The 15 of 2015

23 12 2015

I didn’t read much this year. For the first time in 5 years I didn’t reach my Goodreads Reading Challenge. I know, fuck goodreads a2015-04-01 16.00.31nd reading challenges, but I like to keep track of my reading and setting a challenge on Goodreads is the easiest way for me to do this. So, not a lot of quality reading time this year and even less time to keep up this blog of course.

Despite all that, here are my favorite 15 books of 2015 in alphabetical order (by author’s last name):

  • Mosquitoland (David Arnold): I’m a sucker for road trip books.
  • Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates): if you haven’t read this, why the hell not?
  • Zita the Spacegirl (Ben Hatke): kid and me loved this series.
  • The Return of Zita the Spacegirl (Ben Hatke): 3rd of the trilogy and very sad to reach the end of the series. We have now begun reading Cleopatra in Space and the Amulet series together.
  • I Crawl Through It (A.S. King): bold, beautiful and completely wacky, but very readable.
  • The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch: At the Edge of Empire (Daniel Kraus): I am still reading this, but it’s so good it would be on this list anyway
  • Perfectly Good White Boy (Carrie Mesrobian): not the first book I read of Mesrobian (that was Sex and Violence), but this is my favorite of hers.
  • Cut Both Ways (Carrie Mesrobian): Carrie is my new fake girlfriend.
  • I’ll Give You the Sun (Jandy Nelson): a good (yet predictable in hindsight) Printz winner. That being said, I really loved this book.
  • Challenger Deep (Neal Shusterman): hard man, very hard, but so good. I hope this gets some Printz love.
  • The Alex Crow (Andrew Smith): So pertinent. And also read this here.
  • Stand Off (Andrew Smith): Do I need to explain? Really? Do I? Okay: the Abernathy. Plus: Middle Grade spin off?
  • Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel): thank you, Janna Rosenkranz for the tip.
  • We All Looked Up (Tommy Wallach): Some good old fashioned apocalyptic fun. Brilliant!
  • The Martian (Andy Weir): never has a science-y book been more fun.

 

 

 





Scowler (by Daniel Kraus): to horror or not to horror.

19 01 2014

scowlerHere’s something completely different! Prepare to be horrified. And probably disgusted and sickened a little too. And definitely prepare to have your ideas of “horror and YA” be amended. Daniel Kraus’ Scowler is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.

Daniel Kraus confirms his talent for writing the true psychological (and physically revolting) horror that he also used in Rotters. And just like in Rotters, the reader should not expect Kraus to compromise. This is a ‘take-no-prisoners’ story which takes the reader to the most extreme situations imaginable. Think of Stephen King’s The Shining and/or Silence of the Lambs type horror and you might get close to what Ry Burke – the 19-year-old protagonist – is going through here.

Ry lives with his mother Jo Beth and younger sister Sarah at the family’s dying and secluded farm in Iowa. It’s 1981 and Marvin, Ry’s father is in prison for inflicting the worst possible abuse on his wife ánd son. It’s taken years for Ry and his mother to somewhat recover, and now Ry’s mother feels it’s time to move on and she’s finally decided to pack up so they can move into town.  However, before they get to leave, a stranger calls at the farm… and this man who turns out to be an escaped convinct, and who also brings them the worst possible of news about Marvin Burke.

Marvin’s ‘return’ coincides with the 1981 August meteor shower and meteorites fall from the sky onto the Burke farmland. The return of Marvin forces Ry to go back into his own past and relive the events of what happened in 1971 and 1972. This story is then told in flashbacks. We learn about the horrible things Marvin did to Jo Beth and Ry, and how Ry found some kind of coping devices in 3 old ‘toys’: Mr Furrington, a stuffed animal, a Jesus Christ figurine and Scowler, an ugly and twisted hunk-typed thing.

The things that Marvin did to Jo Beth are truly horrific, and it’s obvious that Marvin is just an all-around psychopath. But Kraus doesn’t leave it at that. What is the more interesting question here is the effect having a psycho-dad has on Ry. What did Ry have to do to save his mother in the past? What did Ry have to do to cope with the trauma afterwards? And what does Ry have to do now that Marvin is back with revenge on his mind? To truly take care of his mother and little sister, Ry will have to face the darkness that is in him and decide whether to use this darkness against Marvin or not. In this, the 3 ‘toys’ (the Unnamed Three) are significant. Once they were actual toys to Ry, but over time they have become different aspects of his own personality, and some of those aspects may be too horrible for Ry to revisit.

Just like Rotters, Scowler is a truly disturbing read. However, I’d argue that it’s not horror for horror’s sake. Despite its horrifically realistic and gory imagery, it’s also a brilliant example of characterization.  Ry’s search for his own self is a scary journey for the reader, and it will lead Ry as well as the reader into unknown territories of his own mind, a point where the conscious and the subconscious collide, where the real and the sur-real merge. And it’s not just the characterization of Ry that is done well here. I  especially liked how Jo Beth is equally convincingly drawn (the metaphor of the dress is almost heartbreaking).

Scowler is a brutal book, by an unflinching author, as the best authors tend to be. This is a book by someone who dares to go where very few YA authors dare to go. For anyone who likes Rick Yancey’s Monstrumologist series* and Andrew Smith’s The Marbury Lens and Passenger, Daniel Kraus’ work is a must read!

 

* didn’t review the last one, but here’s a nice thing:finaldescent





Rotters (by Daniel Kraus)

6 01 2013

rottersWhen Joey Crouch’s mother suddenly dies, Joey is uprooted from Chicago to a small rural town in Iowa to live with a father who doesn’t even have the same last name as him. Life is hard on Joey, who was in Chicago a straight A student and loved to play the trumpet. Things take a turn for the worst, when Ken Harnett not only doesn’t pick him up from the station but also ends up being the town pariah – he’s nicknamed the Garbageman! The harsh circumstances at Harnett’s cabin – no food, no bathroom, no washing machine, no electronics – are nothing if not shocking, but at Bloughton High, Joey soon becomes the school pariah too (he can’t escape the horrible stench that is all over his father’s shack), bullied by the jocks (who start calling him ‘Crotch’) and a crueler than cruel biology teacher. He even loses the only friend he had in Chicago, Boris, who tells him not to call him again.  Because Joey wants to know what his father is up to at night, he decides to follow him and discovers his father’s secret: he’s a grave robber! Almost begrudgingly Harnett takes on his son as an Apprentice. From then on Joey sort of leads a double life. By day he goes to school, trying to keep up his straight As (as a sort of promise to his mother), but at night he accompanies his father on his job… a job that Joey describes in every minute horrific stinking decaying detail. And as horrible and disgusting everything is in the book… as a reader you’re almost spellbound: you want to know what is going to happen next with Joey and the Diggers, but also with Joey and his life at school. The juxtaposition of these two worlds also begs the question which hell is worse: that of the grave robbers or that of Bloughton High School.

The best way to describe Daniel Kraus’ writing is compelling. We experience everything from Joey’s almost authorial voice, which succeeds in both creating a certain distance between the reader and what is going on in the book (grave robbing, not your average teenage pastime, right?), but at the same time there are such incredible details about the machinations of e.g. digging a hole, robbing a grave, decaying bodies etc, that this voice is almost hypnotizing you and urging you to dig deeper (sorry!) into the story of the Diggers. Almost so much so that you can smell the stench!

Rotters is definitely not for the squeamish… it’s a true horror story, unflinching in its execution, uncompromising.  Although the book does sag a little bit at times, and is probably also a tad too long, it proves what an excellent world-builder and storyteller Daniel Kraus is. And even though Rotters deals with some seriously disturbing things, there’s a tragic truth to be learned here about the value of human life and human dignity – at all levels!

 

Also, here’s a bonus:

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