Review Round-Up: Otto Penzler, John Updike, and M.J. Rose

Posted by – January 25, 2015

91u2tHP2rKL._SL1500_The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries edited by Otto Penzler – I’m not a diehard mystery fan (horror will always take the top spot) but they’re fun to delve into every once in awhile, and I had my eye on this book ever since it first appeared at Magers & Quinn Booksellers. Jason Gobble, one of the store’s Penguin Random House reps, was kind enough to send me a copy straight to my apartment. (As I said on Instagram, it was basically a Christmas present from PRH.) I started reading one mystery a night in the weeks up until Christmas, making it through both the “A Scary Little Christmas” and the “An Uncanny Little Christmas” sections. (Because where else would I start?) All the stories were super fun, though I was confused as to how the supposedly scary Christmas mysteries were interpreted as scary. The one that has stuck with me the most is definitely “Waxworks” by Ethel Lina White, about a seemingly haunted wax museum, but all of them were very good.

h3569The Twelve Terrors of Christmas by John Updike – Definitely picked this little stocking stuffer of a book up because A. Edward Gorey. B. “Terror,” and C. John Updike. Quite cynical and more depressing than funny (in my opinion), but to be fair my sister and her boyfriend really liked it.

22608277The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose – I absolutely loved this book. It’s about a woman, Sandrine, at the turn of the century who runs away from her husband in America to live with her sexy grandmother in Paris. Sandrine soon becomes slowly possessed by one of her ancestors—a witch known as La Lune—who takes over her more vulnerable and romantic descendants in order to live a life of passionate love and masterful painting, both of which she experienced for a short while but was ultimately denied in life. A fun, sexy, light read featuring the occult (hurray!), I absolutely could not put this book down. Pub date: March, 2015.


Review: Don’t Stay Up Late by R.L. Stine (A Fear Street Novel)

Posted by – November 27, 2014

510pyx5CFtL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Don’t Stay Up Late is certainly a solid horror novel. The book sets you up with an unreliable narrator, functioning under the scary threat of mental illness—back to this in a second—; some good scares; plot twists; and misleading hints. Lisa, a newcomer to Shadyside, gets into a car accident that leaves her with mild brain damage, producing nightmares and hallucinations. At the urging of her therapist, she takes on a babysitting job, despite people’s warnings against it because of the family’s address on Fear Street. Lisa’s hallucinations begin again, but are they hallucinations? Because she sure as hell is not hallucinating all her friends getting killed off.

My main gripe with this book is primarily with the way mental illness is used in it. I’m sensitive to the way mental illness is portrayed in pop culture, due to my own history of depression and other people I know who have suffered from mental illness. Don’t Stay Up Late could be worse on this point. Unlike too many horror novels and movies to count, Stine primarily uses mental illnesses to create an unreliable narrator, not to create a threatening villain.

However, some aspects of this part of the book still bothered me.

The main thing that bothered me is how (spoiler) someone who is supposed to be helping Lisa cope with her trauma turns out to be one of the evil people. This feeds into the stigma of seeking appropriate treatment for mental health, and into the stereotype of psychologists as “shrinks” and “kooks.”

Second, the cops treat Lisa like shit because of her mental illness. This teaches kids that no one takes you seriously or respects you when you have a mental illness. Combined with the above point, an unintentional message of this book is that one shouldn’t talk about mental illness—you will either be misunderstood, or not listened to.

Third, and most important—why the hell does everyone keep letting a girl who hallucinates demons babysit a little kid?

The horror genre has a complicated relationship with mental illness, and this book demonstrates how even something that is not deliberately misrepresenting mental illness can contribute to societal stigmas. Mental illness is hugely misunderstood in general in this society and Don’t Stay Up Late is clearly more of a product of society than an aggressive contributor.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book because of the above reasons, but, those aside, I did really enjoy this book and think it had a fun and strong plot that will really appeal to Stine’s fans.

Pub date: April, 2015. 


Review: Elders by Ryan McIlvain

Posted by – July 11, 2013


McIlvain is very skilled at showing rather than telling, allowing the depth of his characters and their relationships with each other and their environments to sneak up on you. Early on, he demonstrates the way the Elders are growing closer with a simple yet perfect image of synchronized spontaneity: “Passos yelped, and McLeod too, like coon hunters, and instead of opening their umbrellas they took off running, downing the street at a sprint, laughing the whole way.”

I review Elders by Ryan McIlvain (Hogarth 2013) over at The Rumpus. 


“The Live One”

Posted by – July 1, 2013

I have a piece of flash fiction up at Flashes in the Dark. Check it out. 


Review: Mile Zero: Poems by Ryan W. Bradley

Posted by – June 30, 2013

mile zeroBradley’s poetry collection Mile Zero (Artistically Declined Press 2013)* is full of wonderful poems. The tendency toward the first-person makes it seem rather autobiographical; since this is poetry however, I do expect a blending of fact and fiction. There are lots of poems about love for his wife and his children. One of my favorites of these is “The Poetess in Me.” The imagery in this one in simple and beautiful:

The poetess in me speaks

in words I don’t understand,

like my wife’s body—such a mystery,

the way it works, lying naked in bed,

moving my fingers across her skin

like the best of anatomy lessons.**

In a less stylistic note, I also appreciate the gender-blending created by focusing specifically on the poetess in him.

However, I enjoyed the collection most when Bradley pushed himself a bit past the more straight-forward, autobiographical pieces. I loved “Aquarium,” which is still self-reflective, but is so by focusing on the world, and the unknowable qualities of the world, at large:

There are things happening,

behind closed doors maybe,

girls jumping

in the cramped space

of public restrooms

I also loved “Strippers Don’t Dance to the Beatles”:

Strippers don’t dance to the Beatles,

they save their jar-faces and swollen hearts

for the mirrors tucked in their purses.

“Strippers” especially demonstrates Bradley’s talent as it creates a dense and smoky atmosphere with the longer lines, the “d”s and the “s”s, the bruised and dark feeling of jar-faces and swollen hearts. These beautifully chosen phrases cloak the following line, “for the mirrors tucked in their purses”—a line with the potential to be just as superficial as it is desperate—with the feeling of dark, strip club hallways and objectifying glances.

“Dinner with the Family,” a portrait of a family at dinner, “feral beasts” and “artists” eating in a simultaneously destructive and creative frenzy, is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.

“Atlas, Missing Earth” and its page-mate “Peter Sears” are also both remarkable poems, as are the final two poems, “For the Love of Wings” and “Houdini Holds His Breath in the East River.” Like the much-loved “Strippers,” these four all find that magical balance of the personal and the transcendent, creating worlds in which words function both as practicalities and as art.

On a last note (and I believe Bradley already knows this), but I love the cover design.

*full disclosure: I’m online friends with the author, Ryan W. Bradley—in fact, Mile Zero was a gift from him to help me through a hard time. 

**In case it’s not obvious, all of the excerpts are only select sections from each poem, not the poem in its entirety.


The LEGO® House

Posted by – June 7, 2013

S51aebdb6b3fc4bf3fc0000db_the-big-lego-house-reveal_1-1000x500o LEGO® is building some super sweet “experience center” in Denmark that will resemble a bunch of LEGO® blocks stacked together in a neat, appealing, and accessible way. The Father (a.k.a The Architect Father) forwarded my family a video of the design, mainly because he thought we’d like the style of the video, but I also was interested in the unique features of the architecture itself.

The design looks very interactive and very fun, which is appropriate considering its future usage. There are lots of rooftop terraces, including what looks like a maze. The keystone, the block in the middle/top, is the one piece that truly resembles a LEGO®, complete with the little circles on top. The video also shows the final design being essentially all in white, which makes the bright furniture and occasional wall decorations, also shown in the video, really pop.

I can’t figure out how to embed videos from Vimeo, so here’s a link to the ArchDaily article on the design reveal.