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Party Wolves in My Skull by Michael Allen Rose

You probably haven’t heard of Bizarro Fiction. I know I hadn’t.

As an established genre, Bizarro is a relatively new concept, though the form and ideas have been around for a long time. As the official Bizarro website states, ‘Bizarro, simply put, is the genre of the weird.’ Combining logic of the absurd with twisted, occasionally pornographic, and always macabre themes, it brings to mind the writings of Christopher Moore, Franz Kafka, and even Lewis Carroll, just to name a few.

Since it is such a new genre, Bizarro is always looking to further the art form and release new talent on an unsuspecting world. One of the eight books released this year by the New Bizarro Author Series, Party Wolves in My Skull by Michael Allen Rose is a shining example of what it means to be shelved in the Bizarro section.

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The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthyFirst of all, please don’t think I picked this book up because of the Oprah endorsement. I’m made of meatier things than can be swayed by an Empress. But when it comes to Viggo Mortensen, I’m JELLY. It might have something to do with his hair/face/body. Anyhoo, I remember seeing the cover of the book whilst shelving at the unnamed bookstore I worked for and thinking, “Oh, Viggo, when will we stop playing these games?” At around the same time my brother saw No Country for Old Men and was all, “I’m scared to sleep alone.” That movie being based on a McCarthy book paired with Viggo on the cover of THIS book slayed me. So I began the reading.

And let me tell you. It is not a happy read. Clinically depressed people and people prone to over-sympathizing, stay away. You will not have a happy thought for days. Not exaggerating.

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The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore

The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell MooreI love babies. Seriously. I think my biological clock started ticking when I was three. It doesn’t matter if it is one I know or don’t: If I see a baby, I want to kiss, hug, and take care of it. I have no qualms with changing poopy diapers, being spit-up on, or dealing with the ridiculous whims of a sleepy-yet-fighting-sleep infant. So when I tell you that The Arrivals had me reconsidering my love of children, you can imagine the kind of problems the parents have to deal with because of their children. Excuse me, their adult children.

Lemme ‘splain:

William and Ginny = empty nest-ers but minus the sadness and the lack of things to do/feelings of  uselessness. William spends most of his time taking care of a beautiful garden, watching baseball games, and sneaking out for the occasional ice cream sundae. Ginny is part of a book club and enjoys the peace (not silence) that cocoons her home since her children left. That’s not to say that William and Ginny don’t miss their children. Just that they are happy with where life has taken them.

Enter chaos. On various dates at the beginning of Summer, Lillian (with her own two children), Stephen (with his totally workaholic and preggo wife), and Rachel swarm home all looking for the same thing from their parents: to be taken care of and coddled while also being made to feel like accomplished, independent adults. Hu-wah?! Is that even possible? No, people. And when you ask for the impossible with haughty entitlement, you are on a one-way plane to Sleaz-ville, party of YOU.

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Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

Vaclav & LenaAfter reading quite a few glowing reviews of this debut novel, I decided I had to give it a shot.

The general synopsis is: two young immigrants from Russia who are in the same ESL class at school become, well, not ‘unlikely’ friends.  More like inevitable friends, once they are thrown together on a play date and go to Coney Island together.  Starting at the age of five, Lena becomes a fixture in Vaclav’s house, coming over every day after school and staying for dinner.  She is living with her aunt, who is a stripper/prostitute and fails to take basic care of her.  Rasia, Vaclav’s mother, takes Lena under wing and becomes her protector.

Then one day, just after Vaclav’s 10th birthday, Lena doesn’t come to school.  Lena disappears entirely, actually, for seven years.  In this time, Vaclav never forgets his friend and the magic show they had planned to perform together.  He says goodnight to her every night without fail, hoping that it will keep her safe, wherever she is.

The two are reunited after seven years and it serves to help them delve into the time before they met, the time they were apart, and any future they might have together.

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2 States: The Story of My Marriage by Chetan Bhagat

This is the first book I have read written by an Indian author for an Indian audience still living in India. Chetan Bhagat is quite a famous writer in India. Aside from selling many copies of his novels, two of them were made into Bollywood (Indian Hollywood) movies. One of those movies – 3 Idiots – had cross cultural success, with Indian-Americans going to theaters in droves to watch it. I would actually recommend it to non-Indian-American audiences as well. It is a wonderfully directed/written movie, the actors are good, and the songs are entertaining. Did I mention that all Bollywood movies have songs and dance routines? Yea, they do.

Anyway, back to the book. Me thinks this may be based on Chetan Bhagat’s life. I mean, aside from the title saying “the story of my marriage,” the characters bear a striking resemblance to people in his own life. Before I can really get into the story told in this novel, it is important to have an understanding of arranged marriages. And I don’t mean the superficial understanding that leads people to say stuff like, “How can you get married without loving somebody?” or “You’re letting someone else choose your life partner for you?” I’m not saying these aren’t valid questions. I just want to give you a fuller picture of the concept. At one end of the marriage spectrum is the historical context of two people getting together in matrimony. Marriage often served a political purpose. People exchanged heirs to maintain peaceful relationships with foreign powers or tribes. Many people are involved and the two people in the center of this exchange aren’t so much consulted as told of the impending match. Two people coming together for love is on the complete other end of the spectrum. Here, nobody except the two people involved consult about the match. Arranged marriages are somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. These marriages involve the coming together of two families that share common beliefs, cultural practices, languages, etc. The bride and groom are consulted, but everything is seen through a familial lens: how will this person fit in with my family?

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Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward

Heads You Lose

Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward

Lisa Lutz, author of the Spellman Files series (which you should pick up if you haven’t) teams up with an unlikely partner for her latest novel: David Hayward, a poet she dated briefly in the 90s.  The resulting book is described by Lutz as “a real crime novel with a dead body and all” – but also eschews as many traditional elements of crime novels as it upholds.

This wacky journey begins when Lacey and Paul, two orphaned siblings in their 20s, find a headless body in their backyard.  Except they can’t call the cops to their home due to the marijuana crop growing in the basement.  The brother and sister decide to investigate on their own, though these investigations manifest themselves very differently and often lead them in opposite directions.

Having two authors with dueling styles and plot development was a bit frustrating for me at first, but as the book found its rhythm a few chapters in I began to enjoy the ride.  Included after each chapter are email exchanges between the authors that shed light on the actions of their characters.  By the end of the book, it is virtually a tug of war between Lutz and Hayward, to the point I wasn’t convinced there was any way to salvage what was left of the plot, clues, and suspect list to form a cohesive ending.  Luckily, I was proven wrong as the loose ends were tied up expertly for a clean finish.

Recommended for anyone who likes serious crime fiction, but isn’t afraid to have some fun with it!

EDIT: I meant to include this video in my post.  It should give you an idea of the back-and-forth that drives this book.

This book was reviewed from an advance copy sent by the author/publisher.

 

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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

This is one of those books that customers have been recommending to me for years, but I’ve been never felt much of an urge to read myself.  With the movie coming out I figured I would give it a shot, not that I have any particular plans to see the movie, but just to see what all the fuss is about.

We’ll start with the good: Gruen obviously did a lot of research on Depression-era train circuses. She does a good job describing what life on tour with working men, performers, sideshow freaks, and a menagerie of animals might be like.  It’s a very quick, easy read (I read it in two sittings) that moves along at a decent clip.

Some problems I had:

1) Jacob, the protagonist, is debilitatingly passive throughout the story.  He constantly finds himself in circumstances where others take control from him, and he does nothing to stop them.  Other characters make almost all his decisions for him, which is frustrating beyond belief.  For instance, he makes a vow to himself not to let any of the animals be harmed again – but then stands idly by as the elephant is tortured with a hook.  Multiple times.

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