All Lit Up: May 2015.
Some months it’s just harder to keep up your reading momentum and April was definitely one of those months for me. Still, there were a few standouts and I managed to work my way through five new books.
Despite feeling like it was a slower reading month, April actually started off with a bang. I picked up Cauchemar by Alexandra Grigorescu and devoured the book in a single evening. The story revolves around a young woman raised in the swamps of Louisiana. When the woman that raised her dies, she is torn between the desire to act like she has a normal life and the knowledge that she can't escape her biological mother's dark spiritual inheritance. As one might expect with a title that translates into “nightmare,” the story had a surreal and dream-like quality, supported by lovely writing and relatable characters. This beautifully eerie book is sure to please fans of Karen Russel and Southern Gothic fiction.
Being a part of an independent bookstore, I already lean towards supporting local businesses with my purchases. This is true even more so now that I've read The Localist by Carrie Rollwagen. I believe I’ve mentioned before that I lean much more towards fiction than nonfiction, but I found The Localist to be compulsively readable. Carrie’s account of her journey towards supporting local businesses and eventually owning one herself is compelling on every level. It’s personal, well-supported by research, and inspiring without being heavy handed. She writes with humor and experience, never going more than three or four pages without giving the reader an “aha!” moment. For such a small book, it really packs a punch. I think everyone should read it.
I love watching SciFi, but I actually haven’t read too much in the genre. To amend this, I picked up Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, (he was one of our Word of South authors!) Area X is an overgrown and mysterious wilderness that expeditions have been trying to explore for years, but each crew has met with various unexplainable disasters, almost all ending in death. The story begins with the four women who have been chosen for the 12th expedition: a psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a biologist who takes the role of the protagonist. The group quickly breaks down under the strain of the phenomena they find in Area X as more questions are raised than answered and the motivations of the company behind the expeditions are brought under scrutiny. Overall I found this book to be intriguing and emotionally compelling with a heavy dose of surrealism. If you’re looking for a chilling read that will leave you wanting more, Annihilation is definitely for you.
Eden West by Pete Hautman initially caught my eye because of its cover design. The black and white landscape features a boy carrying a gun and a girl, both separated by a tall chain link fence. Jacob narrates the story from inside the fenced compound of the religious cult he and his parents belong to. A few months away from his eighteenth birthday, Jacob is a firm believer in the rhetoric he’s been raised in, that is until he meets Lynna, a Worldly girl from the other side of the fence. It’s not about a romance as much as it’s about a young man’s struggle to reconcile his faith and his doubts as he steps from childhood into adulthood. The thing I found most compelling about this coming-of-age story is the way Huatman uses the language of the book to create the feeling of a separate reality. The cult disregards the pagan names for days of the week and substitutes their own, like Landay for Tuesday, and speaks using biblical terms and vernacular. The whole book was crafted into a complete experience that made for a very relatable and immersive read.
Our Forever Young Adult Book Club pick of the month was Firecracker by David Iserson. Hailed as a "tragicomedy" from one of the contributors to both SNL and New Girl, I expected this book to be a smart and funny read. Astrid Krieger is the girl who always gets what she wants, whether it's through using the people around her or throwing her family's money at her problems. That is until she gets ratted out by one of her followers and is expelled from yet another private school, this time for cheating. The story begins as Astrid is plunged into the unfamiliar world of public school where she meets a quirky bunch of students and plots revenge on whoever turned her in. This was a very breezy read in just about every sense of the word. Unfortunately there was little to no depth to support the story. Plot, character development, and substance were all seriously lacking. With that being said, it was still an entertaining read. I did laugh out loud at a number of Astrid's ridiculous antics and perspectives, so it was hardly a waste of time. I'd definitely file this one under beach reads.