On the Radar: 10 Exciting New Titles of Fall/Spring ’17-18

Ten books we should all be antsy in our pantsies to read.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

In the second publication since her first title, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, about her time working in a crematory, death advocate Doughty explores death rituals from around the world.

Hot Mess Kitchen: Recipes for Your Delicious and Disastrous Life by Gabi Moskowitz and Miranda Berman

This is a cookbook you buy and can bring home to mama, unlike that last tragedy of a significant other.  It’s a completely delightful and at many times hilarious cookbook with such whimsical entries as Deliver Us From Delivery, I Want to Punch You in the Face Pasta and My Ex is Engaged Enchiladas.

Logical Family: a Memoir by Armistead Maupin

Author of the before its time series, Tales of the City, continually writes with ingenuity and heart and his memoir is sure to reflect that beautiful spirit that shines through each book.

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America ed. by Samantha Mukhopadhyay, Kate Harding and various authors

This anthology of essays addresses various issues in America after Trump (ugh) including Trump’s “misogyny army,” talking to your children about fascism, Ivanka and faux feminism, et al. Each essay is eloquently written by such powerhouses Samantha Irby and Rebecca Solnit, among many other outstanding women including Chicago’s own Women and Children First co-owner Sarah Michael Hollenbeck!

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford

The author of one of my most favorite scary short story collections, A Natural History of Hell has written a novel consistent with his last, exercising (exorcising?) his unbelievably innate talent for that which is both fantastic and horrific.  Ford’s book also has probably one of the best cover reviews to date, “Richard Linklater meets Stephen King…”

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King

In this first collaboration between Stephen King and son Owen, the two weave together an incredibly descriptive, solid and addicting piece of fiction about a sleeping sickness that takes over all of the world’s women, covering them with silky, web-like coating.  I highly recommend the audio; the narrator’s southern accents are terrific.

Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites by Deb Perelman

The first Smitten Kitchen is a gem of a cookbook, including recipes that are a little off the beaten path, including a cookie recipe with popped popcorn and stuffed lemony ricotta shells.  The prospect of an “everyday” cookbook is exciting, one can assume it will include recipes with commonly found ingredients because when a girl needs a diy cookie, she needs it stat.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Ijeoma Oluo!  If you haven’t heard of her, look her up.  If you’re on Facebook, follow her.  Her compassion and wit make her irresistible and as readers and learners we should all be excited to get a deeper glimpse into her thoughts on race, class, gender and our world at large today.

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels by Joe Hill

Joe Hill, author of Horns, Heart Shaped Box (my personal favorite), and numerous short stories (which I believe to be his strong point) has written a novel consisting of four shorter, creepy and inventive stories.  If you didn’t know, Hill is one of Stephen King’s sons and has earned his place in the horror fiction hall of fame of his own accord.

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Oh Hillz, if only it could have been you, we wouldn’t be on the doorstep of war with North Korea and somehow Puerto Rico now?  The word is that she gets deep into the details, much like that of a Real Housewives memoir, recalling the tiny bits that we all want to know, including what she did the day after the election and what she had for dinner.  Only unlike Teresa Giudice of The Real Housewives of New Jersey’s prison memoir, she didn’t hear women having sex in the bunk next to her.  Or maybe she did, I’m only on chapter one.

 

Update: Standing Strong by Teresa Giudice, previously included, was subtracted from the list after an entire chapter on her love and admiration of Donald Trump.  Bitch, please.

 

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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.

The Last Five Books

The Dude and the Zen Master
Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman (2013)

The Dude and the Zen Master is the transcription of a conversation between actor Jeff Bridges and Jewish Zen Master Bernie Glassman on their life experiences, and how we should all strive to be more relaxed like “The Dude,” the main character in the Coen Brothers’ film, The Big Lebowski.  The two men offer very different perspectives based on their professions, which lends the perfect balance.  The book is filled with easy to absorb, practical examples that can be practiced on the spot during tough situations throughout life and work.

DudeandtheZenMaster

It
Stephen King (1986)

I listened to It on audiobook for 44 hours.  Yes, 44 hours.  If you’ve never read Stephen King, his writing is extremely descriptive; It goes on and on, chock-full of vivid, minute details.  King’s style is also written from a very male, masculine point of view.  The descriptions are told through the voice of someone who obviously idolized his boyhood youth and all of the experiences therein–a lack of sexual insight, friendships in youth, silly and base teenage boy insults, et al.

All in all, if you are a reader to who craves an intricate portrait of a community, mixed with a killer clown alien, then this book is for you.  However, if you are someone who often finds yourself skipping pages when said author puts the phrase ad nauseum to shame, then pass this one up.

IT

Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman (2013)

A cosmically strong lineage of three women (grandmother, mother and daughter), along with a little English boy, fight an evil witch-woman in a small English town.  This book is beautifully written, a quick read, and the way in which Gaiman describes the home life of the female characters makes you want to live with them and eat their homemade jam.

Ocean at the End of the Lane

Rubyfruit Jungle
Rita Mae Brown (1973)

While reading Rubyfruit Jungle, I couldn’t help but think of 19th century novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin; honest female lead characters who challenge social norms in times where women received the short end of the stick (even more than now, one could argue).  RJ details the life of Molly Bolt as a child in the south through young adulthood as she moves to New York, and we follow her journey as a blossoming lesbian.  She is a rough and tumble character, and the book is filled with hilarious and brutally honest thoughts on womanhood, the life of a wife, and lesbian stereotypes.  I haven’t read a book this entertaining and thought-provoking in a long time.

Rubyfruit Jungle

Seriously…I’m Kidding
Ellen DeGeneres (2011)

You can read this book in about 3-4 hours, and one could compare it to the likes of a more airy Bossypants by Tina Fey.  DeGeneres shares almost stream of consciousness tips and life experience on lofty subjects such as gardens and dinner parties.  Luckily, there are a few leftist niblets to keep the average liberal reader interested, such as a shout out to female inventors and addressing her sexual orientation, thereby fighting the good fight to normalize same-sex relationships in American culture.

Seriously...I'm Kidding