Sometimes Dead is Better

I read Stephen King’s Pet Sematary when I was 10 or 11. My brother (who is 2/1/2 years older than me) had finished it and left it on the couch. I picked it up and began reading. That book sealed the deal on me wanting to be a writer.

Stephen King has admitted that Pet Sematary disturbs him more than his other horror novels because the plot included every parent’s worst fear: the loss of a child. Back in the 1980s, Stephen King and his family moved to rural Maine. The country road in front of their home was anything but empty and quiet. Large semis often barreled down the road, claiming beloved pets and inadvertently teaching kids about death. King said his youngest child, still getting the tricky thing of walking down, had made his way to the edge of the road where a semi was rocketing down.

King couldn’t remember if he’d tackled the toddler in time or the child just tripped, preventing what could have been every parent’s worst nightmare. The seeds of the novel were planted when he discovered a pet cemetery behind his house. He didn’t have a place to write in in his new house, so he wrote in a room in the grocery store across from that road made for tragedy.

In Pet Sematary (misspelled by the children who made the place their pets final resting ground) Louis Creed and his family move to the rural town of Ludlow, Maine. Louis was an ER doctor in Chicago, but wanted a quiet place where he could spend more time with his wife and two children. He takes a job as infirmary doctor at the university and begins to settle his family.

His new neighbor Jud Crandall, a nimble 80-year-old man, introduces the Creed family to the pet cemetery near the woods behind their home. Generations of neighborhood children have buried their pets there. Many were claimed by the hell-bent for leather semis on that country road.

Louis’ 5-year-old daughter Ellie, like all children, starts to ask questions about death and why her beloved cat Church won’t live as long as her. He explains that death is a natural thing, earning the wrath of his wife Rachel who believes death isn’t to be talked about. Her anger might be because of a tragedy in her youth with her older sister dying at home while Rachel was the only one there.

The road claims Ellie’s cat, Church. Jud, who has become a good friend to Louis, tells him about a place beyond the pet cemetery, ground that belonged to a local tribe. The earth there is bad, the ground stony. Jud tells Louis he has to bury the cat himself.

The next day Louis is surprised by the return a much changed Church and even tugs a bit of plastic from the garbage bag he buried the cat in out of the feline’s mouth. Jud regrets telling Louis about the place beyond the pet cemetery and tells a couple horror stories of his own from the 80 years he’s lived in the same house. The hard ground is sour. What comes back from the soil is not the same that went in.

From there on out, Pet Sematary delves deeper into loss and darkness and what a man will do to keep his family together.

After finishing Pet Sematary, King gave it his usual 6-week cooling off period and read it again. He was so disturbed by the story that he stuck it in a drawer and left it alone until another book was needed to fulfill his contract with Doubleday. Decades after its publication, it’s a book that still manages to disturb readers.

Read Your Fruits and Veggies

If you’re following along with our annual reading challenge, you’ve likely discovered that so far the challenges each month have been relatively straightforward: read a book by Sy Montgomery, read a poetry book, etc.

This month’s challenge, read a book with a vegetable or fruit in the title, is a little harder to achieve. Yes, you could go straight to the cookbooks, but I’m here to offer up a relative cornucopia of novels that will satisfy both the criteria and your book cravings. Just click any book cover that looks good! You’ll be taken to the catalog record where you can read a summary and place a hold.

 

   

So don’t wait–gobble these up while you can! And don’t forget to enter the monthly contest. Simply post a picture of your book on Instagram, Twitter, and/or Facebook with the hashtag #everettreads for your chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card from the Friends of the Everett Public Library. Be sure to make the post public so we can see it. Easy peas-y.

900 Words about Vox

As someone who is a loud supporter of reading for fun and the joys of happy story endings, it came as a complete shock to me that I very much enjoyed reading a dystopian novel that had me yelling out loud and, at one point (sorry, colleagues!) throwing the book across the room. Literally threw it like it was on fire. One of the most powerful books I’ve read this summer is set in a dystopia. I’m still grappling with this reality.

Dystopian novels are not known for happiness and wit, but the discerning reader can find both in Vox by Christina Dalcher.

This dystopian mind-f*ck posits a creepily plausible near future where the American government has created a series of laws restricting women. Women are no longer allowed to travel outside the United States. They can’t work or hold political office and their daughters are only taught basic math and home keeping in schools. Their brothers, however, get a robust education including religious indoctrination and bias-affirming readings that brainwash them into seriously believing men are superior to women and that keeping women silenced and in the home is for the betterment of society.

The absolute worst part? All American women (yup, kids and babies too) now have to wear a locked wrist device that monitors their words. Each female is allowed 100 words per day–this includes sign language, gestures, and other non-verbal communication. If you speak past 100 words before your device resets at midnight you get a shock. Another word? Another shock–only stronger this time.

It’s a damn nightmare.

The book is told through the eyes of Dr. Jean McClellan. Before the silencing, she was a well-respected linguistic scientist. During the silencing Jean is like every other American woman, which is to say she is held hostage in her new role: being a nearly-wordless woman whose only job is to serve her husband and raise her kids. When the book opens we’re about a year into the silencing and though Jean feels that bucking the system is an impossibility, she is strong of spirit and still possesses the quick-witted mind that made her the incredibly renowned linguistic expert she was before society imploded. She wants a better life for all women, but especially for her three-year-old daughter who is growing up with this as her reality.

The narrative switches back and forth from present day to the past. I often find this jarring in books but Dalcher does this nearly seamlessly and the slow burn reveals of the past, along with foreshadowing of the horrors that are to come, keep the suspense building even when you think you know what’s going on.

Jean reflects throughout the book on her previous complete political apathy. Back in college she scoffed at her roommate’s attempts to get her involved in grassroots political rallies against social injustice, preferring instead to study and focus on her boyfriend, her future. She bathed in privilege but, as privilege goes, was so cocooned from marginalized and concerned folks that she didn’t even realize how sheltered she was. Her future was guaranteed, so why should she spend time worrying about it or fighting against the mere possibility that future society could go sideways? She thought it was pointless to vote–a waste of precious time–and considered it completely unlikely anyone so overzealous would be voted into the Presidency in modern times.

Jean also discovers that monsters aren’t born, they’re made–and often through no ill intentions, but through apathy. In particular, she’s horrified to recognize her oldest son has evolved into a monster. In flashbacks we see him slowly over time vocalizing increasingly demeaning opinions about the girls in his class and women in general. Back when she could talk, sometimes Jean would challenge him at the dinner table. He’d then mention the readings they were doing in school and how religion is now a required class. Jean would think “School is weird now” but never questioned the school administration about requiring misogynistic opinion to be taught as the law of nature or why one specific religion was taught as a required class in a public school

Her husband wasn’t much help either. He often brushed off Jean’s comments as ‘boys will be boys’ but the saying silence is acceptance proves true here. By the time Jean realizes what her son has started to believe, she literally doesn’t have enough words to talk him back off the ledge because she’s required to wear that damn wrist device. Like Jean, I refuse to call it a bracelet and diminish the horrifying evil the device represents: both in the physical pain it creates but especially in representing the completely upside-down reality that made this device a legislated mandate.

This is all to say that the flashbacks peppered in with the book’s current reality are a great way to let the reader see how the dystopian society got to where it is and allows us to draw parallels between that fictional America and the one we’re living in today.

Creepily. Plausible. Near. Future.

Despite this dark tone, the very first line of the book gives you hope throughout this thrilling adventure through a desolate society. If it seems unlikely that one essentially enslaved woman among millions would be able to bring about the downfall of a patriarchal society, well, dear reader…just pick this one up and thank me later.

Some Types of Punk Music!

I have become fascinated with the definition of punk rock. There’s little doubt that the term was first applied to bands of the same ilk as the Sex Pistols, but as time passed punk became a blanket term for a variety of styles.

You’ve got your hardcore, your horror punk, Oi!, grindcore and pop punk just to name a few. And you can’t identify your genre without a scorecard. So, in the interest of Properly-Defined Genre Understanding (PDGU) I give you: SOME TYPES OF PUNK MUSIC!

Punk: ClassicPunk® bands, also known simply as punk bands, play ramped up rock and roll. Not so different from 50s rock, add distortion and politics, shake well, go heavy on the melody and voila!
Group punkHardcore: A response to what was seen as the selling-out of punk. Fast, loud, aggressive and hard-hitting. Rhythm is more important than melody and vocals are typically shouted. The standard verse-chorus song structure, a staple of punk, is not used.
Group hardcoreHorror punk: A highly visual subgenre steeped in horror and sci-fi movie imagery. Elements of goth and punk mix with doo-wop and rockabilly, creating a unique sound.

Group horror

Pop punk: Punk was never commercially successful. Until someone thought to add pleasant melodies to fast and furious music. Hey, that kinda sounds like ClassicPunk®, don’t it?

Group PopPunk

But wait, there’s more! Crust, thrashcore, anarcho-punk, D-beat, stenchcore, powerviolence… It kind of makes a person want to create their own subgenres: sniffletrot, bonesaw-crunch, free retch… Ah, I see a hobby in my future.

But I digress.

My point today, if I do indeed have a point, is that the term punk has shifted in meaning over the years. The original punk bands, i.e. ClassicPunk® bands, are not significantly removed from the mainstream of rock music. Hardcore bands, on the other hand, are an entirely different beast. The aggression, the shouting, the breakneck speeds all combine to form a new type of musical expression. And in my mind, if not in the minds of others, punk has come to mean hardcore punk.

So while I struggled for many years with the label punk being applied to bands like the Buzzcocks, I now realize that their 3 minute songs of teenage angst, love and fast cars are all magnificent pop gems that we simply decided to call punk. And while there may have been but a single flavor of punk for a short time, now there are many. To be entirely clear one must cite which type of punk music one is speaking of.

So be the coolest kid on your block and check out some horror punk or crust or bloodspattergorefest (I made that one up!) from your nearest public library. Remember: Leather jackets are optional but open minds are mandatory!

You Spin Me Right ‘Round, Baby, Right ‘Round

The_Exorcist_1971I’ve been afraid of many things during my life, but for some reason the idea of being possessed by a demon has always horrified me. It’s right up there with nuclear winter and Donald Trump becoming president. With all the other evils in the world, I have to worry about demon possession because let’s face it: I don’t think I have a soul. If there’s some wisp of a soul it’s pretty weak and I’m almost 100% certain it’s gas.

William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, was a comedy writer. Probably still is. I don’t know. I’d have to look it up. He read an account of a teenage boy who had been showing symptoms of an odd and inexplicable illness. The boy’s bed would levitate and he would rise from the bed like Lazarus from the dead at a beer pong competition. Words would be written on his skin-but from the inside. The kid’s parents were a mess. Was their boy gravely ill or was it a spiritual matter?

They called in a couple of priests to do an exorcism on the boy and whip bang, old Split Hoof was out of there. Later, there was a story that the boy had been molested by his aunt. Whether the ‘possession’ was a side effect or a cry for help, I don’t know. Maybe in the 1940’s (and sometimes now) it’s easier to talk about being possessed by a demon than it is about sexual assault.

The story stuck with Blatty for years and the outcome was The Exorcist. Here’s the lowdown: Father Merrin is on an archaeological dig in Iraq and uncovers a small statue of a demon he’s come up against in the past. He knows – in the way that priests and prescient children seem to know – that evil is nearby. In the movie, this whole part never made a lot of sense to me, but then again I was six when I first watched it, so a lot of things didn’t make sense.

In the novel, Regan MacNeil is a sweet 12-year-old daughter of a movie star. Regan’s father isn’t in the picture and the mom, Chris, is an actually with-it famous movie star single parent. She and Regan have a very close bond. But while her Mom is filming a movie in Washington, DC something strange is beginning to happen in their house and to Regan herself. Weird noises are coming from the attic. The housekeeper convinces Chris there are rats up there because hey, who would hear scratching noises in the attic and think ‘Is that you Satan?’ (By the way, demonic possession is never by Satan himself in a lot of books and movies. He’s too busy juggling campaigns and suicide bombs and which Kardashian is going to have a “hard” year because her nude selfie didn’t break the Internet).

Regan begins speaking in a language she’s never spoken before. She vomits green stuff. GREEN stuff. That ain’t natural. Chris thinks her daughter is going through a period of pre-teen angst over the divorce of her mother and father. She does what every mom does, takes her kid to get tested for everything and when the doctors can’t find anything wrong, well, maybe her kid is having a breakdown. It doesn’t occur to Chris to search for spiritual support. She is an atheist. Luckily, the place where she’s wrapping up filming is rife with Jesuit priests. She turns to Father Damien Karras for help.

Father Karras is enduring his own struggle: his mother just died and he’s having a bout of ‘Are you there God, it’s me, Damien.’ He sees Regan as a psychologist at first, shooting down the idea of demonic possession until there is no other explanation. I guess once a little girl brags that your mother’s soul is in hell and you actually hear the weak voice of your mother coming from her mouth, there’s not much else to turn to. So he goes to the bishop and the God Network begins to gossip and Father Merrin gets wind of it and says “Hey, that’s the asshole I battled long ago in Africa!”

exorcistfilmRegan is aggressive and speaking in tongues and using swear words that would make a sailor blush. Yeah. This is beyond psychological. What ensues is not only a battle for a young girl’s soul, but also for restoring faith – not just religious but in humanity. What I loved about the novel was the fact that Blatty didn’t shy away from things he knew would be controversial – much like the 1973 adaptation of his novel that shocked and sickened theatre goers. There’s a scene with a cross and….well….if you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. You’re going to a movie called The Exorcist, people! Not Fluffy Puppies on Clouds. And yeah, I even liked the restoration of faith stuff in the book, not the Roman Catholic ritual of Exorcism (although that is pretty gnarly) but the idea that dark matters can be overcome. At least for a little while. Or shipped off to the next unsuspecting soul.

But I do embrace my own darkness and demons, isn’t that right, Beelzebub? Bubs? Oh damn. He’s been exorcised again. Damn it.

Crazy Fall Publishing Part 5: September 29th

Hey there. What’s up with me? I’m drowning in new books. NBD! The things I do for you, dear reader. Yep, I’m definitely coveting and eventually reading all these books for you. No need to thank me, but if you do you can forward your good words straight to my boss. Performance appraisal time is just around the corner and a good word from you is sure to go a long way.

Anyway, I’ve been counting the days since these new books arrive, and I hope you’ll want to read them, too. Check them out–literally!

all american boysAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Summary: A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galuzzi, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement? But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.
Why I’m stoked: As previously mentioned on this blog, I’m from Alton, IL, a small town across the Mississippi from Ferguson, MO. I don’t think I have to tell you how upset I’ve been to see my neighbors, friends, and family rocked by community violence and mistrust. Books like this one are necessary and welcome. I plan to read it and The Ferguson Report back-to-back. I may be known for my preference for fluffy and frivolous reads, but this is one I know will be difficult for me–and I honestly can’t wait.

madlyMadly by Amy Alward
Summary: When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn. Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they’ve fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime? And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news. No big deal, then.
Why I’m stoked: Fantasy and humor. Romance and adventure. And a cover that launched a thousand Instagram posts (if you didn’t see this pop up in your feed in recent weeks you are following the wrong people, my friend). Oh, my goodness. And it’s also book one in a series. Be still my beating heart. I just know this is going to be a fantastic read.

sanctuarySanctuary by Jennifer McKissack
Summary: After the untimely death of her aunt Laura, Cecilia Cross is forced to return to Sanctuary, a rambling, old French-Gothic mansion that crowns a remote island off the coast of Maine. Cecilia is both drawn to and repulsed by Sanctuary. The scent of the ocean intoxicates her, but she’s also haunted by the ghosts of her past–of her father who died at Sanctuary five years ago, and of her mother who was committed soon after. The memories leave Cecilia feeling shaken, desperate to run away and forget her terrible family history. But then a mysterious guest arrives at Sanctuary: Eli Bauer, a professor sent to examine Sanctuary’s library. Cecilia is intrigued by this strange young man who seems so interested in her — even more interested in her than in the books he is meant to be studying. Who is he and what does he want? Can Cecilia possibly trust her growing feelings for him? And can he help her make peace with her haunted, tragic past?
Why I’m stoked: I know the two plots are not the same at all, but reading this synopsis reminded me so strongly of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir that I felt compelled to put it on my TBR. While I love ghost stories, I confess it’s been an age since I’ve read a good Gothic. And the fact that a personal library plays a prominent role in the book kind of makes me crave reading it even more.

zeroesZeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti
Summary: Ethan, aka “Scam,” has a way with words. When he opens his mouth, whatever he wants you to hear comes out. But Ethan isn’t just a smooth talker. He has a unique ability to say things he doesn’t consciously even know. Sometimes the voice helps, but sometimes it hurts – like now, when the voice has lied and has landed Ethan in a massive mess. So now Ethan needs help. And he needs to go to the last people who would ever want to help him – his former group of friends, the self-named “Zeroes” who also all possess similarly double-edged abilities, and who are all angry at Ethan for their own respective reasons. Brought back together by Scam’s latest mischief, they find themselves entangled in an epic, whirlwind adventure packed with as much interpersonal drama as mind-bending action.
Why I’m stoked: On the plus side, I’ve never read a Scott Westerfeld book, so this makes me feel pretty adventurous. On the downside, I almost across the board loathe dystopian novels. However, the abilities the Zeroes posses make me second-guess my dystopian disgust. This one is going to be book one of at least a trilogy, so if I really love it I can look forward to delving into more stories later.

I should probably take a photograph of my TBR for dramatic effect. However, it would be so much taller than me it may topple over and land me with an injury that may prevent me from reading. Tragic!

House of Leaves

This book is not for you.

book coverSo says the dedication page of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves.  For a brief moment the phrase is threatening: Don’t you dare go any further; put this away because it is not for your eyes.

And then curiosity kicks in: if it’s not for me, then, who is it for?

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is staggering. It reads like non-fiction and carries a hefty section of footnotes and an index that would make War and Peace blush. Some readers might be put off by this. But just try the first dozen pages if you dare. I felt uneasy chills as I read. That funky little reptilian part of my brain woke up and said, “Oh now, dear, here is something really creepy.”

The book at the center of it all was supposedly written by an old man named Zampano, who wrote garbled words on scraps of paper. He died and left behind a trunk full of personal items. John Truant, gliding through life on drugs and alcohol while working at a dead-end job, finds the notes and the uncompleted manuscript called House of Leaves. The story it contains tugs at the back of his mind. Then it finds its way into his life. Then he becomes obsessed by it. Finally his mind breaks and he begins to believe it wasn’t some old man’s dreamy fiction but something real that happened to a particular family.

The book-within-the-book starts when Will and Karen buy a new house for their family.  One morning they wake to find a door to a hallway that wasn’t there the night before. Karen stays with the children while Will goes in. The hallway’s walls are black. Will shines a flashlight but it’s not much help. He decides to go back while he can.

Will and his friends decide to explore this hallway from nowhere. The hallway continuously expands and changes in the darkness. There is also a disturbing roaring sound. Sometimes it’s far away.  Sometimes it sounds like it’s a few feet in front of them.

Five men go into the hallway and four come out. The one they never hear from again has been lost in a hallway which leads to rooms with 200 foot ceilings and temperatures that plummet to 30 degrees.

John Truant’s own story is pulled parallel with Will and Karen’s. He becomes the story’s caretaker even as his own life spirals downward. He begins to see shadows where only light shines. He hears breathing and roaring where there is only silence. His own life and memories begin to blend with the story he is reading.

The essence of the book is about sacrifice, fear, family and obsession. What would you be willing to give up if something locked onto you and fueled an obsessive need to explore or even become lost for many months? Would you leave your family behind to find the truth about something that shouldn’t exist? Would you let your fear keep you from saving your own children?

The book may seem fantastic but there will be times, I promise you, that you will start to believe. You’ll start to hear noises, subtle ones at first and then growls in the deep silence of 3 a.m. You’ll begin to leave lights on and doors open.

And finally, there will be times where you’ll have nightmares of being lost in a black maze where all you have is the light of a guttering cigarette lighter as something growls ominously behind you…

Jennifer