Book Review: Incubus, by Ann Arensberg

It’s not often that an American Book Award winner decides to write a supernatural thriller centered around the haunting of a small town in Maine, but that’s exactly what Ann Arensberg has done with Incubus. While the premise may not seem original (and indeed, seems like something Stephen King has pretty well covered!) Arensberg’s take is unique, owing to her choice of narrator.

We follow the increasingly frightening events through the eyes of Cora, wife of the town rector, Henry. The novel starts with a letter from Cora, stating that – due to the nearly unexplainable events that afflicted their town – she and Henry have established a center that studies supernatural phenomenon, and helps those who are currently suffering the way they suffered. It’s a nice touch, and made the novel seem as though it were actually a tale of true accounts.

Throughout the novel, Cora is preoccupied by the day-to-day, the mundane: caring for her garden, running the church’s bake sale, cooking three square meals a day for her husband. (Warning: Do not read while hungry. The descriptions of her food will set your stomach to rumbling!) Cora notes potentially-supernatural events – unseasonable heat, lack of rain, the paralytic nightmares suffered by her friends and family – dryly, straight-forwardly. Everything has a logical explanation for Cora, leaving the reader to doubt both her interpretations and our own…until there simply are not more logical explanations, and even Cora needs to recognize that something otherworldly has been influencing these events.

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Book Review: The Tastemakers, by David Sax

Kale. Cupcakes. Bacon-wrapped everything.

What do all of these foods have in common? Besides being delicious, that is.


They’re all trendy. Who could possibly forget the internet’s obsession with bacon? Or the prevalence of fondue in homes in the 1970s? Or even the spread of the chia seed as the next superfood?

Spurred by the cupcake craze of the early 2000s, journalist David Sax takes on the mission of deciphering the popularity of different food items in The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed up With Fondue. He doesn’t stop there, though. Sax takes us on a journey through the kitchens of top-notch chefs who have a renewed interest in the artisanal, the fields of farmers experimenting with crop cross-breeding, and the board rooms of food corporations spending millions to create the next big thing.

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Book Review: The Brown Reader: 50 Writers Remember College Hill, ed. Judy Sternlight

Some readers may already know that I am a proud Brunonian. I went to Brown University for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, and enjoyed my time there very much. (“So nice I went there twice!”) I dabbled in subjects I had never tried before, read lots of challenging books, made some lifelong friends, met the boyfriend I am still dating, wrote for the Brown Daily Herald, and just generally had all sorts of experiences that contributed to making me the person I am today!

For an added note of nostalgia, just a few weekends ago was Brown’s commencement ceremony and reunion, as well as the Campus Dance, a really pleasant tradition where alumni return to campus to enjoy bands playing out under the stars on the Main Green.

That’s why when I saw The Brown Reader: 50 Writers Remember College Hill up on Netgalley, in celebration of Brown University’s 250th anniversary, I knew I had to have it. Edited by Judy Sternlight, a 1982 Brown grad and long-time editor, the collection includes essays by such big-name Brown grads as Jeffrey Eugenides, Edwidge Danticat, Marilynne Robinson, and many more. It seems that Sternlight reached out to other Brown alumni in publishing to commission this impressive anthology; lucky for her, Brown has produced many writing-inclined folks!

As with almost any anthology, the stories were uneven and differed widely in tone, making it challenging to review. Some, like Jeffrey Eugenides’ “Sun Under Cloud Cover,” were pointed and hilarious as they poked fun not just at Brown but at the other Ivy League schools. Others were serious reflections on what the writer gained and lost at Brown, including appreciations for new academic or artistic pursuits, like theater or medicine.

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Book Review: Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks

Rarely have I read a novel that self-destructed as spectacularly in its conclusion as Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders. In my experience, at least, if a book is going to go sour, it happens quickly and early on. You probably know the feeling: you crack open a book you’re excited about, or that’s been recommended to you by someone you trust, and start to read, and it dawns on you almost immediately that you are going to hate this book, but you gamely struggle on, hoping against hope that it will get better. And when it doesn’t, you’re disappointed, but not necessarily surprised.

Year of Wonders is different, in large part because it starts out so strongly–making that fact that it ends so poorly feel almost like a betrayal.

Year of Wonders is, on the one hand, an impeccably-researched historical fiction novel about a small English town that, when faced with an outbreak of the bubonic plague, chooses to isolate itself to prevent the disease from spreading. Inspired by the true story of Esam, this novel follows the journey of one woman in particular: Anna, handmaid to the wife of the village’s rector, who has lost both her husband and her children. Rather than becoming broken due to the circumstances, Anna is built up. She steps into the vaccuum left by many of the town’s traditional leaders and becomes a powerful force in her own right. Anna learns to read and write, and–along with her employer and friend, Elinor–learns about herbal remedies that may be the key to stopping the devastating sweep of the plague.

Cool, right?

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Book Review: Suffer the Children, by Craig DiLouie

Movie popcorn is a peculiar thing. When the lights go down and the movie starts up, that $7 popcorn tastes goddamn incredible.

Nom nom nom.

But afterwards, when you’re left with all of the unpopped kernels at the bottom of the bag and fingers greasy with synthetic butter substitute, you sort of realize that you just paid way too much money for what amounts to some oversalted cardboard.

That mirrors my experience with Craigh DiLouie’s horror novel Suffer the Children: enjoyable while reading, certainly worth the money, but not likely to leave too much of an impression after.

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Book Review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

I’ve got a problem. A NetGalley problem. Like most other bookworms, I’ve got eyes bigger than my stomach when it comes to free books–I will request way more than I can feasibly read!

However, when I saw karen’s review of The Weight of Blood, I knew I had to make space on my crowded iPad–and even more crowded TBR list–for this debut novel. I’m grateful I did–based on this novel alone, Laura McHugh is an author to watch.

In the small Ozarks town of Henbane, Lucy Dane sees a friend go missing with no explanation and no closure. She has already lives without a mother, who–according to town memory–killed herself in the extensive cave system in the wild lands surrounding the area. After finding a clue as to her friend’s disappearance, Lucy begins to pursue the twin threads of the missing women in her life. In the process, she begins to unwind the network of secrets and lies that her family, and the people of Henbane, have woven to keep her and themselves safe.

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Book Review: Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, by David Simon

Omar knows what’s up. 

I only started watching HBO’s The Wire about a year ago, but damn if it isn’t as good as everyone says it is. I don’t really know why I waited to watch as long as I did, but I’m almost glad–I feel like I can appreciate its messages and subtitles better now that I’m a bit older and have more life experience. It also means that I can draw out my watching of The Wire to avoid having it end too soon.

Before I had even starting watching, I knew that it (and the show Homicide) was based in part on a nonfiction book by David Simon called Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. What I wasn’t prepared for was for how engaging and eye-opening the book was on its own.

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