Monday, June 29, 2020

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

Cover image for Horrorstör

Reviewed by Christy

    Amy works for a big box furniture store called ORSK that she considers a low-rate IKEA. A college dropout who recently failed the exam to become a floor manager, Amy aimlessly floats through life with no real ambition aside from avoiding her supervisor Basil. Basil takes his position very seriously, which doesn’t often vibe with Amy’s laissez-faire attitude. Every morning when staff members arrive for work, the store looks like it’s been ransacked. Broken tables, shattered glass, and nothing on the security cameras. With corporate men making a scheduled inspection soon, Basil is panicked enough to ask Amy and longtime employee Ruth Anne to work an overnight shift with him to figure out exactly what is going on. Amy, perpetually late on her rent, jumps at the chance for overtime. None of them are prepared for the horrors that await them.

    Having liked every other Hendrix book I’ve read, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this earlier offering. Hendrix seems to have found a groove writing fun, horror set in the 1980s or 1990s. While Horrorstör is contemporary, it still has the same tone of his more recent works. Once again, his characters are relatable and easy to care about. Amy is a jaded early twenty something trying to figure herself out. Ruth Anne is a loyal, sweet worker who doesn’t get the respect she deserves. Basil is a no-nonsense supervisor who truly cares about his employees even if they don’t appreciate it or even realize it.

    The scares throughout the novel don’t just rely on gore, though there is that. There is truly creepy imagery including doors that shouldn’t be there and never ending hallways, to say nothing of the ghosts and torture devices.

    Another fun aspect of Horrorstör is the book’s physical layout. It’s designed to look like a furniture catalog – complete with an order form and item descriptions at the beginning of each chapter. (Further into the book the items get a little more…medieval.) There is also some gentle ribbing of retail culture that includes policy for unruly customers and flyers with corporate catchphrases. (“If you have a question, just ORSK!”) My favorite use of this device is the employee evaluations. In this we see just how much Basil supports and cares for his employees. He requests that Amy be allowed to take the manager exam again, and that Ruth Anne receive a raise to show their appreciation for her fourteen years of service. A small moment, to be sure, but one that is instantly endearing.

I expected to enjoy this book but I was surprised at how much I liked it. It’s not perfect. There are some moments that truly do not make sense. (Using handcuffs during a séance instead of just holding hands, for example. I guess because handcuffs are scarier? I don’t know, it didn’t make sense, and the in-book explanation wasn’t believable to me.) Regardless, I have yet to have a bad time with any Hendrix novel, and I will continue to hunt down his older work until his next release.

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones

Reviewed by Kristin

Sunshine Vicram is about to have a very bad day. It’s her first day as sheriff of her hometown of Del Sol, New Mexico, a post she didn’t even know she was running for until she won. Fifteen years away is a long time, but Sunshine’s criminal justice degree and fancy big city law enforcement career more than prepared her for the small town crime she’ll be facing now. Or did it? At least she got to pick the color of her uniform, and black pants are very slimming.

Neighbors accusing each other of stealing a chicken—(excuse me, a rooster, and his name is Puff Daddy)—is one thing, but when a teenage girl goes missing, Sunshine and her deputies rush into action. Deputy Quincy Cooper has been her best friend since elementary school, and while he can be a bit annoying, he always has her back. Sunshine’s teenage daughter Auri knows the missing girl too, and is ready and overly willing to jump into the investigation.

Sunshine has quite a back story that threatens to spill out at every turn, and while reading this I started to question whether I had missed an earlier book or two. Fortunately for me and my habit of at least trying to read things in order, A Bad Day for Sunshine is the first in the series. As I continued through the book, all the hints and foreshadowing became clearer, and most of the loose threads were tied up by the end. A few are left dangling, but that’s good because A Good Day for Chardonnay is expected to be published early next year.

One such thread is Sunshine’s bad boy/romantic interest Levi Ravinder. Their long-simmering and potentially steamy relationship makes her tingle in all the right places. Not to mention, she has a couple of other guys in her sights. Sunshine seems to be one of those women who can balance a career, a teenage daughter, aging parents in her backyard, and a man or three. This might be a recipe for disaster, but I bet the journey will be laugh out loud funny. I also hope that Sunshine’s mother’s book club continues their interfering ways as the women of a certain age who know everything in town, and who have their ways of making things happen.

Darynda Jones is also the New York Times bestselling author of the Charley Davidson series, another humorous foray into a world of private investigation with a supernatural twist.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Nevermore: Gregory Maguire, Leon Uris, Sy Montgomery, Johann Hari, Neil Gaiman

Reported by Kayla 

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

Set in seventeenth-century Holland, this story follows an unlikely heroine, Iris, who is swept from the lowly streets of Haarlem into a world of wealth and success. Her path becomes intertwined with that of her mysterious soon-to-be sister, and quickly Iris begins to discover the secrets of her new household. In this retelling of Cinderella, Maguire addresses questions about the fate of the ugly stepsister and the untold curses that accompany Cinderella’s looks. Our reader recommends this book for readers who enjoy Maguire’s other popular titles, such as Wicked.

Trinity by Leon Uris

Trinity, a 1974 novel by Leon Uris is a bestseller around the world and received praise from one of our Nevermore readers during this week’s discussion. This historical saga captures the struggles and triumphs of Ireland’s struggle for freedom, from the famine to the Easter Rising. The story follows three Irish families divided by class, faith, and prejudices. Our reader recommended this book, and said it was a treat to listen to on audiobook.

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression - and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari

This New York Times bestseller explores the causes and cures of depression and anxiety in a way that may change how we think about these conditions today.  Hari teamed up with social scientists all over the world who are uncovering new evidence about the causes of depression and anxiety disorders in our brains. Identifying lifestyle issues as a major contributor, the book explores nine causes of depression as well as seven very different solutions. Our reader found this book to be a very interesting read.

The Magnificent Migration: On Safari with Africa’s Last Great Herds by Sy Montgomery

Award winning nature writer, Sy Montgomery, takes readers on an emotional journey in this account of some of the greatest migrations on Earth. While Montgomery does focus on the migration of the wildebeest in the Serengeti, many other remarkable migrations  are documented in the book such as that of the Monarch butterfly. The inclusion of beautiful color photography and an abundance of nature facts makes this one a must-read for nature and animal lovers.

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

This story, a follow up to American Gods, follows Fat Charlie who leads a seemingly normal life until he finds out his deceased father was a god. While still reeling from that information, he also finds out that he has a brother who is about to enter his life - bringing with him adventure and danger. Our reader felt this book was a great escape, and recommends this title for fans of Gaiman or anyone who is looking for a story with a little magic.

Monday, June 22, 2020

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix


Reviewed by Christy

    In Grady Hendrix’s novel My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Hendrix tells the story of two teenage best friends fighting off demon possession in the late 80s. Curious as to what kind of parents these girls might’ve had, he wrote The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. In it, a book club full of harried housewives have to face off with a monster when a stranger comes to town and slowly infiltrates every aspect of their life. When a book is described as “Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meets Dracula” how on earth could anyone say no?

    Like his novels We Sold Our Souls and the aforementioned My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Hendrix’s newest work has the retro, fun vibe (it spans the early - mid 90s) but it’s also unexpectedly touching at times. Patricia is excited to welcome James to the neighborhood. He’s sexy and mysterious and adds a small thrill to her other otherwise humdrum life. She’s married to Carter, a psychiatrist who is a neglectful father and a dismissive husband. Her two children are getting older and more scornful by the day. Between car pools, cleaning, cooking, laundry and more, she never has a moment to herself. When she does ask for help, she’s met with disdain and disbelief (“What else do you even do all day?”). A new face in town adds a spark to her day.

    This will probably come as no surprise but James is not who he seems. He’s dangerous, and he’s a threat to everything Patricia knows and loves. She does everything in her power to convince her friends in the book club to battle this unknown entity. Hendrix’s characters are well developed, and the friendships so relatable and strong that you can’t help but root for them. The male characters know their place in society and use it to their advantage ruthlessly. When vaguely told James is shady, they jump at the chance to give the new guy in town the benefit of the doubt, rather than believe their wives of many years. As minor antagonists, they are not cartoonish. They’re familiar.

    Striking a balance with his social commentary, Hendrix also writes some really great gross-out scenes. After a character hides under a decaying, bug-infested quilt, I had to take a break so the itching would stop. Hendrix has quickly become one of my favorite authors. His books are just so fun while still plucking a heartstring now and then. I was a little hesitant to pick up this book just because I knew I would read it fast and then have to start the long wait for his next one. That is exactly what happened.

**I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**