When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

This is a pretty spectacular book, not leastly because it references A Wrinkle in Time, one of my favorite books and also a favorite of the main character, Miranda.

There’s no real way to summarize this book, because it’s largely confusing, but let’s look at a couple paragraphs from the opening pages:

“I check the box under my bed, which is where I’ve kept your notes these past few months. There it is, in your tiny handwriting: April 27th: Studio TV-15, the words all jerky-looking, like you wrote them on the subway. Your last ‘proof.’

“I still think about the letter you asked me to write. It nags at me, even though you’re gone and there’s no one to give it to anymore. Sometimes I work on it in my head, trying to map out the story you asked me to tell, about everything that happened this past fall and winter. It’s all still there, like a movie I can watch when I want to. Which is never.”

Dude. Love it.

So over the next couple hundred pages, Miranda basically lays out the story that this mysterious note-writer is asking her about, which involves normal everyday 12-year-old things like going to school, falling out with a friend, making new friends, avoiding the homeless guy on the corner, getting a parent ready to compete on The $20,000 Pyramid… okay, maybe not entirely normal, but not abnormal, either. And of course it gets even less normal when Miranda starts getting notes from someone who seems to know a lot more about Miranda’s life than she’s entirely comfortable with.

But the notes and the whole Wrinkle-y sci-fi aspect are practically unimportant for most of the story, which is what I think sells this book to me more than anything. I love a good tesser as much as the next person (or probably more), but I love the time that Stead spends developing Miranda and making me really root for her even when she’s doing some stupid stuff. And she weaves the weird notes and such in extremely well, so that when you find out what’s going on (well, to the extent that you do), you’re like, “Ohhhhhhh, nice!” rather than, “Well, DUH.” Which is probably harder to do than I think it is.

Basically, you should just go read this book. Now. Go.

Recommendation: The last sentence, unless you are really against things that make your head hurt a little bit. Just a little. It’s more like a tingle. And often like a tickle.

Rating: 9.5/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Stainless Steel Droppings
At Home With Books
Maw Books Blog
Library Queue

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson certainly knows how to do creepy well. I read her short novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle for last year’s RIP Challenge, so grabbing another book by her seemed very smart for this year’s!

The premise of the book is that there is a fellow, Dr. Montague, who is conducting some experiments at a place called Hill House. Basically, he’s heard some stories about the house being haunted and basically uninhabitable, and he’s hoping to make some notes on any phenomena he might come across. He takes on a couple of assistants, including Eleanor Vance, our protagonist. Eleanor and the others spend several nights in the house, observing some interesting things like something banging on doors, a very cold spot where no draft could come through, and the same or another something writing messages on walls. But even with all of the house’s oddities, Eleanor finds herself starting to really love the house… perhaps too much?

Because that’s what the book is really about. Eleanor has been essentially a shut-in for 11 years, taking care of her mother, and her sister doesn’t respect her, and Eleanor has no friends or self-confidence until she shows up at Hill House. And then she tries a little too hard to be BFF(aeae)s with everyone, and of course it doesn’t work quite that well, and so she makes friends with the only thing left to be friends with β€” the creepy house. Which goes about as well as you might expect.

I’ll admit I was hoping for something a little scarier when I picked this up, but I am perfectly content with the psychological creep factor β€” I certainly understand the feeling of being shut in and having no one to hang out with, though I hope that my friends who have to love me through the Internet would keep me from getting eaten by a haunted house. You would, right? Please?

Ahem. So Jackson hits the interpersonal relations right on the nose, with the “lets be best friends!” attitude of strangers living together that slowly erodes into a “lets avoid each other like the plague!” when the people realize they don’t actually like each other all that much, and with the clingy “wait let’s still be frieeeeends” Eleanor, and especially with the pitch-perfect passive-aggressive Theo. Jackson also nails the creepy-haunted-house bit with the banging on the walls and the spinning room and the “oh, that’s really creepy” moment between Eleanor and Theo. And THEN she offers up an excellent person going slowly and inexorably insane.

Basically I’m going to have to marry Shirley Jackson. Don’t tell Scott.

Recommendation: For those who like a bit of psychological creepiness in their cereal, and who don’t mind if that’s the only kind of creepiness. Not for those who are looking for people popping out from behind doors, wielding knives and severed heads.

Rating: 9/10
(RIP Challenge, A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
books i done read
Reading matters
things mean a lot
A Striped Armchair
Well-Mannered Frivolity

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Y: The Last Man Book 1, by Brian K. Vaughan

I’m getting smart on this A to Z Challenge thing and picking books to read from my long TBR list on GoodReads. Birds! Stones!

This book is the first volume of the collection of Y: The Last Man comic books. In this set we learn that some mysterious and possibly ooky thing has eliminated all of chromosomally male creatures on earth (humans, monkeys, chinchillas, whatever), except for one human, Yorick, and his monkey, Ampersand. Yorick has no idea why he’s still alive, but he’s more worried about finding his girlfriend slash possible fiancΓ©e than pretty much anything else.

Of course, there are other players in this new world β€” at the beginning of the comic we are introduced to a woman with an amulet that too many people want to get their hands on, an Israeli army officer who gets a quick promotion after all the dying, a scientist with a cloned fetus that dies during birth (the fetus, not the scientist), a secret agent known only as 355, a group of “Amazons” who cut off their breasts and fight with bows and arrows and generally want to kill men and also women who don’t follow their path, and a majority Democratic government under siege by the wives of the Republican congressmen who died.

There is a lot of stuff going on here, and I am intrigued to see how it plays out in the future, but I’m not terribly thrilled with the characters or the storyline thus far, probably because everything is in big-time Exposition Mode. I think I’ll give the next volume a chance and see what happens.

Recommendation: Good for fans of apocalyptic and other generally problem-ridden universes, and those with an eye for pop-culture references.

Rating: 7/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain

Another Cain! I really like this guy’s work.

This book is more like The Postman Always Rings Twice than Mildred Pierce, because there’s more murder plotting, but it of course still has that don’t-trust-charismatic-people aspect to it. So good.

And the murder plotting here is EXCELLENT, because the murderer fellow, who is again offing a lust-object’s husband, is an insurance agent and he knows what has to be done to make a murder play out like an accident. So there is lots of planning and trickery and secrets.

But of course there are more secrets than just this planned murder, as our murderer discovers AFTER he’s done all this work, and those combined with the fact that he works with at least one good insurance agent who has totally figured out that there was a murder but can’t quite prove it make this novel wonderfully suspenseful.

The ending is great as well; it combines a few excellent surprising endings that I’ve read before and makes them more interesting. It’s just a good time all around!

Also, just a few pages into this book I realized that I had watched the movie version in my freshman English class, though I didn’t remember it terribly well because I’m pretty sure the noir voice-over aspect put me to sleep. Definitely a more gripping book.

Recommendation: Good for those who like suspense and slowly unveiled evil characters, and also those who would like tips on planning a perfect murder.

Rating: 9/10
(RIP Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain

I read Mildred Pierce for my book club a little while ago and loved it, so the fact that I had a couple other Cain works sitting in anthology form turned out to be an excellent thing.

Of course, The Postman Always Rings Twice isn’t really anything like Mildred Pierce. In Mildred, Cain writes a moderately creepy story about the power of especially charismatic people, while in Postman… no, wait, it’s still about the power of especially charismatic people. But here there be MURDERERS. That’s the difference. Not such a big one, really.

Postman is about a drifter fellow who very quickly falls in love (well, lust) with a married woman and just as quickly they are planning her husband’s death. They try once and fail, then try again and succeed, but of course murdering someone isn’t really something you can get away with so easily, especially when an insurance company is involved.

The trial bit is what I think I liked the best… my husband’s in law school so he’s always coming home with very strange hypothetical and real cases, but this one takes the cake, especially in the way the lawyer uses all sorts of lawyer-y tricks that baffle and confuse and amaze me in the end.

I also liked that the narrator turns out to be possibly unreliable (not even definitely unreliable, how cool is that), and also the way the whole ending plays out, from the betrayals to the justice.

But it is a short book (~100 pages), so really you should just go read it.

Recommendation: Not for people who love their characters, but definitely for people who love their plots. Also for budding lawyers who want some true genius to aspire to, but not for those who want to have, like, integrity.

Rating: 8/10
(RIP Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Dead-Tossed Waves, by Carrie Ryan

So I kinda sorta rather enjoyed The Forest of Hands and Teeth, to which this book is a companion (not so much sequel). Forest was full of interesting zombies and deep dark secrets and a trial of faith and although I didn’t think it a particularly good book, I thought it was very entertaining.

This book… less so. At first I was all excited because the main character here is Gabrielle, not Mary of the first book, and in the first book Gabrielle is the zombie chick that caused a lot of problems. I thought perhaps this was going to be a sort of companion book that talked about Gabrielle’s life and how she ended up in Mary’s town. Then, crushing disappointment when I found out that the Gabrielle in this book is actually Mary’s daughter.

So we have fast-forwarded many years to the future. And nothing much has changed. Mary has settled in by that ocean she had longed for, where Gabrielle β€” Gabry β€” has learned all about the Mudo (previously the Unconsecrated) and how lame they are and how they want to nom people. Nonetheless, she sneaks out with a bunch of people to go play in Mudo territory and of course the Mudo attack and Gabry’s boy-thing is bited and she runs away and her friends get caught and sentenced to a Really Bad Rest of Their Lives and then Gabry’s bff blackmails her into going out to rescue said bff’s brother slash Gabry’s boy-thing. But of course, this is not very easy, especially when Gabry starts falling in love with another boy.

And that is where I got distinctly displeased with this book. It was like the Hunger Games books all over again, with the indecision and the boys mooning and FOR SERIOUSLY it needs to stop. Bring me more zombies!

But the zombies are mostly lacking in this book, at least until the end when there are a disgustingly large amount of them, and the love story was certainly not as compelling as the deep dark secrets of the first book. Like the Hunger Games before it, I am sure I will read the third novel in this series in the hopes that it will be as awesome as the first book. I hope I’m not disappointed again!

Recommendation: Not for the zombie lover, or those with an allergy to dramaful love stories. At this point, I would definitely stop after The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

Rating: 6/10
(RIP Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Chrisbookarama
Shhh I’m Reading…
Book Addiction
Persnickety Snark
Devourer of Books

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Word Freak, by Stefan Fatsis

I picked this book up a while back, started reading it, and then forgot about it in favor of made-up stories. Word Freak wasn’t boring, exactly, but it wasn’t as exciting as other books that I had piled up, and so off to the side it went. And then I discovered it was due back to the library, with no chance to renew it, and the book proved its interestingness by popping right back into my hands rather than going back to the library unread.

I picked this book up because it promised, right on the cover, to be about “Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive SCRABBLE Players,” and I am nothing if not a giant nerd for all things words. I don’t play Scrabble very often, but I used to play the Yahoo! Games version constantly in high school and I’ve always been a pretty okay player against my friends, largely because I know a lot of words.

But dudes. I would have no chance against any of the players in this book, even the author. I sort of knew that there was a competitive Scrabble community, but I did not realize the extent of the memorizing and calculating and sheer mental strength having that members of said community possess. Playing upwards of 10 games in a tournament on a fairly regular basis? I would be bored after, like, three. All of which I would have lost due to not knowing really really really obscure words and anagrams and how to manage a rack or the board or my brain.

Fatsis plopped himself into this world ten-ish years ago, first to write this book and then because he was obsessed. So about half the book is Fatsis talking about other players and their strange, Scrabble-obsessed lives and the other half is him talking about omg why is his rating so baaaaaad? Which it’s not, of course, but people who are really good at things are also really good at thinking they’re bad at things.

I think the best parts of this book were the games themselves; I enjoyed seeing strange words score lots of points and especially to see an interesting board layout. But I also thought it was interesting to see what sorts of people are the high-rated experts in competitive Scrabble… Fatsis focuses on some of the craziest people, though he insists that there are sane people who are good at Scrabble. These crazy people tend to have no jobs or lives outside of the game, and yet somehow their weird quirks and whatnot start to seem normal as the book goes on.

And now I’m itching to break out my Travel Scrabble set, except that those tiles are so hard to pop into the little holders! I should really get a real board.

Recommendation: Read this if you like to read interesting stories about oddly interesting people, or if you think you’re good at Scrabble, because you’re probably not.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles, by Kira Henehan

This list of Novels I Don’t Understand, Not One Bit is getting longer by the week! I picked this one up primarily because of the title, but also because the jacket copy made it sound like it could be a long-lost cousin of the Thursday Next series, which I adore.

However, Finley (the heroine of this story) has nothing on Thursday. Nothing at all. Unless she does, which I wouldn’t know because I know next to nothing about Finley! She’s a detective, of some sort, and she may or may not be Russian, and she may or may not be an amnesiac, and she definitely does not like puppets except for tiny ones, and… that’s it, I think. That’s what I’ve got.

And I might have given up on this book, except that unlike The Quickening Maze, there seemed to be at least some sort of discernable plot line β€” specifically that Finley was meant to be investigating a guy who makes puppets. I don’t know why, even now, but it seemed like I might find out. But I didn’t. I got to the end and there was a “reveal” that revealed NOTHING and I really have no idea what happened in this book. Like, at all. It is possible that I went temporarily insane during the read-a-thon and forgot how to read and that’s why I don’t understand this book… but it’s probably actually the book’s fault. Can someone come explain this to me? Please?

Recommendation: Read this book if you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I like Samuel Beckett, but there’s just too much meaning in his works. I want something more abstract.”

Rating: 5/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Death Note Vol. 5, by Tsugumi Ohba

Another one of these Death Note books… in this one things get rather more wonky than they have been previously, which is to say VERY WONKY.

Light gives up his Death Note (that thing that lets him kill criminals), and with it his memories of using said Note, which leaves him wondering if he could ever have been Kira β€” could he kill people in the name of justice? He thinks probably not. Mmhmm.

And he does it in a pretty strange fashion… he lets L (the guy trying to find Kira) see him locked up, with no one dying, then after he doesn’t remember anything anymore a third Kira starts killing people, so now L thinks maybe the power just gets passed around? And maybe Light was Kira but now he’s not? Which seems like not the right way to go about it, but okay. Also, L is a jerk and spends too much time testing people and eating cake and not enough actually solving crimes, so far as I can tell. What will the next book bring?

Recommendation: Um, well, you’ll want to start at the beginning. But I would definitely recommend this series to anyone who is intrigued by ethical dilemmas and doesn’t mind being very confused very often.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby is one of those authors whose work I see everywhere but never get around to reading. But rather than letting him languish in a TBR pile somewhere, as I end up doing to most such authors, I decided to actually possibly read one of his books. I recruited my Mary friend to tell me all about his books and which one(s) I should read (verdict: all of them) and ended up starting at the beginning with this, his first novel.

And I didn’t really know what to expect… I knew only that Hornby had sort of a thing for music, and that Mary really liked him. But when I opened the book to find a list staring at me? I love lists. Lists and I are very good friends. Rob and I could probably not be friends because of our differing tastes in music, but if we could be, I would like to be friends with Rob. And his lists.

Of course, there’s more to the story β€” that first list is about Rob’s top five most memorable split-ups, and he’s writing it as part of a letter of sorts to the woman who’s just broken up with him after several(?) years of dating. And he’s generally mopey about the split, and trying to figure out how to move on, and the reader soon finds out that Rob’s not exactly a completely innocent party in this whole thing, and also he’s stuck in a career rut after the fallout from one of those top five relationships, and it’s sort of a mid-life coming of age novel.

I liked it for the most part; the ending gets a little sappy and less than realistic but mostly manages to save itself from becoming, what, syrup? And I definitely cringed a bit when [spoiler alert, if you can have one 15 years after the fact?] Rob and Laura decide to stay together out of what seems to be sheer laziness, but it’s definitely an in-character decision so I suppose I must respect it, even if I don’t like it.

Recommendation: I would recommend this to pretty much anyone; I don’t think it really occupies any sort of reading niche. I imagine you might enjoy it or understand it better if you knew anything about the music and movies and whatnot that Rob likes, but it’s clearly not required.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
books i done read

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.