Monday, October 31, 2016

Review: The Exorcist – William Peter Blatty

The Exorcist – William Peter Blatty

Four decades after it first shook the nation, then the world, William Peter Blatty's thrilling masterwork of faith and demonic possession returns in an even more powerful form. Raw and profane, shocking and blood-chilling, it remains a modern parable of good and evil and perhaps the most terrifying novel ever written.

Review: The Exorcist is advertised as the scariest book of all time. I didn’t think I could call myself a true horror junkie until I had read it.

The story follows two main characters: Chris McNeal, an actress and mother; and Damien Karras, a priest who’s reconsidering his decision to become a priest. One day, Chris’s daughter, Regan, gets sick and starts acting strangely. Doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong with her. The mystery disease becomes so bad that Regan has to be strapped to a bed to keep from hurting herself or anybody else. Suspecting that Regan is possessed by a demon, Chris goes to Karras for help.

I love horror because it’s not really about monsters (or demons). Those things are just representations of society’s worries. Deep down, The Exorcist is about the fear of losing control. The demon takes over Regan’s body and uses it to humiliate her and to hurt people. Regan has no control of the creature inside her. The story is also about the fear of powerlessness. Chris tries everything to save her daughter. She becomes increasingly frantic as she runs out of options. Chris can only watch as the demon slowly kills Regan. That’s every parent’s worst nightmare. The Exorcist is probably considered one of the scariest books of all time because it taps into many of our most primal fears.  

“The demon's target is not the possessed; it is us the observers . . . everyone in this house. I think the point is to make us despair . . . to reject our humanity: to see ourselves as ultimately bestial, vile and putrescent; without dignity; ugly; unworthy.” – The Exorcist

If you’re squeamish or easily offended, then you need to stay far away from this book. It’s disgusting. There’s green vomit, diarrhea, and many inappropriate sexy times. Lots of cussing too. You’ll need a strong stomach for this one. The gross stuff is even grosser because a lot of it comes from a twelve-year-old child. I know that twelve-year-olds can be interested in sex (especially when they’re possessed by demons, I guess), but still, yuck.

“[Regan] advised me to keep my fingers away from her goddamned cunt.” – The Exorcist

What surprised me about The Exorcist is that most of it doesn’t focus on the exorcism itself. The exorcism is only a small part of the story and happens in the last few chapters. Most of the book is about the process of getting permission to do an exorcism. Since I’m fascinated by religion, I love this aspect of the story. It’s interesting to see all the steps that Chris and Karras have to go through to prove that Regan is possessed. It’s not easy to get permission for an exorcism. If permission is granted, the exorcism may not even work. The suspense in this story comes from wondering if Regan will be saved or not. The author keeps us guessing until the very end.

Karras is my favorite character because he’s complex, but I wasn’t a fan of most of the other characters. They range from one-dimensional to completely insufferable. I especially dislike detective Kinderman. His stuttering, repetitive dialogue massively grated on my nerves. I was tempted to start skimming every time he showed up on the page. His murder investigation did add extra drama to the plot, though, so I guess I can forgive the author (a little).

So, is The Exorcist the scariest book of all time? I’m not sure. It’s gross and cringe-inducing. Some parts of it are suspenseful. I was creeped out by the demon taking control of Regan’s body and contorting it in painful ways. But, I can’t say I ever felt scared while reading.

Now I need to watch the movie. I’ve never seen it, so it will be interesting to see how it compares to the book.  

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Sunday Post #71

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty.
  • On Tuesday I recommend books about history and current events.
  • On Wednesday I review Fake ID by Lamar Giles.
  • On Thursday I wrap up October.
  • On Saturday there’s a book haul.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and Leaving Fishers by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I also read the Colorado Ballot Blue Book, which is long, boring, and should totally count toward my Goodreads challenge. Right now, I’m slowly making my way through The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. I voted! Go away, campaign ads, you can’t influence me anymore. Also, I’m thankful for mail-in ballots. Standing in lines makes me feel squirrely.
  2. I discovered that peanut butter M&Ms are a thing. Caramel M&Ms are also going to be a thing soon.
  3. Having classic horror movies on the TV while I’m doing stuff around the house. I watched parts of The Exorcist, Psycho, and The Birds.
  4. Spending my used bookstore credits.
  5. My neighbors are unusual people.

I hope you had a great week! See you around the blogosphere!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

October Currently . . .

I’m Currently . . .

Reading: Leaving Fishers by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Watching: I binge-watched all six seasons of Game of Thrones this month. I need to know what happens next! They can’t just stop there! Also, I’m tempted to read the books, which is completely ridiculous. There are about 200 books on my TBR list right now. I don’t need more.

Planning: To graduate from grad school. This is happening in 24 days. Holy crap. I have a lot of stuff to do.

Stocking up on: Nonfiction books. I’m going to read more nonfiction next year. I tell myself that every year, but I’m actually going to do it this time. Maybe. Hopefully.

Getting rid of: Fiction books. I’m trading them for nonfiction books. And probably some young adult books because I have no self-control.

Wishing for: No more politics, please. Just put us out of our misery already.

Looking forward to: My trip to Mammoth Cave National Park. I’m going the day after I graduate, and I’ll probably be an exhaustion zombie, but I don’t care. I’m going to zombie my way through some caves.

Blogging: I have to take a blogging hiatus next month. There won’t be any posts between November 11 and November 21. After the 21st, things will slowly go back to normal.

Obsessing over: The Blogging from A to Z Challenge. It doesn’t happen until next April, but I’m trying to plan ahead because I have 26 posts to write for it. It’s really hard to come up with bookish topics for some of the letters.

Celebrating: Halloween! Well, not yet, but soon. I’ll probably spend it eating candy and reading a book. Sounds like a good holiday to me.

What have you been doing in October? 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Review: Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk's darkly funny first novel tells the story of a god-forsaken young man who discovers that his rage at living in a world filled with failure and lies cannot be pacified by an empty consumer culture. Relief for him and his disenfranchised peers comes in the form of secret after-hours boxing matches held in the basements of bars. Fight Club is the brain child of Tyler Durden, who thinks he has found a way for himself and his friends to live beyond their confining and stultifying lives. But in Tyler's world there are no rules, no limits, no brakes.

Review: I’ve said before that I have a love/hate relationship with Chuck Palahniuk’s books. I hate a lot of them, but I keep reading them because I never know what I’m going to get when I open one. I like surprises.

Unfortunately, Fight Club wasn’t a good surprise for me.

The story is about an unnamed narrator who copes with his severe insomnia by attending support groups for people with deadly diseases. When it’s discovered that he doesn’t have a deadly disease, he forms Fight Club with his friend, Tyler, as a new way to cope with his problems. Fight Club starts as an underground boxing club, but soon the members start plotting to destroy civilization.

Even though it’s politically incorrect to say it, this is a total “boy book.” Most of the characters are frustrated, aggressive men. They’re stuck in jobs they hate. They have personal problems they’re struggling to solve without help. They’re mad at the modern world’s consumerist society. To deal with all of their rage, they form clubs and beat each other bloody. The fistfights quickly evolve into pranks, bomb-making, and property destruction. The men want to leave their mark on the world, even if it’s a bad mark. (As a side note, who knew that so many household objects could be used to create explosives?)

“I see in the fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives. We've all been raised by television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won't and we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.” – Fight Club

I think Fight Club is a modern classic because the themes are relatable. In modern capitalist societies, people often feel lonely and powerless. In Fight Club, the characters band together to take control of their lives. Becoming your own boss and abandoning society’s laws are appealing ideas, but the characters in this story basically become terrorists. They try to take control by destroying what already exists.

“The things you own end up owning you. It's only after you lose everything that you're free to do anything.” – Fight Club

This book gives the reader a lot to think about, but I had a hard time getting past the writing style. Actually, I completely loathed the writing style. It’s a minimalist, stream-of-consciousness style that quickly got on my nerves. I know the author was trying to show the narrator’s mental instability, but it didn’t work for me. Sometimes I felt like the author was just trying to show how clever he is. I found it pretentious and distracting. I was so busy thinking about the writing that I never got invested in the plot or characters. This is one of those books that I had to force myself to read.

There are a bunch of other things I’d like to discuss, but they’re all spoilers, so I’m going to shut up. Now I need to watch the movie. I think I’ll like the story a lot more if I’m not trapped in the narrator’s head.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons I Read Horror

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is anything Halloween-related.

When I tell people that horror is one of my favorite genres, the most common reaction I get is, “Um, why?” Today, I’m going to answer that question.

Why I Read Horror

1. Horror books aren’t really about monsters. The monsters are usually a symbol for something more realistic. Many horror stories reflect the fears of the time/culture/person who created them. Good horror stories are much deeper than just monsters. 

2. Nostalgia. I’ve told this story before, but I wasn’t a big reader until I discovered Stephen King. He was pretty much the only author I read when I was a teenager. Horror is comfortable for me because I grew up on a steady diet of it.

3. Horror is unpredictable and pushes boundaries. There’s no limit to craziness when it comes to horror. Most horror is actually pretty tame, but some of it is so nasty that you wonder how the author came up with this stuff. The unpredictability keeps things interesting.

4. My culture. I’ve lived almost my entire life in the southwestern United States. This is the Wild West, the place where European, Native American, and Mexican cultures collide (for better or for worse). The folklore stories I grew up hearing often included violence or the supernatural.

5. Remote settings. I’m not a city person. I can’t imagine living in one, and I don’t really like reading about them. I’m attracted to horror because it often happens in remote places. I’ll never get tired of creepy forests.

6. Horror shows parts of humanity that are rarely seen. Serial killers are extremely rare. Most of us will (hopefully) go our entire lives without crossing paths with one. If you’re interested in the dark side of humanity, horror is an easy way to satisfy your curiosity.

7. Suspense and pacing. Scary stories are often fast-paced and suspenseful. It’s fun to read a book that you don’t want to put down.

8. Unreality and escapism. I read horror for the same reason people read fantasy and science fiction. Horror isn’t always realistic. I can escape to a place that isn’t real for a few hours.

9. Horror has a long literary history. I love classics. I like seeing how literature has changed over hundreds of years and how certain stories have seeped into mainstream culture. I’m such a nerd that I get excited about allusions and intertextuality. It’s pretty common to find references to older horror books in modern horror books.

10. Beautifully bizarre imagery. I’ve always been attracted to weirdness. Horror books have bizarre descriptions, bizarre covers, bizarre illustrations. If you grew up with a copy of The Scary Stories Treasury, you’ll recognize this critter:

Why do you read horror? Or, why do you avoid reading horror?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Review: Life As We Knew It – Susan Beth Pfeffer

Life As We Knew It – Susan Beth Pfeffer

Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when a meteor knocks the moon closer to the earth. How should her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis wipe out the coasts, earthquakes rock the continents, and volcanic ash blocks out the sun? As summer turns to Arctic winter, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove. 
Told in journal entries, this is the heart-pounding story of Miranda’s struggle to hold on to the most important resource of all—hope—in an increasingly desperate and unfamiliar world.

Review: Scientists didn’t think the meteor heading for the moon was a big deal, but they turned out to be very wrong. The meteor knocks the moon closer to Earth, which triggers a string of huge natural disasters. As society collapses, seventeen-year-old Miranda and her family stockpile food and camp out near their wood-burning stove. They have no idea how long they’ll have to wait for rescue.

“Here's the funny thing about the world coming to an end. Once it gets going, it doesn't seem to stop.” – Life as We Knew It

I wanted to read this book because it was pretty popular with kids during the whole YA dystopia madness a few years ago. I finally got around to reading it, and . . . I have the dreaded mixed feelings. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it, either.

The story starts quickly. A meteor hits the moon, and Miranda’s mother goes nuts. She gets the kids from school, empties all the money from the family’s bank account, and buys everything she can. After this initial rush of stockpiling supplies, the story slows down. There are natural disasters, but they all happen far away from Miranda’s family. The family just hangs out at home and hopes they have enough food and water to get them through.

Part of me likes the slowness because it’s realistic. The town tries to keep the schools open and everything functioning normally, but soon they can’t. The apocalypse doesn’t happen all at once, and the reader doesn’t know how bad things will get. Another part of me doesn’t like the slowness. I kept waiting for something to happen. I got bored with watching the family chop wood. I wanted something huge to happen that would force them to make big decisions, but nothing did.

“I guess I always felt even if the world came to an end, McDonald's would still be open.” – Life as We Knew It

This book is a bit unusual in the YA world because it features a strong, loving family. The parents do a (fairly) good job of behaving like responsible adults. But, all of the characters are flat. This might be because the story is told in diary entries, and Miranda mostly focuses on her own problems in the entries. All of the secondary characters are just names to me. They don’t have much personality. Even the major characters aren’t developed enough for me to care about them. Since none of the characters felt real to me, I had a hard time getting into the story.

There are some humorous moments. I actually laughed when the mother said she’s not desperate enough to watch Fox News, even though the world is ending.

I’m not a scientist, but I wondered about a lot of the science in this book.  Would scientists really not know the size of a meteor heading for the moon? And would the moon’s gravity really cause earthquakes and other giant natural disasters? I don’t know, but it’s terrifying if this stuff could actually happen.

I guess I feel pretty “Meh” about this book. It’s entertaining, but it didn’t give me much to think about, and it doesn’t do anything I haven’t seen in post-apocalyptic fiction before. Right now, I don’t plan on continuing with the series. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Sunday Post #70

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.
  • On Tuesday I tell you why I read horror.
  • I don’t have posts written for Wednesday and Thursday yet, but I’ll try to get something up.

In My Reading Life

I’m still sick. That’s why I’m behind on reading and blogging. Last week, I read Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk and Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Up next is Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. Halloween decorations.
  2. I got my mail-in ballot. That means this election stuff is almost over. Then I won’t have to see campaign ads anymore.
  3. I’m still binge watching Game of Thrones.
  4. I think I may have written my last essay ever. No more essays. Ever. That sounds really strange.
  5. #TrumpBookReport. Twitter imagines how Trump would review famous books. The results are hilarious.

I hope you had a great week! See you around the blogosphere.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The “Very Sci-Fi” Book Haul

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. I get to show off all the books I’ve gotten recently.

I had a B&N gift card, so I decided to spend it on books with sci-fi elements. Here’s what I got:

This Savage Song – Victoria Schwab

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

Angel Catbird – Margaret Atwood

On a dark night, young genetic engineer Strig Feleedus is accidentally mutated by his own experiment and merges with the DNA of a cat and an owl. What follows is a humorous, action-driven, pulp-inspired superhero adventure—with a lot of cat puns.

Children of the New World: Stories – Alexander Weinstein

Children of the New World introduces readers to a near-future world of social media implants, memory manufacturers, dangerously immersive virtual reality games, and alarmingly intuitive robots. Many of these characters live in a utopian future of instant connection and technological gratification that belies an unbridgeable human distance, while others inhabit a post-collapse landscape made primitive by disaster, which they must work to rebuild as we once did millennia ago.

Sleeping Giants – Sylvain Neuvel

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand. 
Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected. 
But some can never stop searching for answers. 
Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

Smoke – Dan Vyleta

If sin were visible and you could see people's anger, their lust and cravings, what would the world be like? 
Smoke opens in a private boarding school near Oxford, but history has not followed the path known to us. In this other past, sin appears as smoke on the body and soot on the clothes. Children are born carrying the seeds of evil within them. The ruling elite have learned to control their desires and contain their sin. They are spotless. 
It is within the closeted world of this school that the sons of the wealthy and well-connected are trained as future leaders. Among their number are two boys, Thomas and Charlie. On a trip to London, a forbidden city shrouded in smoke and darkness, the boys will witness an event that will make them question everything they have been told about the past. For there is more to the world of smoke, soot and ash than meets the eye and there are those who will stop at nothing to protect it . . .

Underground Airlines – Ben H. Winters

It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred. 
A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He's got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called "the Hard Four." On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn't right—with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself. 
A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation, and works to infiltrate the local cell of an abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he's hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won't reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw's case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child who may be Victor's salvation. Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of all—though his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface. 
Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country's arrangement with the Hard Four, secrets the government will preserve at any cost.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Autumn Reading Tag

This is The Autumn Reading Tag. I think it started on BookTube, but I’ve seen it around the blogosphere lately, so I’m considering myself tagged.

The Autumn Reading Tag

1. Are there any books you plan on reading over the autumn season?

Um, yes. I’m always planning on reading books. Here’s what’s on my TBR list for the fall months.

2. September brings back to school nightmares memories: What book did you most enjoy studying? And what were your favorite and least favorite school subjects?

I did a whole post on forced school reads that weren’t (too) painful. The best book I studied in school was The Giver by Lois Lowry. I read it in middle school language arts. 

I hated pretty much everything about school, but if I had to pick a favorite subject, it would be either English or history. My least favorites were math, science, music, and P.E. Art class was also a disaster. Basically, child-me was a hot mess. (Teenage-me wasn’t much better.) 

3. October means Halloween: Do you enjoy scary books and films? If so, what are some of your favorites?

I don’t have much patience for movies, but I love scary/creepy/bizarre books. The best one I’ve read this year is Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick. A ranking of my favorite Stephen King books can be found here.

4. With November, it's time for bonfire night and firework displays. What's the most exciting book you've read that really kept you gripped?

I’m not sure what the most exciting book I’ve ever read was, but The Hunger Games kept me riveted. No matter how many times I reread it, it’s always exciting.

5. What book is your favorite comfort read?

This may sound odd, but Stephen King books are my comfort reads. I’ve read a lot of them and usually know what to expect. It’s pretty rare for me to be super-disappointed in them.

6. Curled up with a good book, what is your hot drink of choice?

Hot chocolate is the only hot drink I like. Coffee and tea both make my stomach hurt. No idea why. Hot chocolate is awesome and never hurts me.

7. Any plans you’re looking forward to over the next few months?

Yes! I’m graduating from graduate school at the end of November. When I graduate, I will have been in college for 11 years, attended 4 different universities, and earned 3 degrees. I’m so ready to be done with my education.

What are your fall plans?