Category: For Readers! (Page 2 of 2)

Think Like a Librarian: Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk

I’m trying to look at books the way a librarian might, in order to help get me better at thinking from a reader’s point of view.  Here are the other posts in the series.


Haunted is a collection of short horror stories tied together by one story that threads together the others.  I do not recommend this collection for anyone who isn’t already a horror fan.  If a reader has any concerns about gore or offensive material, then I wouldn’t recommend this.  This is a much more challenging book than Fight Club, and liking Fight Club isn’t a good predictor on whether a reader would like Haunted.

The general idea is that a patron of literature has offered a small group of amateur writers the chance to get away from it all in order for each of them to write their masterpiece; however, no one will know where they’ve gone and they won’t have any contact with the outside world.

The writers who become involved with this effort are not, shall we say, on the up-and-up, and look forward for the chance to disappear for three months, even more than they look forward for the chance to write without being disturbed.

Which is just as well, because disturbed is what they get.

This collection contains Palahniuk’s infamous short story “Guts,” which is supposed to have made several people faint with how repulsive the story is.  The story is one of the finest examples of gross-out horror that could ever be envisioned, not even barring Stephen King’s work, but I believe the real cause of the fainting is that the story starts off by telling the reader to hold their breath!

Terrible things happen, and I have to warn you not to look for a happy ending.

To put it mildly.

In addition, don’t expect the supernatural.  Palahniuk finds enough horror within the human species to satisfy without turning to something outside it.

I would recommend this book for older teens and up, people with strong stomachs only.  The book is darkly funny, and is really the most vicious of satires rather than horror–but it almost requires an understanding of how horror works in order for the satire to work.  Reading this book will make things like Saw and Hostel look like lightweights; it may also introduce darkly cynical horror-movie buffs to the enchantments of satire as a literary art.

Incidentally, the cover on some of the print versions glows in the dark 🙂

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Think Like a Librarian: My Favorite Thing is Monsters, by Emil Ferris

I’m trying to look at books the way a librarian might, in order to help get me better at thinking from a reader’s point of view.  Here are the other posts in the series.

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is another graphic novel.  (I checked a stack of best-of graphic novels all out at once, so there were a bunch.)  What you’re looking at here is older teens and up.  The main character is a middle-schooler, but I would definitely read the graphic novel before handing it off.  Some middle-school kids will do fine with it; it’s told at a middle-school level, but covers some extremely overwhelming topics.  If you need to cover some extremely overwhelming topics with your kids at that age…this might help.  Death, same-sex sexual attraction, attempted rape disguised as “bullying,” prostitution, murder, and loving someone who makes big mistakes are all covered.

The main character is a (human) girl who sees herself as a werewolf.  She is artistically inclined, and the graphic novel, created by an adult, is presented as her handiwork.  The “panels” in the graphic novel are free flowing, free associative doodles done in pen and ink.  People can be drawn beautifully, mockingly, photorealistically, etc., based on the main character’s emotions at the time.

The story ranges from before World War II, to concentration camps in WWII, to the late Sixties, as the main character attempts to solve the murder of a neighbor, the “blue” woman on the cover.

The art in this is loose and improvisational, yet masterful; the writing is a masterpiece on a level with Art Spiegelman’s Maus.  I’m not exactly going out on a limb to say that this volume is one of the masterpieces of Western fiction, graphic novel or otherwise.

It can be a challenging read, but mostly because it’s literally just heavy.  A second volume is planned to come out in the second half of 2018.

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Think Like A Librarian: Mockingbird Graphic Novels, by Chelsea Cain

I’m trying to look at books the way a librarian might, in order to help get me better at thinking from a reader’s point of view.  Here are the other posts in the series.

The Mockingbird graphic novels, #1 and #2, written by Chelsea Cain and illustrated by Kate Niemczyk, are a short series of superhero comics in the Marvel universe (the same as the movies, but with a character that hasn’t appeared in any of the movies yet).  Anyone who has seen the first Avengers movie with probably have enough knowledge of how the Marvel universe works well enough to follow along.

Writer Chelsea Cain is best known for her serial killer/suspense novels in the Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell series, beginning with Heartsick.  

Most of graphic novels in the main Marvel and DC universes are played in all seriousness, not for laughs.  There are some exceptions; one of the more recent characters who consistently gets played for laughs is Deadpool, but comic characters tend to be overwhelmed by the Batmans, Supermans, Professor Xs, Magnetos, and so on.

The comic characters also tend to be idiots; it’s pretty easy to squeeze a laugh out of Deadpool that way.

As portrayed in these two graphic novels, Mocking bird is a comic, yet still brilliant, character.  She faces off, in the first collection, against a hospital bureaucracy that’s almost more puissant than the actual villains she faces as a superhero.  In the second collection, she’s up against powerful forces again, but between her and victory stand two conventions and a cruise ship, including lots of adorable corgis.

My recommendations here are for people who want some light, humerous reading in a graphic novel format.  I would caution that this is a series that fits in the greater Marvel universe, so you’re just going to have to let some of the references fly by.  I don’t recommend this series for most teens, not because of the subject matter or language (which is more hinted at than shown), but because of the faster, quippier level of humor.  However, if a reader can keep up with Deadpool graphic novels (which can be quite witty and satirical), I’d give it a try.

The character is a bit Mary-Sue-ish:  good things happen for her and she is extremely irreverent toward the men in her life, but nothing happens without complications, reactions, or challenges.

would some readers that the humor here treats very lightly of some very serious issues, including a rape that happens before the events of the story.

It takes writing time to write these posts.  If you enjoyed this post, please take a moment to check out my latest book, One Dark Summer Night, or sign up for my newsletter.

Think Like a Librarian: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, by Agatha Christie

I’m trying to look at books the way a librarian might, in order to help get me better at thinking from a reader’s point of view.  Last week I did Jeff Lemire’s Roughneck.


Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is a standalone novel in the Agatha Christie Poirot mystery series.  She’s most famous for Murder on the Orient Express, in the same series.

Most of Agatha Christie’s work fits comfortably in the subgenre of mysteries known as cozies.  A cozy is a mystery that you’re supposed to read in a comfy chair in front of a fire with a mug of cocoa and a cat on your lap.  It’s a low-key book in which the murder is mostly there to provide a focus for the story.  The focus of a cozy is on the intellectual puzzle and the characters of the people involved, both the suspects and the detective.

All of Agatha Christie’s work focuses on exploring one or more assumptions that readers tend to make, and exploiting that assumption to force the reader to guess the wrong murderer.  She anticipates the clever guesses that you might make…and uses those guesses against you.

This genre came about between World War I and II in the UK and Europe.  Where the U.S. was focusing on ripping detective stories, the other side of the world, almost literally shell-shocked, needed slightly less excitement in their lives, and went with cozies instead (although of course that’s an oversimplification).

The plot here is that a cantankerous old man’s family is gathered around him for one last time–and it really does turn out to be one last time.  Everyone has a motive, and most of the characters had the opportunity…except for the minor detail of the door having been locked from the inside.

I recommend this book for people who have had enough stress today, thank you, and possibly even people who have had enough family stress for the holiday season, thank you very much, and would like to see someone poke a few gentle holes in the windbags typical of more than a few families.

In particular, I think Gen-Xers are going to start reading more cozies as they get older–when epic fantasy starts to feel like too much drama.  Some days, sure, you can imagine yourself swinging a sword against dragons.  Other days, you just want to know that the jerky family patriarch gets what’s coming to him.

It takes writing time to write these posts.  If you enjoyed this post, please take a moment to check out my latest book, One Dark Summer Night, or sign up for my newsletter.

Think Like a Librarian: Roughneck, by Jeff Lemire

I’m not sure how to explain it, but I’m trying to look at the best of the best books that I read and see them as a librarian might–who needs this book? who would love it?  I read this one recently and was very impressed.

Roughneck by [Lemire, Jeff]

Roughneck is a standalone graphic novel by Jeff Lemire, who does a lot of work in comic books and may be best known for writing Old Man Logan, the inspiration for the movie Logan.  What I know him best for is his series Sweet Tooth.

This is a book that features a lot of violence, but focuses on the question, “What happens when you throw yourself away?”  Two First Nations siblings in Canada who have gotten themselves into what at first seems like an insurmountable amount of trouble are given a narrow, narrow window to save themselves–but it doesn’t look like they’re going to be able to change enough to do so.

I highly recommend this book if you need something to hand to a teen reader who is struggling with violence or short-term thinking, or who just doesn’t like to freaking read.  It’s a quick but chunky read, about 270 pages more filled with action and the ice-cold Canadian setting than it is with dialogue or weighty description.

I also have to admit that if you’re a grown-up who loves Bill Patterson’s art style and wondered what it would look like with adult material (there are no stuffed tigers), this would do up a treat, too.

Readers’ breath will fog up the air when they read this…even in July 🙂

It takes writing time to write these posts.  If you enjoyed this post, please take a moment to check out my latest book, One Dark Summer Night, or sign up for my newsletter.

Recommended Reading for 2018

I asked for recommended reading for books written since 2000.  (I’ve been reading a lot of best-of lists, which tend to be 20+ years behind the times.)

Here what I got.  I marked the racy romances in case you’re around THOSE kind of people, the ones who disapprove of things as a hobby.



Let me know if you have more 🙂

Flavorwire’s 50 Scariest Books of All Time: The End of a Reading List

So it’s official:  I’ve finished Flavorwire’s 50 Scariest Books of All Time, from beginning to end.  It’s been about three years, although I didn’t start out focusing on this one; I’ve been working on several horror lists with MB Partlow and Shannon Lawrence. The Nightmare Magainze’s Top 100 is another, which is done, and up next is Shortlist’s 30 Scariest Books Ever Written.  Shannon’s original post tracking the project is here.  (She’s doing the best job of keeping track of things; also, we rarely agree on anything, which makes this even cooler.  MB and I tend to see things slightly more eye-to-eye, although I do differ with her strongly on atmosphere.)*

I’m tracking my end of things on Goodreads; my reviews are here.  If I had read the book and reviewed it on Goodreads already, I didn’t reread it, but if I’d read it before 2010 (my first year on GR), I reread it.

I liked most of the books on this list.  It might be easier to list the ones I didn’t like (there certainly were fewer of them).  I rated 22 of 50 as five-star.  But in the interests of “bah! forget that,” instead, here are my top ten, in no particular order:

  • The Turn of the Screw, Henry James.
  • The Woman in Black, Susan Hill.
  • The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty.
  • Let the Right One In, John Ajdvide Lindqvist.
  • The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson.
  • Lord of the Flies, William Golding.
  • The Girl Next Door, Jack Ketchum (which, I don’t know, isn’t really my favorite so much as the most legitimately horrific/scary)
  • 1984, George Orwell.
  • Piercing, Ryu Murakami.
  • Dawn, Octavia Butler.

I spent the most time with The Woman in Black, going fairly in depth to study it (and finding some Really Weird Stuff as I did), but I’m also working on The Turn of the Screw.  I don’t think those are necessarily the best books of the lot, but the ones whose plots and settings most appealed to me.

The one that’s most under-read from the list is, IMO, Daniel Auerbach’s Penpal, although I will grant you that it leans more literary than some readers will like, and it isn’t perfect.

What I liked more about this list than the Nightmare list?  Fewer eyerolls due to extreme sexism (not the curators, but the books themselves, which lean heavily 80s horror).  What I liked less about this list?  At first I was pleased that that the list drew from a broad spectrum across genres, with a lot of literary showings that don’t get listed as horror at first glance (for example, American Psycho or Blood Meridian).  But then…I got tired of it.  Some of the books seemed to have been picked just because they were the mostest that could be found, like The Painted Bird or The Wasp Factory, and I found myself dreading the last few books, going, “What fresh Hell will they drag me through, just because they can?”  The end of this list was far more exhausting to push through than the Nightmare list because of that, I think.

Next up for this project is the Shortlist 30 Scariest Books, or maybe the Kim Newman/Stephen Jones Top 100 Horror list.  But, being slightly burned out at this point, I’m going to finish up the Top 100 Crime Novels list first instead.

I do like me some lists.

Best Books Read, November

A selection of the best books I read in November, which, admittedly, still isn’t done yet but close enough:

  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nahisi Coates.  A series of essays, framed as a letter written to his son, on the poisonous Dream of a white America.  Just amazing.
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan.  This is not a screed on what types of food are healthiest for the body.  This is a book on how industrial agriculture is affecting the planet (hint: it depends on oil, so we better start thinking about changing it).
  • The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum.  I can’t really recommend this.  It was a great book about everyday evil spiraling out of control, though.  A genuinely horrifying book.  I started out on audio with the author reading, but had to switch to text because I knew I wasn’t going to make it through every detail being slowly read out like that.
  • The Hour of the Star, by Clarice Lispector.  A really short, weird, meta book, very Kafka-esque.  I laughed all the way through it, but then that’s usually how Kafka takes me, too.

Runners up…I also read the complete Death Note saga (finally) but was massively disappointed about the ending, which should have occurred about 2/3 of the way through the series.  Meh.  In Cold Blood was good, but didn’t particularly hold me, and I had to skim a bit toward the end.  The Hot Zone was very dramatic, but I wished it had given more details.  Affinity was fun, but not up to the level of Fingersmith.  The Ruins was a one-trick pony but did that trick well.  I just didn’t care for the trick.

Nonfiction Books to Be a Better Citizen of the World/Universe

I asked on Facebook what nonfiction books they would recommend for becoming a better citizen of the world/universe.  It sounded like a fun thing to ask; I like to ask for recommendations.

Over a hundred and forty books later…

Please note that I am not a trained bibliographer and you’re lucky you’re not just getting a link to a rambling, cross-commented FB post!  Also, yes.  This list is completely biased–by me, by the people I know, by the people I know on Facebook.  Don’t like it?  Suggest some additions.  I’ll take ’em, unless they’re lame for one reason or another.

The list!

The I haven’t read these yet but I know I’m coming back to this post so I’ll put them here so I don’t forget sub-list:

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