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Rachel Hyland Posts

READING THE TBR, DAY 83: The Death of Grass (1956) by John Christopher

The White Mountains was my first introduction to a dystopian world. I read it when I was twelve, then read the two sequels in quick succession. One day, three books, aliens vanquished, and my eyes newly opened to the possibilities of science fiction. As a YA novel, it is pretty brutal, but still reigns in the worst possibilities of people desperate for survival.

The Death of Grass — aimed at adults — pulls no such punches.

A blight is affecting the world’s grass, killing off not only lawns but also wheat and barley and even corn. As a food shortage threatens and the trouble that first hit China heads towards the West, the comfortable people of England hear the news of frantic, murderous exoduses and the deaths of two hundred million people, and are still chatting about tea and football.

But then the blight hits England.

People are the worst. Literally a day after the Chun-Li virus hits the UK, the Government plans to bomb the cities to reduce the soon to be hungry population. At the same time, John Custance and his wife Anne head out of London with their best friends Roger and Olivia, assorted kids and diabolical gun shop owner Pirrie, along with his wife Millicent, bound for John’s brother’s distant valley farm, which he is sure will be safe.   

Within a week, groups of men rove the country gang raping and pillaging, life becomes cheap and young girls are given into “marriage” to killers, while all compassion and decency is considered a luxury. Everyone looks out for only themselves and their families, stealing and torturing and allowing others to perform the most heinous acts if it might advance their own chances of survival.

This is a truly horrid book. Oh, it’s remarkable, and brilliant, and utterly enthralling. But the veneer of civilization falls away so damn fast, and the rise of tyranny happens so abruptly, and the women are such targets, and the people are so cruel, it is just a horrible, horrible vision of the end of everything and make it clear that humanity just does not deserve to survive.

It’s awful. It’s probably true. I hated this book. It is a masterpiece. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 83: The Death of Grass by John Christopher  
GENRE: Apocalypse, Post-Apocalypse
PUBLISHED: 1956
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 8 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: I don’t think so. It just makes me uncomfortable to even look at it right now.

READING THE TBR, DAY 82: Lost at Sea (2012) by Jon Ronson

I was flattered as anything when I received this book for Christmas a few years back. I had seen it on the coffee tables and book shelves of the intelligentsia for years, strewn carelessly about the swankiest of liberal-thinking, independent bookstore-patronising clever-clogs households. Because Jon Ronson is a journalist for the UK’s Guardian newspaper, of course. One of the last bastions of the fourth estate.

This is the first of his books I have read, but it will not be the last. A collection of more than a dozen of his articles from that hallowed publication, across several decades, it not only showcases his talent as a keen observer of human nature, it is also shows off his investigatory skill and ability to build rapport with his subjects. Some of the stories on which he reports in here are quite extraordinary. Some are poignant. Some are devastating. And some are very mysterious indeed.

I don’t often follow the news. If the outrage doesn’t make it to my Twitter feed, I rarely know about it. Years ago, I read a New Yorker article about the possible retrial of American Amanda Knox, convicted in Italy of murdering her flatmate under a cloud of dubious detective work, and I was so shocked I turned to my friend Brad and said, wide-eyed: “Have you heard about this Amanda Knox situation?”

“Everyone knows about that,” he replied. “It happened five years ago.” I must have looked startled, because he reiterated. “Rach. Everyone knows.

That is how little I know about what is happening. But the news is just too upsetting, usually. I avoid it when I can.

So most of the events in this book, which doubtless made worldwide news, were totally news to me. I’d never heard of the religious cult Alpha, or the Disney cruise worker who disappeared from the ship, or the child sex charges of music impresario Jonathan Kingsley. I’ve seen the movies The Men Who Stare at Goats and Frank, but had no idea they were based on real people and that Jon Ronson wrote their stories to begin with. So this book was a revelation about so many weird, wonderful and/or horrible things that I feel very well informed about… well, decades-old events, having read it. 

But more than anything I am conscious of a huge amount of admiration. Ronson has a unique journalistic voice. He’s a presence in the stories but aa self-deprecatory and patient one, as he lets his subjects lead the way and tell their own tales. The topics he chooses are uniformly interesting, and the manner in which he reports them feels thorough and genuine without ever becoming weighed down in too many erroneous particulars. His is a kind of subjective objectivism, and I love it. 

Also, I just love that I know so much more stuff now than I did earlier today. And it was a pleasure to learn.

Maybe I should pay more attention to the news, after all.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 82: Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson  
GENRE: Non-Fiction, Journalism, Travel Narrative
PUBLISHED: 2012
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: It was a gift.
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 81: The Arkadians (1998) by Lloyd Alexander

I love The Prydain Chronicles.  For me, as with so many others, they were the first true Fantasy novels I ever read, giving me a life-long love of the genre. They’re funny and exciting and thought-provoking and strange. I reread them at least once every couple of years and am taken back to childhood wonder every time.

This being the case, I have no idea why it never occurred to me till about five years ago that Lloyd Alexander might have written other books that I should probably check out.

I discovered this when I heard rumours of a Prydain followup, a short story collection that contained some of his other scattershot thoughts on that magical world. I went searching, and sure enough, found not only The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain (hurrah!), but also a bunch of other unrelated Alexander works.

I bought the lot.

This is the first one of them — except for The Foundling, of course — I’ve read.

And… well. The Arkadians did not quite capture me. Which is unfortunate, since not only is is by Lloyd Alexander, whom I would confidently have called one of my favourite writers for over three decades, but it is also a retelling of Greek Myth, and I can’t get enough of those.

This one is only tangentially tied to that pantheon, in fact, and perhaps that is where my expectations and reality collided, lessening my enjoyment of the book. There are references, sure, and even discussions, and there is some pointed parody of mythology in general that is amusing in places, but on the whole this isn’t so much a book about Greek Mythology as it is using mythological devices to tell an original story about Lucian, an accountant who is just too good at accounting;  a poet who was turned into a donkey who is searching for a cure, and the forthright Joy-in-the-Dance, an oracle who insists on calling Lucian “Aii-Ouch”, after he greets her with the involuntary exclamation at their first meeting, and which is at first funny but gets kind of tiresome after a while.

Just like real joking-but-demeaning nicknames, I guess. 

It’s not that I didn’t like this book. I did. It was… fine. It had originality on its side, despite its Ancient pedigree, and I liked that Joy-in-the-Dance had agency and was not afraid to use it. In fact, all the female roles were punched up way more than they are in much of mythology, which makes me think perhaps this is a kid lit Greek Mythology version of The Mists of Avalon. (Ugh. No wonder I didn’t love it.) I also thought it was very clever that this story was kind of a meta commentary on myths themselves, how they morph and grow over years of embellishment and should not be taken as faithful representations of events. (“If a storyteller worried about the facts, my dear Lucian, how could he ever get to the truth?”)

But I guess I was expecting something different, and that led to my disappointment. 

In a kids’ book.

Yes, that is a thing that just happened to me.

I’m cool with it.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 81: The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander 
GENRE: YA, Mythology, Greek Mythology
PUBLISHED: 1998
TIME ON THE TBR: ~5 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 79: Z for Zachariah (1974) by Robert C. O’Brien

Dread.

From the very beginning, this book is filled with dread.

In many ways, our heroine Anne is living a pastoral idyll, self-sufficient in her green valley. Outside of this hamlet everything is dead, the trees brown and bare, the sky empty of birds, the nights silent.

Growing her own crops, husbanding her own livestock, canning and cleaning and scavenging, and even attending Church, she is a frighteningly competent fifteen-year-old surviving alone with her sanity remarkably intact. Seriously, we all want to be Ann when we grow up.

But the coming of John Loomis  – she calls him “Mr. Loomis”, because he is an adult and she has been raised to be respectful – a scientist in a radiation-proof suit who foolishly gets himself quickly radiation poisoned, changes everything for her, at first as she hides from him, sensibly assessing his threat level, then as she cares for him in the depths of his illness, and then as he tries to exert both verbal and physical control over her at every turn.

Ann is a particularly perceptive, determined young woman, but this book is very good at illustrating that even very perceptive young women can and will fall into patterns of politeness and appeasement when confronted with an aggressive, domineering man. It is Loomis’s own madness — we want to believe his brain was affected by the radiation, but his fever-fuelled flashbacks prove he was always a dick — that eventually drives Ann away from the home she has cared for so diligently (she’d idly considering marrying him, this Last Man Alive, when he first arrived; on her seventeenth birthday would be perfect, she thought), and as a parable for female empowerment this book works even better than as a warning of the devastating effects of science gone mad.

It is a book of terrible beauty, a knife’s edge read, where the peaceful serenity clashes so perfectly, so devastatingly, with the gut-wrenching fear that the cognitive dissonance is almost too much to bear.

Two characters and a dog. That is all this book gives us. But it does so much with them, tells such a big story so intimately, through the clear, matter-of-fact journal entries of the intrepid Ann, that it never falters, never fails to make its point. It is a force of nature.

I’ll be thinking about this book forever.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 79: Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien  
GENRE: Post-Apocalypse
PUBLISHED: 1974
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Dymocks.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 78: F*** You Very Much (2018) by Danny Wallace

I can’t believe I missed it. 

Originally titled I Can’t Believe You Just Said That, this book came out in 2016. Apparently my obsession with humorist and drunken bet/boy adventure enthusiast Danny Wallace, with whom I have been smitten since his cameo appearances in 2001’s hilarious Are You Dave Gorman?  (by Dave Gorman), and whose relationships I am weirdly invested him — I was devastated when he broke up with the pragmatic Hanne in Join Me; I was elated when he found a new love in Yes Man — has played me false. Or maybe it’s just that I wasn’t keeping an eye out for new non-fiction novels from him when he’s clearly been going through a kids’ book phase with his Hamish series (also, by the way, on my TBR).

Whatever it was, I only learned of this book’s release when it came out under its new punched up title, and I bought it immediately.

But, yeah. Old story by this point. Just got to it today.

This book is the second one about rudeness I have read in a week, which is not intentional, but actually works really well as a strange kind of (extended) double-bill. Lynne Truss, in Talk to the Hand, was equally outraged in her own investigation, but there are significant differences between these two analyses of the exact same subject.

For a start, Wallace is outraged over a specific incident — a cashier in a diner who hated him on sight and made him wait an hour for a pre-paid hot dog — and that incident is the overriding force behind the book, and behind Wallace’s introspection on his own possible culpability. But the main difference is, where Truss cited experts and previously written texts to punch up her own thoughts with some academic cred, Wallace mostly conducts interviews with experts and impromptu online surveys, commenting on their content and findings in his inimitable style. (He does also quote from books, though. And also from internet comments sections and Twitter. Plus a sanitized version of Snakes on a Plane where Samuel L. Jackson laments “I have had enough of these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday to Friday plane!” That made me laugh so hard.)

The book is genuinely very funny, as it tackles the topic of what rudeness means, and how what constitutes rudeness differs depending on the country and culture, and how notions of civility are simultaneously declining and being espoused by increasingly militant people across the world. It delves into the psychology of rudeness, in its contagiousness and carry on effect (anyone who has ever snapped at someone who didn’t deserve it because someone was mean to you will understand that it’s a communicable disease), and lives the dream by confronting an online troll in person and making him feel bad.

Wallace’s humour can be subtle. There was one point where he says “Since not buying a hot dog, I’ve become a bit of a fan an Israeli academic” and then claims “I’m also the only person to ever have said that sentence.” My first thought was, of course, “Hey! Have you never heard of Noah Yuval Harari? Everyone loves Noah Yuval Harari!” and then I wondered about all the Israelis who are doubtless fans of some of their less internationally renowned scholars.

Then, I parsed the sentence, and oh. “Since not buying a hot dog…” That bit was crucial to the humour. And that’s how it is with Danny Wallace — you have to pay attention.

Does he come up with any conclusions? Not really. Do we stand up against rudeness, or is it more polite to turn the other cheek and try not to pass on the bad day to others? He’s not convinced either way. (He does exhort us all to be nicer to each other, in the end.) But this truly is a fascinating and informative journey through common courtesy, what the means now and how that has changed in such a short time, in addition to being generally amusing throughout, as is all of Wallace’s non-fiction.

Good to see him go boy adventuring again! I look forward to the next one, and hope it doesn’t take me nearly so long to learn about it.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 78: F*** You Very Much by Danny Wallace  
GENRE: Non-Fiction, Sociology, Anthropology
PUBLISHED: 2018 (original title: 2016)
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year. 
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.co.uk.
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 77: Cat’s Cradle (1963) by Kurt Vonnegut

This book takes a longer time to apocalypse than most apocalyptic fiction, but when it does, it apocalypses hard. But before that there is a long, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, often just deeply upsetting, contemplation of cultism and mad science, with a side helping of human frailty and genocide.

John is a journalist. He is researching a book on the bombings of Japan that ended World War II, and begins to research the late physicist Dr. Felix Hoenikker, a key figure in the invention of the dread atomic bomb. To that end he tracks down Hoenikker’s children, diminutive Newt and statuesque Angela, and there is something not quite right about them, so John drops his bomb research and gets sent on assignment to the tiny, impoverished island of San Lorenzo.

But what do you know? Newt and Angela are there! And also Frank, their elder brother. Also there total babe Mona, whom John has loved a long time but also just met, and she is betrothed to Frank. With “Papa” Monzano, the island despot prone to threatening summary executions (but rarely going through with it) dying in secret, Frank is next in line for the dictatorship of the island and Mona is to be his bride. But Frank doesn’t want the job and so kicks it (and Mona) over to John. 

But before John can really take pleasure in his new position, Papa decides to end his own suffering with a lethal — that is to say, any amount — dose of ice-nine, a chemical invented by the elder Hoenikker with the aim of helping soldiers cross gloopy marshes and bogs by changing the freezing point of water to “room temperature.” But, what? A scientist did something he could without wondering if he should? Because a single drop of ice-nine can freeze the oceans, and the lakes, and the rivers. And the mostly water inside a human body. The Hoenikker children all had a vial of the stuff, kind of a souvenir they decided to keep of their father’s genius, but they never imagined it might get out into the world. Or did they? I have serious questions about Angela.

Meanwhile, on the island of San Lorenzo a fabricated religion, Bokonon, was both invented and banned by the same two American social engineers, and Bokonon is the most genius part of what is an entirely genius book. But the rest is pretty damned genius, too. Funny, outrageous, absurdist, but also terrifying. Quite a trick. Crazy that I’ve never read it before; I’ve meant to forever, and have owned a copy for years.

I’ve been blown away by several long-neglected books on my TBR so far this year. But this one… It makes this (entirely self-indulgent) mission of mine infinitely worth it. Some books just make you smarter. This is one of them.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 77: Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut  
GENRE: Apocalyptic Science Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1968
TIME ON THE TBR: 10 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 76: Last Hero Standing (2005) by Tom DeFalco

It is weird to be commenting on the font of a book, but man, the lettering in this one annoyed me. Specifically, the word “of” is rendered terribly in here, at almost every instance — the “o” and “f” blend together, giving a dark line between the two that is massively noticeable and distracting, and the lettering in a comic should only be noticeable when it is cool. (Like, also in this book, when Darkdevil has a slightly devilish font. Turns out letterer Dave Sharpe isn’t all bad.)

But onto the story. This 5-issue limited run is set in a future where original heroes like Captain America and Iron Man and Spider-Man are either retired or getting too old for this shit, and a new order has taken their place, many of them legacies, like Wolverine’s daughter Wild Thing and Spider-Man’s daughter, er, Spider-Girl. Cap still leads the Avengers, but he is slowing down, and when heroes start disappearing, teams like the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men (who actually sit most of this one out) set out to track them down. It’s a great way to have newcomers like American Dream and Thunderstrike get some screen time (and it could even be a good Phase 3 idea for the MCU; the original Avengers are out after Endgame, after all) and the ultimate villain of this piece is pretty fun.   

It’s also pretty cool when Hulk takes on pretty much every hero ever, and wins.

But much of the book feels like it’s very hard work, which is mainly down to the stiff writing and jokes that just don’t land. It’s a shame, because having such a cavalcade of talent, both new and old, and your disposal should make the story sing, but instead the only time the dialogue really pops is when it is giving us the Shakespearean stylings of assorted Asgardians.

It’s a shame, because crossover events like this can be super-fun, and the idea behind it — especially the passing of the torch from the old guard to the new breed — should have been a gimme. But when even the dramatic death of a major character, in the series’ closing moments, can’t bring the emotions, then clearly there is something very much missing. 

So, it was… okay, I guess. But it really says something when the strongest feeling I have about a title is the poor lettering job. Cap and co. deserved better.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 76: Last Hero Standing by Tom DeFalco, illustrated by Pat Oliffe 
GENRE: Marvel, Superheroes, Comics
PUBLISHED: 2005
TIME ON THE TBR: ~13 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Forbidden Planet, London.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 75: The Strain (2010) by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

My friend Brendan raved about this vampire horror when it was first released, and since we have similar tastes, I promptly bought it in hardcover. Then waited a decade to “read it immediately so we can talk about it!”. (Sorry, B!) 

One of the reasons I left this book so long is that I really don’t love horror. Oh, vampires, sure. Lots and lots of vampires, especially ones that fall in love with very ordinary human women. But I’m a scaredy cat when it comes to pure horror, and  while I have adored a lot of Guillermo del Toro’s movies (Pan’s Labyrinth, the Hellboy movies, etc.), he does have a penchant for the creepy, and I could imagine the the  book was infused with cinema-like jump scares, which are not my favourite.

But I freaking loved this book! (Again: sorry, B!)

It takes a while to get going, but once the mysteries of the dead-on-the-runway plane, and the disappearing bodies from said plane, and the cabal of rich and powerful acolytes who want to live forever, are established, the action really heats up, and it is adrenaline-pumping pretty much all the way through from that point on. 

Our hero is Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, who has the expected ex-wife and kid-custody issues (every survival story protagonist has elements like this; why, who knows?) and is sleeping with his professional partner, but is otherwise the only person with much sense in the five boroughs. You see, a plane full of dead — and four survivors — lands at JFK, and though everything about the incident screams the supernatural, the powers that be mostly treat it as just kind of a strange day at the office, (We are later given the reason that the wealthy psychopath behind this vampire incursion is bribing people left and right for their silence and cooperation, but that does not entirely make up for this early frustration.) When Eph witnesses one of the plane’s survivors attack a colleague with a stinger from his neck and drink his blood, he begins to think there is something truly odd going on here. Fortunately, a New York pawn shop owner by the name of Abraham Setrakian  — a holocaust and vampire survivor, he’s doing pretty well for an old dude — knows what is happening, it is the strigoi, old country for “vampire”, and he makes Eph believe in the insanity of this with some pretty effective, very gruesome evidence.

The cause of vampirism in this book is icky as hell, and I do not like it. The passages where the blood worms, and their incursions into the human body, are lovingly described and nightmare-inducing, but no more than the insights into the minds of the newly-turned victims of the initial vampire’s depredations. There are a couple of incidental characters who win you over quickly — -petty criminal Gus, and exterminator Vasily, they’re pretty much the best — and while female representation is less than ideal, I’m hopeful that the two sequels (which I will be reading as soon as possible) remedy this oversight in what is an otherwise most excellent and compelling story of pandemic and potential vampire apocalypse.

There is a TV show based on these books, which I have never seen for a variety of reasons (mainly, that I had yet to read the source material; really: sorry B!), and a big part of me wants to go watch it immediately, while the rest of me would prefer not to see those blood worms in the CGI’d flesh. Usually, I find it hard to resist and adaptation, but this time, I think I’ll probably leave it.

My brain’s version of events is terrifying enough.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 75: The Strain (The Strain #1) by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
GENRE: Horror, Vampires
PUBLISHED: 2009
TIME ON THE TBR: 10 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur, Melbourne.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 74: Last Night at Chateau Marmont (2010) by Lauren Weisberger

In company with most every other woman in the world, I read The Devil Wears Prada, and while it drove me to distraction with its doormat heroine and snarky colleague and martinet boss — brought so gloriously to life in the star-studded film — it was nevertheless entertaining chick lit, and marked Lauren Weisberger as an author I… didn’t mind reading.

So when I saw this book on one of those giveaway Take-a-Book Leave-a-Book installations at a shopping centre, I took it. And it languished unread for at least six years before I finally got around to it today. And… yeah. It was… fine.

The story of nutritionist Brooke and aspiring musician Julian, whose happy Manhattan lives are turned upside down by Julian’s sudden worldwide success as the hit singer-songwriter of the moment, it is a study of a marriage as much as it is of the fame industrial complex. There are the pushy Hollywood types, all about image and self-promotion, and there are the fabulous events at which Weisberger namedrops stars real and imagined, and there are starstruck friends and family and acquaintances and there is the ever present paparazzi and gossip rags, seemingly determined to tear our happy couple apart.

And, of course, there is the drunken mistake that threatens to end a long-term relationship.

Brooke is a very sympathetic heroine, even if she is not very assertive, and Julian’s narcissism and self-involvement after he hits it big is understandable, if not especially commendable. These are very real people, in a very surreal situation, and Weisberger cunningly makes us care for them, in all their foibles and flaws. It’s easy to read a book like this and be dismayed by how a character handled it, to put yourself in their shoes and declare you’d do it differently, better. But the trick Weisberger pulls off here is even when you feel a certain contempt for, say, the passivity or passive-aggressiveness of Brooke, you still like her, and still want her to figure her shit out.

It’s not a book to think too much about, and even giving it this much head — and blog — space is probably granting it more contemplation than it deserves. But as a light, vaguely voyeuristic read, about two pretty people with deep insecurities who find themselves the very definition of the maxim “Be careful what you wish for,” it is a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours and not have to think too much about anything.

Except, perhaps, for all the weight issues Weisberger fixates on here. After the fashion industry-based fat shaming in The Devil Wears Prada, it is refreshing to see her address the topic calmly and rationally here, but it is also dwelt upon overmuch and overlong. We get it. Hollywood perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards! Normal women don’t measure up! The book’s weakest parts are when it tries to be topical; its strengths are when it focuses on the intimacies of a marriage and the effects life changing success can have on a couple in crisis.

And now, I have really spent too much time thinking about this book. These kinds of books are cotton candy for the brain. And, as Brooke would doubtless say of cotton candy, best enjoyed in moderation.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 74: Last Night at Chateau Marmont by Lauren Weisberger 
GENRE: Women’s Fiction
PUBLISHED: 2010
TIME ON THE TBR: ~6 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: No, I’ll pass this on.

READING THE TBR, DAY 73: Department Nineteen (2011) by Will Hill

My friend Sara recommended this book to readers of Geek Speak Magazine, back when that was a thing that existed and for which we wrote reviews, and since I admire Sara’s tastes in almost all things (her preference for Star Wars over Star Trek notwithstanding), when I saw it for sale a couple of years later, in hardcover but at a steep discount at one of those remainder bookstores in which I spend way too much time, I thought it worth the outlay of $7.

The first observation I would make of this book is that it is very long. For a YA novel, especially so — it’s over 500 pages, and they are not large print, as I had kind of assumed when first I saw it, knowing the book’s target audience. It doesn’t drag or anything, the pacing is actually quite zippy, and the 500+ pages gallop along pretty quickly. But it is quite an investment of time, which at first didn’t seem like it was going to be worth it. The story takes quite a while to get going.

But once it does, once we are thrust into a dark, often legitimately terrifying, world of literary monsters (Victor Frankenstein, Professor Van Helsing, the gang’s all here), and our young hero Jamie is battling against the stern director of Department Nineteen in order to save his mother from an insane, bloodthirsty vampire, the heft of the novel is no longer a factor, as every scene sets the heart racing and the blood pumping and it all just absorbs you in its mystical, blood-laden depths.

I should not have been surprised at how much I enjoyed this book — Sara’s recommendation and all — but I truly did, and am eager to seek out its four sequels. I’ll need some time before I do, though. This book genuinely scared me. There is a scene on an island that will definitely engender more than one nightmare. Usually, I don’t like being scared, and it is a little humiliating that it happened to me due to a YA book. But in this case, I am so impressed with the novel’s interesting take on the monsters-among-us underground-government-department thing, as well as its coming-of-age vampire-hunting fractiousness, that I will risk being frightened silly because I am so eager to see what comes next. The last time that happened to me, it was Stranger Things, and I couldn’t watch it alone. But a book is a wholly solitary experience, for the most part, so I will just have to toughen up. 

I mean, if Jamie can do it…

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 73: Department Nineteen (Department 19 #1) by Will Hill 
GENRE: YA Fantasy, YA Alternate History, YA Steampunk
PUBLISHED: 2011
TIME ON THE TBR: ~6 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: The Book Grocer
KEEP: Probably not.