The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen PhillipsThe Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
Published by Henry Holt and Company on August 11th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary, Thrillers
Pages: 192
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-stars
A young wife's new job pits her against the unfeeling machinations of the universe in this dazzling first novel Ursula K. Le Guin hails as "funny, sad, scary, beautiful. I love it."In a windowless building in a remote part of town, the newly employed Josephine inputs an endless string of numbers into something known only as The Database. After a long period of joblessness, she's not inclined to question her fortune, but as the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings-the office's scarred pinkish walls take on a living quality, the drone of keyboards echoes eerily down the long halls. When one evening her husband Joseph disappears and then returns, offering no explanation as to his whereabouts, her creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread.As other strange events build to a crescendo, the haunting truth about Josephine's work begins to take shape in her mind, even as something powerful is gathering its own form within her. She realizes that in order to save those she holds most dear, she must penetrate an institution whose tentacles seem to extend to every corner of the city and beyond. Both chilling and poignant, The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a novel of rare restraint and imagination. With it, Helen Phillips enters the company of Murakami, Bender, and Atwood as she twists the world we know and shows it back to us full of meaning and wonder-luminous and new.

This was a quick, fun little read. I think I find a certain appeal to quick reads like this for a couple of reasons: (1) the many sci-fi/fantasy book series of which I am a fan; and (2) exposure to clinical writing. So, let me first explain…

I love a good series. And, from beginning to end, it is usually quite the experience. With unlimited pages, the author has the ability (and often the predilection) to create a story that is bursting with detail. It’s a lot to soak in and hold on to, especially when there are large gaps between books! This book was the antithesis of such a series,  but didn’t fail to deliver! It has a great, suspenseful story that gave me enough detail to full capture the world in which Josephine lived and worked. In that sense I was reminded of how to  write clinically, and that keeping things concise and relevant were of paramount importance. The author could have easily padded the pages with descriptive flourishes, but she didn’t, and I don’t miss it here. It’s like a literary smoothie, it goes down quick without all that superfluous chewing and yet I get all the happy, little nutrients!

Yet one of my favorite things about this book was the way in which the author wrote what was going on in Josephine’s head. I love the inner dialog Josephine had with herself, often playing with the words as anagrams and rhymes. And one of the best moments was her description of fear:

“They frightened her, the people of the world. She was scared to look up, scared to observe the smiles and frowns on their faces. They were the spies of the Person with Bad Breath. The spoons were, too, and the saltshaker, the napkin dispenser, the strand of hair; all of them keeping tabs on her, the thief. Again, she shut her eyes.”

She really nailed the almost irrationality of thought one might experience when in the grips of terror; moments where even those who are usually level-headed fail to find fault in the idea of clandestine cutlery.

Another thing that really grabbed me was how the author beautifully captured the inescapable sense of drudgery of menial jobs and obligation to working somewhere you don’t want to be or that doesn’t value you with an appropriate wage. It brought me back to the first years of my marriage. Although we hadn’t fled the “hinterland” for urban splendor, my husband and I were in a similar situation: living in a shoddy apartment, working for peanuts, having monthly debates on which bills we could pay late. It was tough and trying at times, and I feel that was also reflected in the dynamics of Joseph and Josephine’s relationship throughout the course of the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this short, single-sitting read. It was suspenseful with a lot of magical realism, and kept me engaged until the very end. If that sounds like a good time to you, I think you’ll like it as well!

June 2015 Reading Wrap-Up

Looking back at last month, I’m feeling pretty accomplished for my first month of blogging! Not only did I get my site all set up (thank you again, Monika), but I also managed a very good reading month with six books…

June Reading v2

and three posted reviews:

Experiment In Terror series by Karina Halle

Blue by Kayce Hughlett

Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson

But, more important than the books I read or the posts I published, I’m just so glad to be enjoying reading again. Getting my Master’s degree has been a very rewarding yet trying experience. I sacrificed pleasure reading (among other things) whilst I churned out literature reviews and progress notes, and, towards the end, I was rather frazzled. And though I may not yet be done with it all, what’s left leaves me with a more flexible schedule and more time for me. The time I spent reading have been very healing for me, and it’s been great to share my thoughts with you, readers!

July may be a little lighter on the pleasure reading as I attempt to complete the first draft of my thesis. Currently, I’m working on the last book in The Hollow series by Kim Harrison, and I just picked up The Martian by Andy Weir. I’m also planning to read something a little spacey in preparation for the arrival of New Horizon at Pluto (which will always be a planet in this house). What are your plans for July?

Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson

Of Things Gone Astray by Janina MatthewsonOf Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson
Published by HarperCollins UK on August 28th 2014
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 288
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Mrs Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight ... On a seemingly normal morning in London, a group of people all lose something dear to them, something dear but peculiar: the front of their house, their piano keys, their sense of direction, their place of work. Meanwhile, Jake, a young boy whose father brings him to London following his mother’s sudden death in an earthquake, finds himself strangely attracted to other people’s lost things. But little does he realise that his most valuable possession is slipping away from him. Of Things Gone Astray is a magical fable about modern life and values. Perfect for fans of Andrew Kaufman and Cecelia Ahern.

I scored a pile of books a couple of weeks back at a swap, and, because I’m not good at decisions, I pondered on which book I’d start next. I grabbed for this book because it was physically closest to me. It also happened that this was the day after the news broke about Charleston. As I read over the back cover, I was struck by a line quoted from Andrew Kaufmann’s review: “This book reveals the world as it really is: fantastic.” It just felt like this book was what I needed that day.

There was such a beautiful cast of characters in this book. With the exception of Cassie, I totally fell in love with these characters. I could relate somewhat to Delia since I’ve a terrible sense of direction (although mine has been a lifelong affliction). Marcus appealed to the musician in me, and his characters often contained brilliant little nuggets of prose.

“She’d bought him a few CDs of his favourite composers, but he didn’t listen to them all that often. It was too much like always hearing strangers talking and never getting to say anything himself.”

I rather enjoyed following Robert as he literally lost his job, and the ways in which he tried to handle it. I found Jake’s chapters often heartbreaking as he dealt with the loss of his mother and also slowing losing his father. But there was something about his chapters that reminded me of Christopher from A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which is one my favorite books. Chapters featuring Mrs. Featherby were my favorite. I found myself laughing to myself during her chapters more so than any others. It may have been the absurdity of her missing wall or her diligence in maintaining her steadfast routines now that her fortress has been penetrated.

“The years she’d spent crafting a reputation for being reclusive seemed entirely wasted. One simply cannot be a believable recluse when one is cursed with a transparent wall.”

As for Cassie, she reminded me too much of Bella Swan from Twilight. I was bewildered by how Cassie’s preoccupation with her absentee lover outweighed any concerns about her leafy metamorphosis. In my head I was screaming at her to snap out of it so perhaps she’d become herself once again.

My proclivity for quoting in this review reflects my absolute favorite thing about this book: the author’s writing style. When I read a particularly choice phrase, my reaction was similar to the way I react when I taste something spectacular – I pause, close my eyes briefly, and savor it before moving along. For example…

“‘My dear,’ he said, ‘no matter how old we get, we somehow can never convince ourselves that whatever trial we’re in the middle of is only temporary. No matter how many trails we’ve had in the past, and no matter how well we remember that they eventually were there no longer, we’re sure that this one, this one right now, is a permanent state of affairs. But it’s not. By nature humans are temporary beings.'”

… had me like…

It’s been a while since I’ve read a traditional book. The thing about reading this way versus on my usual Kindle is I actually felt the book ending in my hands. Within the first few pages I found myself having a lovefest with this book, and I as the characters began to interact and change, I couldn’t wait to see what would ultimately happen to them all. But, as the book began to feel thinner toward the back cover, I started to worry: would  I run out of pages before the story reached its natural conclusion? At 10 pages from the end I was terrified it wouldn’t wrap up in time. It was a photo finish, but it did. I loved how Jake and Anthony came together at the end with Delia and Cassie – that was beautiful. The end of Marcus’ story was also beautiful, but made my heart hurt. Mrs. Featherby’s ending made me sad, mainly because she left so abruptly (she was my favorite after all!). But mainly I loved that although the characters were connected, but not so much that everyone was having tea together by the end. This was such a beautiful read. Andrew Kaufman was right; the world is fantastic.

Blue by Kayce Stevens Hughlett

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Blue by Kayce Stevens HughlettBlue by Kayce Stevens Hughlett
Published by BQB Publishing on September 10th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Psychological, Suspense
Pages: 234
Format: eARC
Goodreads
One insecure perfectionist. One guilt-ridden artist. One child-woman who talks to peacocks. A trio of complex heroines on separate journeys toward a single intertwined truth.Imagine living exclusively for others and waking up one day with a chance to start over. The terrifying new beginning reeks of abandonment and betrayal. The choice for Seattle resident Monica lingers between now and then. . .them and her. Izabel's idyllic existence on Orcas Island is turned upside down during the birth of a friend's child. Suddenly, pain rips through her own body, and life as she knows it shifts, hinting at a forgotten past and propelling her toward an uncertain future. On another island, young Daisy awakens surrounded by infinite shades of blue. Is she dreaming or has she stepped through the portal into a fantastical land where animals spout philosophy and a gruesome monster plots her destruction? Blue - a subtle psychological mind-bender where each heroine is her own worst enemy. Eccentric. Loveable. Unforgettable.

Finished with my first book from Netgalley! I can’t recall what brought me to select this book, but nevertheless, I picked it up Wednesday afternoon and really allowed the story to envelope me. It was a quick read and, by Thursday afternoon, I came to the last page.

In the first part of the book, I was quite confused about the connection between the three storylines. Each chapter came from one of the three main characters: Daisy, Monica, and Izabel. But, unlike a story such as A Song of Ice and Fire, where each chapter tells the same story from a different character’s point of view, the only apparent thread that initially tied these three strangers together was azure ubiquity. Hughlett’s writing was descriptive but concise, painting an easy portrait of each woman and her environment, even the psychedelic landscape of Daisy’s Tausi. (It was wacky, bizarre, and incongruent with reality, yet it left me smiling, shaking my head, and saying, “WTF?”)

Of the three characters, I think I was most drawn to Monica, most likely because she works with older adults, and that’s one of my professional areas of interest. One of the things I think Hughlett really pegged was Monica’s workplace; the residents in various stages of aging and dementia, the repetitive routine of a memory care facility, the infantilization of older people. It can be incredibly difficult on the adult children as well as the staff who interact with patients in these settings, and that sense of monotony Monica experiences felt incredibly genuine to me.

Unbeknownst to me when I started this book was the interweaving of psychology into the stories. As a student of psychology, and a budding mental health professional, I have a tendency to turn my nose up when authors and screenwriters attempt to include therapists as characters, describe therapy sessions, or formulate diagnoses. It seems like everyone’s favorite diagnosis (especially on crime dramas) is dissociative fugue, despite its incredibly low prevalence. However, in this book, I felt like the author portrayed this diagnosis remarkably well, and described it in far better (and accurate) detail than I have seen in other stories.

But something that’s been gnawing on me for days is the ending. One one hand I am bothered by a nagging sense of incompletion. Starting in Part Two, the storylines are like magnets, drawing the characters toward one another without a hint of their awareness. I loved the way these unconscious attractions were weaved, creeping closer and closer to one another, but them -BLAM- it ended so abruptly. It left me wanting just a bit more; not another book in a color-themed series, but just enough to soften the ending. Yet, on the other hand, it also felt like the story’s natural ending point, with Monica, Izabel, and Daisy together in the same room. I have a hard time imagining how one might improve upon it. Perhaps that’s the mark of a great read, one that keeps your thoughts for days after it’s back on the shelf…

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. If you’ve read it too, I’d love to hear what you think, too!

Sunday Salon: Newbie Edition

At This Moment// Watching the season finale of OITNB.

Happening// This week I launched this blog!! I appreciate all the love and shares I’ve been getting from April, the Steadfast Reader, and Monika at Lovely Bookshelf, my IRL pals who encouraged me to get started.

Feeling// I was a mixed bag of emotions this week. Early in the week I was deeply upset after not being selected for a job over which I’d been pining for the last couple of months. I was in full-on sad panda mode, avoiding the gym but not the potato chips. But I channeled my energy into getting my blog domain registered and my site all set up (with an ENORMOUS amount of help from Monika). It’s been a lot of fun and a great distraction. I also scored a pile of books when Monika and I attended a book swap this week. So, despite some bad news, I go into this week feeling pretty good.

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Reading// I’m working on The Undead Pool, Book 12 of The Hollows series. This particular series is special for me because Book 1 (Dead Witch Walking) was the first ARC I read. I also downloaded Blue by Kayce Stevens Hughlett from Netgalley and plan to start it this week.

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Writing// My thesis is the only thing that stands between me and my M.A. at this point. Fortunately, I’ve gathered 153 participants, which is fantastic considering I didn’t use a college student population. Now to actually start writing the document.

The Junk Food Aisle: Experiment in Terror

by Karina Halle
Series: Experiment In Terror
Published by Little, Brown Book Group Genres: Fiction, General, Horror
Format: eBook
Goodreads
In a large, flaky nut­shell, the Exper­i­ment in Ter­ror Series is an nine-part sci-fi/fantasy/horror series that revolves around a pair of ghost hunters. Well, aspir­ing ghost hunters, any­way. After film­ing a creepy expe­ri­ence in her uncle’s dilap­i­dated light­house, 22-year old Perry Palomino becomes a YouTube and inter­net star overnight. She attracts the atten­tion of Dex Foray, a pro­ducer and cam­era­man for a site that spe­cial­izes in var­i­ous webisodes, who con­vinces her to be a host for a low-budget ghost hunt­ing series. The only prob­lem is, nei­ther Perry or Dex are entirely “with it” — I mean, they see ghosts, after all. And when the duo isn’t wrestling with their very notion of real­ity, they’re grap­pling with a work­ing rela­tion­ship that’s deep-cut with sex­ual ten­sion. As the series moves on, lead­ing Perry and Dex to new locales and super­nat­ural sit­u­a­tions, their lives become more and more inter­twined, where they dis­cover that ghosts aren’t the only things that can haunt them.

When April, the Steadfast Reader, first suggested I join the world of book blogging many moons ago, one of the things that kept me from jumping into the mix was feeling embarrassed about some of my reading choices. While I do enjoy reading a classic, I also really enjoy fun, easy, quick reads that usually fall into the categories of science fiction or fantasy. I could try to justify it by saying they fit into my hectic life as a graduate student, but, if I’m being really honest, it’s more because I like them. And I was initially embarrassed about publicly admitting that to anyone.

I’ve since changed by mind about that.

Every person has a few guilty pleasures. When it comes to something like food, it’s usually something we know we shouldn’t like, but it sure is damned tasty. For example (since I’m confessing everything else), I love fake cheese. Maybe it’s the color of orange that doesn’t appear anywhere in nature, or the sodium content that rivals a box of kosher salt. I don’t eat it everyday, but when I do allow myself a bit of a splurge, it’s near the top of the list. I think you can look at books the same way; the Faulkner Filet Mignon and the Harlequin ham and swiss. Fun, quick reads that you can consume quickly, like a plate of cheesy nachos. Lately, I’ve been snacking on a series by Karina Halle titled, Experiment in Terror. It’s comprised of 9 novels and several novellas that follow a couple of foul-mouthed ghost hunters who fall in love.

EIT for HBBB

I started this series a couple of years back, likely the result of a Pixel of Ink find or daily Amazon free deal or something. I remember stumbling on it my first year of grad school. when there was a lull in the coursework that allowed me some time to pleasure read. The first book, Darkhouse, introduces the two main characters, Perry Palamino and Dex Foray, as they independently attempted to document paranormal activity at an Oregon lighthouse. Their excursions lead to Perry collaborated with Dex for a Seattle-based Internet paranormal investigation show titled, Experiment in Terror. The plots of books 2-7 follow Dex and Perry’s investigations, but early on, the reader discovers they both are endowed with supernatural gifts that inevitably complicate their situations. However, even with several near death experiences and a demonic possession, the show must go on. Intermingled with all the supernatural creatures, ghosts, and demons, the “will they, won’t they” between Perry and Dex builds to a climax (literally) at the end of Into the Hollow (Book 6). They continue to investigate for EIT in the next two books, but the difficulties inherent when two supernaturally sensitive people get together start making waves that tear holes between this world and Hell. At the end of Ashes to Ashes (Book 8), the EIT team calls it quits because shit got real with some demons in an old sanatorium for dying children. But, the even scarier sh*t goes down after the cameras stopped rolling. In the final installment, Dust to Dust, Dex’s demon brother whisks him away to their childhood home in an attempt to open a door to Hell on Earth, using Dex and Perry’s unique energy, as well as her sister’s and mother’s, to create an unsealable gateway.  Dex dies in the process, but Perry goes into the Thin Veil between Hell and Earth to bring him back. You know, because she loves him. And, on the junk food aisle, love usually conquers all. That doesn’t mean a few meaningful characters aren’t lost along the way, but did you really expect anything to really get in the way of a happy ending? And, since I spent the last year immersed in Westoros, I guess I was hoping for less of a happy ending. Thanks, GRRM, for ruining me, BTW. But, this is the kind of story that gets wrapped in a nice little bow, and ties up most of the loose ends to leave the reader with the good feels. I admit that I have the warm fuzzies as the series came to a close at Dex and Perry’s wedding.

Having said that, like with any kind of junk food, there were moments were I just couldn’t stomach it and had to take a break.  Reading has become a bit of a thesis writing rebellion, so I devoured the last three books in about a week. By the time I was wrapping up Dust to Dust I was overly full and ready to stop eating. Fortunately, my gluttony for punishment won out in the end and I can say I’m now done. At times, it almost seemed to me that Halle was contractually obligated to include a certain number of racy sex scenes in each book. While I assume that is part of the appeal when there is a love story interwoven into the plot, it felt forced and overdone at times. Seriously, how many times do I really need to read about Dex’s insatiable need for intercourse and the lust in his dark eyes? Also, the swiftness at which I read these books felt like it was written at a young adult-ish level, but at times there was overuse of colloquialisms and profanity that I even felt was unnecessary, and I think the intimate scenes would have been more entertaining had Dex not wanted to “fuck the fuck out of her.” But probably the hardest thing to chew and swallow were the grammatical errors. They. Were. Rampant. Please, Karina, I beg you, get another editor.

But, at the end of the day, it is what it is: e-ink junk food wrought with too much sodium and added sugar that’s a lot of fun at the time, but once you’ve had your fill, you don’t go back right away. While I felt the storylines in the latter books were more engaging, the unnecessary sex and the bad editing  left that weird residue that interferes with my good impression of the product. And, in a few months, I will probably want something like that all over again.