Becky’s Two Hundred and Twenty-Seventh Book Review: “Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill

“Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill was a creepy fucking book. I felt it was fitting to post this review on Halloween. It was creepy, but it was also really good. I am looking forward to reading more of Joe Hill’s work.

In “Heart-Shaped Box” the main character, Jude, has an unusual hobby of collecting the strange, and eerie. In his collection are pieces of art by a serial killer, a skull damaged by medieval brain surgery, various disturbing trinkets, and even a snuff film. As a semi-retired rock star, he even has a collection of girls that could easily be mistaken for vampires. “Jude collected them in almost exactly the same way the Pied Piper had collected rats, and children. He made melodies out of hate and perversion and pain, and they came to him, skipping to the music, hoping he would let them sing along.” (Heart-Shaped Box, pg 41). Jude finds his world turned upside down after he adds a dead man’s suit to his collection. The dead man came along with the suit – as advertised – and suddenly Jude is confronted with a very real horror in his home.

Jude was an interesting character. He was a dick and you kind of wanted to hate him, but at the same time, you want him to triumph over the terror that has come down on him and the girl of the season. His peculiarities, we learn, go way back to his childhood. “He liked the gloosh of it when he bit into it, the faintly corrupt, sticky-sweet sap, the rotten-soft texture of the cherry itself. He imagined he was helping himself to a chocolate-covered eyeball. Even in those days, Jude took pleasure in dreaming up the worst, reveled in gruesome possibilities.” (Heart-Shaped Box, pg 46). I loved this passage; the visualization that Joe Hill was able to create was impressive. I was reminded of a different author that tends to write horror novels as well – Stephen King. Who just so happens to be Joe Hill’s father. So it makes sense that he would have the ability to tell a story that makes you hold your breath while you’re reading. A book that you have to read with the lights on, yes I was impressed with Joe Hill’s writing.

Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone, that’s for sure. But if you like to read scary stories, this is something you should definitely add to your list. I really enjoyed it and am already trying to get my hands on more of Joe Hill’s work. Just don’t read “Heart-Shaped Box” without some space in your freezer to hide the book.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Twenty-Sixth Book Review: “Allegiant” by Veronica Roth

“Allegiant” by Veronica Roth is the third and final book in the Divergent series. From the beginning I have really enjoyed how strong Tris is and how her strength comes from within. She doesn’t need to be saved; she is fully capable of taking care of herself. Even in the face of uncertainty, she finds her way.

SPOILER ALERT – Do not continue reading if you have not finished Divergent and Insurgent.

At the end of “Insurgent” we learn that the community has been created as a social experiment of sorts and that the purpose of their community was to surface a large amount of Divergents, and then send them out to help the rest of the world. The second book ends with complete chaos after this information was leaked. In the third book, there is a great debate going on as to whether or not the message is authentic and what should be done. In the meantime, the factions have been dissolved as ordered by Tobais’s mother Evelyn. Tris does not appreciate what is happening. “I don’t want the factions back. / But Evelyn hasn’t liberated us like she thinks – she’s just made us all factionless. She’s afraid of what we would choose, if we were given actual freedom. And that means that no matter what I believe about the factions, I’m relieved that someone, somewhere, is defying her.” (Allegiant, pg 20). I don’t want to give too much away, and the book definitely had some interesting plot twists.

I really like Tris as a character and I think that her strength continued to shine throughout the novels, even when she was facing the kind of challenges that she would never have imagined. The moment that she chose to become Dauntless, she proved that she was brave, and daring, and willing to take risks. As the series continued, she showed everyone that she wasn’t willing to stand by and take it, she wanted to work against a corrupt system, she wanted to do what was right, no matter the consequences. I think her strength is doubly present when she is disagreeing with Tobias. Instead of letting him convince her of what he thinks is the right course of action, Tris refuses to act before using her own brain and her own sense. “I fell in love with him. But I don’t just stay with him by default as if there’s no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me.” (Allegiant, pg 372). I loved this quote. It perfectly captures how real love is, and I can totally relate. That is part of what is so great about Tris in the Divergent series – she is a relatable character. Even though she leaps outside of her comfort zone, she still has the same feelings that you would imagine you would have in the same situation.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think this was a wonderful series and although the books went in quite a different direction from what I had expected, I was constantly entertained. I would definitely be interested in other works by Veronica Roth.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Book Review: “A Little Something Different” by Sandy Hall

“A Little Something Different” by Sandy Hall was a really fun read. By the seventh page I knew that this was a book I would connect with. “When I finish taking roll, I jump back into my spiel. “I’ve got a theory,” I say. / “That it’s a demon,” Lea says, so quietly I almost miss it, and I probably would have, but she slaps a surprised hand in front of her mouth. I see Gabe turn to her and smile. / “A dancing demon?” he says quietly. / And then in my finest Rupert Giles impression of all time I say, “No, something isn’t right there.” / No one else seems to get the joke, but it’s in that moment that I know my couple of the semester is going to be Gabe and Lea.” (A Little Something Different, pg 7). When I read this passage, I instantly knew that I would get along with the author. I am a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, and that quote was a reference to season 6, the episode called “Once More With Feeling,” which is an amazing episode. Throughout “A Little Something Different” I really enjoyed myself. It lived up to its title, it really was different.

“A Little Something Different” is a love story told from many different perspectives. When I learned about this book, I assumed that there would be several different people telling the story, and while that was true, there was also a park bench and a squirrel that chimed in during this tale. I really liked the idea behind this, sometimes you think about how animals would think or react to certain situations, so having a squirrel as one of the narrators wasn’t a huge stretch. The fact that there was also a park bench that narrated parts of “A Little Something Different,” well, that took the book to a whole new level of crazy. This was certainly not the most sophisticated writing, but it was entertaining.

One thing that I didn’t love about this book was the fact that someone did not do a good job copyediting it. There is one part in the book (page 88) where the word that was supposed to be used was ‘why’ and instead the word ‘way’ was used. That made me pretty angry. Whoever copyedited this book should be fired. But that was really the only issue I took with this book. It was entertaining and I think, especially considering how many different narrators there were, that Sandy Hall did a good job developing the characters as much as she did. I found myself cheering for Gabe and Lea as the book progressed.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, it was a really fun read and I think almost anyone looking for a light read would enjoy it. “A Little Something Different” could probably be put in the young adult genre; it was fun and light. It is a book that would be more likely to appeal to a female audience, but I think the quirkiness throughout the novel could make it interesting for anyone. I fully intend to read any more books that Sandy Hall decides to write.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Book Review: “Hope in a Jar” by Beth Harbison

“Hope in a Jar” by Beth Harbison follows two women, Allie and Olivia, over the span of their friendship as kids, and into their adult lives. Early on we learn that these friends drifted apart after something cataclysmic occurred, but we are left wondering what that was. “She only remembered it as the night that changed the rest of her life. The night she learned that she was made of weak stuff and needed to live her life as safely as possible because she didn’t have the strength to go out and take on the world by herself.” (Hope in a Jar, pg 276). They reconnect after years during a high school reunion, which neither of them was planning on attending. I thought this novel was a serendipitous choice. I was unaware of there being a reunion in the book before I picked it up, but my own ten-year high school reunion is coming up in just a few weeks. I have high hopes that it goes better for me in real life than it did for the characters in “Hope in a Jar,” but we will just have to wait and see on that one.

When we meet Allie and Olivia as kids we learn that Olivia does not have a happy home life like Allie does and therefore she spends most of her time at Allie’s home. I felt that Harbison was able to capture the interactions of two teen girls very well, from talking about boys they like, to discussing the class mean girl, I was continually entertained. The jump between the two characters and the two timelines was definitely interesting. There were times when you were completely absorbed in what was going to happen in the past and then you found yourself catapulted into the adult lives of Allie and Olivia. It made for some interesting reading.

The biggest issue I had with this book was that it felt like the author spent a lot of time building up backstory around the main characters, and not a lot of time connecting part one to part two. There was also minimal development on other characters in the book. It seemed like she wrote the ending first and then had to backpedal to create enough content for a book. The way that the story ended was too neat, and a bit anticlimactic after all the build up throughout the book.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, it was a fun read. Beth Harbison’s books are definitely directed towards a female audience and this is not the kind of book that I would say could appeal to men as well, “Hope in a Jar” is right in that ‘chic-lit’ genre. It’s very light reading although there are some heavier issues that are addressed. It’s entertaining, but a book that I probably will not pick up again. I will continue to read anything else that Haribson writes. Her books are without fail entertaining, and something I can get lost in for a bit.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Twenty-Third Book Review: “The Martian” by Andy Weir

When I first saw the previews for the new movie starring Matt Damon called “The Martian,” I was definitely interested. Shortly afterwards, I found out that the movie is based on a book of the same title by Andy Weir. Being a true worshiper of the written word, I proclaimed that I would not see the movie before reading the book. In a shocking twist, the book was gifted to me by my husband who very much wants to see the movie in theaters. Being the dutiful wife that I am, I brought the book on our honeymoon so I could finish it as quickly as possible.

In case you haven’t seen the preview, “The Martian” follows Mark Watney’s struggle to survive after being left behind on Mars. It was a freak accident that led to his situation – a major storm blew in and forced his crew into an early evacuation of their mission. During this storm, an antenna pierces Mark’s suit and breaks the part of his suit that communicates to the group his vitals. The crew has to accept that he has died and get off the planet before they too suffer the same fate. The book starts off with Mark recovering consciousness and basically coming to the conclusion that he is fucked.

Part of what is so much fun about this novel is what a lovable dork Mark Watney is; his good humor helps to keep his own morale up as he tries to deal with this impossible situation. “In high school, I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons. (You may not have guessed this botanist/mechanical engineer was a bit of a nerd in high school, but indeed I was.)” (The Martian, pg 23/24). There are constant moments throughout the novel that I found myself reading aloud to my husband just because whatever Mark Watney said made me laugh. I especially liked: “If you asked every engineer at NASA what the worst scenario for the Hab was, they’d all answer “fire.” If you asked them what the result would be, they’d answer “death by fire.”” (The Martian, pg 29).

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! I thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Martian” and delving into the mind of Mark Watney. He was such a loveable character and you couldn’t help but cheer for him. There was a fair amount of technical language and math/science thrown in the novel, but it wasn’t overwhelming. This was largely in part to the ever-present humor, which made this such a great read. I hope that Andy Weir continues writing; he did a hell of a job on his first book.