Review-orama 2014

It’s that time again, so let’s take a look back at the last year in reading and see how my basic impressions stack up. Click on the book title to go to the full review, where I’ve written one.

1. British History for Dummies, finished Jan 4th. These books are always well-done and succeed in their intended purpose. The difficulty is that no matter how much you try to dumb it down, it still ends up being way too long.

2. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, finished Jan 14th. This book was fascinating and well worth the read.

3. Doctors From Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans, finished Jan 22nd. An important bart of the world’s past that I feel it’s important to know.

4. A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, finished Jan 28th. Not a waste of time, but those who are not incredibly interested in the history of feminism may find it boring.

5. Freedom Summer: The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn And Made America a Democracy, finished March 2nd. Damn, I sure read books with long titles. This book is important. Read it.

6. Madame Du Barry: The Wages of Beauty, finished March 14th. Surprisingly boring.

7. Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, finished March 16th. The content is fascinating, but the scientific descriptions were right over my head, and I got bored.

8. Push, finished March 17th. Very good, just like the movie.

9. Black Cargoes: A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1518-1865, finished March 26th. Very interesting content, but the writing could have been less dry.

10. The Night the Defeos Died, Reinvestigating the Amityville Murders, finished March 31st. Hands down my favorite book of the year. Awesome.

11. Knocked Up: Confessions of a Hip Mother-To-Be, finished April 4th. This is just fluffy entertainment. Nothing that great or valuable here.

12. Twelve Years a Slave, finished April 13th. Very personal and moving.

13. High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly, finished April 21st. Totally boring.

14. The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England, finished May 5th. Antonia Fraser is always a delight, but this book may be more suited to have around just as reference, or it can get very long.

15. The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture, finished May 8th. As I try to think of something to say here, it occurs to me that this book was forgettable. But I do remember liking it.

16. The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, finished May 10th. Maybe it’s just the authors I’m choosing, but I find comedy books to be more valuable than people probably give them credit for.

17. In Cold Blood, finished May 16th. Awesome. There’s a reason this book is a classic.

18. The Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber, finished May 20th. Dark books are my weakness, but this was without any flavor at all.

19. African American History for Dummies, finished June 13th. Even though the For Dummies books are by different authors, my impressions of them are always the same.

20. Haunted: The Incredible True Story of a Canadian Family’s Experience Living in a Haunted House, finished June 17th. Mildly interesting, but not the least bit scary. Poop.

21. Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, finished July 12th. Very interesting, very much worth the read.

22. Lord High Executioner: An Unashamed Look at Hangmen, Headsmen, and Their Kind, finished July 22nd. A surprisingly light read for such a dark subject.

23. Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, finished August 29th. A valuable read for every kind of woman.

24. Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill, finished Sept 8th. Horrifying.

25. Sasquatch: North America’s Enduring Mystery, finished Sept 12th. A very complete explanation, but still a little meh :/

26. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, finished Sept 22nd. Both depressing and uplifting at the same time, and all around very impressive.

27. Dead Until Dark, finished Sept 23rd. Surprisingly fluffy and weak, considering such a great show came out of it.

28. The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women, finished Oct 6th. Pretty interesting, very engaging novel-like style.

29. Wicked River: The Mississippi When it Last Ran Wild, finished Oct 16th. Well-written, and cool information, but arguably with limited importance. That sounds bad…

30. Vittorio, The Vampire, finished Oct 24th. It’s an Anne Rice book, enough said.

31. Living Dead in Dallas, finished Nov 16th. More fun and interesting than Dead Until Dark, but still fluff.

32. Prince Lestat, finished Dec 5th. Well worth the wait.

33. Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, finished Dec 27th. Perfection.

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Vittorio the Vampire

Well, what can I really say. It’s an Anne Rice book. That should probably tell you all you need to know. As this was the only one of her vampire books (with the exception of the upcoming Prince Lestat) I can confirm that your expectations will probably prove to be correct.

It’s heavily religious. The main character claims that he’ll speak naturally instead of like some… I don’t know, let’s call it a fancy-ass guilded flower. And of course, he lies. It’s not that big a deal that he tends to be long-winded though, as this isn’t a particularly long book by anyone’s standards. But I’m a little confused about the part where the plot just breaks off and starts again as though nothing happened in between scene A and scene B… it makes no sense, unless maybe someone can explain it to me. And the scene where he (finally!) gets made a vampire is unusually anti-climactic. It disappointed me, and it’s odd for a book like this. And the romance part…. Anne Rice is no stranger to romance, but usually it’s dark and gothic. This is somehow oddly sappy and just plain strange. It seems somehow quite out of character for Vittorio. Ursula’s spell over this guy must be pretty powerful, because he just doesn’t seem the type, at least in the face of all that he experiences here. But Vittorio is a good guy, I don’t want to say I dislike him as a character. He’s not particularly annoying, as can sometimes happen. And his personality fits well with the period in which this all takes place. No, there’s not a whole lot to complain about here, besides maybe that it doesn’t really break any new boundaries despite being the only vampire book truly cut-off from all the characters and events we’re otherwise familiar with.

If you’re into this sort of thing, definitely give it a go. If you’re not, then don’t. That’s about all I have to say about it.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

When I got my new copy of the first in this series in the mail today (because it doesn’t look too much like the other one is going to get returned to me), I felt I really had to write a review on these. Is there a person alive who doesn’t remember and love these books? Is it possible to show one of these to anyone born in the 80s and not be met with a squeal of remembered joy?

I’ll tell you. And the answer is no. No it’s not.

There are two things that set these books apart from all the other horror stories from your childhood. First, obviously, is the art. If you remember nothing else, the truly creepy illustrations by Stephen Gammel are surely etched into your brain forever. I want to frame these things and hang them on my walls. Surely this artwork has inspired scores of artists in love with the macabre ever since these first came out in 1981. 33 years later these illustrations as well as the stories themselves remain a top childhood favorite. I don’t need to mention what a shame it is that these books were re-released in 2011 with illustrations from Brett Helquist. We’re all angry about it. Sorry kids, but if you just can’t handle the first generation of Scary Stories I’m afraid you’re just not going to make it in the world. Shame.

 

 

The art stands alone, but the stories retold from folklore by Alvin Schwartz are great too. I think these are a perfect example of the difference between scary and creepy, and how creepy can’t be underestimated. The creep factor here is evident in the way these books toy with your imagination, and let you fill in the blanks with the most horrible things your brain can conjure up. These stories don’t try too hard. It’s their subtlety that makes them so chilling. And they remain so well into adulthood.

There isn’t more I can say that you can’t say yourselves. Comment below with your own memories of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and why you think they remain a childhood horror classic.

The Night the DeFeos Died

Short review today, so you’ll thank me for quickly letting you get on with your reading. Considering this book is true crime, I can’t write this review in my new format, because spoilers. But let me just say, Holy¬† drama, Batman. This book is nuts you guys. This totally blows the lid off everything you thought you knew about the murders which started the legend of The Amityville Horror. You’ll probably even have a hard time believing it at first. But Ric Osuna has most definitely done his research, integrity seems paramount to him, and this book touches upon all levels of the story. If you like true crime, horror, or anything in between, this is a must-read. It’s anything but boring.