Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I'm a Wuss: A Tale of Two Books

I am a wuss.

Since I'm a wuss I don't read scary books. In the last 3-ish years I have probably read two of them and one of them has scarred me emotionally for life.

So in honor of Halloween, here's a post about the two scary books I've read.

American Psycho- Bret Easton Ellis
One of my nearest and dearest friends recommended this book to me.I knew that it would be a little bit out of my comfort zone, but I'm all about stretching out of my zone.
I shouldn't have.I shouldn't have stretched for this.
So this book is filled with torture,sexual torture,drugs, murder and all kinds of inter-workings of a super deranged mind.(Honestly I can't believe they made a movie out of this, is it rated X?) The book is interesting in that this man is insane, and yet he still holds down an important job,people go on dates with him,and no one seems to be like "do you think that guy is ok?". There is also the distinct possibility that everything he did was just imagined because he's INSANE and also high on cocaine.

World War Z - Max Brooks
One thing I'm actually not scared of is zombies. With my very tenuous grasp of science and how the body works I have decided that this really can't happen.(I won't listen to anyone who tries to convince me otherwise, it's a coping mechanism). So when ANOTHER dear friend recommended this book to me I was down.
This was a good stretch out of my comfort zone.
I really liked this book, borderline loved it. I liked how it was written in the past tense like a government report. I liked that it covered different places all around the world without feeling overly stretched. I was legitimately scared when they talked about how zombies could reach people on boats because they DON'T NEED AIR! (Strangled shriek).
(A note on the movie, I enjoyed the movie, but it's nothing like the book. Just know that.)

  (What do these books have in common? Sharp things. And bludgeoning.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Series Recommend: Maze Runner Trilogy

I have really come to appreciate the book series. Sometimes I struggle finding books to read that intrigue me and a good book series does the book planning for you. In honor of my occasional reading laziness I'm going to do a series of posts about different book series (serieses? series-usis?) that you may enjoy.

Due to the nature of it being a series some things may get a little *spoilery*. I will do my very best to keep it to a minimum, just enough to intrigue you to read them.

The first series we are going to talk about is the Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner. I heard about this series from watching an interview with Elizabeth Banks. An interviewer was asking her if she had read the Hunger Games series previous to being cast as Effie Trinket, she said that she hadn't but that she read them after she had been cast and it reminded her of the Maze Runner trilogy which she really enjoyed.

If it's good enough for someone from the Capitol it's good enough for us schmucks

The first book is Maze Runner.

It starts with our main character,Thomas waking up in a box. He doesn't know why he's there, he doesn't know how he got there, he doesn't know anything about himself, all he knows is that his name is Thomas. The box opens and he's surrounded by a group of boys, all about his age. He finds out that the box is kind of like an elevator from an unknown location to where they are now, the Glades. The Glades is a big open area surrounded by a complex maze. The maze is inhabited by things called Grievers (which sound gross by the descriptions lots of fleshy bits and stingers). The Grievers sting brings back memories of your past but it's incredibly painful and potential fatal.

The boys are organized into a little community, each with their own jobs. There are a special group of boys whose soul job is to try to find the end to the maze. They go out running for hours a day, always sure to be back by dusk so that when the doors to the maze close they are not stuck in the maze with the Grievers.
The day after Thomas arrives another person arrives in the box/elevator. For the first time ever, the inhabitant is a girl and she comes bearing the message that she is the last person that will be sent. Then she goes into a coma.

Thomas proves himself an valuable community member and becomes a head runner. He even saves some of his fellow runners by tricking some Grievers to fall of "the cliff" at the edge of the maze. Thomas and the girl (Teresa) realize that they can communicate telepathically and she tells him that "the end" will begin soon.

A very chaotic next few days follow where they realize that the maze was never meant to be solved, it was just designed as test, a cruel joke by the people who put them there- The Creators.Once the mystery of the maze is solved, and with over half of their group killed by Grievers, they group finds themselves in a whole new scenario when the REAL trouble starts.

I'm not going to go into the second and third books but let's just say that the kids don't find themselves in a much better situation. There is intrigue, lies, betrayal and murder most foul....

If you're intrigued, pick them up at your local library!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Book Review: "Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir" - Jenna Lawson

Jenna Lawson is a popular blogger who has turned her lifetime of awkwardness and somewhat horrifying life situations into an amusing, though sometimes repetitive book. (Doesn't this book review dovetail nicely with last Saturday's "Self Inflicted Wounds" review? That's not on accident).

Jenna talks about her childhood growing up in the tiny town of Wall, Texas. Her Dad is an amateur taxidermist which makes for some of the greatest stories in the book (most of them have to do with dead animals in inappropriate situations and places). She meets her husband, gets married and gets out of Wall as fast as she can. She works in HR for a long time and then starts her popular blog.

Jenna is up front with the medical conditions that plays a part in most of her stories: she has OCD, an anxiety disorder, and depression.She also had some miscarriages due to a blood disorder. When you learn about these conditions it makes her stories make more sense. She gets into several awkward situation because she feels like people are staring at her, so she blurts out inappropriate things and then hides in the bathroom. My favorite stories in the book all had to do with the critters in their lives.Some alive, some definitely dead, and some reanimated after death by the taxidermy Dad (Stanley the Magic Squirrel!)

                      (This isn't the magic squirrel. This is just a squirrel.)

I gave this book a 2.5 stars out of 5.The book was funny, especially the beginning with her crazy childhood but it does wear a little bit.But then it starts to get repetitive and wear a little thin. At some points you want to just shake her and be like "you don't have to always be in these situations! I know you don't like the robot voice bossing you around on your GPS but then you won't get lost all the time!" Maybe (for me) I'd enjoy the blog format a little bit better than the whole book. But if you're looking for a funny book (with cuss words, if that matters to you) that makes you feel good that you can go to the grocery store without getting lost, this is a book for you.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Is this really a children's book? Because I'm a little scared.

Fall is here. I have very mixed feelings about fall. I love fall because of: wearing cute scarves without sweating,apple cider, camping trips where there aren't tornadoes and the color changes. I hate fall because it means that winter is next and I get sick of winter after about 2 weeks.

A sure harbinger of fall for me is re-reading Ray Bradbury's "The Halloween Tree". 

The book follows a group of young boys in a small Midwestern town on Halloween night. It's time for trick or treating but one of their motley crew is sick and then goes missing. The mysterious Mr Moundshroud, who lives in the creepiest house ever says he can help the boys find their missing friend.This takes them across time and space and all around the world witnessing the beginnings of what we know as Halloween.They start seeing a funeral  in ancient Egypt in a mysterious pyramid. They travel to wild, pre-Roman Ireland to see Druids, they spend time in Notre Dame in France (my favorite scene) and off to Mexico to see the Day of the Dead.There's a very poignant moment at the end that makes you think about how to best live our short lives here on earth and what sacrifices we are willing to make for friends.

Having said all of this, it's not for all kids. There's a lot of talk of death and spooky creatures. I get tingles in my spine when he describes the children's visit to Ireland and to Notre Dame.(Did you ever wonder how the gargoyles get up on those ledges? You find out.It's awesome).So maybe it's just for brave kids and wussy adults?

This book is great for (at least) 3 reasons:

1. Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud is the best name for a Halloween character ever.
2.The descriptions of the autumnal nights are so spot on.You can practically see the dead leaves tumbling down empty small town streets.
3.The kids are detailed and deep characters. They aren't flat and uninteresting.

"Suddenly the day was gone, night came out from underneath each tree and spread..." (Bwahahahaha)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: "Firestarter" by Stephen King

Stephen King is fascinating. Did you know that he was so deep into drugs and alcohol that he doesn't remember writing "Cujo"? Thankfully he's wrestled with his demons and has put that behind him. Now he's just a guy who writes really frightening stories while he's sober. Hooray! (Hooray?) Also the man owns a corgi, so he's got excellent taste in pets.

The latest book that I have read by Mr King is "Firestarter". This is in no way a new book. (Even if he wrote this book last year it wouldn't be his latest book, the man is a book writing machine!)

"Firestarter" is the tale of two college kids that meet in an unusual way. They are both hard up for money so they volunteer for medical trials run by a crazy psychology professor, with the help of a shady government organization that's kind of like the CIA but with more mind altering drugs. The $200 that they made that day was not enough to make up for the disasters that would become their lives. They end up falling in love,getting married and having a baby, thinking their mind altering experience in their clinical trial was a thing of the past. Until the baby starts crying when a diaper needs changed and sets the curtains on fire.They realize that they have passed along something unnatural to their child and that they are all at risk.

I don't want to give a whole lot away (even though the book is at least 25 years old and there is a movie) but one day the government comes a-knockin (and by a-knockin I mean a-kidnapping) and the family goes on the run (sans one member who was tortured and killed by the G-men).They find safety, (thanks to the help of strangers and some psychological/brain hacking)  for a little while; but fire,death,destruction,experimentation,drugs and abduction ensue. It ends poorly for juuuust about everyone.

Also I feel like in every Stephen King book that I have read there is someone with a sexual fetish or proclivity. I had to wait until about halfway into the book to find this one. (Cross dressing man, ah-ha found you!)

"Firestarter" gets 3 out of 5 stars from me.I was fascinated/horrified by the idea of this couple being able to pass on these crazy psychological traits to their child. But the best part is when they are on the run, towards the middle it gets a little ho-hum until the fiery conclusion.Stephen King does not need drugs and the hooch to be compelling.The man can be scary all by himself.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book Review: "Self-Inflicted Wounds:Heart Warming Tales of Epic Humiliation" by Aisha Tyler

I have a major girl crush on Aisha Tyler. She's beautiful and hilarious and smart and talented and I really would like to be best of friends with her. But she's too busy, I don't think she has time for best friends. Since I can't be friends with her in real life I read her book instead.

"Self-Inflicted Wounds" comes from a segment in her podcast (called Girl on Guy) in which her guest has to tell a story about something ridiculous that happened to them that they brought on themselves. It usually isn't a physical wound, it's usually more emotional and psychological  (Though I just heard one where the guest confessed to punching himself in the face multiple times for a week to try to toughen himself up for his tae kwan do practice).  Since Aisha asks this of all of her guests and hadn't really confessed to any of her own wounds she wrote a book to even the score.

This book is funny.Like, sitting in your living room by yourself, laugh out loud funny. Her stories start when she is very small when she almost impales herself on a spring of a discarded hobby horse. They continue all the way up to her adulthood including interesting moments from her career.

                (This is the kind of horse but with less protective features)

It's pretty much an autobiography told through the lens of all of her worst moments.At first I thought this might be cringe-inducing, but she manages to tell all the stories with humor and grace so you don't feel bad for laughing.

I gave it 4 out of 5 stars because it made me laugh and made me feel better about myself. Also she loves Ray Bradbury, and that is worth half of a star all day,everyday and twice on Sundays.

Call me Aisha.Please.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I Wouldn't Be Me, Without You Being You! (Part 2)

Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis

My good friend Jen (Hi Jen!) gets the most credit for introducing me to this book so thanks Jen!
Jen (and others) knew of my love for C.S. and that I had never actually gotten around to reading Mere Christianity, one of his most widely read adult books. Last summer Jen and I took a little girlfriend trip to our fair nation's capitol. We spent the days pounding the pavement from metro stops to museums to eateries to the Pentagon and all places in between.(All of these places were open when we went.) In the evenings we would put on our swimsuits,gather our entertainment and sit next to the pool on our hotels rooftop deck. (It was awesome. The Liaison Hotel in DC if anyone is looking for a lovely reasonably priced place near Union Station). So we set up shop (for hours) on comfortable lawn furniture with chips and guacamole and an adult beverage from the rooftop bar (holla!).

 I cracked Mere Christianity and within minutes of starting it began interrupting Jen's reading usually with "Holy crap, listen to this..." and reading her a passage from the book. I was stunned by this book. Rocked back in my proverbial spiritual shoes. The things that he talks about (Christian struggles with our faith in this world, etc.) felt like it was written just to me and my heart. I own 2 copies of this book, one with all of my highlighting and scratching and a second new one. That way when someone is at my apartment and says they haven't read it I can instantly put a copy in their hands (because I'm pushy like that).

Since I can't really do a 5 second summary on Mere Christianity here is my favorite quote.Its weird to read out of context but the metaphor is that life is represented by a hallway and various faiths by the doors:

"The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling. When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house. "

American Gods - Neil Gaiman

As I mentioned in my Part 1 post, I was late to the Neil Gaiman party. The first book I read by him was "The Graveyard Book", which is technically a kids book (judge me, do it).I liked it and went on the prowl for another of his books, maybe something meant for adults. I found American Gods.
It was a shock to the system. The story is complex and wide reaching and has a lot of characters. It was also incredibly sexual and violent and sometimes super confusing but it was worth every minute and re-read page. And as I mentioned before, the man can write a great character. You are still trying to decide who is the bad guy and who is the good guy, and then are there really any good guys or bad guys? How long is Shadow going to stay angry at Zombie Wife? I don't often buy books, as a devoted library user, but as soon as I finished I went to my closest Barnes and Noble and got my grubby hands on a copy.
Also a lot of it is set in Wisconsin. (I want to do a AG road trip sometime).

5 second summary: A guy (Shadow) gets out of prison the day after his loving wife dies in a car accident.He starts working as a bodyguard for a con man who is super skeezy and shifty (as con man often are) and then Shadow finds himself caught in a battle between old gods and new, American gods. Totally nonsensical right? I know, but it's worth it.Give it a shot.

Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury

I don't remember where I first read this book. And I don't really have any good stories about this book. Even though Ray is most well known for F.451 I think that this book embodies all of his great qualities.Wonderful characters, relationships (friend/friend, son/parent), how relationships change, and the biggest fear of all: getting exactly what you want. As we know, sometimes that ends poorly. My favorite scene is in the beginning with one of the boy's father talking about libraries and what makes them so magical. I feel like every time I read this I see something that I didn't see before.

5 second summary: 2 boys (Jim and Will) are so excited to see that a mysterious carnival has set up in their little Illinois town.But then the boys start seeing things that scare and intrigue them and figure out that Mr Coogan and Mr Dark's carnival is more (and much worse) than it seems.

Exodus- Leon Uris

About 7 to 8 years ago I was trying to remember a movie that I had seen a snippet of as a young child. I described the scene I remembered to my mom ("Mom, what movie might I have seen where there's an Arab man hanging somewhere in the dessert and he has a Star of David painted on his chest?"). To my mother's credit she actually knew what I was talking about. She told me it was based on a book about Jews trying to establish the State of Israel in the Middle East after World War II. A lesson I learned quite young was , always listen to Mom when she gives book recommendations.One of the greatest things about Exodus,and Uris books in general, is that he writes strong women characters. Very few fainting violets, lots of girls who can handle a gun!

So in the movie Ari is played by the legendary Paul Newman. The movie is worth watching for the occasional shirtless scenes alone!

5 second summary: An American nurse names Kitty travels to Haifa or Jaffa (I think) to help care for Jewish refugees who have fled Europe and are waiting to get into Palestine. She meets a brash (and super foxy) Jewish man who is fighting to establish Israel, Ari. The story is about their relationship, Ari's relationship with his fellow fighters, what happens when Israel is established and ends with a stunning blow of a loss.

Phew, these posts are long! They will not usually be this long. Thanks for sticking it out!

Monday, October 14, 2013

I Wouldn't Be Me, Without You Being You!

Originally this post was going to be about some of my favorite authors. But picking favorite authors is like picking between your children (or in my case, pets...or something. I don't have kids,whatever you know what I mean).
So instead of saying "favorite" authors I decided to go with "most influential in my reading life" authors.It was still tough to hack the list down to 5. 

Here they are in no particular order:

William Shakespeare
He's kind of an indie author I don't know if you've heard of him.He's pretty underground.
(Joke break, why did the hipster burn his mouth? Because he ate his pizza before it was cool. Bazinga. Back to our originally scheduled programming.)
I did the Shakespeare thing in high school (like almost everyone else) and I really enjoyed it because I had several enthusiastic teachers who made all of it make sense. In college I had ANOTHER teacher who really made Shakespeare interesting and through that teacher I ended up interning with a local Shakespeare company in town. Seeing people passionate about Shakespeare and theater and seeing the fabulous plays that they did has made Shakespeare have a permanent spot in my heart.
(Don't ever call him Willy Shakespeare, I will cut you.)

Margaret Atwood
Stop reading this, go to your local library or book store, get the Handmaid's Tale, read it, be stupefied and amazed, come back and continue reading. I'll wait......So now that you know the book that made Ms Atwood famous take it as a jumping off point to read her Maddaddam Trilogy.Margaret Atwood was the first female author that I read that blew my mind and I'm eternally thankful. She is also really active on twitter.And she's Canadian,which has nothing to do with anything but it's a fact.

Ray Bradbury
 A love letter from me to Ray could go on for pages and pages.Well, not to to Ray, but to his work. Though when he died last year I was legitmatley heartbroken. I (like a ton of others) started with Ray's Fahrenheit 451. (No matter how many times I read that book I will never be able to spell Fahrenheit right on the first try). Ray is a wordsmith.His descriptions are so detailed and wonderful that when he talks about late fall evenings you can feel the warm breeze on your face and hear the leaves that swirl down an empty street. After falling in love with 451 I started to work my way through the considerably sized Bradbury canon. The biggest effect that Ray had on my early reading years is that sci-fi/fantasy/supernaturally stuff is not all aliens and witches and is not just for D&D nerds and the like. He made this genre feel accessible to me and not something that I'd be embarrassed to confess to reading.

Neil Gaiman
I'm incredibly late to the Neil Gaiman party. People have been rabid for this man for a long time and I just found him this past year.Better late than never, yeah? (This was my own fault because generally I try to avoid reading the "it" book by the "it" author and sometimes/often it bites me in the ass, case and point - Neil). I'm going to be talking specifically about one of his books in another of my posts but Neil has a Bradbury-like quality about great descriptions and amazing characters. This man makes the best villains in literary existence. Ever. Thanks goes to Neil for showing me that sometimes authors are the "it" author because they are the sh"it".

(Did you see me fall off the no swearing wagon? Especially right before we talk about C.S.? Impeccable timing, as always).

C.S. Lewis
C.S. is beyond words for me. I remember reading the Screwtape Letters and I kept gasping. I kept thinking "You too? I thought I was the only one!." In short, besides the Bible, many of C.S.'s books have been huge influences on my faith and my spirituality.He takes the abstract and the heavy and makes it approachable and understandable. He's also funny. He's also a quote machine.Like almost everything the man writes could be embroidered on a pillow. (I also have a funny story about Mere Christianity that will come up later.I know I will read his books for the rest of my life and I no matter how often I read them my soul will feel refreshed and my heart at ease. Oh C.S., thank you.

There they are! Did any of mine overlap with any of your most influential authors?

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Oh my goodness, my first blog post on my first blog ever (unless the short lived Backstreet Boys fan site that I had in 8th grade counts, but it probably doesn't). I hope that I will love blogging and that you will love reading it.  

The blog title is an homage to my favorite author ever, Ray Bradbury. He said that his family was too poor to send him to college so he taught himself by pretty much living at the library and reading everything that he could get his hands on. I was lucky enough to go to college, though I still think I've done some of my best learning through life experiences and books from the library.

This will primarily be a book blog, but don't be surprised if random bits of my life pop in here and there! Books are wonderful and important but so is time with a husband, family, friends and other fun activities. 

I can't wait to spend time with you all!