Tag Archives: horror; love story

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

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“he knows that it’s impossible to tell a wolf
from a man if
he keeps his chin up
and his teeth clean.”-Sharp Teeth

What drew me to this book?  Was it the short and snappy title?  The stark cover?  Is it simply impossible for me to want to read anything but horror this summer?

No matter the reason, I found myself picking up a copy of Sharp Teeth and was subsequently sucked into an alternative reality of Los Angeles: a place spread out over the desert where wild dogs fight for power, money, and love.  Written in free verse, it reads like an epic poem; a classic tale of a hero on a journey fighting an enemy and winning the love of a fair lady.

In short, the novel centers around Anthony, a dog catcher who falls in love with an unnamed werewolf who just left her pack.  Their romance buds in the midst of a gritty and apocalyptic LA, where werewolves slip between their human and dog forms as their competition builds up to an inevitable war.  The plot is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, or West Side Story.  There’s impending chaos, but the beauty of the story is how love endures within the storm.

The most striking thing about the book is the metaphor of what the werewolves symbolize.  It’s not just a story about werewolves engaged in gang wars, but how we all have a little dog inside us; a wildness that we can learn to control, but not always.

Most of the time, the werewolves can turn into humans or into a dog whenever they wish.  When they are about to fight or kill, most often they revert to their wild side and become a dog.  However, they prefer to make love in human form.  The process of the characters changing into dogs represents their resignation to their basic, barbaric side.  As dogs, they can fight and kill with no remorse.  As humans, they are held to the same societal norms as everyone else.

Lark, a former alpha werewolf from one of the packs, is the character that stands apart because for him, turning into a dog is an escape from human responsibilities.  As a dog, he prefers to enjoy the freedom and simplicity that comes with being an animal by being with his “owner.”

Supporting the romance, action, and metaphor of this book is how the book is structured.  The free verse strategy makes you slow down and savor the words.  Otherwise, with the intense action the reader would easily slide through the story without taking time to appreciate some beautiful anecdotes.  I’ll end this review with one such example:

“Everyone is always looking in the wrong direction,
we worry about our lovers while losing our jobs
we stress out about cancer while our children run away
we ponder the stars while burning the earth.
Lark used to say the bullet we’re running from
is almost never the one that hits us.”

 

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Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

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Summer is in full swing and for a few months I am not a student who is also working two part time jobs. That means that my schedule is full of opportunities to read, and reading I have been doing. Guilty pleasure reading that is. My plan to tackle the behemoth that is Infinite Jest was put on the back burner when I stumbled across the horror novel Let Me In by the Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist. An anti-Twilight vampire romance/horror novel? My curiosity thus piqued, I began the ultimate descent into a Swedish vampire nightmare.

The book begins with introducing a young boy Oskar, who is a loner and frequently bullied at his school. One day he meets a young girl, Eli, at his apartment whom he befriends and falls in love with; even as he becomes more aware of her increasingly bizarre habits and behaviors. Peppered in with the central story are other characters within the town. There’s a group of poor alcoholic peers dealing with their own issues and the mysterious murder of one of their friends, the bully’s point of view, and a teenage boy living in Oskar’s apartment complex. Eli’s “father” is given his own storyline as well. I am still deciding whether or not I like this tactic. On one hand, using multiple characters and perspectives, Lindqvist transforms the novel from a simple bloody horror fest to a sort of social commentary on the poor and overlooked population in Sweden. However, I found myself caring more about Oskar and Eli and wished their relationship and plot line had been more flushed out.

This is a heavy, dark book, and not just because of the vampire aspect. Pedophilia, genital mutilation, violence, alcoholism, poverty, and loneliness are all equally prominent themes which together create a sense of pure dread. I took longer to read this book than I expected because I needed to take frequent breaks and watch something funny on Netflix to mitigate the effects this story had on me.

On the other hand, this book is very well written and fans of the horror genre will not be disappointed. It’s creepy in a way that it sneaks up on you, making you feel like you’re walking down a dark street and are positive someone is following you, even though you keep turning around and see nothing.

As people have said before, this is the ultimate anti-Twilight book. It’s a vampire love story, but it’s not sparkly skin and Robert Pattinson’s pouty expression. It takes the erotic themes associated with vampires and twists them in a way that is satisfyingly disturbing to a horror fan like me.

Curl up in a blanket, and invite this book in.

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2014 Books: A Summary

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My failure to post for the past several months is a result of moving to Turkey and being too busy getting acclimated to my new environment and reading to write.  Though my blogging has been scarce, I have gotten more reading done in the past four months than I’ve ever had the chance to do in my life.  I love my host city in Turkey, but there’s not a lot to do so I’ve been walking a lot and have discovered the wonder of audio books.  Get exercise and read at the same time?  Why haven’t I jumped on this bandwagon before?

Anyways, it would be a ridiculously long post if I wrote a review of every book I’ve read recently.  Instead, I will group them together into categories, and share my favorite book from each.

1) Dean Koontz books

Life Expectancy

Sole Survivor

Velocity

Innocence

Strange Highways

Favorite: Life Expectancy.  It’s a classic Dean Koontz novel that contains suspense, elements of science fiction, but the characters are particularly well developed in this novel.  I thought the ending was perfect as it tied up loose ends but left the reader questioning what would happen if there was a sequel.  The book had you guessing the entire time, but Koontz revealed answers slowly in a way that keeps the reader from getting too frustrated.

2) A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin

A Storm of Swords

A Feast for Crows

A Dance with Dragons (started)

Favorite: it’s a tie because these books tend to run together and it’s been awhile ago since I’ve read them so I’ll just say that as a series, I’m hooked. I want to finish the latest book so I can look up fan theories without worrying about spoilers, but the next book won’t come out for at least another year.  Oye, the annoyance of being addicted to a series! It’s like Harry Potter all over again, but Mr. Martin is taking his sweet time.

3) Non-fiction books

Jesus Freaks (true crime book about the Family cult) by Don Lattin

Life After College (self help) by Jenny Blake

Wild (memoir/travelogue) by Cheryl Strayed

Hallucinations (science) by Oliver Sacks

The Good Nurse (true crime) by Charles Graeber

In Defense of Food (science) by Michael Pollan

The Red Queen (genetics, currently reading) by Matt Ridley

Favorite: In Defense of Food.  Michael Pollan strikes again with a well-researched book that makes you question your food culture.  I enjoyed The Omnivore’s Dilemma years ago and have watched many documentaries on the food industry in America, but this book offered a fresh look at the issues in the US.  What I like best about Pollan’s writing is that he bases his arguments on facts and research, not his hidden political agenda. In science writing, it’s easy to pick out certain studies and use them to promote veganism or animal rights, etc, but Pollan is clearly interested in the food industry because he is inspired by the science behind it, not the social issues (although his research leads to social issues that are easily ignored).

4) Books related to Turkey that I read right before coming, or during orientation

The Yogurt Man Cometh by Kevin Revolinski

Tulipomania by Mike Dash

An Ongoing Affair: Turkey and I by Heath W. Lowry

Favorite: The Yogurt Man Cometh.  It’s a short and snappy travelogue about one man (from my home state Wisconsin!) who teaches in Turkey and shares his misadventures.  I enjoyed reading the book while in Turkey because I could relate to some of his experiences.  His book also inspired me to be more persistent in blogging regularly.

5) Teen Books

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Favorite: The Fault in Our Stars.  I cried. So much.  Then because I loved the book so much and am an emotional masochist, I immediately went and saw the movie.  And ugly cried some more into my popcorn; the tears upping the salt content; giving me temporary hypertension.  Before reading The Fault in Our Stars, I had a bad taste in my mouth about teen books after the poorly edited, meaningless sack of literary garbage that is The Hunger Games.  The Fault in Our Stars restored my faith in the teen lit genre and hope for the future generation.  It’s a book that’s destined to be a classic.

6) Books written by celebrities that, upon looking back, I’m not sure why I read them

Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Favorite: Neither.  I think I was sucked into exploring this genre while working at BookPeople because these books were flying off the shelf like hotcakes.  Moral of the story: when it comes to bestsellers, the customer is not always right.

7) Classic novels

Little Birds by Anais Nin

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The Secret History by Donna Tratt

Favorite: It’s a tie between A Clockwork Orange and The Secret History.  Both were very disturbing books, but they had strong messages and are guaranteed to haunt you.  The Secret History had well developed characters and was impossible to put down.  A Clockwork Orange is a classic book, but is definitely worth reading.

As a side note, The Wasp Factory is probably one of the most messed up books I’ve ever read.  I finished it in one night and immediately took a long shower afterwards.  It’s not a bad book, it’s actually quite brilliant.  But you will feel like the world is a horrible place afterwards.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

As another side note, I was very disappointed by two books. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was the first.  It’s no fault of Mr. Stevenson though.  It was incredibly well written, but the success of the book depended on the reader not knowing the big punch line.  Everyone today knows that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person, so it ruins the whole book.  The whodunnit question that I’m sure was trailing readers along eagerly over a hundred years ago is now common knowledge.  Poor Mr. Stevenson.

The other book that I may be criticized for hating is Little Women.  All the characters were so annoying.  I thought they were all spoiled, self centered, shallow, and weak.  Jo was the only character with any sort of complexity, but oh boy she learns her place in the end when she finally settles down and adheres to expectations of society.  Furthermore, I found all of the girls’ “problems” to be incredibly petty.  Beth had the best idea, which was to just sorta check out of life before she ended up living as a housewife whose only excitement would be something like her dear husband bringing her silk gloves but she, being humble and pious, would sell them to buy poor children some bread.

8) Sci-fi–Fantasy–Horror

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I can’t choose a favorite from this list, because all these books were amazing, with the exception of Night Circus.  That book was just, meh.  Warm Bodies was a captivating book that was more than just a zombie novel.  The Girl With All the Gifts was enjoyable because the author put a lot of work into making the science behind a zombie apocalypse make sense.  The two zombie books, along with Never Let Me Go were all thought provoking books that asked the question: what does it mean to be human?  The Ocean at the End of the Lane was a bizarre book, but the fantasy elements were successful in supporting the theme of childhood memories.

9) Stephen King

Christine

The Green Mile

Salem’s Lot

It (Currently reading)

Favorite: Christine.  Wow, this book packed a punch.  The character development is phenomenal, the storytelling is perfection.  The last Stephen King book I read was Carrie, and that was years ago.  This book had me hooked from the beginning.  I can see why King is such a successful writer: he adds so much color and flavor to the characters that you can picture them acting the action out in front of you.  He is also a master of slowly building up suspense.  I enjoyed his other books, but Christine especially stands out, I think because of how Arnie changed so drastically in response to Christine.  Right now, I’m reading It and I think this one will come in a close second, if not I’ll like it as much as Christine.

10) Other novels

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

The Goldfinch by Donna Tratt

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Favorite: It’s a tie between Me Before You and The Goldfinch.

Me Before You is a heartbreaking love story, well written and captivating.  The Goldfinch is an epic Dickens style novel that covers years of one boy’s life.  Both were enjoyable reads in their own way.  I’ve heard that some people don’t like The Goldfinch because they were expecting some sort of art history book or something like The Da Vinci Code.  If you’re going to read it, expect to enter a long, but well written novel with great character development.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 52 books this year.  Wow.  And most of the books I’ve read this year I’ve finished between September and now.  In a year, I’ve read at least one book from almost every genre in existence.  Some books haunted me, some scared me, some made me laugh, some made me wrap myself in a blanket and go through a box of tissues, some made me question society, and some shattered my ignorance.  Most importantly, they all took me on adventures and returned me as a person changed.

As Stephen King said: “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

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Filed under Classics, Fiction, horror, Humor, Memoir, Mystery, Non-fiction, Sci-fi/Fantasy, Teen Books

“Warm Bodies” by Isaac Marion

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Star crossed lovers: a common theme in literature and movies since…forever.  Currently the fad in the literary world is monster/human star crossed love stories: Twilight, The Host, and Warm Bodies.  When I was in Puerto Rico, my brother and I were watching TV and happened upon the movie adaptation of Warm Bodies.  I remember seeing the trailer last year and laughing at how ridiculous it looked.  Yet here I was, watching the movie and enjoying it.  The movie was thought provoking and didn’t cross the taboo romance line (I mean, Twilight was pushing it with Edward being over 100 years old and Bella only 17, but a full out zombie, aka dead person, making out with a live person? Eww!).  Because I was so pleasantly surprised by the movie, I decided to give the book a try.  I was surprised that it wasn’t classified as a teen novel according to the Austin library system because the movie had definitely a teen flick feel to it.

As I read the book, I discovered why Warm Bodies isn’t a teen book.  For one, being a zombie book, there’s some gorey scenes.  Stuff that wasn’t included in the movie because it would have given it an R rating.  Secondly, zombie sex.  It’s as icky as it sounds.

I could write a whole post comparing the book to the movie, but I just want to talk about the book.  Basic premise: R is a zombie, but not a typical zombie.  He has complex thoughts, dreams, and can speak a little bit.  He is fascinated by human artifacts and has an appreciation for Sinatra and the Beatles.

During a hunt for human flesh, he starts eating the brain of a man named Perry and is overwhelmed by Perry’s memories, particularly of a woman named Julie, who is hiding during the raid (side note: when zombies eat brains, they relive the memories of the person’s brain they’re consuming).  He decides to save Julie and brings her back to his “home” (an abandoned airplane).  The combination of eating Perry’s brain and meeting Julie stirs something inside R.  He starts to change.  He starts to feel more…alive.

Warm Bodies is Marion’s first book.  He probably could have gotten away with writing a rompy, messed up love story between a zombie and a girl that’s filled with gore and taboo intimacy, but he didn’t.  Instead, he raised philosophical questions such as: What does it mean to be alive?  (R didn’t have a heart beat but still showed compassion and deep thought)  What is the meaning of death?  What does it mean to be a human? What’s worth living for?  And so on.  The budding love between R and Julie developed slowly and was far from cheesey.  Marion didn’t create simple physical attraction between the two, he created an emotional bond.  Julie is a great character because she is a strong and independent woman who has a lot of baggage.  R helps her come to terms with her past while she reawakens his humanity.  They help each other cope with the dire present as they question how the world came to fall apart.  You also have to appreciate the nod to Shakespeare in these characters (R & Julie; Romeo & Juliet).

If you are looking for a thought provoking read, or an unconventional love story, this book is for you.  I give it 5/5 stars for the writing, originality, and philosophical depth.  Read the book, then watch the movie.

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