Book Review – Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Book: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory – Author: Caitlin Doughty

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Description from Goodreads:

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin’s engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

My Review:

I was a bit hesitant going into this book. I get a little queasy even just thinking about dead things; people, animals, anything dead really. Partially due to the squick factor and partially due to the connotation. But I was assured that the book was really interesting and humorous, so I decided to give it a try.

I ended up really enjoying the book. The author was able to put enough spin on the stories that you ended up more thoughtful than upset. And she has a nice, quirky sense of humor, which helps keep the narrative upbeat, even in the darkest portions. If you can make me laugh during a chapter about dead babies, you are doing something right. 😉

It was really interesting having such an in-depth look at a profession that most people shy away from even talking about. Learning about the history of burial practices in America was fascinating; the transition from natural burial to embalming to cremation and back to natural burial. I also liked how she discussed different burial practices without really putting any of them down. It was nice to learn about how other cultures treat death from a (mostly) unbiased perspective.

I would really recommend this book for people who are interested in learning about American burial practices or the funereal profession.

Similar Books:

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner – Judy Melinek, T.J. Mitchell

The American Way of Death – Jessica Mitford

Book Review – Four Kings

Book: Four Kings – Author: M.D. Elster

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Mystery

**I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

Description from Goodreads:

New Orleans, 1945. After a terrible hurricane devastates the city, fourteen-year-old Anaïs Reynard wakes up in an asylum with a case of amnesia. Dr. Waters, the hospital’s prestigious director, vows to help Anaïs recover her memories — this is of the utmost importance, he tells her, because Anaïs is the sole witness to a terrible crime. On the night of the hurricane, her stepfather and only living guardian was shot. A young black man has been arrested, and Anaïs finds herself under pressure from the district attorney to testify. Anaïs wants to help, but a strange feeling nags at her. She isn’t entirely sure the man on trial is guilty, and she doesn’t know who she can trust. 

Then, one night, she receives an eerie, surreal visit from a dapper man with the head of a fox who entrusts her with an ornate key that unlocks a secret door to the land of the Four Kings. Like Alice before her, Anaïs follows this curiously genteel animal down the rabbit hole to discover a magical yet fraught world of not-quite-human creatures. As Anaïs navigates the political minefields of each king’s court — Raven, Lion, Snake, and Unicorn — her bravery and resolve are tested. 

With each shocking twist and turn, and as fantasy and reality blur, Anaïs begins to unlock the riddle of her own memories, a trail that leads from Nazi-occupied Europe and her mother all the way to post-war New Orleans, and the very night her stepfather was shot.

My Review:

Ok, so the description of this one made me go “Wait…what? Is that middle paragraph for a different book?” The answer is no, this is definitely all describing the same book. But it’s not quite as confusing as it sounds.

There are two mysteries to solve in this novel: one in Anais’ real life, in New Orleans in the 1940s, and one in an alternate reality, which she visits when she falls asleep. In New Orleans, Anais’s stepfather has been shot and Anais is the only witness, though she can’t remember what happened. In the Land of the Four Kings, human girls have been turning up dead and Anais, being the only living human in the realm, must help flush out the killer.

Both realities are fleshed out very well. Over the course of the book, we learn of Anais’ childhood, a large portion of which was spent trying to survive WWII. Coming at this from the perspective of a 10-11 year old girl (Anais’ age at the time of the events), who didn’t know exactly how bad things were, was very interesting. Places and events were described well, but only as well as a young girl could understand them. This leads to some very clever foreshadowing if you pay enough attention. The same can be said of the Land of the Four Kings. The people Anais meets explain the history of the Kingdoms, but mostly in snippets (as people would in real life), with each person adding their unique perspective to the events.

Both mysteries are very well done. It’s only once you get towards the end of the book that all the pieces start falling into place and you realize just how many clues were laid out during the course of the story. Alert readers will notice how both of the realities parallel each other, with characters from each sharing personality traits and allegiances. This only enhances the story, especially when you are given the final clue at the end of the book (no spoilers, I promise) and come to realize exactly why Anais seems to be traveling to this strange Land.

The only (slight) issue I had with the book was some of the verbiage. There is no way that a young girl in the 1940s, who was raised in Belgium & Paris, would use some of those phrases. But that’s really more of a pet peeve than a real issue. 😉 Overall, I would definitely recommend this book for reader’s who like Young Adult mystery novels.

Similar Books:

The Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum

Book Review – The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Book: The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Author: Patrick Ness

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Description from Goodreads:

What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshiped by mountain lions.

My Review:

I was intrigued by the concept of this book and, since I tend to lean towards liking the side characters in action shows (I’m looking at you, Xander, my favorite Zeppo) better than the ‘main attraction’, I thought it might be a kind of interesting read.

I underestimated it completely.

This book reads almost like a John Green novel, with a smattering of Supernatural thrown in, but everything is from the perspective of the kids who aren’t a part of the fighting. It’s a nice coming-of-age tale, with all the trials of finishing high school and moving on, while also trying avoid getting tangled in the new apocalypse-of-the-week. I liked that the author didn’t leave us completely in the dark, giving a short summary of the action at the start of each chapter, but the main focus of the book was on the “side characters”.

If you are a fan of any type of ‘hero saves the world’ show, like Buffy or a zillion others, you will really like this book. There is NOT a lot of action, but it’s extremely well written and the characters are all pretty lovable…and, well, there IS a zombie deer, so you have that.

Similar Books:

The Accident Season – Moïra Fowley-Doyle

The Darkest Part of the Forest – Holly Black

Book Review – The Princess Bride

Book: The Princess Bride – Author: William Goldman

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Description from Goodreads:

Here William Goldman’s beloved story of Buttercup, Westley, and their fellow adventurers finally receives a beautiful illustrated treatment.
A tale of true love and high adventure, pirates, princesses, giants, miracles, fencing, and a frightening assortment of wild beasts—The Princess Bride is a modern storytelling classic.
As Florin and Guilder teeter on the verge of war, the reluctant Princess Buttercup is devastated by the loss of her true love, kidnapped by a mercenary and his henchman, rescued by a pirate, forced to marry Prince Humperdinck, and rescued once again by the very crew who absconded with her in the first place. In the course of this dazzling adventure, she’ll meet Vizzini—the criminal philosopher who’ll do anything for a bag of gold; Fezzik—the gentle giant; Inigo—the Spaniard whose steel thirsts for revenge; and Count Rugen—the evil mastermind behind it all. Foiling all their plans and jumping into their stories is Westley, Princess Buttercup’s one true love and a very good friend of a very dangerous pirate.

My Review:

The Princess Bride has been in my ‘top 5 movies of all time’ for decades. I LOVE this movie, to the point where I could probably quote the entire thing and have been known to put my dvd on in the morning and let the movie repeat until bedtime. Needless to say, I was a bit mixed about reading the book. Would I love it as much? Did they change whole swaths of the book when they made the movie? Normally, I’m all for reading the book before seeing the movie for this very reason, but this was a movie from my childhood. A beloved, cherished memory. A memory I was frightened of tainting. Even knowing that the original author, William Goldman, had written the screenplay, I was nervous.

I needn’t have worried. The book was just as fun, quirky, romantic, and adventurous as the movie. There ARE quite a few small changes. Some swapping of dialogue, some slight changes of scenes (and I’ll be honest, I flat out disliked Buttercup for a large part of the book), but overall it was a wonderful experience. There was a lot more background to the characters; whole life stories on Inigo, Fessik, and the Prince. And the story was wonderfully interspersed with ‘the history’ of the writing of the book, so confident and detailed that I actually had to double check that it was fictional, even though I know that Florin isn’t a real place.

My edition even ended with ‘the first chapter’ of Buttercup’s Baby, a teaser for a book that will never arrive. It was a horribly mean, nasty…magnificent thing to do. Nice play, Mr. Goldman. 😉

All told, I’d definitely recommend this book for anyone, from the newest newcomer to the oldest fan. There is something in it for everyone.

Similar Books:

Stardust – Neil Gaiman

Fun Addition:

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride – Cary Elwes

Book Review – Gone Girl

Book: Gone Girl – Author: Gillian Flynn

Genre: Mystery

Description from Amazon:

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? 

My Review:

I absolutely hated this book. Not a popular opinion, I know. But I am one of those annoying readers who has to like at least one of the characters in a book in order to like the book. No, they don’t have to be a great person; in fact, some of my favorite characters are villains. But they have to have some sort of reason for me to be interested in them: wit, charm, an interesting back story…SOMETHING. Everyone in this book is just plain despicable, with the possible exception of the sister, who is only in the book for a short time.

The only reason I finished the book was because of the mystery (no spoilers, promise) and how well it was written. The author did a great job of pulling you into the mystery of the story, so even when I couldn’t stand the actual characters any longer, I still couldn’t stop myself from reading it. So, kudos to the author on an interesting plot, but geez those characters are horrendous.

Similar Books:

Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins (I liked this one better 😉 )

Book Review – You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

Book: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) – Author: Felicia Day

Genre: Memoir, Geek

Description from Goodreads:

From online entertainment mogul, actress, and “queen of the geeks” Felicia Day, a funny, quirky, and inspiring memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to Internet-stardom, and embracing her individuality to find success in Hollywood.

Hilarious and inspirational, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is proof that everyone should embrace what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now—even for a digital misfit.

My Review:

I really enjoyed this book. My most favorite memoirs are ones where it feels like you are just chatting with an old friend, and this one definitely fits that bill.

Felicia is a wonderful mixture of timid and bold, personable and eccentric, impassioned and calming. She describes herself at her weakest moments with such raw emotion and grace that you can’t help but root for her like you would your best friend and be proud of her when she pulls herself back up.

I would highly recommend this to any of her fans, those in creative fields (especially acting or writing), or anyone else who just wants a good read about an interesting person.

Similar Books:

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened – Jenny Lawson

Book Review – Fairytales for Wilde Girls

Book: Fairytales for Wilde Girls – Author: Allyse Near

Genre: Young Adult; Supernatural

Description from Random House:

There’s a dead girl in a birdcage in the woods. That’s not unusual. Isola Wilde sees a lot of things other people don’t. But when the girl appears at Isola’s window, her every word a threat, Isola needs help.

Her real-life friends – Grape, James, and new boy Edgar – make her forget for a while. And her brother-princes – magical creatures seemingly lifted from the pages of the French fairytales Isola idolises – will protect her with all the fierce love they possess.

It may not be enough.

Isola needs to uncover the truth behind the dead girl’s demise . . . before the ghost steals Isola’s last breath.

My Review:

This book is going to be hard to describe without giving anything away, but I will start by saying this was one the very few books that I’ve read in the last year with which I fell completely in love. The author has a very interesting and wonderful way of writing. The book is interspersed with fairytales, though not the ones most of us know, all of which are tied into the story in a way that gives the reader a greater perspective on what is happening in the book.

The characters are all wonderful. Isola is an interesting duck. She has a ton of quirks and refuses to be anyone but herself, even for her father. Edgar is the lovable guy who moves in next door and becomes infatuated with her. But don’t be fooled, this isn’t your typical ‘manic pixie dream girl’ book, as the story focuses on Isola and her world.

I was especially fascinated with the brother-princes and I loved how the author gave us insight into their lives. I would love a book purely about them. The extent that Isola was willing to go to in order to protect them (and vice-versa) was just a hint of how important they all were to each other.

The “main” storyline of the book is nice and spooky and ends up intertwined into the history of all of the characters. Semi-spoiler alert? Be ready for a twist ending. I won’t actually tell you what happens, but I was completely taken by surprise…in a completely wonderful way. The author manages an M. Night Shyamalan ending, in which you suddenly realize exactly how many tiny foreshadows should have given you a hint at the ending, if you had only bothered to notice them.

Amazing book, that’s all I can say. If you love supernatural books, especially ones with strong female leads, this book is for you. And before you say “but it’s a young adult book”, it is SOOO much more than that. Seriously, give it a try; you won’t regret it.

Similar Books:

The Darkest Part of the Forest – Holly Black