If I, as a rational adult, were pressured to break into an abandoned nursing home in order to appear cool in front of my peers that I didn’t even really like, there’s a good chance I’d have a brief two word response and then I’d promptly leave. Same if I were pressured into having a scavenger hunt in that same creepy building.
The plot of Resthaven, however, revolves around teenagers doing teenage things – like breaking into said creepy nursing home. Once inside, either in order to look cool or simply because their frontal cortexes are far from fully developed, those teens continue making irrational – but wholly teen-logical – decisions in a quick-read story packed with thrills and surprises at every turn.
The story starts out with new girl Kaylee arriving at her classmate Jamie’s house for a routine sleepover, only Jamie strong arms the girls into exploring Resthaven, an old empty nursing home. She promptly gets mad at them and abandons them to a night of horror.
I kind of expected the book to be more supernatural, but the fully-human villain is even scarier than a ghost or monster. Every twist is possible, if not plausible, as Kaylee and her friends find themselves deeper and deeper in a mess that rivals any 90s teen horror flick.
As for the music – on of my son’s favorite bands is Disturbed, so we’ve been listening to a lot of their CDs to get ready for his first rock concert (Disturbed and Breaking Benjamin last night in St. Louis – it was awesome). The music from the song really fits the mood of the book. The lyrics don’t fit very well, but since you can’t really understand what the guy’s saying half the time, it doesn’t really matter.
The music: “Take the Money and Run” by the Steve Miller Band
I don’t watch a lot of movies. But when I do, I almost always try to read the book as well, to compare. Such was the case with No Country for Old Men, which I watched a couple weeks ago (yes, I’m a bit late to this one, I know). And A Simple Plan, which I first watched a couple years ago but rewatched not too long ago.
In No Country for Old Men, a Texas guy hunting antelope comes across the remains of a drug deal gone bad. Everyone involved is dead, so he takes the money and runs, thinking the money will solve all his problems. A psychopath bounty hunter pursues him, as does a bunch of nameless Mexican thugs. Lots of people die in very bloody, matter-of-fact ways. The book is an excellent commentary on perceptions of changing society and what role, if any, we’re required to play to change society for the better.
In A Simple Plan, some guys hunting in Minnesota come across a downed plan. The pilot is dead, so they take the money and run, thinking the money will solve all their problems. A fake FBI guy pursues them, and no one can keep their mouths shut about the money. Several people die.
In both cases, maybe the main characters’ lives weren’t perfect, but they were a lot better before they found the money than at the end of the stories. Had they just left the money, or turned it over to real law enforcement, their lives at the end of the stories still wouldn’t be perfect, but everyone would still have be alive.
So, despite what Steve Miller tells us about Billy Joe and Bobby Sue, if you find a bag of money, do not take the money and run! Because people will die.
(Also, these are both very good movies. McCarthy’s book is better than the movie – it ties up a lot of stuff left out of the movie – and Smith’s book is not as good as the movie. In fact, don’t read his book; just watch the movie.)
As a kid, I really enjoyed reading historical fiction. I read all the books in the Sunfire series, in which a young heroine had to choose between two suitors while going through an event in American history (the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak, piracy in New Orleans, the Galveston Hurricane, etc). I learned a ton about history this way, especially obscure events that received little, if any, attention in the classroom.
I also remember enjoying Morgan Llywelyn’s Druids, about Vercengetorix and the Celts, so when I was in Goodwill looking for a book and saw 1916 for just $.88, I picked it up; I liked the author and didn’t know anything about the Irish struggle for independence, so it seemed like a good fit.
1916 fictionalizes the events leading up to the Easter Rising – on April 2014, 1916, a group of men seized government buildings in Dublin and proclaimed Ireland’s independence from Britain. The book follows Ned Halloran, a young teen who gets caught up in the action while attending a school run by Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the rebellion. In addition to tracing the Irish independence movement through the eyes of an Irish citizen, it tells the story of Ned’s sister in America and her attempts to establish a new home there while trying to maintain ties with her home country.
First off, this book is dense – nearly 500 pages packed with historical figures and events over four years. Because of my lack of knowledge of the subject, I struggled to keep many of the characters straight, especially since they played minor roles in the overall fictitious plot. I think I would’ve had a better time of it if I’d had any familiarity with the topic.
Overall, however, I enjoyed this book. It explores a lot of themes: class and its relationship with British colonialism, patriotism, honor, self-determination, and feminism, just to name a few. I realize the author – winner of the 1999 Exceptional Celtic Woman of the Year award – is biased with her allegiance to Ireland over Britain, but she manages to keep the opinions on Home Rule to her characters without preaching.
Amazon has informed me that this book is the first in a series of novels about Ireland’s fight for independence; I’ve added the rest of them to my to-be-read list. This is a topic that doesn’t come up in America very often, and I’d love to know more about it.
As for the music, a local radio station plays songs from the “Alt Vault” – mid-90s alternative songs. I heard them all thousands of times when they were originally aired, especially The Cranberries’ “Zombie.” I knew they were an Irish band, but I’d never really paid attention to the lyrics. However, when the song came on a couple months ago, these lines stuck with me:
It’s the same old theme Since 1916 In your head, in your head They’re still fighting With their tanks, and their bombs And their bombs, and their guns In your head, in your head They are dying
The song was about the IRA’s violent struggle at the time to gain independence from Britain, and about the lengths people will go to for freedom. There aren’t any armed struggles in Ireland anymore, but we see the same issues – the same theme – in Syria, in Palestine and Israel, in Darfur and dozens of other places around the world. This song is fitting for today, Memorial Day, as we remember those in the armed services who gave their lives for their cause. But it goes a step further in memorializing those who didn’t serve and lost their lives as well.
Last summer, I reviewed the first book in this series, The Viper and the Urchin (now titled The Bloodless Assassin), about an assassin who teams up with a street urchin to solve a string of copycat murders. This book pairs the two of them again, although this time they’re now working for the city-state ruler, the Marchioness – and completely bored out of their minds. The action picks up when the team is pulled in to investigate a murder in a rough part of town. They stumble on a big conspiracy where no one can be trusted, as the body count mounts.
Like the first book, this one was great in that I didn’t really predict the ending. The author is great at misdirection; like the characters, you’re not sure who the good guys or bad guys are, as everyone has motives that aren’t completely revealed until the end.
Also like the first book, I loved the diverse cast of characters thrown in so nonchalantly. In addition to the rainbow of skin tones, the Marchioness has a female consort that no one bats an eye at. I’d love to see more books follow this path of mirroring the diversity found in the real world.
It also touches on class issues: are certain people expendable based on their role (or lack of) in society? What happens when classes mingle – is it okay socially? Will both sides be able to accept each other, or will there always be the urge to change one of them? How fluid is class, and what happens when you move into a new one?
The Black Orchid focused as well on relationships: the one between assassin Longinus and street urchin Rory, between Rory and a nobleman working in the Marchioness’s guard, and between the Marchioness and her longtime consort.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a good balance of fluffy escapism and social commentary. I’m looking to see what we get in book 3.
The music to accompany the book is a new song by one of my favorite bands, Blue October. The album just came out a couple weeks ago so there’s no audio floating around YouTube yet, so I leave you a link to the song on Amazon. This particular song ties in with the relationships between the characters.
Imagine you’re in your mid-thirties and given a terminal medical diagnosis. Or imagine you receive that same diagnosis when you’re in your teens. How would you react? What if it were a loved one with that diagnosis – what would you do?
That’s the issue explored in these two short stories. In “The Sunset Matinee,” Grady, a teenage boy whose main hobby is getting high with his friends learns he has cancer, probably terminal. His friends and his little brother are scared but unable to lose face by showing it. His single mom blames herself for poor life choices that led them to this point. Grady has a choice: he can keep on his current path as one of his trailer parks’ Stoner Boys, or he can give back to the only community he’s known.
“A Place to Die” tells the story of a college girl, Libby, who spends the summer helping out at her mom’s bed-and-breakfast-turned-hospice. She’s tasked with keeping an eye on Mr. Calloway, a mid-thirties businessman who’s determined not to let his illness get in the way of life. As their friendship and his illness progress over the summer, her ideas of what death should look like – and how we should react – are challenged, leaving her a different person at the end.
This week’s song is one of my favorites by Shinedown. It’s a song with a strongly mixed response to loss: blame, regret, sadness, resilience.
Imagine a world where everyone can be healthy: no cancer, no failing organs. What would you be willing to give up to make this a reality? Or, more importantly, what would you be willing for others to give up for you to be healthy?
Those are the questions explored in this week’s books.
First, RJ Crayton introduces us to the Federation of Surviving States (FoSS), a country made from the remnants of the United States after pandemics wiped out 80% of the population. In this future country, life comes first. No exceptions. That means risks are discouraged, and if you’re a match for an organ donation to someone who needs it, you’re required to comply. But Kelsey, the MC of the first book, Life First, doesn’t want to comply. It’s not that she’s selfish or wants the recipient to die; it’s that she wants to make the decision herself. What follows is a massive legal battle that culminates in a fight for her very life, not just her kidney.
But the FoSS government isn’t necessarily all bad. As we learn in book two, Second Life, they just want the best possible medical outcomes – even if sometimes it’s at the expense of the first experimental patients. In this book, Kelsey’s paraplegic best friend, Susan, is given the opportunity to walk again, and must decide if the strings attached to the offer are worth the reward.
Jeff Altabef also explores the dark side of government intervention in his psychological thriller Shatter Point. Government scientists have developed a drug that can improve cognitive functioning, as well as a vaccine that cures cancer. The key question becomes, who has a right to these drugs? Is it okay to maintain a second class of citizens, so that others can thrive? Is it okay to experiment on people without their knowledge, given the possible greatness of the implications for everyone else?
Kazuo Ishiguro takes this a step further in Never Let Me Go, a deceptively simple novel about a group of kids raised in privilege at a secluded boarding school. As the MC, Kathy, reflects back on her life, she reveals the dark reasoning for the existence of her and her friends. The end is heartbreaking, as we’re told in plain terms just how selfish people are willing to be – as long as it’s not their lives being destroyed.
The song I picked for this week is dark, just like the books. The singer asks to be “set free” because “your heaven’s a lie” – exactly what the characters in this week’s books come to realize too, as their government’s heavens turn into their own personal hells.
H.L. Burke is well on her way to becoming the next Dragon Lady. Her first series, The Dragon and the Scholar (first book is free here), followed the relationship between a cursed dragon and the woman he loved.
Cora and the Nurse Dragon is a fun read. Cora lives in a world where dragons are common pets – for those who can afford them. She dreams of racing dragons one day but is stuck raising cheap, tiny mayfly dragons who only live a few months. Her luck changes when her nemesis throws an egg at her, which hatches into a rare nurse dragon with a very unique ability.
While I enjoyed this book as an adult, it’ll definitely appeal to its target audience of kids. Cora and her best friend Abry strike a fine balance between following and breaking rules, between independence and reaching out to the adults in their lives for help. They find a way to deal with bullies, as well as higher issues of what makes a law moral. The climax is darker than I expected, but nothing kids can’t handle. Overall, it’s a great clean read for kids with some good messages along the way.
Even though the story only takes place over the span of a few months, Cora manages to grow quite a bit throughout the story, as evident by the choices she makes at the end and her reasoning for them. Because of this, the song this week is AOLNATION’s “Kill Your Heroes.” Because sometimes, what you thought you wanted isn’t the right choice at all.
I read a lot of heavy stuff – literary classics, dark thrillers, textbooks – and so it’s nice to come across light, funny stuff. And that’s exactly what Kathy Steinemann’s book, Nag Nag Nag is.
It’s a collection of stories about a couple, Megan and Emmett, who’ve been married over 40 years. They know how to irritate each other, and frequently have fun doing so. But at the same time, they’re still in love, which is evident not only by their bursts of passion, but in the way they irritate each other – it’s loving and playful, not spiteful at all.
Throughout the book, readers discover humor in the mundane, from a camping trip with their grandkids, to a burglary of their house (foiled by their cat), to a simple trip to the grocery store. This humor is sweet, often crude, but realistic and refreshing.
The music to go with the readings is a fun song by British 80’s pop sensation Nik Kershaw. He’s traded in his teen crush status for middle age, and his songs reflect that. “Shoot Me” is a catchy song about his thoughts on aging. Megan and Emmett aren’t quite to this point yet, but I can clearly envision them having a conversation that follows a similar vein.
I’m currently working towards my master’s in social work, wrapping it up this year with a practictum in a local school district. After years teaching, combined with everything I’ve learned in this program, I know all about dysfunctional families. And I love them.
Sorry I Wasn’t What You Needed is about a very dysfunctional family. Mom left when the kids were little. Older brother copes by being a jerk to everyone. Older sister copes by sleeping with everyone. CJ, the protagonist, copes by moving to the other side of the country as soon as he has a chance. He’s not very successful there, basically mooching off his girlfriend while trying to become a successful writer, but he’s not looking back.
Until his father commits suicide, and CJ returns home to Seattle for the funeral. He’s forced to deal with everything he tried to escape: his parents’ divorce and the jerky stepfather, a high school ex-girlfriend who wants to ruin his life, and siblings who are just as pissed at the world (and him) as he is.
CJ, however, has a hard time dealing with being back home. He’s always put the blame for his crappy life on everyone but himself, despite some bad decisions and jerky behavior towards everyone. Over the course of the novel, however, he comes to see himself as an active participant in his mess of a life, while learning more about his family and seeing them as just as much the victims as he is.
Many families I’ve worked with have similar issues, and Bailey captures the family dynamics, as well as character growth, very convincingly.
Amazon Prime has learned I like quirky indie movies, so it recommended Take Me Home, a film about a sympathetic loser named Thom. Thom, like CJ in Sorry I Wasn’t What You Needed, doesn’t really have his life together. He wants to be a photographer but it’s not working out. Fortunately he has his own cab, and he picks up riders in NYC for extra money.
One night he picks up a woman distraught over her husband’s affair. Claire tells him to “Just drive,” and so he does, ending up in Pennsylvania the next morning. She’s pissed, of course, because that’s a huge fare, but then decides he can just keep driving her to California so she can see her sick dad.
Thom wants to impress her, so he lies – about his career experiences, about working for a cab company, about his actual name. She loses her purse in the middle of Kansas, and it’s at this point she turns from sarcastic bitch to a team player. This is also where the dysfunctional families come in, for both Claire and Thom, although each is messed up in its own way.
I personally would’ve cut out the last five minutes of the movie (Netflix has informed me I like “depressing quirky indie dramas), but it’s still worth watching to see Thom’s growth from selfish jerk to actual human, much like CJ’s in Sorry I Wasn’t What You Needed.
A couple years ago, I decided I wanted to write a steampunk novel, but I’d never read any steampunk. Since then, I’ve read several dozen novels in the genre – enough to know the punks are a loose collection of genres, set anywhere from the Victorian era to the Wild West to ancient Rome. There’s steampunk, cyberpunk, futurepunk, Will Smithpunk, zombiepunk, elfpunk…basically every punk you can imagine, and then some. My favorite is probably the Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker, set in ancient Rome with guns and steam engines and a chatty police-officer-turned-vigilante who falls in love with a stoic assassin. The first book is free, and you’ll get hooked like it’s crack.
The Viper and the Urchin is the story of an assassin, but that’s where the similarities end. Longinus kills not for the thrill or for politics, but for notoriety. It’s all about his stylish reputation – so of course he’s appalled when a common street thief, Rory, not only has to help him with a job, but learns he’s actually afraid of blood. Rory wants to be a warrior swordswoman and when she realizes Longinus is great with a blade, she blackmails him into teaching her all he knows. When Longinus’s livelihood is threatened by a copycat assassin, she’s determined to get to the bottom of it, if only to continue her training.
The two characters are great together. Rory is unrefined and purposefully obnoxious, and Longinus isn’t sure how to react so he ups his arrogance. The two come to deeply care about each other, but in a natural, platonic way that fits the book’s fun, lightheartedness.
Even more than the excellent writing (and it really is excellent), I was impressed by the setting. Despite the main city being set in the tropics, it had the feel of Victorian London. The best thing, though, is that every character was dark-skinned. And this wasn’t a plot point, either, more a “let’s mention it in passing because it’s not a big deal; it’s completely natural for this part of the world” point. As someone who’s hypersensitive to the lack of diversity just about everywhere, I really enjoyed this little extra (although it’s not really reflected on the cover).
One of the best parts, though, was that I didn’t predict the ending only 25% into the book. I figured it out halfway through but thoroughly enjoyed the author’s bit of misdirection. I enjoyed the whole book and highly recommend it.
The accompanying music choice is actually why this post is so late. I bought my first Placebo CD 18 years ago – it was the first CD I bought online, because I couldn’t find it locally. I hadn’t listened to them in a couple years, so while trying to pick a song I ended up just sitting and listening to all their albums.
iTunes tells me they’re “alternative and punk,” and their drums certainly are. Maybe some of the guitars too?
Although lots of their songs fit, I finally settled on “The Bitter End.” It encompasses a lot of themes from the book, like the mix of emotions Rory feels after being screwed over by her partner and the hopeless resignation Longinus feels when he realizes who’s trying to steal his identity.