Review: American Ghost: The True Story of a Family’s Haunted Past by Hannah Nordhaus

Posted by – May 18, 2015

1424449831_10985018_10152732145286032_866207991216639053_o“‘American Ghost’ is beautifully written and self-aware, a memoir that tells a story and searches for broader lessons. It addresses sexism and mental illness, connection to place, motherhood and anti-Semitism (the Staabs were Jewish). It’s not just a story of one woman, but the story of a family through generations.”

A long time ago, as in March, I reviewed American Ghost by Hannah Nordhaus for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

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Review: The Well by Catherine Chanter

Posted by – May 18, 2015

the-well-9781476772769_hr“Chanter writes in beautiful prose that reflects the beauty of Ruth’s surroundings. The unexplained mysticism that permeates the pages gives The Well the feel of a fairy tale, but the kind in which the evil stepsisters cut up their feet to fit into the slipper, not the Disney versions told today. This genre-bending story convincingly slips between the mystery genre and literary fiction, and this believability—and the writing style—are the novel’s biggest strengths.”

I review The Well by Catherine Chanter over at the Riveter magazine, a super awesome women’s longform magazine you should check out, if you’re not already familiar with them.

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Review: Writing Beat and Other Occasions of Literary Mayhem by John Tytell

Posted by – March 1, 2015

writing-beat“At times Tytell’s writing is glorious, as rich and beautiful as the Beats he is an expert in. At other times, he is clearly taken away by the sound of his own voice, delving into dangerous territory of earnest hyperbole, unnecessarily inflated language, and self-serving, self-centered cynicism posing as sarcasm. It’s difficult to discern how much of this is a dry humor, or mere bitterness—most likely, a combination of both.”

I reviewed Writing Beat and Other Occasions of Literary Mayhem by John Tytell for Hippocampus Magazine. (My first full-length review in about two years!) Check it out, and then browse the rest of the journal, for which I also help read submissions.

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Review Round-Up: Roxane Gay, Jennifer McMahon, Nick Cutter, and more

Posted by – March 1, 2015

18467818An Untamed State by Roxane Gay – This book SO GOOD. As you’ve probably heard, it’s pretty graphic in its depiction of violence. It’s about a wealthy Haitian woman who is kidnapped. I think it’s a very important read, and especially for those who want to put it down because it is a difficult read. I loved the relationship between the woman and her mother-in-law. I highly recommend this book.

51k5LpPja3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – A lot of people I know loved this book, so I went in with high expectations, but I didn’t end up loving it. That said, the relationship between the two main characters—the Golem and the Jinni—is so, so well done. There is technically no definitive romance between them, so whether their relationship involves romantic or platonic love is up for debate. I believe the former. But it’s the most natural depiction of really deep, true romantic love that I’ve perhaps ever read, at least recently, and I can’t put my finger on exactly why I think so.

rd-ghostRoald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories, edited by Roald Dahl – Alas, this is not a book of ghost stories Dahl wrote; it’s an anthology he curated. But, it’s really, really good. It’s full of obscure, lesser-known scary stories and it was a really good and refreshing read for someone who likes older (rather than contemporary) ghost stories. Highly recommend.

ows_138144185156646This House is Haunted by John Boyne – This book isn’t bad, but there are other books I’d recommend you read first. It’s a strong throwback to Victorian Gothic, and is about a young woman who impulsively takes a job as a governess at a house that appears to be haunted. I found the ending (the identity of the ghosts) to be predictable, but it was a quick and easy read.

18007535The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon – I loved this book. I read it in one sitting. The first two-thirds of it is probably one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read, like definitely in the top two or three. It follows three different woman, including one who has left a diary detailing the way she brought her daughter back from the dead, and, of course, these women’s lives eventually intertwine. I’m not too crazy about the ending—it was surprising, but lacked the otherwise very strong creep factor, and I think it was overly complicated in a way that wasn’t fully developed. But, I highly recommend it just for the creepiness.

The Deep by Nick Cutter – I did not like this book, but based on other reviews, it seems like I am in the minority here. I t41w1LmO1EXL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_hought it was totally nonsensical, in an undeveloped kind of way; overly confusing; trying to do too much; and ultimately justutterly boring. I almost didn’t finish it because it bored me so much. There’s an apocalyptic-type disease happening on Earth, and scientists think they’ve found this strange substance on the bottom of the ocean that can cure it. The main character’s brother is in the submarine studying this stuff, and the main character has been called to go down there because the ship has lost contact with the submarine and think something bad or strange has happened down there. Basically, evil stuff is happening and making people go crazy. But it keeps getting tied back to flashbacks and alludes (you get answers at the end, though) to the idea that this evil isn’t just at the bottom of the ocean but all around the world. I kind of felt like the evil presence was too similar to the villain from It by Stephen King but the book is not even close to as good. It’s not scary and doesn’t strike me as original, and I was totally bored.

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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.

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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. 

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