Read: It devours!: a Welcome to Night Vale novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

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Okay, I’ll admit it. I am a Welcome to Night Vale fan girl. The podcast is quirky and bizarre but so creative and intriguing that it didn’t take long to hook me. The writers already published a book based on the podcast that I reviewed earlier. However, It devours!, their second Night Vale novel is even more amazing and works better as a standalone so that you don’t have to have listened to the podcast before reading it.

Night Vale is not the average American town. Time flows differently for everyone, the dog park is not really a dog park since no one is allowed in it, and the City Council and secret police constantly monitor the citizens–but this is all normal and taken for granted by the residents. Well, except for the handful of scientists who have moved into town to study the various odd (to them) phenomenon. His experiments based by City Council, head scientist Carlos enlists Nilanjana to look into the strange occurrences of random pits that form and sink buildings around town, taking with them anyone inside or near enough to the pit. As more people disappear, the stakes become greater. Early on, Nilanjana gets a flyer from a local, newer church in town and it seems suspiciously connected in some way the the pits and destruction around town.

The novel itself quickly takes on the massive theme of science versus religion. Despite the quirky town and the fact that the church believes that a giant centipede is its god, the arguments for and against science and religion are applicable to the real world. In many ways, Night Vale is similar to our world, it’s just a bit off in some ways. This makes it all the more intriguing and still somewhat universal. Nilanjana begins hanging out with Darryl at the church, first to find out answers but then romantically. Beyond their relationship, the whole event makes Nilanjana feels more like a resident of Night Vale instead of a transplant. In trying to solve who is causing the disaster and why, she and he both reconsider their beliefs and work together, their plan benefiting from both science and religion.

Compared to the first, this novel explains more of the quirks and points out things a first time visitor might not know about Night Vale but needs to in order to understand it. They are casually worked into the narrative and so never feel out of place.

While it’s fiction, it’s difficult to place It devours! into a more specific category. It mainly reads as a mystery, trying to figure out who or what is behind the attacks in order to stop them. The alternative reality and town quirks push it more into magic realism more so than sci-if or fantasy. Then there are the satirical elements and absurdity that are bizarre to the reader but normal in the world of the Night Vale. Regardless of how the novel could be described, it’s a fun story that’s well written and is a pretty quick read.

Recommended?: Yes, especially for fans of Welcome to Night Vale or quirky alternate reality that includes paranormal and an off-kilter this town. As long as you read this novel with a sense of humor and as a bit tongue-in-cheek, you are bound to enjoy it too. Just a note, there are two romantic relationships: one gay and one heterosexual. There is sex but it’s not really described and it’s between the heterosexual couple. Plus, the book is gorgeous–purple edging on the pages and creepy teeth artwork (even more so inside the cover!).

Joyfully, it devours!

Finally bought swag from the Night Vale store. Couldn’t resist the mugs and beer glass any longer!

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Pick your poison medium: Lore by Aaron Mahnke

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Lore by Aaron Mahnke began as a podcast in March 2015. With booming success of the audio version, this year Lore has expanded to the visual medium as an Amazon mini-series and written medium as two books. Considering just how much research goes into each story, it is certainly wonderful that Mahnke is expanding Lore to these other mediums. There are also live shows, if you are lucky enough to live in or near a city on the tour. If you have never heard of Lore, you are now able to pick your poison medium and enjoy it however you prefer.

Lore is a combination of folklore, ghost stories, murder, and of course uncertainty. Mahnke, along with his researcher, relies on history as the basis for the tales that he tells. Some have more evidence and hard facts, while others are only supported by hearsay and speculation. All of the stories are told with as many details as possible with the atmosphere of a scary story.

As a podcast, each episode of Lore has a theme with a main story and a couple of related ones, made all the more spooky with music and sound effects. Plus, Mahnke’s voice and pacing adds another level of creepiness, making it all the more enjoyable. It’s the type of podcast that makes the listener lean in, captivated by each word especially because of such a great storyteller.

The first of the book series, which currently seems to be just two books, The world of Lore: monstrous creatures was published on October 10th, 2017. Borrowing a copy of the library, I couldn’t wait to dig into more Lore. What I didn’t realize beforehand, though it makes sense now, is that the podcast has largely contributed to the book. For most people, this won’t be an issue but having listened to every single episode of the podcast, the stories in the book were all to familiar to me. Although there is “additional content”, it’s not specified what that is and after skimming through the book, I didn’t feel like reading it. However, the few illustrations that are included are certainly gorgeous. Set to come out on May 29th, 2018, the second book in the series is titled The world of Lore: wicked mortals. It’s an interesting division of the stories: vampires, ghosts, and Robert the Doll, etc., in one volume and the murderous, fiendish humans in the second. If I wasn’t such an avid listener and lover of the podcast, these would be great reads.

If neither the podcast nor the books suit your fancy, you can get your feet wet with the Lore mini-series that began streaming on Amazon on Friday October 13th, 2017. They couldn’t have picked a better release date! Once again, many popular tales from the podcast were reused for the tv show but the visuals they use are stunning and creative. It’s a mixture of hand-drawn, stylized animation, historical documents and photos, and of course live-action acting. At first, I wasn’t sure about it, again still loving the podcast best, but each episode is very well-done and truly brought to life as a tv show. Granted, I skipped the one about the history of lobotomy because that was eerily enough as a podcast episode, I enjoyed the rest of them. My favorite of the six is the “Passing notes” episode about the Spiritualist movement, although “Black stockings” about Irish changelings is a close second. While the podcasts for these stories are good, something about the acting and additional visuals makes them even more chilling. Plus, Mahnke still does the narration so it contains his atmospheric nature too. I am sure that he will get a season 2 with Amazon–let’s just hope it’s sooner than later!

Recommended?: Yes! For history lovers, scary story fans, and anyone who enjoys great storytelling. Some tales might give you a fright and question the creaks in your home but for the most part they shouldn’t keep you from missing too much sleep. A handful are a bit gruesome, detailing murders or medical procedures, but there aren’t too many of those. For the most part, they feel like campfire tales, or the inspiration for the original Grimm fairytales, macabre in nature more than anything else. Despite October being over, do yourself a favor and pick your poison medium for Lore and enjoy–just maybe not alone in the dark.

Read: The waking land by Callie Bates

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Although I don’t read it much anymore, I grew up on fantasy. When I heard that Callie Bates’ first novel was published, I ordered a copy right away. A fantasy novel like no other, The waking land is a delight.

Held captive most of her life after her father’s failed revolution attempt, Elanna is a half-prisoner, half-adopted-daughter of the king that her father tired to overthrow. The king takes her at age five as collateral for ending the revolution attempt and in exchange for her father’s life. The princess is not happy about having Elanna around so she is left on her own most of the time, except for the dottings of the king who has taken a liking to her. Since she was taken so young, Elanna beliefs the king’s version about her family and the failed rebellion, not wanting anything to do with her parents that let her be abducted and never fought to get her back. At 19 now, she has only resentment and distain for her past and culture. Being raised in the city, away from the countryside and farmland of her people, she knows nothing of them and doesn’t care. However, that all begins to change when the king dies and his mean-spirited daughter becomes queen.

While there are similarities with other fantasy novels, the core of the fantasy in The waking land is unique, compared to what else I have read. Elanna has magical abilities that she has suppressed since childhood, especially since the city and the king abhor magic. Unlike the typical spell-learning common in fantasy, the magic in the novel is natural–as in connected to nature. Not many are alive anymore with such abilities but for those like Elanna who has them, with concentration she can interact with nature and natural elements. When she touches any living plants, they begin to grow and blooms at a rapid pace. As she accepts her powers and decides/needs to use them as the story progresses, she can make a torrential thunderstorm appear at will and even convince the trees to join in the new rebellion and help protect her people and homeland. One quirk about the magic is that it is all consuming of her and she teeters on the brink of being in control of herself; as she channels nature, it uses her as a conduit so that the nature and animals fuse with her as she increase magical capabilities. It’s more instinctual than intellectual/learned magic. Fascinating idea!

The story itself is a fairly fast-paced adventure from the start. As Elanna settles into her reluctant role in the new revolution attempt, the stakes and drama increase, she becomes more committed to the cause. Amidst the rebellion, though, Elanna and Jahan, who is from another region and has his own type of magic, begin a tenuous relationship especially as it is unclear who’s side he is truly on. As it has complicating ties with the story, the relationship plot line fits well within it.

Callie is a college friend and classmate from Lawrence University, which makes it all the more enjoyable to read her first novel. I look forward to the rest of the trilogy and reading more about Elanna and her world.

Recommended?: Yes, especially for fantasy and nature lovers. An older teen could read the novel, along with adults. While there are some battles and fighting, violent scenes are minimal. There is a brief sex scene but the rest of the romance is flirtatious. Much of the novel focuses on the beauty of the land, with vivid descriptions of nature. For me, these are some of the best parts and make the world in the novel more immersive.

Cover image The waking land by Callie Bates

Read: Return on investment: a novel by Magdalena Waz

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Return on investment is a ridiculous-ly good debut novel by Magdalena Waz. Equal measures of satire and thoughtfulness make this story a fun and captivating quick read.

Laurie, the central character, is one of many millennials living in Chicago, trying to makes ends meet while paying back student loans from college. The story revolves around her and her friends, questioning their current job choices and wondering about the hazy future. Laurie tries self-employed schemes, allowing her ambitions of setting her own minimal hours while maximizing profits to rule over logic and practicality. She does her friends into her latest endeavor and everyone is changed by their experiences.

Waz takes bold ideas, such as a job as a human breast pump (Laurie’s initial job attempt), and turns them into reality within the pages of the novel. As ridiculous as it sounds, she grounds it in detail and seriousness that the reader believes that such a job exists and has demand, at least for a while, in the Chicago of the story. Due to this strong growth grounding, the reader is able to believe the characters and premise of the novel.

The characters themselves also have depth and specifics that give them dimensions. Even with Laurie, she is complex and feels like a real person. They are all relatable to some extent, no matter what you think of their actions and personalities.

The format of the book is not usually something that I am a fan of but Waz uses it to her advantage and it really suits her story. The book itself is the length of a novel and each short chapter rotates between one of the four characters, with the exceptional n being one chapter for the party with all of them. Mark, Laurie’s boyfriend, is the only one who doesn’t get separate chapters since he’s mostly included in Laurie’s sections and he’s more stable in his job choice than the others. Of all of them, he doesn’t understand Laurie’s need for a non-standard, non-9-to-5 job. Due to the sections being so intertwined, and becoming even more so as the story progresses, they fit together as a novel instead of potentially being disjointed more as short stories with a tenuous connection.

Also, it’s fun to read a book written by a fellow classmate from undergrad. We both attended Lawrence University and overlapped for a couple of years.

Recommended?: Yes! It’s fast, funny read like no other. While satirical, there are thought-provoking moments as each character struggles with living their adult life, trying to make they own way in the world. As a satire, it isn’t a handbook for understanding Millennials, but it does offer some insights here and there throughout. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Waz!

Read: Selection Day: a novel by Aravind Adiga

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Aravind Adiga is one of my favorite authors. He writes about different aspects and people of India, with vivid detail. While Selection Day follows this pattern, it takes focuses on brotherly competition and cricket.

Cricket is a sport that I know little about but after reading this novel, I feel that I understand the competitive environment and pressure to succeed. Selection Day is an opportunity for fame of all young Indian boys, trying to showcase their skills and be chosen for a professional cricket team. Like with all sports, though, hard work and practice are crucial but sometimes luck also plays its part.

Radha and Manju are competitive brothers, pushed by their single father to succeed at cricket at all costs in order to pull them from the slums and poverty. Despite his tough love, both brothers excel and are forced into further competition as teens as each earns a scholarship from a sponsor to further support and encourage their abilities.

As will all of his novels, Adiga crafts complex and realistic characters. This is true for all characters, no matter what the size of their role is in the story. Their motivations and desires, turmoil and struggles enhance the plot and makes the novel feel more real, more genuine. This is true for the relationships as well. Selection Day showcases Adiga’s skill in developing the relationships between the characters, especially the brothers.

This novel truly is a coming-of-age story, told with two brothers. This is a great twist on a classic genre. As with all such stories, the boy’s love lives and failed romances are side plots but still an integral part.

Recommended?: Yes, for anyone wants to travel to India between pages, enjoys reading coming-of-age stories, or wants to know more about the hidden side of cricket. Adiga provides a day-to-day insight on what life’s like, with all the beauty and grime that entails.

Selection Day book cover

Read: The vegetarian: a novel by Han Kang

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The vegetarian: a novel by Han Kang, translated from Korean by Deborah Smith, is nothing like you might expect for a book with this title. While well written, it is also an oddly dark and horrifying novel.

In Korea, meat is a key component of practically every meal. Even during our travels in Seoul, for breakfast one of the many bon chon (side dishes) is a cold marinated shredded beef; delicious and served with not matter what you order. Due to this, it makes sense that becoming a vegetarian can be a big deal that would be difficult for a family to understand. This is the premise of the novel, which evokes the worst case imaginable and life spirals ever downward because of this one decision. Certainly intriguing but also scary in its plausibility.

Yeong-hye wakes up from a startling, overwhelming nightmare about raw meat that made her feel revolted by meat upon waking up. The vividness and pungent stench from her nightmare instantly converts her to a vegetarian. The novel opens with the husband finding her standing in the kitchen, throwing out all meat and fish in the middle of the night. Soon he realizes that it is not a faze and that his wife is serious about being a vegetarian and won’t allow any meat at home so he no longer gets it either. She even keeps her distance from him, bothered by the smell of his sweat; even that is too animalistic for her now. Annoyed with her, the husband drags her family into the issue, sure that they can convince her to eat meat again and that’s where everything goes wrong.

Kang builds a compelling story in which all characters believe that they are right and remain stuck in their opinions. Instead of helping Yeong-hue, her family only makes the situation and her stubbornness worse. Her downfall is exploited by her brother-in-law for his own pleasure after her husband leaves her and her sister is all that is left but even her patience wears out. No one wants to support Yeong-hye as she is but it also becomes more difficult as her beliefs become more eccentric and she recedes deeper into herself.

Originally written as three novellas, the novel on gains three parts: Yeong-hye, the brother-in-law, and finally the sister. The main story follows throughout but it gets more complicated with each additional part. As crazy as the plot gets, it’s eerily plausible which makes it even more upsetting and in its own way horrifying.

Recommended?: Certainly for adults only, as there is sexual and graphic content. There is lots of drama in the novel and the plot keeps intensifying, which is typical of Korea television shows so it wasn’t too surprising but it certainly makes the book quite a page turner, despite being frightening. For my first Korean novel, it was a wild one but very good. I can’t wait to read more by Korean authors.

Read: The namesake: a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri

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The namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri has been a book that I wanted to read for a while and when it jumped out again at me from the public library shelves, I decided it was time. Having read her short stories, I knew I was in for a treat.

The story is about a boy whose parents immigrated from India and he is first generation Indian–American. Due to unforeseen circumstances, he is given a nickname at birth but never receives a proper name. So when he goes to school, his father tries to get him to use the name Nikhil but he is so used to Gogol that he prefers the familial nickname even in public. As his father can never find the right time, he is not told the true story behind his name until much later in life which makes it difficult for him to appreciate it growing up. The story focuses on Gogol’s struggle through life.

Lahiri’s writing style is very evocative and entrancing. She focuses a lot on imagery and describes in great detail Indian food, customs, and culture, as well as how it is changed by living in America. Due to the details, the reader is drawn into the novel and feels as though they’re in the room with the family, living life with Gogol.

The novel has a slower pace than some. The reader is steeped in moments of his life before progressing on to the next phase and struggle. The pacing allows for much reflection as well as enjoyment in the details. It is easy to linger over a phrase or passage and re-reading it, contemplating it for a brief while.

Recommended?: For lovers of literary fiction, especially those wanting a taste of growing up first generation Indian-American. The story is at once heartwarming and strained with its depiction of the family, which only makes it feel all the more real.