didn't have to experience a hurricane any other way than I just did.  I'm sending positive thoughts and prayers for quick recovery to parts of the East Coast that are just now able to assess the damage.

Enough about Frankenstorm, let's talk about scary books.  You may have noticed that I'm an official fan of Stephen King.  I think he's a master at building a mood and scaring you with the mundane to then later terrify you with the other-worldly.  I've been known to read some of Mr. King's stories with only one eye open (those of us not capable of reading braille really can't read with both of our eyes closed) while curling up into a tight ball and squealing.  I'm not too proud to admit that.  Of course, I haven't yet thrown my book in the freezer either.  And if you don't know what I'm referencing, watch the clip below.  (Lobster, I know you need no explanation.)  In honor of All Hallow's Eve, I present to you my all-time scariest Stephen King book.  All of his stories are scary in some way; like pee-a-little-in-your-pants scary and even I-didn't-realize-I-was-clenching-every-muscle-in-my-body-and-my-fingernails-may-never-come-out-of-my-palms scary.  Some of them will haunt you and some of them will ruin your dreams for a couple of nights.  That's what makes them fabulous. The Shining was Stephen King's third novel and first hardback bestseller.  It was adapted into a movie and later a mini-series.  I have read it twice, seen the movie four times, and watched the mini-series.  I know this story.  There are no more surprises in it for me.  Yet it still makes me want to turn on all the lights and make the dog stay indefinitely at my side.

Yep.  He looks crazy.
I'm sure you saw my pick for the culmination of our scary books month coming from a mile away.  And there's a reason for it.  It's mad scary.  And don't just watch the movie, cause that's not even the half of it.  From the animated topiary to stealthily stalking fire extinguishers and ballrooms filled with spirits and madness from years past, this book made me re-evaluate my feelings about elevators and vacations.  The back story: A struggling writer, Jack, gets hired as a care taker at a mountain resort for the winter.  The resort closes when the weather no longer allows access to the rest of civilization, and someone must remain there in order to keep an eye on things and dump the massive boiler system that must run to keep the pipes (and any inhabitants) from freezing.  So Jack packs up his wife Wendy and son Danny, and all their different forms of baggage (Jack is a recovering alcoholic with a tendency to rage: he was scared into sobriety after he broke Danny's arm in a drunken rage.  Jack took the job as a way to re-connect with his family and finish his book.  Then there's Danny who happens to be telepathic, though his parents are unaware of that.) and heads to Colorado.

When the family arrives, Danny realizes that the hotel itself, The Overlook, has a spirit of its own and it's not a good kind of spirit.  The chef there sees that Danny has a rare ability that he shares, and he takes Danny aside and explains to him that the hotel can only show him "pictures" that aren't dangerous.  Halloran, the chef, is leaving for his winter gig in Florida but Danny will be able to communicate with him through "the shining" that they share.  Things quickly go sideways for the family.  Danny realizes that the hotel is trying to use him as a way to feed its need for death and destruction.  Danny is strong enough to ward off the increasingly aggressive and spooky power plays (party hats how up in elevators, animal topiary chase him through the hedgerow maze, some kids who haven't actually been alive for years show up in the know, all in a day of haunting and possession), so The Overlook changes its focus.

Even the original cover is creepy!
Jack has been struggling with several things.  The book is not going well.  The insane amount of snow has forced the family indoors and cabin fever is setting in.  Jack is trying hard to stay calm but he has inherited a great deal of anger and it's about to split him at the seams.  The hotel knows a good opportunity and makes some things happen.  Though the hotel was void of alcohol when the Torrance's arrived, Jack mysteriously finds a fully-stocked bar in a ballroom that he didn't know was there.  Not in the mood to over analyze, Jack starts drinking away his troubles.  He is so successful that he doesn't question it when he notices that he's no longer drinking alone.  The bartender keeps the drinks flowing and the sympathetic ear open: Of course, Jack is angry. His wife is completely unappreciative and his son is annoying.  As a matter of fact, that sort of thing happens in the hotel all the time.  And there are things Jack can do about it.  The hotel understands. The hotel can help if Jack will let it.

Turns out that another caretaker had the same sort of issue one winter.  That caretaker murdered his family and then took his own life, so that caretaker never really went anywhere.  And now that other caretaker is happy to pour drinks for Jack Torrance and let him in on all the things he should be doing to take care of his familial problems.  First, Jack should disable communications (goodbye radio).  Then take out the only way down the mountain (snowcat gets dismantled).  Make sure the boiler gets dumped (we would hate for the hotel to blow up since it's being so nice and all).  Then explain his frustrations to his wife and kid.  With a mallet.  Or a knife.  Whatever gets them to listen.  Jack is all too eager to put this particular plan in motion.

When Danny realizes that his dad really isn't his dad anymore, he sends out a distress signal to Halloran.  Then he goes about doing his best to keep his mom and himself out of Jack's way as jack slips further and further into madness.  Then finally Jack snaps.  Halloran shows up only to be grievously wounded by Jack.  He goes after Wendy.  She manages to lock him in the walk-in pantry and run away.  Unfortunately, The Overlook doesn't give up easily and Jack is freed from the pantry by none other than the ghost of Delbert Grady, friendly bartender and murderous caretaker.  Jack manages to wound and Wendy and goes after Danny who appeals to any part of his father that may still be present.  Jack then wounds himself in an effort to give Danny time to get away from him.  Danny reminds Jack that the boiler needs to be dumped; the pressure has been building all this time.  Jack goes down to safe the hotel (essentially trying to save himself as he is now completely possessed by The Overlook) and Wendy, Danny, and Halloran escape to the snowcat Halloran used to get to the hotel.  Jack tries to dump the pressure in the boiler system but he's too late.  The boiler explodes, taking Jack and all the other spirits who were loathe to leave the hotel with it.

OK.  So now I have cold sweats just writing about this.  It's that scary.  And I read a twitter rumor that there will be a sequel(esque) that visits an adult Danny Torrance.  The possibilities!  Did he inherit his father's predilection to drink? Or his quick and vicious temper?  Is he haunted by what happened?  Does he still have the shining?  I hope the rumor is true.  I hope I get to meet Danny again.  And if I do, I hope there's room in my freezer.  Happy Halloween!

Pin It

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Perfect Husband by Lisa Gardner

Scary books are not my thing.  In all honesty, scary anything is not my thing.  Just ask my husband about the time he made me ride Stitch's Great Escape (formerly known as Alien Encounter) at Magic Kingdom.  The "Happiest Place on Earth" was not so happy that day.  So when I had this brilliant idea we decided to make October all about scary books here at TFA, I didn't think I would have much material to contribute.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the book that I was currently reading (I Googled scary books and it was one that came up!) would end up qualifying for a review this month.

Scary.  But good.

Gardner writes a disturbing tale of marriage gone horribly wrong.  After she uncovers that her husband Jim is a serial murderer, Tess takes matters into her own hands and goes to the police.  Jim, a respected police officer, is eventually jailed but he escapes (of course..don't they always in scary-type stories?).  Tess knows that Jim will stop at nothing to kill her once he is released so she finds a safe place to hide her young daughter and treks across the country to hire and train with a present-day mercenary.  As an ex-Marine, J.T. is perfect for the job.  He's fit.  He's tough. Yeah, he has a drinking problem, but that is a minor detail.  At least Tess hopes it is.

So where is the scary?  Everywhere. Just the fact that she might not convince J.T. to help her train/get stronger is scary because he is her ticket to staying alive.  What if Jim finds where she hid their daughter?  Would he use her to lure Tess to him before she was ready?  What if J.T.'s sister, a FBI agent, blew her cover?  The biggest scare factor, though, is that Jim had a police background.  He had old uniforms, he knew the vernacular, he could assimilate himself into virtually any situation unnoticed.  I feared every new character Gardner introduced because I was certain that Jim was going to appear at any moment and continue his killing spree.  When the police found a severed head of one of their own in the ceiling duct of the headquarters conference room, things got particularly eerie.  Jim was a master of disguises too, which didn't help my nerves.

All in all, my first venture at reading a scary novel was a success.  It wasn't so scary that I had to quit reading it but it was scary enough that I had to take short breaks between chapters.  So, I think that means I may be ready for more scary books.  That does not mean however, that I am ready to ride Stitch's Great Escape (formerly known as Alien Encounter) again.  Dumbo ride, anyone?

Pin It

Monday, October 15, 2012

Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

This is a blog post wherein I demonstrate that I know nothing about graphic novels.

Keep reading, and I'm quite sure you'll figure that out for yourself.  This review is, in part, about the Locke & Key series, and, in other part, about how a book-nerd first encounters the comic book world.

First, let's review a few established facts:

  1. I'm an incessant reader.  And a darn good one at that.
  2. I read a little bit of everything, but I've never read comic books or graphic novels.
  3. I'm a self-proclaimed nerd.
  4. The Family Addiction is reviewing "scary" books for October.

When you put those first three facts together, as I did awhile ago, it raises an interesting question.

Q.     What self-respecting nerd ignores an entire genre of books?
A.     Not this one.
I'm not a fan of being uninformed.

So I cozied up to my Amazon Prime account and ordered two that were well-reviewed.  (Fun Home: A Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel we'll save for another day.)  Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez was the first one I read.  I've been ruminating on the experience and how to review it for months.  It just so happens that the Locke & Key story is freaky as all get-out, so it's a good story to review for TFA's October scare-athon.  In the opening of Welcome to Lovecraft, two teens and their kid brother are reeling from the violent death of their father.  With their mother, they move across the country to live in the house where their father grew up.  Normally, an opening involving two deranged and homicidal killers would be the part where things get weird, but it actually reads like the most straightforward piece.  Once the family arrives in Lovecraft, reality goes off its rails.  One of the killers manages to break out and hitchhikes across the country.  The kid brother discovers a door that actually allows your spirit to leave your body.  There might be someone trapped in the wellhouse.  Oh, and mom copes with her grief by self-medicating.  As the story unfolds, the tension and sense of danger crank up until, at the end, the characters get a moment's peace. Not a happily ever after, just a pause in the drama as the first volume ends.

How do I review a story the likes of which I've never read? I don't know how to be fair and thorough about this without some backtracking.

First, see Fact 1.  I read a LOT.  All that reading works for me because I have a vivid imagination.  Someone else puts words down on a page, and my brain neatly fits the words together like a puzzle to give me mental image of the scene I'm reading.  One of the reasons I find reading so engrossing is because piecing together the mental image is an involving process.  I'm one of those readers who doesn't hear you call my name when I'm deep in a story.

Second, I'm an inpatient reader. No author publishes fast enough to my way of thinking.  I pointed out to a few of you that Ilona Andrews is self-publishing a free serial at:  (If you haven't read it yet, DO IT.  Go THERE.)  I love it. And I hate it.  I want the full story RIGHT NOW.  I'm jonesing for the next installation, and I'm not amused by that.

Scary story.
So, how does a reader who happily creates her own mental images of stories and who unhappily waits for new books and new parts of serials respond to her first graphic novel--a story complete with detailed pictures and meant to be shared piece by piece?  Initially? Not well.  But upon further review (and after finishing the second volume of the series), I think I can do this.  In fact, I NEED to do this because the Locke & Key storyline has totally sucked me in.

But initially, I struggled.  I liked was intrigued by the story.  ("Like" is a pretty soft and squishy word for a storyline as dark and fantastical as Welcome to Lovecraft.  Let's go with intrigued instead.)  But I felt a little lost.  I didn't need to create my own mental image. Gabriel Rodriguez had done an absolutely stunning job creating the images for the reader.  I really wasn't sure how to "read" the story. Sure, I can read the words.  It's English. I've got that covered.  But do I read the words & then dive into the picture.  Do I try to do both at once?  Where does my eye start? Where does it go next?  I'm 40 years old, and I felt like I was learning to read all over again.

So there was confusion, and more than a little bit of disconnect.  I didn't feel as involved because I didn't need to create those mental images, and because the story was the first of five volumes, you only get the introduction.  (An introduction with a LOT of action, but an introduction nonetheless.)  I finished the story, and I wasn't sure what to think.

Intrigue? Yay! Disconnect? Boo.

My social scientist nerdiness kicked in, though, and I knew I couldn't judge an entire genre or even an entire series with an n of one. So I picked up the second volume, Locke & Ke: Head Games, in order to give the experience another try.

And now I'm hooked.  Not on graphic novels in general.  The jury is still out on that one.  (An n of two isn't really any better than an n of one.). But I am completely hooked on the Locke & Key storyline.  I'm quite annoyed that someone else has checked out the third volume from the Decatur Public Library.  I need it RIGHT NOW.

So here's my advice.  If you like graphic novels and horror stories, read Locke & Key.  If you like horror stories and want to give graphic novels a spin, read Locke & Key, but be sure to give yourself a chance to adapt to the new format.

Pin It

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Doesn't look scary at
all.  Or does it?!
Yesterday I was home sick with the stomach flu.  It wasn't pretty.  When I wasn't sleeping or getting sick, I was watching some old Dr. Who episodes.  I'm a latecomer to this BBC version, but I like it quite a bit.  It's the right combination of sci-fi and creepy and witty banter to make me happy.  Yesterday I saw two episodes that reminded me (in different ways) of The Turn of the Screw.  The first was a Christmas episode featuring Charles Dickens and some spirits living in the gas pipes of funeral home and the other featured an "empty child" in 1941 London.  The "empty child" episode gave me goosebumps (might have been the fever, but I don't think so) and the Dickens episode made me wonder if Carrie's head exploded when she watched it.  You may have noticed that she's not a fan of Charles Dickens.  Anyway they're both good episodes, it's a good series, and it's available on Netflix should you ever find yourself stricken with the stomach flu.  But don't watch them until you've read this novella, cause it's pretty great a creepy way.

It starts out in London on Christmas Eve with a group of friends gathered around a fireplace exchanging ghost stories (this is the part that the Dickens Dr. Who brought to mind).  One gentleman says he has a written account of a governess, no longer living, who was convinced she and her wards were plagued by ghosts.  The governess was informed that she was not to communicate with the children's uncle (their guardian) and would be in a country estate with a maid, Mrs. Grose, and the children, Miles and Flora.  The governess meets Flora first, as Miles is on his way home for the summer from boarding school.  The governess is charmed by the children and begins to feel at ease around the house and with her new job.  However, things quickly go sideways.  Suddenly there are sightings of a strange man, and later a woman, around the estate.  The governess goes to the maid about these strangers on the grounds and Mrs. Grose offers that they might be the old governess and former valet.  That wouldn't be that unusual except Mr. Quint and Miss Jessel and both deceased.  And the new governess appears to the be the only one that sees them.

As the days progress, the situation around the house grows ever more odd.  The children seem to always be in odd places whenever the ghosts appear.  Mrs. Grose finally relents to the governess that Mr. Quint and Miss Jessel were entirely "too free" with one another and the children.  What that means exactly is up for interpretation.  The children refuse to discuss the ghosts even though the governess is convinced that the apparitions are in some way controlling the children.  Eventually, Flora demands to go away from the governess.  Miles takes the opportunity to play some soothing music until the governess realizes that Flora has left the house and her whereabouts are unknown.  After searching the house with no success, they find her in a clearing in the woods.  The governess sees the ghost of Miss Jessel there as well.  Soon Flora takes ill and it's decided she'll go to London to be with the uncle.  Later  that evening, the governess spies Mr. Quint in the window watching Miles.  The governess places herself between Miles and the ghost and informs Mr. Quint that he no longer has any hold on the boy.  Mr. Quint leaves but at the same time Miles drops into the governess's arms; dead.

The best part about this story is that it is so ambiguous.  Are there really ghosts?  Or is the governess off her rocker?  Are the children just vacant vessels being manipulated by former house staff who had too much freedom with them (this is the part that was similar to the "empty child" episode)? Or are the children just being children?  Is the governess the only sane person who is trying to fend off maleficent spirits?  Or is she slightly mad herself?  Is there something wrong with the estate or something wrong with the governess?  It's wonderfully written so that the reader must make their own inferences.   While the story is told on Christmas Eve, I recommend you read it now in the season of Halloween.  Nothing quite like a psychological thriller to make all those trick-or-treaters seem a wee bit scary!  Has anyone else read and loved this one? Let me know!

Pin It

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I'm clearly slacking in my old age.

The American Library Association keeps track of the most commonly challenged books and happily sorts them by decade.  Of the top 100 books that "concerned citizens" tried to restrict from library shelves in the 1990s, almost 30 of them found their way into my hands.  Of the top 100 books most commonly challenged in the 2000s, only 20 made my reading list.

(Using the same evidence, I could also claim that I'm becoming more conservative.  I'm a kind soul, though, and don't want to force any of you into a spit-take.  I'll stick to my slacker claim.)

It probably helps that many of the books from the '90s list I actually read in the '80s.  Those would be the Judy Blumes and Stephen Kings.  Those would be my middle school and high school years.  That's actually when I read 1984 and The Color Purple, too.  Apparently, I'm a rebel from WAY back in the day.

Heh. I crack myself up.

ANYWAY, in looking for a book to review that fulfills both the decision to review "scary" books in October and my desire to promote awareness of book censorship during Banned Book Week, I settled on The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

The main character, Offred, is actually only one of many handmaidens.  She lives in a world where war, technology and chemicals have left everyone all but infertile.  The social and military leaders take drastic action to try and assure the continued existence of their people.  Offred was once actually a wife, a mother, and a gainfully-employed and fully-contributing citizen.  Now she's a handmaiden, living in the household of a Commander, assigned to menial tasks and assigned to help the Commander breed.  She remembers the time before when she had access to information, to books, and her own opinions.  First, she lost her possessions, then her family and her freedom.  Now, you see, handmaidens are forbidden from learning.  Offred's place in the Commander's house is dependent upon the fact that she once conceived and might again.  Her value is entirely in her womb.

The Handmaid's Tale isn't scary like the frequently banned Stephen King books I've read.  It has more in common with George Orwell's 1984.  It's frequently called a dystopian novel which is a smarty-pants way of saying that the society depicted in the story is the opposite of a utopia, the opposite of a perfect society. The online Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines a dystopia as a society characterized by human misery and oppression.  It's in this view of the world that the story becomes quickly, easily scary.  Nothing goes bump in the night, and there's no on-stage slaughter.  But the things this book makes you think?  The "what if?" and the "could they?" and the "could WE?"  Those are scary thoughts indeed.  It's also those questions and the oppression and the mandatory sex meant to eke out whatever viable reproduction is left in this society that lands this tale on the frequently challenged list.

It's not a comfortable read, and it's not fun.  It is, however, well-written and thought-provoking.  It's MEANT to make us uncomfortable, to make us question our actions, and our acceptance of the actions of others.  It shouldn't be banned.  It should be discussed.  The thoughts it raises shouldn't be avoided--just any social movement that could lead us to that dystopian reality.  That kind of reality is the very worst kind of bogey-man.

It was also made into a movie with an A-list cast.  The trailer is below.  It's doesn't shy away from the breeding efforts, so watch with caution.

Pin It

Monday, October 1, 2012

Beloved by Toni Morrison

This week happens to be Banned Books Week.  I thought I should draw a little attention to that because censorship is not at all ok with us here at The Family Addiction.  Not to mention some of the books on the list are amazing.  As it turns out, I read a lot of banned books.  Without really knowing it.  I'm a rebel like that.  And then, Carrie and Amy had the genius idea that we should review some scary books.  As it turns out, I read a lot of scary books.  And then, I found a book that fits both categories.  I'm awesome like that.

You may have noticed that I've reviewed two other Toni Morrison novels.  I think (and I'm not alone, you don't get to be a best-selling author by just having one person as a fan) she's one of the best at setting a mood.  In Beloved, the mood is heavy, frantic, desperate, and woeful.   In this story, like many of Miss Morrison's, focuses on the lives of slaves and how they lived as slaves and as free people in the northern parts of the United States.  Sethe has found her way across the Ohio River to her mother-in-law's house in Cincinnati.  She's fleeing the plantation in Kentucky where she's been enslaved for years.  Once in Cincinnati, she lives with her mother-in-law and her four children until the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 gives the owners of the plantation the right to "reclaim" her and her children.  When Sethe sees men from the plantation appear, she takes her children to the tool shed and tries to keep them safe.  Safe from the men who are there.  Safe from going back to a life where there is no chance of being anything other than someone's property.  Safe from never having a voice.  Safe from never being human.  Safe from constant work with no reward.  Safe from the physical world.  Sethe tries to kill her children because that's the only way to keep them safe.  She succeeds in killing her two year-old, who is later buried in a grave marked only as 'Beloved.'

That's a heavy kind of love.  It's the kind of love that doesn't go away.  And neither does Beloved.  She becomes the haunting spirit in the house in Cincinnati.  She throws two-year old tantrums and chases people from the house.  Sethe's boys run away from home as soon as they are old enough, and so it is Sethe and Denver (Sethe's other daughter) who bear the stigma of this heavy love that won't leave.  But when Paul D shows up at the house, as a connection to the old plantation life, things start to change.  Paul D gets the family out in public for the first time in years.  He helps Sethe see that Denver, who is alive but might not be well, won't be able to live any kind of life if they constantly try to appease the whims of an invisible two year-old.  Beloved is no longer the focus.  And like any two-year old who is being ignored is wont to do, Beloved brings the focus back to her.  She shows up.  It is creepy and heart-breaking and terrifying.  

I'm not going to tell you the rest.  You need to get a copy and read it for yourself.  Beloved is often banned from classrooms because it contains seriously difficult concepts.  It does not treat slavery with kid gloves.  Beloved talks openly and sadly honestly about the parts of slavery that are even more difficult to discuss than living conditions and cruel conditions.  The book tackles the psychological impact of being seen and treated as sub-human and how that way of thinking leads to horrific things. But it's an amazing book, and banning it won't erase that part of history.  So go get a copy.  Read it with all the lights on and then look at the other books on the Banned Books list and read one of those too.
Pin It