Thursday, January 22, 2015

CBR7 #1: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Cannonball Read #7 has BEGUN!

My first book is Joe Hill's NOS4A2, which was received as a gift in the CBR Book Exchange this year. I was extremely excited, because I've been hearing really good things about this book, and I really enjoyed Hill's Heart Shaped Box.

The main character in the story is Victoria McQueen, called Vic by some, and The Brat to her father. She discovers one day that she has the ability to slip through space to find things, driven to wherever she wants to go by crossing over an old wooden bridge. Usually, she uses it to find items people have lost, but one day when she's a teenager, she uses it to go looking for trouble. As it always has, the bridge takes her to exactly what she asked for. What she finds on the other side is another person who also has a way to slip in and out of the world, but his activities are not as benign as Vic's. Although she manages to escape from Charlie Manx when she's seventeen, the rest of her life will turn on what happened that day.

Thus begins a tale that spans more than a decade and criss-crosses the country. I was very caught up in Vic's life, and really liked and identified with the character. She had a tough but vulnerable voice, and I was anxious to find out what would happen to her. I also liked the supporting cast quite a bit--her boyfriend Lou was a wonderful, gentle giant of a character, about whom I was constantly worried. Her son Wayne was also interesting in a quiet, self-contained sort of way. Maggie Leigh was wonderful, and I was sorry she didn't get more time.The villain and his henchman were both deeply creepy, though I would have liked just a bit more back-story about Manx.

The plot moved along pretty quickly, and at no point did I find the book dragging. It was quite a page-turner, and I was happy to be along for the ride.

Hill is obviously deeply influenced by his father's work (his father being Stephen King), but he has his own unique voice, and has managed to take a lot of the things I love about King (his relatable characters, clever use of language, creative ideas) and put his own spin on them. He has also managed to come up with a solid ending, for which I was grateful.

On the whole, I liked this a lot, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys creepy stories.

A note: read to the end. Don't forget the note on the typeface...I know they're usually boring, but this one isn't.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Big Brother is Counting Your Steps

So my work has given us all FitBits.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this yet. On the one hand, it's nice that they're concerned about our health and willing to shell out for this not-cheap device. On the other hand, there is a departmental "challenge" aspect to this that I did not actively agree to, and also a certain amount of implied weight policing I'm not sure I'm comfortable with.

If I want to go home and lie on the floor all evening and not move, that's no one's business but mine, and to have my activity levels broadcasted to the people I work with feels somewhat invasive. But I'm not sure this is a situation in which refusing to participate would be acceptable. No one wants to be the whiner, after all.

For those who don't know me personally, I work in healthcare. I'm not a doctor or nurse or anything like that, mind you -- I'm an admin. I'm also a fat person, who has worked hard at accepting herself and her body as it is. I think I've mentioned my stance on dieting here before, and I continue to believe that my life is not even the slightest bit improved by torturing myself over every bite of food I consume. My body is what it is, and even though I might not be considered asthetically pleasing by society at large, I have perfect blood pressure and cholesterol, not a hint of the dreaded diabeetus.

But even if I DID have any of those ailments, is it any of my employer's business? I pay for my insurance just like everyone else, and frankly I probably am much cheaper to them than the people who have a bunch of kids or hereditary issues or weird food allergies. I am under no obligation to anyone to be a "good fatty". If recent events have given me nothing else, I've gotten the freedom to be whomever the fuck I want, without having to justify my life, my choices, or my behavior to anyone. If I want to eat quinoa and kale and sweat to the oldies, that is okay. But if I want to eat chips for dinner and spend the weekend watching CSI reruns, that's okay too, because it's no one's business but mine.

I appreciate the idea that they are trying to motivate us to integrate more activity into our lives, but the onus is on us to do this outside of work, since my work by definition requires that I sit at a desk all day. Also, the FitBit requires entering a weight before you can even set it up. Is that going to be made public? Is this campaign focused on activity or weight loss? And will I be shamed by my coworkers if I don't measure up?

I guess I'll try it out and see how it goes.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

New Year, Innit? (Intensive Navel-Gazing Ahead: Proceed With Caution)

So 2014 was a pretty eventful year.

The main thing that happened is that after nearly eleven years together, The Boyfriend and I split up. I will not pretend that this was "mutual" -- he was the one who decided to call it quits -- but I will say that I am coming to believe that this was the right move for everyone involved.

Of course, this meant that as of August 28, I kind of had to reboot my entire life. I had to find a new place to live and decide what kind of life I was going to make for myself. I managed, with an efficiency that frankly surprised me a bit, to find an apartment, pack, and move within three weeks. My cat and I headed back to our old neighborhood, and so far it's working out really well. I have four new roommates whom I really enjoy, and I've had a great time organizing and decorating my own space. Although I sometimes miss my old life, I'm quickly coming to realize that my old life actually had very little to do with me. It had a lot more to do with a person I was trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to be, and I don't especially miss her. We tried to handle the break-up as maturely and civilly as possible, and for the most part we've succeeded. While the feelings involved may not be nearly as amicable as we pretend, behavior has on the whole been polite. This has denied me the opportunity to get all Miranda Lambert about things, but has allowed me to keep in contact with The Boyfriend's sister, aunt, and grandmother, all of whom I like very much.

Anyone who knows me knows that there are few things I hate more than change, so this has been a real struggle for me. I've been lucky that my new roommates are fun, interesting people who have been open to forming friendships and sharing their social circles. They are also great with boundaries--if I want to hang out, there's usually someone to talk to, and if I would rather hole up in my room with Netflix, no one is offended. And everyone cleans up after themselves -- no crackmonkeys here!

I miss my old friends sometimes--while we are still friendly, they mostly belonged to The Boyfriend--but that will pass. I'll admit there were a few that I was mistaken about, thinking that we'd remain closer than we are. That was a painful lesson, one that never gets easier. However, on the other hand, I've probably been out more in the past two months than I had during the previous year, and to places I would never have expected to go. I've been to several parties where I only (slightly) knew a few people, and surprisingly (to me, anyway) I met new people and formed acquaintances that led to further invitations. When people have asked me to do things (cookie swap, Halloween for Christmas, icing 300 cookies) I've agreed with a smile and ended up having a good time. My philosophy this year is that unless I have a rational reason for refusing, when someone asks me to do something, I'm going to just say yes. Knit blankets for shelter cats? Yes! Pot-luck dinner? Yes! Boston Dyke March Organizational meeting? ...You know I'm not a lesbian, right? And that's okay? then yes!

I'm still working on initiating things, and that's obviously tough. Inside me will always be the middle-schooler who is terrified to throw a party and have no one show up. However, what's the worst thing that can happen in that circumstance? No one comes and I eat the dip myself? Yeah, okay, I might drink too much and cry myself to sleep, but pretty soon I'll have plenty of other friends. I've been reconnecting with people I let slide out of my life and making an effort to socialize with those who were previously on the periphery of my set.

The idea of dating again is still really too scary to contemplate. I feel like maybe I need to follow the advice of her Majesty Queen RuPaul, "If you can't love yourself, how the hell you gon' love anybody else?" I need to make sure I like me before I try to convince dudes to do so. I also need to make sure I have a firm personality, so this time around I don't find myself years down the road trying to force my round personality into a square hole again. Maybe there's someone out there who doesn't think all the things I like are lame, stupid, or a waste of time. Someone who isn't going to be disappointed that I find all the things he thinks are fun completely torturous. But I need to be sure I know what I'm all about before I go looking for someone who is going to love me for me.

To sum up ("Finally!" you say, "If there is a point to this, could you please, please get to it?") I would like to lay out a few goals for the new year. The focus of this year will be on self-care and improvement at my own pace.

1. Say yes. Continue to make a concerted effort to accept opportunities as they present themselves. Saying yes leads to new experiences and new people, and new people lead to new friendships. Saying yes makes all that possible.

2. Celebrate the small victories. Did I hang a curtain rod by myself? Did I successfully cook a new recipe? Did I do something that scared me? Did I manage some mundane adult task that I've never had to do on my own before? Yay! I will not expect others to celebrate these tiny steps, but I will allow myself to take pride in my accomplishments, no matter how small or inconsequential.

3. Forgive myself. This shit is not easy. There are going to be days when merely getting out of bed, putting on clothes, and facing the world is the ultimate test of will power. I give myself permission to let the little things go on those days. If the socks are not in the hamper, there are soda cans on my desk, and all I managed to do after work was crawl into bed and watch old episodes of CSI, that's okay. Some days are going to be like that. The next day, I'll try to do better. There will be things I don't know that seemingly everyone else in the world does (What are storm windows for? I have to cut a butternut squash in half before I cook it? How do I work this goddamn corkscrew?) and that's okay. I'm still learning.

4. Accept myself. There are things I like and things I don't like, and I don't need to justify those things to anyone. I am under no obligation to make myself palatable to anyone. I, like Frank Sinatra, shall do it it my way, and those who don't like it don't have to participate. In the words of a great tweet I saw the other day, "Be vinegar. Be vinegar with no shame. Flies are terrible and they don't deserve you."

5. Read. Write. Draw. Sculpt. Go places. Visit museums. Try new restaurants. Cook things. Try new styles. Be shiny, glittery, and/or sparkly. Get involved in something. Read blogs by people from different walks of life. Check my privilege. Listen to different kinds of music. Speak up. Put on makeup. Decorate. Learn to walk in heels. Blog. Finish the Cannonball Read. Laugh. Remember that this, too, shall pass.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

CBR6 #16: Dead Sea by Tim Curran

I really wanted to like this book. It seems like it should be right up my alley: maritime disaster? Check. Horror? Check. Survival on the high seas and the idea that the other survivors are the real danger? Check and check.

And yet...

The premise was great -- a ship taking a construction crew to South American travels into a thick, mysterious fog and emerges in a place that is very clearly not right. The fog seems almost alive -- and very unfriendly. Plus, it's full of creatures that shouldn't exist, and ships that aren't where they belong.

There were some great characters, too. The first mate, the cook, the undercover corporate spy -- all smart, interesting characters with solid voices. There was a good, love-to-hate human antagonist as well as the unknown fog monster. There was even a tough, capable female character. I liked the parts where characters discovered the history of some of the ships that had ended up in this place. All that was great.

The problem was that the story dragged significantly in the middle. Although I understood the desire to ratchet up the tension by leaving the characters adrift, I got awfully frustrated after a while watching the same situation play out repeatedly in each lifeboat. Something scary would happen, but then it would just go back to waiting and watching, and I would pray again that the separate groups would finally find one another so that something of interest could happen. Once they did combine, the ending rocketed on to a somewhat satisfying conclusion, but by then I was barely managing to keep interested.

I think this book might have benefitted from some solid editing. The story was rich and interesting, the characters had real potential, and there were some genuine scares that kept me up a night or two. There was just too MUCH of everything.

CBR6 #15: Joyland by Stephen King

Although I love his massive epics like IT and The Stand, I think where Stephen King shines the most is in his shorter fiction. At 283 pages, Joyland is comparatively short, but it allows the story to unfold in a more focused way, and avoids some of the bloated tangents that--though I love them--can make the longer works drag a little.

Devon Jones gets his heart broken, and on a whim decides to leave Maine spend the summer of his 21st year working at a small amusement park in the south called Joyland. As he learns the ways of the carnies--figuring how how to speak their lingo, keep the "rubes" in their places, "wear the fur," and "sell fun"--he also discovers the dark secret of the park--the unsolved murder of a young woman in the haunted house years before, who rumors say haunts the ride. Devon spends the summer saving lives and waiting for the predictions of the park's local psychic to come true. When fall comes, a chill will fall across Joyland, and Devon will be lucky if can survive it.

This was a first person story, and the character of Devon had a wonderful, clear voice. He was wry, self-deprecating, and interesting, and his narration moved the plot along. The side characters were interesting and fairly well fleshed-out, and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen to them. The ending was also much better than I expected, it being a King book and all ;)

I'd recommend this to any King fan, and even those who may think they don't like his work should try it. It's more murder mystery/coming-of-age tale than a horror book, despite the occasional ghostly visit or psychic flash.

If you enjoyed this review, be sure to check out www.cannonballread.com for more great book reviews.

CBR6 #14: The Drought by Patricia Fulton

Yes, I am in fact alive. Some things in my life went totally pear-shaped there for a while, but it has not stopped me from reading. (I can't say it's done anything for my motivation to write about what I'm reading, but that's sort of a lingering issue anyway.)

Jared Riley knows something is wrong in his hometown of Junction, Texas. His mother's headaches are getting worse, one of his good friends disappeared down a drainpipe, and the temperature seems to have taken on a mind of its own, bent on destroying the town and everyone in it. People are losing their minds, and strange things are happening. It's up to a small group of concerned citizens to figure out what's happening and try to stop it before it's too late.

I liked this book a lot. The characters all felt reasonably realistic, and I was interested in their stories and anxious to find out what would happen to them (though in some cases the answer would be "nothing good.") The plot moved along, though I felt there was a little drag in the middle while the characters were trying to put all the pieces together. I really wanted them to hurry up and combine forces.

On the whole, this was a good read that utilized atmosphere, description, and suspense really effectively, while letting the personalities of the characters shine through and do the heavy lifting of the story. I'll definitely check out any further works from this author!

Also, if you like book reviews, you should check out The Cannonball Read blog, which is full of much better reviews than my sad little output here.

Friday, June 6, 2014

CBR6 #13: Haunted House by John Kilborn

I made it! A quarter Cannonball done... halfway to my low-bar goal for the year!

I didn't realize that this was a sequel to several other books by Jack Kilborn until after I was well into it, but that didn't keep me from enjoying the story (it just made me want to go find those books now, too!)

A group of people who had survived horrors almost beyond imagining (in Kilborn's other books, I assume) receive an invitation to participate in a scientific experiment regarding the nature of fear. Some are hesitant, some are enthusiastic, but most are unable to resist the draw of the rewards--both of cash and the potential to rid themselves of their crippling fear. Unfortunately, the experiment begins to go awry, and the survivors find themselves fighting for their lives once again, this time against entities that don't even know the meaning of fear.

I really liked the characters in this book, particularly the tough detective and the foul-mouthed dominatrix. I found myself really rooting for them all, and the tension when their were in danger kept me on the edge of my seat. The plot moved along fairly quickly, though I felt like there was some drag between the invitations being sent and the survivors arriving at the house. However, there were some interesting plot twists that I didn't see coming, and I really enjoyed the whole thing. In fact, I was so invested in what happened that I broke my own rule and finished the book at home, rather than waiting for my daily commute!

I'd recommend this one to people who like well-written horror, and plan to find the books that come before (and after) this one soon!

CBR6 #12: Eerie by Blake Crouch

I wanted to like this book, and it definitely did have redeeming features, but on the whole I was disappointed.

The story is that of Grant Moreton, detective and alcoholic, and his sister Paige, the family's black sheep. Paige has gotten herself more in-over-her-head than usual, and it's up to Grant to help bail her out. Except there's something evil under Paige's bed, and...

Yeah, it all sounded good in set-up, and the story definitely did have some moments of creepiness. The characters of Grant and Paige were both likeable and believable. Unfortunately, the story itself--and the conclusion in particular--wasn't nearly as interesting as it could have been. In my opinion, the author wasted the tension and atmosphere he'd been building with a flimsy and borderline nonsensical explanation. There were plot threads that led off to nowhere, and I just found myself deeply unsatisfied.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

CBR6 #11: The Home by Scott Nicholson

Freeman Mills is a troubled kid. After bouncing around through a variety of foster homes and institutions, he finds himself at Wendover, yet another home. Unfortunately for Freeman, Wendover has a lot of secrets. Most of them are unpleasant. Some of them are dead. And for a kid with ESP, all of them are dangerous.

I liked this book a lot. It was part of a bundle I picked up via Kindle for $.99, and I didn't have a lot of expectations about what I'd be getting. The Home turned out to be a gripping little surprise. I enjoyed Freeman -- his voice and ways of thinking about things were great, and as a Clint Eastwood fan, I was particularly pleased by his attempts to live his life according to The Man With No Name's ethos. The characters of Vicky (Freeman's bulimic friend) and Starlene (a naive counselor at the home) were also empathetic and interesting. In general I found the protagonists relatable and intriguing. The antagonists were unfortuantely not as well fleshed out -- although the warden of the home was more detailed than the rest, I felt that some of the other "bad guys" were a bit two-dimensional.

The plot moved along at a reasonable clip, and I appreciated some of the narrative twists. I would have liked a little more background on the ghosts, but I think that's just a personal thing for me.

On the whole I found this to be a decent little horror book, and am interested to read more of the author's work.

Friday, April 4, 2014

CBR6 #10: The Colony by F. G. Cottam

In 1825, the colony of settlers on New Hope Island--a barren rock just off the coast of Scotland--disappeared. Not a trace was ever found of them or of their charismatic leader, a former British slaver who found God and moved to the island for a chance to freely practice his own form of religion.

In 1934, a crofter named David Shanks moved to the island and built a cabin. He wasn't there long before he took a film that showed something deeply unsettling--he left the island never to return.

Now, in modern day, newspaper mogul Alexander McIntyre is forming a group to investigate the island for a series of exclusive features for his newspaper. He's got a virologist, an anthropologist, a celebrity scientist, and a psychic, as well as reporters and his own pet detective. It's bound to be the story of decade--perhaps the century!--and he sends a small security force to protect the island and keep his scoop safe.

Unfortunately, things at that point start to go wrong. McIntyre doesn't realize what he's gotten himself into, nor does he know that he's about to find out what really happened on "No Hope" Island, and it will turn out that he will wish he'd never asked.

This was a great, atmospheric, spooky book. The characters were well drawn, and I found most of them quite sympathetic, particularly alcoholic detective Lassiter and feisty reporter Lucy Church. I enjoyed the plot for the most part--once again, Cottam has done a great job of pulling together the history of a haunting, forcing the characters to search for the source and reveal it a piece at a time throughout the story. However, there was a point in the middle where I felt it dragged quite a bit. There was a very long section about the team preparing to go to the island, but I felt like they should have arrived earlier and spent more time there.

For the most part, I liked this a lot, and thought it was a very well-done ghost story.