Horrorstör | Review

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Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

Horrorstör is a parody-humor-horror novel about the hell that is working in retail. Designed like an Ikea catalogue, but for the fictional Ikea-knockoff Orsk, the physicality of the book really adds to the depth of satire and emulsion for the reader. The chapters each begin with a faux-Swedish but cleverly-named piece of furniture, complete with description meant to entice the buyer. After this description of a chair, I almost wanted one myself:

Introduce your home self to your work self with the adjustable rolling HÜGGA. Let the creativity you feel when you’re at your most comfortable transform your workspace into a smartspace.

The concept is simple: someone has been vandalizing the store after hours, so a group of employees (partners) stay overnight to investigate. After a series of weird events, what they find out is the store was built on an old alternative-methods prison that “comes alive” at night, the warden of which starts inflicting his punishments on the partners as they struggle to escape. The store gets inside their head, confuses them, twists them around, and tries to convince them to stay.

I worked in retail on and off for almost a decade. My first job was a cashier at Kroger (where I was forced to stand behind the self check-out kiosk for hours on end, listening to the same computerized voice tell customers to “please place item in the bag”), then at Target, where I switched over to the floor after a year. Next was an amusement park, where I worked in, you guessed, it: merchandise! Then came the college bookstore, etc… and this book’s extended metaphor of “retail is hell and won’t let you leave” is pretty accurate.

imagesLiterally. (SPOILERS) Two of the characters are sucked into the walls (sort of) and cannot leave. Even the characters who escape, return, night after night (to try and free their lost colleagues/friends). As much as you try to escape working in retail (or even, hell, SHOPPING those giant stores), you can never, ever escape.

Even now, I have a full time career as a teacher, with plenty of hobbies, and I’ve contemplated returning to work retail part-time for extra money. Then I remember that I was one of the lucky ones that got out, and the thought of returning chokes me.

The parody and satire elements were spot on, though, and I really enjoyed the furniture descriptions that soon mutated into torture devices, still with appealing taglines and selling phrases. If this is a metaphor for the fact that putting together your own furniture from those massive retailers IS torture, then it is spot on, and I appreciate it so much.

While parts of Horrorstör are gruesome, it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be/would have liked. I don’t even like scary things, but I felt the ghost story side of things was a bit weak. I would’ve liked something a bit more creative, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Red Rising | Review

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Red Rising by Pierce Brown

I picked up this book by accident one day while perusing Barnes & Noble. I’d gone in to pick up The Circle by Dave Eggers, which was Buy 2, Get One Free, and since I can never give up that deal, I circled the table over and over, trying to pick out another two books. Red Rising was one of them.

The cover didn’t really strike me at first. It looked like yet another Hunger Games type story, and the description wasn’t really doing it for me:

His wife taken. His people enslaved. Driven by a longing for justice and the memory of lost love, Darrow will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if he must become one of them to do so.

I mean, it’s just kind of… meh. The review blurbs praising the novel are what actually caught my attention. And yes, I realize that most of these are BS, that pretty much every book has these, and they’re meant to do exactly what they did in this case: convince me to buy the book. Seeing nothing else worth picking up, and intrigued by the Hunger Games meets Game of Thrones comment, I added it to the stack.

Am I glad I did so.

Red Rising ended up being a sci-fi Game of Thrones meets teenage battles a la Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies meets strategy and war games of Ender’s Game. I loved it.

pyramid-allcolorsSince the description doesn’t really tell you much, here’s what the book is actually about (MINOR SPOILERS): Darrow is a talented boy who lives in the mines of Mars in a future world where the people of Earth need to colonize and terraform other planets. People are sorted into classes named after colors: Gold is the highest, Red is the lowest. Darrow is a Red. What he doesn’t know, is that the Golds (and everyone else) have been lying to the Reds, that the worlds have already been terraformed, that the Reds are slaves. When he finds out, he is pissed. Like, full of rage. To avenge his wife’s death and achieve her dream of equality and freedom, Darrow becomes a Gold and enters into a school of literal hard knocks. Like fight-to-the-death-the-first-night hard knocks. The students are then put in a giant battlefield similar to what I imagine as Medieval times, with castles and swords, etc, only more advanced, and are told to conquer the lands. The one who wins will achieve superior apprenticeships and opportunities afterwards. The ones who lose, and don’t die, will most likely be shamed and disowned. Tough school.

This was not at all what I was expecting. I, like Darrow, was expecting a Harry Potter-esque school experience, but the battles and the deceptions and the conquering of lands and armies was actually really fun to read (then again, I do like Game of Thrones).

At times Darrow’s rage-addled mind grew tiresome, and some of his antics made me cringe and go “really?”, but they work with his character, even if they are somewhat to the extreme at times.  I liked Darrow as a character, even when he was unlikeable, but his band of brothers were the standouts, particularly Sevro and his Howlers, Mustang, and Pax. I liked reading how he won and lost loyalties, and how he struggled to remain a Red in his new Gold body.

It also doesn’t hurt that Red and Gold are my favorite colors (Gryffindor, anyone?)

I already bought Golden Son, the second in the series (trilogy?), and can’t wait to start reading it.

Yes Please | Review

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Rather than traditionally reading Yes Please, I listened to the audiobook instead; something I’d never done before. I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to comprehend what I was listening to and still focus on driving, so I’ll be doing more of this in the future. What a great way to spend those 40ish minutes in the car everyday!

I think listening to Yes Please rather than reading it helped me get into it a bit more. It was read by Poehler, with cameos from Seth Meyers, Kathleen Turner, Patrick Stewart, and others. The conversations between them in the audio booth add to the imagery and fun of Poehler, and it helps the reader/listener understand Amy just a bit better. The epilogue was recorded live in front of a UCB audience in LA as well, so the live performance, with a real audience, was perhaps the best section of the book.

I gave Yes Please three stars out of five, not because I didn’t like it, because I did, but because I didn’t LOVE it like I thought I would. Of the Amy-Tina duo, Tina’s always been my homegirl. It’s not that I don’t find Amy funny, because I do, it’s just that to me, Tina is funnier. Then of course, there’s the two of them together, which is obviously the best combination ever. The Golden Globes will never be the same without them hosting. Maybe the Oscars, and every other award show, will swoop them up next?

Perhaps the reason I didn’t LOVE Yes Please was because it didn’t read as a comedy memoir, like Tina Fey’s Bossypants or Mindy Kaling’s Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me?; instead, it read more like a self-help book. An at-times hilarious self-help book, but a self-help book nonetheless. There are chapters on divorce and how to cope with it, how to deal with being a working mother, and throughout the book she constantly inspires the reader/listener to “Say Whatever You Like,” “Do Whatever You Like,” and “Be Whoever You Are,” which are, coincidentally, the names of the three sections of her book.

amy-poehler-dancingYes, there are tell-all moments about her time on SNL and Parks & Rec, her comedy upbringing with the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), and all the drugs she did, but you can tell her heart wasn’t in the book. In fact, she tells you in the prologue how hard writing the book was and how many times she wanted to chuck it and pay her editors back the advance they gave her. There were too many chapters that were tributes to her friends, too many namedrops, too much filler of lists and haikus and old letters.

For a forty-something working mother, particularly a divorced one, I’m sure this book is fantastic and inspiring, but for a 20-something engaged mother-only-to-animals, it just didn’t hit the mark.

On Such a Full Sea | Review

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On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee

The concept behind On Such a Full Sea is basically, in a future version of the world, society has been split into a the Counties, the Settlements, and the Charters, or in other words, a glorified class system. The poor people live in the counties, where electricity is scarce and times are hard; the settlements are made up of immigrants who work to produce items for the charters; and the Charters are the rick folks who work and compete their entire lives to prevent being banished. There’s also a C- disease (Cancer?) which inflicts everyone at some point in their lives. Trying to find a cure for C- is also behind the inciting incident and the mindset of everyone in the Charters.

The story follows Fan, a girl who lives in the settlement of B-Mor, who, when her boyfriend Reg suddenly disappears, she leaves B-Mor in search of him. Her leaving disrupts the entire community of Chinese settlers descendants, and the residents start to notice an angst and rebellion bubbling up. We then learn of Fan’s travels through the counties and finally to a Charter, with enough suspense and guessing to keep the reader turning pages.

The chapters usually begin from the perspective of a resident of B-Mor, who is the narrator of the novel. He talks about the changes the town is going through, the history of B-Mor, and the town’s supposed feelings about Fan and Reg. The language is written as if the reader is a member of the community as well, talking about characters and their actions as if they’re familiar, using “you” and “we” and “our”. They tell the story of Fan to one another as a way to understand.

swimmer-smaller-dimensionsIt’s not that I didn’t think this novel took risks, or that I didn’t like the characters, or that it wasn’t beautifully written. Lee took risks, and I totally understand why the critics adore this novel, often rating it highly. It’s discussion of loneliness, desire, coping, storytelling, and fear is astounding and worth reading it for.

What I found difficult was the long drags of narration from the B-Mor residents, and their coming to grips with reality and the mystery behind Fan’s disappearance, as they were often long and took me away from Fan’s “adventures” and encounters with all the weirdos populating this future. It also bears to keep in mind that what that “happens” to Fan only happens to her in the minds of the B-Mor residents, as speculation based on small truths.

The ending also upset me (SPOILERS), as it left on a cliffhanger and didn’t resolve any of the main conflict with Fan. Does she ever find Reg? We don’t know, and I guess that’s the point, but I don’t have to like it.

I only give On Such a Full Sea two stars, because despite the moments I truly enjoyed, the slug between them made it difficult for me to want to continue, and the ending annoyed me. Unlike the characters and residents of B-Mor, however, I won’t be speculating over the answers by re-reading this story.