books

REVIEW: “Bottle Grove” by Daniel Handler

Bottle GroveI have never read a Daniel Handler book. This is half-true. I grew up reading and loving A Series of Unfortunate Events, written by Handler under the pseudonym of Lemony Snicket. But I have never read one of Handler’s novels written for adults, under his own name. With that in mind, I really didn’t know what to expect when approaching Bottle Grove, his most recent novel. The synopsis promised something along the lines of magical realism, and I was definitely intrigued to see how Handler approached writing for adults versus writing for children – would he still have lots of fun wordplay and interesting prose? Unfortunately, I didn’t love Bottle Grove. I don’t know that I’d say it’s a bad book or anything, but it definitely wasn’t what I expect and I’m not sure it’s what I wanted, either. (Mild spoilers for the novel follow.)

This is a story about two marriages. Or is it? It begins with a wedding, held in the small San Francisco forest of Bottle Grove–bestowed by a wealthy patron for the public good, back when people did such things. Here is a cross section of lives, a stretch of urban green where ritzy guests, lustful teenagers, drunken revelers, and forest creatures all wait for the sun to go down. The girl in the corner slugging vodka from a cough-syrup bottle is Padgett–she’s keeping something secreted in the woods. The couple at the altar are the Nickels–the bride is emphatic about changing her name, as there is plenty about her old life she is ready to forget.

Set in San Francisco as the techboom is exploding, Bottle Grove is a sexy, skewering dark comedy about two unions–one forged of love and the other of greed–and about the forces that can drive couples together, into dependence, and then into sinister, even supernatural realms. Add one ominous shape-shifter to the mix, and you get a delightful and strange spectacle: a story of scheming and yearning and foibles and love and what we end up doing for it–and everyone has a secret. Looming over it all is the income disparity between San Francisco’s tech community and . . . everyone else.

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REVIEW: “Alice Isn’t Dead: A Novel” by Joseph Fink

coverI’ve been a fan of Welcome to Night Vale, the podcast cocreated by Joseph Fink – author of this novel, Alice Isn’t Dead – and Jeffrey Cranor since around about 2013. It’s a lovely little podcast that perfectly mixes together a whole bunch of genres into its own little piece of brilliance. When it was announced that Fink and Cranor would launch an entire podcasting network, named “Night Vale Presents”, with a brand new podcast written by Joseph Fink, I was immediately interested. And then… I never got around to listening to it. It had a cool premise and seemed really intriguing and spooky, but I just never quite found the time. Then, it was announced earlier this year that Joseph Fink was going to turn that podcast, Alice Isn’t Dead, into a book that, essentially, told the same story as the podcast and I figured I’d just wait for the book to come out and experience the story in that medium. Months passed and I’ve now read the book and, I gotta tell ya, it’s really, really good.

From the New York Times bestselling co-author of It Devours! and Welcome to Night Vale comes a fast-paced thriller about a truck driver searching across America for the wife she had long assumed to be dead.

“This isn’t a story. It’s a road trip.”

Keisha Taylor lived a quiet life with her wife, Alice, until the day that Alice disappeared. After months of searching, presuming she was dead, Keisha held a funeral, mourned, and gradually tried to get on with her life. But that was before Keisha started to see her wife, again and again, in the background of news reports from all over America. Alice isn’t dead, and she is showing up at every major tragedy and accident in the country.

Following a line of clues, Keisha takes a job with a trucking company, Bay and Creek Transportation, and begins searching for Alice. She eventually stumbles on an otherworldly conflict being waged in the quiet corners of our nation’s highway system—uncovering a conspiracy that goes way beyond one missing woman.

Why did Alice disappear? What does she have to do with this secret war between inhuman killers? Why did the chicken cross the road? These questions, and many more will be answered in Alice Isn’t Dead.

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