Heart-Shaped Box

I don’t believe in ghosts. I’ve had one spooky incident, though, but it’s not enough to convince me. The aunt of a friend of mine had recently passed away, and he was given her cd collection. I was flipping through them when the stereo turned on by itself. He was convinced his aunt was saying hello, but I just chalked it up to electronics doing weird stuff.  There are people who believe, which is totally fine, but I’m just not one of them, so ghost stories don’t really scare me much. I’m much more terrified by religious demon possession terror, even though I don’t believe in that either, than ghosts. But I do enjoy a good, creepy story.

Heart-Shaped Box is Joe Hill’s first novel, published over 10 years ago. And although, he publishes under the name Joe Hill, his name is really Joseph Hillstrom King. Yes, son of the famous Stephen King. He chose to publish this way in an efforrt to make his way into publishing without being associated with his father. His identity has since been revealed, and I don’t think anyone cares much who his father is, simply because Joe Hill’s work is truly outstanding. I’ve read Horns and The Fireman and NOS4A2 (before I started reviewing books) and really liked them all. However, Heart-Shaped Box might be my favorite. NOS4A2 was the most disturbing, by far, but Heart-Shaped Box has a sufficiently creepy story and interesting characters.

Judas Coyne is a washed-up mid-50s rocker. He has tons of money, no career, and likes his girls young. Not that young, but a good 30 years younger than him. He treats them well until he gets bored, then sends them on their way. One of them ends up killing herself after being kicked to the curb, and her family isn’t happy. This girl’s stepfather recently passed away and is now haunting Jude and his current girlfriend. Haunting is putting it mildly. He is able to inflict harm upon them and guarantees they will both die. Jude and his girl spend the rest of the book trying to escape and destroy this ghost.

If you are a fan of horror novels, or even of Stephen King, you absolutely must read Joe Hill’s work. His works are definitely reminiscent of his father’s, but there’s no coat-tail riding here. Hill has carved his own path in the genre, and I look forward to reading more of his books.



This year, I’m trying to balance books I’m reading for the Popsugar challenge with books that I’ve been meaning to read for awhile. Lexicon was one I meant to read for awhile, but never found a place for it in the challenge categories. I’m a big fan of dystopia and thrillers, so when I found a book that was a bit of both, I was pretty excited.

The story is told from different time periods. You figure out pretty quickly that one period is happening before the other one. The before story tells of Emily her, um, let’s call it an education. She is recruited by a mysterious organization and taught the art of persuasion. Emily learns to categorize people and use certain words on them to get them to do her bidding. However, she gets angry, goes rogue, and unleashes something awful.

The after story is Wil and a secret he has in his head. However, he’s been made to forget this secret, so the people who have kidnapped him are trying to get him to remember. The two stories do converge, and you quickly realize their connection. This book was a really great delve into manipulation and how people interact. It lagged a bit in the middle, so I ended up giving it 4 stars, but overall it was really well-written and creative.

The 2018 year in review

My original book goal was 100 books. I’ve read 100 before, but it was a last minute short book that helped me to my goal on New Year’s Eve. No matter how many books I read, my goal is to always read more pages than I did the year before. And this year, I read more pages than ever!

Final results: 110 books and 36685 pages. Wahoo!

Highlights from the year:

Bridge of Clay

Seabiscuit: An American Legend

Dream Team (about the 1992 Olympics. It was so much fun)

Mindhunter by John Edward Douglas. About the FBI (yes, Netflix show based on this) and how they solve crimes and profile serial killers.

The Silkworm and Career of Evil

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

The Namesake

The Fireman

The Circle

Kindred (anything Octavia Butler writes is amazing)

Everything I Never Told You

Stephen King books: The Stand, Insomnia, The Outsider, Elevation

2018 Popsugar Book Challenge Complete!

Here are the books I read along with a review, if I wrote one.

book made into a movie you’ve already seen: The Circle

true crime: If I Did It

next book in a series you started: The Silkworm

book involving a heist: The Art Forger

nordic noir: Girl in the Spider’s Web

novel based on a real person: Lincoln in the Bardo

book set in a country that fascinates you: Girl Who Takes and Eye for an Eye

book with a time of day in the title: Midnight Assassin

a book about a villain or antihero: Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson

a book about death or grief: The Wild Truth

a book with a female author who uses a male pseudonym: Career of Evil

a book with a LGBTQ protagonist: I’ll Give You the Sun

a book that is also a stage play or a musical: A Raisin in the Sun

a book by an author of a different ethnicity than you: The Fifth Season

a book about feminism: The Power

a book about mental health: The Stranger Beside Me

a book you borrowed or that was given to you as a gift: The Fifth Child

a book by two authors: The Calling

a book involving a sport: Dream Team

a book by a local author: Whizbang Machine

a book with your favorite color in the title: Red Moon

a book with alliteration in the title: The Haunting of Hill House

a book about time travel: Kindred

a book with a weather element in the title: Girl in Snow

a book set at sea: Woman in Cabin 10

a book with an animal in the title: Tell the Wolves I’m Home

a book set on a different planet: Dawn

a book with song lyrics in the title: The Hate U Give

a book about or set on Halloween: Legend of Sleepy Hollow

a book with characters who are twins: Before You Leap

a book mentioned in another book: Invisible Man

a book from a celebrity book club: Big Little Lies

a childhood classic you’ve never read: A Wrinkle in Time

a book that’s published in 2018: Iron Gold

a past Goodreads Choice Awards winner: The Fireman

a book set in the decade you were born: Everything I Never Told You

a book you meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get to: The Stand

a book with an ugly cover: Pimp: The Story of My Life

a book that involves a bookstore or library: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Your favorite prompt from previous challenge: Book you can read in a day: Elevation

bestseller from the year you graduated HS: Insomnia

a cyberpunk book: Homeland

a book that was being read by a stranger in a public place: A Tale for the Time Being

a book tied to your ancestry: The Remains of the Day

a book with a fruit or vegetable in the title: Limelight

an allegory: The Little Prince

a book by an author with the same first or last name as you: Menagerie

a microhistory: Seabiscuit

a book about a problem facing society today: Who We Be

a book recommended by someone else taking the challenge: Lamb


This is it. The VERY LAST BOOK in the Popsugar Book Challenge. Whew. I’m so glad I did the challenge, as I am every year, but it’s also nice to be finished. The last category I needed to fill was a tough one for me. I needed a book with a fruit or vegetable in the title. I tried a couple (tomato, lemon) but neither book was interesting enough to keep going. So, I search my thousands of titles on my Kindle cloud (yes, really. Thousands. Most of them I got for free) for apple. Nope. Banana. Nothing. Orange. One title, but sounded boring. Lime. Ding, ding.

Judging by the premise and the pretty good reviews, I went ahead and started this one. During the 1880s, Penny Green was a unique woman. She was mid-30s, single, a newspaper reporter, trailblazing her way around town. She learns of the mysterious murder of actress Lizzie Dixie, who was presumed to be dead 5 years ago. She and a police inspector make it their mission to solve the crime. Which time did Lizzie really die? And who was behind it?

This was a quick read, and Penny is a fun character who has to use good old-fashioned thinking to solve the murder. I have several of these books on my Kindle and am looking forward to reading more about this delightful series.

Bridge of Clay

Most book reviews I can type up fairly quickly. I don’t spend a lot of time on them because the words just pour out. But this is a book I have had to spend a lot of time thinking about before I was able to write anything. And there’s no way my limited writing abilities will convey just how powerful and beautiful this book is. Markus Zusak is a master artist, and we are very lucky to be receiving his gifts.

I was given The Book Thief by my school librarian back when I was teaching. Somehow she got a hardback copy when it first came out and thought I would enjoy it. I was intrigued by the premise but didn’t fully realize what a profound book it was until a few chapters in. At that point, I grabbed a pen (I NEVER write in books unless I’m annotating to teach it) and began underlining some of the most beautiful phrases I had ever read, especially in a young adult book. By the end, I was sobbing.  My favorite sentence in literature is toward the end. “They hugged and cried and fell to the floor.” That’s it. Such a simple sentence. But it gutted me. I’ve reread The Book Thief once and loved it just as much. It’s perfect.

I then went back to read his earlier work I Am the Messenger, which is an equally amazing book, but the beautiful language of The Book Thief wasn’t as developed. But, as a story, it is definitely worth reading. When I heard he had a book coming out this fall, of course I was going to read it. After 14 years of The Book Thief being published, I was ready. Bridge of Clay is the best book I’ve read this year. No question. Told from the perspective of the oldest Dunbar brother, Matthew, we learn the story of the Dunbar boys (there are five of them), but especially of Clay. We learn the story of their mother, father, Clay’s big secret (be ready. You will have your heart torn out), Clay’s love for the neighbor girl, and how these boys manage to survive on their own. Zusak tells a gorgeous story, but it’s really his language, phrasing, and simple word choice that blows me away. I spent a few weeks to read this book because I was savoring each moment with it. Bridge of Clay is a masterpiece.

The Wild Truth

I read Into the Wild around the time the movie came out. I can’t remember if I read it first or saw the movie first, but in any case, both had a pretty big impact on me. I was fortunate enough to teach excerpts as well during a unit on transcendentalism. I had the students read the excerpts alongside excerpts from Walden, comparing and contrasting the thoughts and ideas each presented. Obviously, the ideas were a bit different since Walden is a first-person account and Into the Wild is told about the author, rather than the author’s own words, but Jon Krakauer was also an outdoorsman who presented the Chris McCandless’s ideas seamlessly.

The Wild Truth is the other side of the story from Chris’s sister’s perspective. Carine discusses their rocky childhood. Their father was married to another woman when he had children with Chris and Carine’s mother. They have a slew of half-siblings. Their parents eventually married, but life wasn’t easy. They were verbally abused on a daily basis from both parents. Carine explains why this information wasn’t included in Into the Wild. She told Krakauer the entire story but was always hopeful for reconciliation with her parents, so she asked him to gloss over the terrible childhood. When she felt she couldn’t keep quiet any longer, she published her own story.

I can’t say I enjoyed this book, simply because it’s really painful to read about other people’s suffering. And I really didn’t see *why* this book needed to be published. I’m not saying Carine should have kept protecting her abusive parents, but this could easily have been told in a series of articles. Much of the book was about Carine and her life, which was fine, but not really all that interesting to me. She reiterated her love for Chris, which I fully believe (she named her daughter after him) and her half-siblings who were always there for her and Chris. As far as memoirs go, this one felt a bit unnecessary, but it was nice to revisit Chris and reminisce on the impact he had in the world.