Monthly Archives: January 2011

Rotters, by Daniel Kraus (2011)

RottersRotters by Daniel Kraus
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really have to give some hard thought to my review of this book… I have very mixed feelings about it.

Take one part touching story about a boy (Joey) losing his mother and going to live with the father he never knew existed. Add one part teenage angst about starting over in a new school and from day one, being the target of the violent meat-head school bully and his cronies. Add the embarrassment of having the town pariah as his father and showing up at school smelling like garbage every day. Mix in a crush on meat-head’s girlfriend, for added measure, and a vindictive teacher bent on torturing Joey all year long.

Now, sprinkle into your promising mix the following:

Joey’s suspicion of his father’s life of thievery, which takes a turn for the macabre when he follows the old man one night. Watching his father clip a finger off of a disembodied hand to pocket the gold ring, Joey discovers just what kind of thievery his father is best at.

Joey’s first night out under his philosophical, professor-like father’s wing. You get to go along for the graphic, darkly educational ride as Joey takes part in his first dig and sees his first “Rotter.”

The eventual revenge Joey takes on the three high school forces that ruin any chance for normalcy between the hours of 8-3. I’m at a loss for words trying to sum up the method of revenge Joey takes. Creative, for sure, but also dark, gruesome, disgusting and twisted. So very twisted. My feelings of “they got what was coming to them” were tainted by my slight revulsion of the method.

A dark, sad cast of other Diggers peppering the story, including one whose drug-fueled wasting illness, descent into insanity and sickening violation of Joey’s own mother’s buried body isn’t enough to keep Joey away. The maniacal teachings and philosophies of his father’s old enemy were grotesquely fascinating, like a terrible car accident that people stop traffic to gawk at.

A vile project by one whose right mind left him long ago, threatening to bring an end to a long, proud line of Diggers. Kraus occasionally pays homage to the history of grave-robbing by mentioning Scotland’s resurrection men, who dug up fresh bodies for medical study, and Leonardo da Vinci, who apparently used the bodies to study human form.

For the pièce de résistance, top with the subtle instances of alcoholism, bullying, bodily mutilation (of the live variety), necrophilia and the difficult journey of teenage self-realization.

Rotters was unlike any book I’d ever read. And I’ve read some dark ones. I feel like the “normal” elements of the story would appeal to any high schooler who’s ever been bullied at school or crushed on someone socially out of reach (myself included). It’s the parts that come in between, the dark, creepy parts that make you think twice about turning out the lights, that take a special kind of reader to enjoy. I’m not sure which line Kraus crossed to leave me feeling so uneasy after the book was finished (cuz he crossed a lot of lines with this one), but even now, while I’m writing what I feel is a kind of negative review, I want to pick up the book and read it over again.

Kraus, for all his gruesome genius, is a very gifted writer. I couldn’t help but laugh at some of his cleverly worded passages (there is, in fact, humor in this book as well!). His Diggers, in spite of all their oddness, dirt and stink, are somehow much more likable than anyone “normal” within the high school’s doors. The relationship between Joey and his father grows and develops in a very real way, in spite of the dark cacophony surrounding it, and though it isn’t all happy, the book has a pretty satisfying conclusion.

I would recommend this book to those with a very open mind and a very strong stomach. If you like things that are dark, creepy, twisted, suspenseful and more than a little shocking, you will probably enjoy the adventure of reading this book. If you are squeamish about anything I’ve mentioned above, take a pass because nothing I’ve written does justice to Kraus’ work.

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The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's WifeThe Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I LOVED this book.

I loved everything about it — the Chicago setting, the characters I couldn’t stop thinking about even once I’d finished the book, the clever way the story is laid out. Niffenegger managed to take what could have been an average run-of-the-mill love story and turned it into a story that keeps you thinking “ok, just one more section,” way after your bedtime.

The book made me laugh (both through situational humor and charming writing style) and cry (I’m not going to spoil anything here). Niffenegger’s characters are so real that they feel like family. Throughout the book, you will share in their triumphs and your heart will break at their tragedies. While the book contains an element of the supernatural (there really is literal time travel. It’s not just a figurative element), it is written like any good true-to-life story, and Niffenegger does a good job making that supernatural element believable in her real-world setting. She approaches real-world problems associated with the brand of time travel from which the main character suffers and offers real-world solutions, some of them unhappy, to her readers.

This book is a must-read before you see the movie. It’s a must-read if you’ve already seen the movie. If you like a good story that sticks with you long after the last page, then definitely pick up Time Traveler’s Wife.

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The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

The HistorianThe Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was incredible. As soon as I finished it, I couldn’t wait to read it again (the only thing stopping me was the promise I made to a friend to lend it to her as soon as I was finished). The story reads like a historical travelogue and has a little bit of supernatural edged in, sewn together with suspense and skillful storytelling.

I almost hate to mention the fact that the story centers around vampire lore and the existence of a real vampire because the book is so well-written that it carries its own regardless of whether you are into supernatural books or not. The bottom line is that Elizabeth Kostova made the ten years she spent researching and writing this book worth every day. It’s a beautiful story that includes themes of family and love, journeys through Europe and Eastern Europe spanning the 1900s…

The one word that comes to mind when I think of this book is beautiful. In fact, after writing this, I think I will read it again.

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So who are you?

My name is Stephanie. I have a journalism degree and have loved books ever since I learned how to read. I also really love to write, so why not put the two together? That’s how I got here. Hope you like the outcome.

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That’s all for now. Gotta get on with the next book!