Tag Archives: horror

Lara’s Top Picks of 2018

20181231_144316.jpgWelcome to my eighth edition of “Top Picks!” Easily one of my favorite blog posts of the year, this is where I tell you about the ten best books I read this year. Again, this has nothing to do with what year they came out. In fact, I’m pretty sure only one of the books I read this year was published in 2018. For a list of the best books published this year, check out The New York Times annual Notable Books list. For now, here are the best books I read this year (followed by the complete list of all the books I read this year).

10. Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. After my dad passed away, this was the perfect book to help me out of my slump and come to terms with my grief. Sheryl Sandberg is not just a Facebook COO here. She is a woman navigating loss like so many of us have. If she can do it, we all can, especially with her tactile, concrete advice. Buy it now. 

9. The Lost Family by Jenna Blum. It’s a novel that spans 30 years and three generations of a Jewish family in New York and New Jersey in the years post-WWII. The patriarch lost his first family in the war and starts a new one with an aspiring model. It’s a book that I really enjoyed when I read it, but since I finished it, I simply can’t stop thinking about it. Buy it now.

8. One More Time by Carol Burnett. Both an in-depth look at the iconic comedianne’s life and a book about life lessons, One More Time is a memoir that almost feels like a self-help book. There is so much to be learned from this strong woman who overcame trauma, failure and poverty to become the icon she is today. Buy it now.

7. Cujo by Stephen King. It’s scary to think that it took me this long to read a Stephen King novel (yes, it was my first!!), but everyone told me this was one of his best and it did not disappoint. More thriller than horror, Cujo brilliantly jumps between characters I legitimately cared for while making a dog scary to me for the first time in my life. The ending is something to be both celebrated and mourned — a bittersweet juxtaposition that makes the read all the more complicated and engrossing. Buy it now.

6. 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Dan Harris single-handedly got me interested in meditation, but it took me several years to finally read his book. Both memoir and self-help (is this a common theme here?), 10% Happier makes a case for changing yoru life and through meditation — even for the skeptics — while also telling tales of the fascinating network newsman life he leads. Buy it now.

5. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Set on reading it before seeing in the theater, I had high hopes for this one, and it surpassed them all. It was more than just a romantic story or an Asian story. It was also a funny store! So tongue-in-cheek in its prose and dialogue, it was a long book that turned into a quick read, and I’ve never been more excited to read a sequel. Buy it now.

4. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. Julie Powell needed something in her life. She surprised herself by finding it in Julia Child’s famous cookbook. So she set her sights on cooking the entire book in a year’s time. The book details the true story of Powell achieving this crazy and kind of obnoxious goal, even while it tears much of the rest of her life to shreds. She is a hilarious writer who had me laughing out loud. But she also learns a lot about life and herself through the process, and so do we. Buy it now.

3. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. A story from the point of view of a dog, Racing is a more dramatic tale than I expected. But it’s refreshing perspective gives us hope in both dogs and humanity, proving that there is nothing more important than the bonds of friendship and family. It’s a grand story about life trapped in a doggie fiction novel in the most beautiful way. It left me breathless. Buy it now.

2. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman. After seeing the sexy movie that so deeply resonated with me in its portrayal of first love, I found myself wanting more so I picked up the book the movie was based on. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book is even better than the movie with more details, more sexiness, more teenage uncertainty and more finality. Oh, and the prose is supreme. Buy it now.

1. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. As I turned 30, I thought a self-help book would help me better round the corner. What I found in Badass is a swift kick in my badass that left me empowered. Jen Sincero’s real-talk and tangible tips allow for a true journey in confidence-building and goal-setting unlike I’ve ever experienced before. Buy it now.

Here’s a link to the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018. 

BOOKS I’VE READ 2018

In the Studio with Michael Jackson – Bruce Swedien

Damned Good- J.J. DeCeglie

Wonder – R.J. Palacio

Julie and Julia – Julia Powell

A Wrinkle In Time – Madeleine L’Engle

Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman

Soul Witness – William Costopoulos

Option B – Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

A Load of Hooey – Bob Odenkirk

Emma – Jane Austen

Cujo – Stephen King

Ann M. Martin – Margot Becker R.

The Last Dropout – Bill Milliken

How to Love the Empty Air – Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Strangers – Nigel Gray

Notorious R.B.G. – Irin Carmon

One More Time – Carol Burnett

On Becoming Fearless – Arianna Huffington

The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein

Choose Your Own Autobiography – Neil Patrick Harris

10% Happier – Dan Harris

The Gene Guillotine – Kate Preskenis

You Are a Badass – Jen Sincero

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan

The Lost Family – Jenna Blum

Sharp Objects – Gilian Flynn

A Simple Favor – Darcy Bell

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers

The Day The World Came to Town – Jim DeFede

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Review: Cujo

cujo.jpgRecap: It’s been five years since a serial killer was on the loose in a small town in Maine, but that doesn’t mean the serial killings are over.  When a massive St. Bernard chases a small animal and becomes rabid, no one is safe. The problem is no one knows the pain he’s feeling. No one know he’s sick. So his owner, Joe, lets him roam around the property. Joe’s son and wife, Brett and Charity, leave town to visit her sister. By the time Donna and her four-year-old son, Tad, go to Joe’s house to have her car repaired, Cujo has already killed several people including Joe.

Donna notices he’s rabid right away; by this point, he’s become more sick and his red eyes and foaming mouth prove as much to her.  She has no choice but to stay in her car with her son but the car is in such disrepair, it won’t start. The July heat doesn’t allow them the fresh air they need, and they have no access to food or water other than what they’ve packed. Because it’s 1980, Donna has no cell phone and no way to get help.

As she waits for a postman to come, for the police to come, anything, her husband Vic is away on business, trying to save his company and contemplating how to save his marriage after he learns Donna had cheated on him. Ultimately, no matter how much he wants to, Vic can’t quit Donna and when his calls go unanswered, he calls for help only to find the devastation Cujo has left behind.

Analysis: For my first Stephen King novel (I know, I know, it’s crazy), this was phenomenal. I was more than pleasantly surprised by the character depth and development he offered throughout the novel. It’s much more than just a “horror novel,” which is what I was expecting. Cujo is a monster, but he’s a completely plausible monster and King interestingly takes us inside the rabid dog’s mind as well as Donna’s heat delirious mind, and Vic’s marriage obsessed head as well as many others.

This level of character depth and plot thickening allows for a slow build until Donna and Cujo are left no choice but to face off. For days as I read the last pages of the book, I found myself repeatedly muttering “Please don’t let Donna die.” King made me care. It’s the stuff real horror novels are made of.

MVP: Vic. While Donna’s a badass, it takes her a while to get there. Vic instinctively and instantly knows something is wrong and uses his intelligence and logic to break open what’s going on and attempt to make a rescue.

Get Cujo in paper for $14.56.

Or get it on your Kindle for $10.99.

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Movie vs. Book: IT

41acskyedwl-_sy346_Contributed by Michelle Baker

**SPOILER ALERT: This review includes spoilers from both the movie and novel IT. Consider yourself warned. 

Over a thousand pages long, IT is more a story about the importance of true friendship and unity in the face of evil than it is a horror novel. The story follows seven friends in 1950s Maine who label themselves The Losers. They find solace in one another, and together they find a place to escape to, where they can be themselves. But there is something evil in Derry, and they have all seen something that has absolutely terrified them. One is chased by a giant bird, another a mummy; the girl hears voices down her bathroom drain and is subsequently met with a deluge of blood from said drain. The adults don’t see these things, so they don’t understand what scares the kids so much. 

The story is told in two intersecting parts: flashbacks of the Losers in the ‘50s and the Losers coming back to Derry as adults almost thirty years later. They are called back by Mike, the one member of the group who stays behind to keep an eye on the evil. He soon realizes that they didn’t defeat It as kids, and the only way to stop  children from disappearing or turning up mutilated is to fight It again. Once together, they acknowledge  working together to defeat It is the only way to save their hometown.

My initial thought about the movie is that Bill Skarsgård gives an incredible performance as my new biggest fear. But director Andy Muschietti also makes a few alterations to the novel, particularly by not cramming the entire novel into one movie: Chapter 1 is only about the children, and Chapter 2 (which will be released in September 2019) will be about the adults. By doing this, he ensures that the character development isn’t rushed or forced.

That said, there are also uncomfortable changes like shifting Mike’s purpose as historian and watchmen to Ben in the movie. In the novel, Mike is the only son in the town’s only black family. Mike grows up learning the stories that taint Derry’s history from his father and informs the kids of the cycles of evil. He continues this tradition of historian into adulthood as the one who calls the group back when the patterns reemerge. But in the movie, Mike doesn’t come into the action until almost halfway through the movie, and the information about Derry’s grisly past is provided by Ben. Mike merely seems to serve as “the token black kid” in the movie, and it’s awkward. 

Another big change involves one of the most controversial scenes in King lore: Each of the kids in the Losers possesses a strength, and when they are together, these powers are almost unstoppable. After they battle It for the first time as kids, they try to leave the sewer system but find their powers weakening. As a way to reunify and gain back their powers, Bev suggests all six boys in the group have sex with her. There aren’t enough words to describe how uncomfortable this was to read. The thought of this girl losing her virginity to her six best friends in the sewers of her hometown after battling a centuries-old evil creature made me feel privy to something extremely sensitive. 

But I do, in a strange way, understand King’s logic. The overall message of the book is the complexities of navigating the transition from childhood to adulthood, and it is clear in this scene that the “It” the kids ultimately face is not a clown, mummy or  bird, but being a grown up. And what’s more “grown up” than “doing it”? Sex is weird and messy, as is this scene. I concluded King chose this as the method of unification because what we don’t understand is scary. Bev Marsh doesn’t understand why this act will unite them, but she just has a feeling that it will. And she’s right. They make it out of the sewer, agree to come back if It ever does, and go home as if nothing happened.

The movie, thankfully, does not depict a multiple child sex scene, but instead offers up a reduction of the strong female character in the group to a damsel in distress. Bev is taken by It to the sewer where she catches a glimpse of It’s Deadlights–supernatural lights that cannot be comprehended by the human mind and that can drive the viewer of them to insanity. As a result, Bev is stuck in a catatonic state floating in It’s lair. The boys band together to save Bev and fight It, and Bev is awoken from her stupor by a kiss from Ben. (Seriously, why did all of the important elements of the story get shifted to one character?!)

While I am glad the scene was altered, there is something to be said about the printed Bev. In the novel she is strong, capable of making decisions, and is the one to get the group to focus on their shared goal when everything seems to be going wrong. In the movie, she is just a girl who needs rescuing. She is not taking control over the situation, nor is she coming to understand the power that she holds as a woman. She is filling the Hollywood script mold of Girl in Trouble.

Stephen King, who raised by his mother and aunts, has always had a knack for creating strong female characters with whom one can empathize and relate. Bev in the movie is only strong when she is flirtatious, which is a far cry from what King created. The movie was a great interpretation of the text, full of shocking, scary, and thought-provoking scenes and special effects. However, considering the changes made to some of the novel’s substantial characters, I would have preferred if the credits said “Loosely Based on the Novel by Stephen King.”

Get IT in paperback for $13.16. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $11.99.

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Review: The Stupidest Angel

Recap: Just in time for Christmas, an angel wants to grant a wish to a child. And that wish comes just in time, since a little boy from Pine Grove, California recently witnessed “Santa Claus” get killed in a cemetery. What better timing than now, so the boy can ask the angel to revive Santa from the dead? All of this happens while the townspeople in Pine Grove are getting ready for their annual Christmas party at the local church, near the cemetery.

Really, what could go wrong? Except everything goes wrong, when the boy’s wish is granted and not only does Santa come back from the dead — so do many other bodies buried in the cemetery. And to top it all off, they come back as brain-eating zombies.

Analysis: If you’re in the mood for a light, silly book, this is the book for you. With Christmas around the corner, it might be just the right time to read it. The book is funny, and it’s completely off its rocker. Some people might be into that. I am not. I had a rough time reading this book, and in fact, almost gave up finishing it entirely. But because it was for a book club, I kept on reading.

There were some funny jokes, but all of the characters were pretty warped, generally obsessed with sex, drugs or things that are just plain weird. The plot itself is psychotically silly and very focused on death in a comical, twisted way.

I’ve read that author Christopher Moore used several of his characters from his previous novels in this one, so maybe had I read some of his other books, I would have enjoyed this one more. If you already know you’re into Christopher Moore novels and his style, then I imagine The Stupidest Angel would be right up your alley. But it’s sarcastic, dark humor was too ridiculous for me to wrap my head around. I mean, read my recap again — and you be the judge.

Get The Stupidest Angel in hardcover for $13.59.

Or on your Kindle for $7.99.

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Review: The Winter People

Recap: On page one, we dive into the diary of Sara Harrison Shea, known from legends dating back to  the early 1900s as the woman who mysteriously died at 31 and whose husband killed himself soon after. The reason? According to the legend, Sara’s daughter, Gertie, — who was already dead — killed her. According to the legend, Gertie is a “sleeper,” a person who has been revived from the dead. This legend carries on for generations throughout West Hill, Vermont, the land of the “Devil’s Hand,” where every few decades another mysterious death happens and where stories of “sleepers” live on.

In present day, it’s troubled teenager Ruthie and her six-year-old sister, Fawn, who are left to wonder if the stories are true. But as soon as their mother Alice goes missing, they’re forced to find out once and for all. They stumble upon several wallets in their home. The wallets belong to people who they’ve never heard of. They set out to find the couple, only to learn that they are dead too. Suddenly their mother’s disappearance seems like less of a coincidence and more of a strategic kidnapping — and possible death — that can only be explained by more than 100 years worth of mythology and mystery.

Analysis: The sci-fi mythology and mystery around which the story centers is just the beginning. Author Jennifer McMahon’s storytelling is what makes The Winter People complex, scary, and page-turning. The novel flips back and forth between 1908 and present day — between diary entries from Sara Harrison Shea and the perspectives of Ruthie and several other characters. Over time, the bits and pieces from each section come together to show that the characters are connected and that the legends may be truer and (literally!) closer to home than Ruthie thinks.

The beginning is confusing. There are lots of characters, and it’s hard to keep the relationships between them straight. But it’s clear from the onset that very strange things are happening in this town, and albeit (so!) creepy, The Winter People is written in a way that makes you want to learn the truth, no matter how horrifying it might be.

It’s worth noting that a lot of the gruesome sections are focused around young girls, and the creepy wackjobs generally turned out to be women. Maybe the author’s way of saying all women are a little crazy? But as I think it’s her way displaying that all women have their secrets — and to discover them is either a blessing or a curse.

MVP: Ruthie. She’s the most stable of the characters and the only one who’s not creepy. She should be commended for keeping a good head on her shoulders and keeping calm during her journey to uncover the mystery.

Get The Winter People in paperback for $11.21.

Or get it on your Kindle for $7.99.

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‘Goosebumps’ Author R.L. Stine To Revive ‘Fear Street’ Series

Guess who’s back, back again…

According to The New York Times, bestselling children’s and young adult horror author R.L. Stine is reviving one of his older series, Fear Street. In addition to Stine’s Goosebumps series, the Fear Street series is a bestselling series of young adult horror books that take place in the fictional town of Shadyside.

The last Fear Street  book was published in 1995. A new one, called Party Games, is expected to be released in October 2014 by Thomas Dunne Books.

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No E-Book for Stephen King’s New Novel

In a bold, anti-digital move, bestselling author Stephen King has decided not to release his newest book in e-book format.

According to The L.A. Times, the author made the decision last month to sell his latest novel, Joyland, solely as a physical book. King is generally considered a pioneer in digital books; he’s written a number of bestselling Kindle Singles and even helped Amazon’s Jeff Bezos introduce the Kindle 2 in 2009.

King said he’d rather have people go to an actual bookstore. It was a move that got a lot of praise from bookstore owners, who have seen their sales go down over the years thanks to an increase in e-readership. King is set to release another major novel later this year, but he hasn’t announced yet whether or not it will be available in e-book format.

Joyland was published by Hard Case Crime and was released just yesterday.

Get Joyland only in paperback for $7.30.

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