Librarian’s Pick of the Week: XX (Film)

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (sometimes seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

XX: Four Deadly Tales by Four Killer Women (film)

Directors: Roxanne Benjamin 
Karyn Kusama
St. Vincent (Annie Clark)
Jovanka Vuckovic

Why: XX is a complication of four short horror films either directed or written by women, about women.  The Box (JV), about a mysterious box whose contents wreak havoc on the well-being of a suburban family and the suspense in this film could not be more monumental.  The Birthday Cake (SV), directed by musician St. Vincent, is a quirky, beautifully shot and sometimes adorable tale of death and family.  Don’t Fall (RB), about four friends camping in uncharted territory in the wilderness with suspicious cave drawings and amazing creature effects.  The anthology concludes with Her Only Living Son (KK) about the love that a mother can possess for her child (possess being the operative word), sacrificing herself at all costs, whether to her detriment or not is debatable.  It’s plain to see why these four were chosen to accompany each other in this volume because though so dissimilar in content, each story is masterfully directed, creative and excitingly original.

Watchalikes: Grace dir. Paul Solet
Rosemary’s Baby dir. Roman Polanski
May dir. Lucky McKee
Contracted dir. Eric England


Librarian’s Pick of the Week: Ararat by Christopher Golden

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (sometimes seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

Ararat by Christopher Golden

Why:  This is the perfect book for those wanting something a little different than the mainstream that’s captivating and slightly unnerving with a lot of heart.  Set in the modern day, a couple who are also a couple of explorers journey to Ararat, which is also the mountain in Turkey where Noah’s Ark supposedly landed after the flood in the Bible.  The novel explores the idea of what if Noah’s Ark were real, and a group of disparate entities: religious, academic, military, and anthropological were brought together to research what was inside.  Author Christopher Golden (Snowblind, Tin Men) weaves a tale that teases out the lives of each individual character, using their beliefs and reflections on past experiences  to determine their actions as they together face what may or may not be dead, trapped long ago in a tightly sealed coffin at the time of the flood.  The novel ends with the true icing on the ark, a completely original and wonderfully mind-blowing ending.  The audio version was wonderful, read by Robert Fass, whose subtle accents and articulation suck you headfirst into the heart of the snowy, dark mountain.

Readalikes: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (F)
The Wanderers by Meg Howrey (F)
The Mayan Secrets by Clive Cussler (F)
In the Kingdom of Ice: the Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the U.S.S. Jeanette by Hampton Sides (NF)
The Lost City of Z by David Grann (NF)

Ten Wonderfully Horror(ific) and Sci-fi(tastic) Summer Audiobook Reads

I love a good scary audiobook during the summer; there’s nothing better than the juxtaposition of being terrified by while listening to vampires slowly sucking the life force from their neighbors whilst gazing at Lake Michigan on a baking hot day in the sand.  Or maybe walking through Loyola’s Lakeshore Campus, watching the influx of baby bunnies and as the suspense grows, baby bunnies transform into lifeless, soulless beings hellbent on eating your brains.

What makes each of these qualify is a.) being a good piece of fiction, and b.) an amazing narrator. The perfectly chosen narrator enhances the experience of the novel by enabling you to slip into an almost dreamlike state where you’re completely immersed in the story.*

A Vision of Fire (The Earthend Saga, #1) by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin (2014)

Yes, that Gillian Anderson, and she reads it, too!  Given her magnificent acting chops, it’s no surprise that her narration skills are top-notch.  A Vision of Fire is the first in the trilogy about the compelling and multilayered protagonist, psychologist Caitlin O’Hara and the sudden onset of possession-like symptoms in a number of teens from across the globe.  There’s a part in the book that was so scary that when I pressed stop and turned off the lights, I laid there unable to sleep, completely terrified.  The series weaves together present, ancient history, other dimensions and lots of suspense, especially during the final book in the series.  And again, Gillian Anderson.

The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson (1977)

Cataloged as non-fiction in your local library (yes, this is cataloged as a true story), The Amityville Horror documents an actual demonic case study (take it or leave it) detailing first-hand interviews with haunted husband and wife George and Kathleen Lutz in their newly acquired Long Island home.  The listen is so captivating because it taps into every human’s universal fear-what exactly is lurking in the basement, in the dark.  And I’m not talking about the horror of finding your dad’s old Penthouse magazines “hidden” in some old box in plain view.

The Hatching (The Hatching, #1) by Ezekiel Boone (2016)

I mean come on, ancient spiders from Peru that swarm and devour a person whole within mere seconds?  How can you not?!  The Hatching is fun, silly, scary, creepy, gross, a complete arachnophobe’s delight and best of all, it’s a solid story that seamlessly draws you into the character’s lives and makes you want to read more.  Luckily for us, #2 of The Hatching Series, Skitter, was published in 2017 and George Newbern’s buttery voice floats us through each title with not too much pomp but just enough inflection to really settle you into the world of killer spiders and female presidents.  Oh yeah, there’s  a female president.  It must be sci-fi.

The Passage (The Passage Trilogy, #1) by Justin Cronin (2010)

The Passage is the epitome of nail-biting suspense.   This present-day tale quickly turns post-apocalyptic with the unchecked bombardment of vampires and military deceit.  Cronin successfully rips your heart out by the end as he delves so completely into the souls of the protagonists.  It’s a lengthier audiobook but every word is necessary to capture and carry on this thoroughly intense journey in a world that could be your own.

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle (2017)

Oh, the soothing and clipped flatness of John Darnielle’s voice is music to my Midwestern ears. Darnielle is a stellar narrator, adding the emphasis that he first heard in his head while writing the novel.  He’s also one of the few narrators that doesn’t add inflection for varying characters and somehow it works just perfectly.  In a nutshell, Universal Harvester begins with one of our main characters working in a video store during the 1990s and hesitatingly investigates the strange occurrence of several videos being returned containing suspicious, somewhat macabre imagery.  One immediately recalls the film The Ring, though as the parts of the story progress we become entangled in series of interlacing stories that wait until the conclusion to disentangle.  Darnielle crates a slow, spreading suspense that at times shocks but is never gratuitous or banal. 

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (1996)

Neverwhere is wonderful.  Period.  I listened to the audio seven years ago and I still think about it constantly as Gaiman’s otherworld descriptions mixed with his spot on pauses and inflections create a near-perfect audiobook (near-perfect because I never wanted it to stop).  Taking place in London, the lead character, milquetoast protagonist Richard Mayhew is propelled into a Guillermo del Toro-esque Troll Market type of other yet parallel world.  Neverwhere is such a perfect example of how the science fiction genre encompasses such an incredibly large pool of subgenres, in this case the creation of a curious, colorful and enthralling alternate reality that fills the reader with complete wonder.  When you finish Neverwhere, American Gods is your next read (prepared to be blown away, of course, on audio).

Tommyknockers by Stephen King (1987)

There’s nothing more blissful than operating through your usual day, whether riding the bus or walking down the block and being so immersed in a complete state of otherworldliness.  That’s what you get when you listen to the Tommyknockers.   In typical King style, he creates and painstakingly fleshes out every fiber of his characters’ beings: their habits, their looks, their communities, every little crumb you’d want (and sometimes not want) to know about the people in his books.  The benefit to this method is that you become intimately involved with the story though the downside is that when strange beings begin to take over the souls of the townspeople, you ache for their well-being.  This is a book that conjures such intense feelings within you that they often surface without warning years later.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

Easily my favorite book of 2014, Station Eleven is completely original and one of the most lyrical books I’ve ever read.  It’s beautifully written, the story is solid and by the end you realize that you can trust Mandel as an author.  She’s got you.  Though she inserts familiar themes to the post-apocalyptic genre: humanity killing viruses, rebuilding society, cults, good vs. evil, et al, she manages to keep it all very low-key, your interest is constantly peaked but she never raises your blood pressure to dangerous levels.  By doing this, she commands the respect of her audience by never pulling cheap shots by evoking strong emotions not accomplished by the writing, but by triggering themes, which is often done in many science fiction and horror novels and films. Other motifs include memory, family, love, childhood, and a traveling band of Shakespearean actors, because like cockroaches, Shakespeare will live forever.

Infected (Infected Series, #1) by Scott Sigler (2008)

To quote season three of Twin Peaks, these audiobooks are the most, “wonderfulhorrible…of my life.”  Easily a readalike to the Hatching Series, Sigler constructs a world of psycho, mindless killers that contract their ill fate.  Another virus/disease themed novel, except what it does to humans is hilariously gross and shocking.  I’d recommend Infected as a chaser to a serious non-fiction title, or some Russian literature!  The “horrible” part of this equation is that Sigler narrates the titles.  Normally the author is preferable for the aforementioned reasons except here he LOVES to speak in other voices for various characters and oftentimes sounds absurd, may it be a bad Chinese accent or one that’s overly feminized.  Oddly enough the voices fall into their own groove given that the content is often sometimes manic and unbelievable in and of itself.  Sigler is also aware that his reading can be comically awful and both he and his audience eventually accept this.

99 Coffins (Vampire Tales Series, sometimes known as Laura Caxton Series, #2) by David Wellington (2007)

99 Coffins is the second in the Vampire Tales Series and though you don’t necessarily need to read them in order, I highly recommend the entire series, especially on audio if possible due to great veteran narrator Bernadette Dunne.  This installment follows state trooper Laura Caxton as she hunts a resurrected platoon of Civil War soldiers turned vampires.  Like several of the aforementioned novels, this series is enjoyable and light (we’re not reading Toni Morrison, here) but manages to have more guts and solid storytelling than most New York Times best-selling fiction.  It takes itself seriously enough to know that the writer cares about the characters, and respects your time as a reader while keeping it fun.  The only unfortunate piece of the puzzle here are that the book covers are misleading and aggressive, suggesting an audience consisting of a more hardcore cult horror ilk that may be likely to turn away a reader with a penchant towards historical fiction and strong female lead.  Ignore the covers, stay for the stories.

*Let’s all note that this list is mostly a white dudes club, and that white dudes are ruling the horror audiobook game currently.  Nonetheless, they chill the blood and disrupt he dreams all the same.


Last Five Books

Hi Gorgeous! Transforming Inner Power Into Radiant Beauty by Candis Cayne (2017)

(a book for all women & is a celebration of women.  intro is beautifully candid, honest and funny. crash course in femininity. cute tips, tricks and reminders re: self-love, me-time & online dating.)

Succulents: the Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Designing, and Growing 200 Easy-Care Plants by Robin Stockwell (2017)

(plant porn. awe-inspiring photography that conjures a primordial lust to reconnect with your succulent siblings. outrageously easy care instructions.)

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle (2017)

(interlinking lives in small town Iowa starting with curiously ominous scenes on random videotapes during the 1990s with an increasing sense of brooding & foreboding.  suspenseful, addicting and leaves you with a sense of contemplative wonder at the finish.  the audio was perfection.)

Why Won’t You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts by Harriet Lerner, PH. D. (2017)

(helps to recognize giving/receiving pseudo and non-apologies.  enables the reader to gain    closure when you’re waiting for an apology and can’t move on. succinct and powerful. delightful and humorous. a must for basically everyone with a pulse.)

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek (2014)

(enthralling page-turner written by a doctor full of heart and humor.  graphic anatomical detail with concern to the human body and its relationship to dismemberment and death.  the audiobook was wonderful.)



Last Five Books

You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero

(self-help that helps. empowering. insightful. the joy and effectiveness of mantras.)

I Hate Everyone, Except You by Clinton Kelly

(memoir about awkwardness. hilariously narrated by Kelly. laugh out loud, no-fuss anecdotes.)

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

(memory. family. passion. space opera. measured & lyrical. beautifully written prose.)

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays by Samantha Irby

(wonderfully written, very personal essays. hilarious. real. gasp-out-loud essays that leave you blushing the next day because they’re so raw and right on.)

Thug Kitchen 101: Fast as Fuck

(vegan cookbook. scrumptious carbs. shockingly delicious cheese made with potatoes. lots of swearing.)



Feeling Itchy! Exploring Feminisms’ Seven Year Anniversary!

It’s the 7 Year Anniversary of Exploring Feminisms!

Thanks so much to everyone to has liked, commented and followed over the past seven years.  I hope that you’ve enjoyed, or at least found some value in what you’ve read.  My aim is to reflect, analyze and continue to learn for at least the next seven.

To celebrate, here’s a picture of Wilma striking a fabulous pose:



Exploring Feminisms’ Best Books Read During 2016

  1. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman (2016) by Lindy West

There are few times where I say, this book is wonderfully amazing and should be required reading for everyone, but this is one of those few times.  This smart, deeply insightful, so, so personal and extremely well narrated (by the author if you listen to audio, simply fabulous) book illuminates the raw feelings of another person, leaving you to examine your own preconceived notions concerning the bodies of those around you.

2. You’ll Grow Out of It (2016) by Jessi Klein

A fantastic piece of non-fiction, and yet again, the audio was narrated so perfectly and with such wit and precise inflection, I heard her voice speaking to me inside my own brain.  Her voice literally started to narrate my thoughts as if I was Fred Savage in the Wonder Years.

Audio aside, Klein, this complete stranger out of nowhere, makes her life so accessible and identifiable to the life of a 30-something middle-class woman who dates, works and maybe one day gets married, that you are in a constant state of saying, “me, too!”  One of the most striking threads throughout the book was how incredibly funny she was without trying to be funny.  She has an innate talent to make a point of the obvious that also simultaneously hilarious.  I can’t wait for her next book.

3. A Natural History of Hell: Stories (2016) by Jeffrey Ford

It’s mind-boggling to me that Jeffrey Ford isn’t a household name in horror along with your Joe Hills, Stephen Kings or Shirley Jacksons.  His short stories are surprisingly original, eerie, and thoroughly penetrate the psyche during the dark parts of the day.  Some stories include that of an evil angel set in a desolate and isolating backdrop, a reanimated skeleton with a will of its own, and a devilishly quirky examination of clergymen as saint or sinner.  A Natural History of Hell is a collection that you check out from your library for the first story, then purchase for the rest as you’ll no doubt need it close at hand when describing the stories to friends or family over the hot stuff.

4. Oh She Glows Everyday: Quick and Simply Satisfying Plant-Based Recipes  (2016) by Angela Liddon

Her sequel to the first cookbook, Oh She Glows (2014), is of the same ilk of easy to make and delicious vegetarian and vegan-friendly recipes.  One of the many to die for recipes–vegan mac and peas.  The dairy-free cheese is confusingly delicious because it’s made with whole foods such as potatoes and carrots, but somehow the end result tastes like melty dairy cheese. Liddon’s recipes are simple but excitingly different (no crust of bread with iceberg lettuce and an ice cube, here), and you should just probably buy it.

5. We Should All Be Feminists (2014) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

You really have no excuse not to read this book, it’s like, fifty pages long, and the pages themselves are small.  During this transcript from a 2012 TEDx talk, Adichie ruminates about growing up in Nigeria and the sexism that she has faced due to its cultural norms.  However, as you flip from page to page, you quickly realize that “its cultural norms” aren’t indicative of Nigeria, but of the planet.  Her experiences are universal, and if I were ever to say that women are linked via one particular aspect, its by the discrimination we experience based on gender. Adichie, through concrete examples in her own life, so beautifully and succinctly in this teeny tome argues that sexism against women is thorough, and it affects both men and women alike.  If you’re reading this, please read that book.  Especially if you’re a man.  Or if you voted for Trump.  I have an extra copy at home, just ask.

6. My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2016) by Grady Hendrix

I was lucky enough to interview Grady Hendrix before its publication and has been described as “Heathers meets the Exorcist,” which is true in a general outline kind of way, an affluent high school and a group of girls with a possession thrown in, but it’s more meaty than a simple Heathers plot (no dis to the movie Heathers, Heathers is sublime).  Here, we’re privy to the internal workings of high school friendship with all its platonic intense intimacy as expressed through the terrifying sojourn into adulthood.  The culture of the 1980s background and how Hendrix recollects the time period is terrifically precise, sending you flying back in time to recall your own days of Aquanet and sweet Cherry Pie (get it, Warrant?  Maybe a little Quiet Riot?).

7. When Breath Becomes Air (2016) by Paul Kalanithi

Published posthumously by his wife after being diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, New York based neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi writes a terse but oh so weighty recollection of his life, specifically as a lover of the arts by examining the work of writers and scholars, seeking the secrets of life, death, virtue and morality.  At times this book breaks your heart (especially when Paul’s wife Lucy finishes the last chapter after his passing), encouraging you to reflect on your own relationships, values, life, and how you, or if you, consider your death and if you will do that with grace. Paul makes a compelling case for grace, and though most of us may not so concretely meditate on our own passing, his call to action for a life well lived is what readers will most certainly take away.

8. My Life on the Road (2015) by Gloria Steinem

What can you say about Gloria Steinem that hasn’t already been said?  The book is a fascinating recollection of the tales and trials of a life-long nomad, beginning with her childhood.  She recounts her life as an organizer, an activist, a receiver of love, friendship, aggravation, struggle and hope.  In Shrill, West tells you how she feels, and if you’re worth a damn, you listen.  In My Life on the Road, Gloria talks about the importance of listening to those around you, ever changing, ever growing.  She gives a damn and she empowers you to as well.

9. Wishful Drinking (2008) by Carrie Fisher

Due to the magnificence of technology in 2017, shortly after Debbie Reynolds passed I downloaded the audiobook of Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher immediately and for free (thanks library!).  It’s a shitty thing, but I didn’t have the urge to read Carrie Fisher’s books until she died, justifying, I’m not a Star Wars fan.  The real shame is that it wasn’t until after her death that I realized how completely bad ass she is.  You can knock the book out in a day, so it’s a good primer on Fisher if you know very little about her.  Plus, she narrates her memoirs so you get that perfectly timed and felt inflection.  The book is comprised of brief anecdotes about her life relayed with the honesty, humor and incredulity that is (was) her life.

10. 99 Coffins (2007) by David Wellington

99 Coffins is the second in Wellington’s Vampire series and given the somewhat comical book jacket, there’s much more lurking behind the cover.  Though I didn’t read the first in the series, I was able to catch up quickly with the plot.  We’re set up with a run of the mill contemporary horror story: protagonist and state trooper Laura Caxton is hunting vampires.  Wellington then expands the narrative by inserting historical fiction, the Civil War, alternating narratives, and an enchanting world where humans accept that vampires exist and that they are a bloody thirsty nuisance that needs to be checked.  The novel is story based, teasing out the lives and therefore the motivations of the lead characters, as opposed to gratuitous violence as the book cover would suggest.  The book is light, fun, thoroughly well-written and if you’re looking for a different sort of beach read, this is your gal.  Highly recommended on audio, the narrator is wonderful.