“Houdini Heart”

Longfellow, Ki.  Houdini Heart.  Port Orchard, WA: Eio Books., 2011.  Electronic Book.

Purchased for Nook Tablet from Barnes and Noble.

Read between October 24-30, 2012.

Four and a half out of five stars.Houdini Heart

Houdini Heart is the harrowing tale of an anonymous narrator, driven by a horrendous ordeal to flee  her glamorous life in Malibu for a small town in Vermont where she briefly stayed with her mother as a child.  There, she finds shelter in the River House, a once magnificent hotel that has been turned into a series of dilapidated apartments and shops.  Within the walls of the River House the narrator sets out to complete a task, her final novel, one to best her others, but soon finds there are forces at work inside the hotel (or, perhaps trapped inside her own tormented mind) that have other plans for her…

Ki Longfellow’s suspenseful, dark, and eerie novel is a compellingly written examination of the intense psychological unraveling of a lone, unnamed protagonist.  Woven together as a series of flashbacks, internal monologues, and excerpts from the central character’s best-known book, “The Windigo’s Daughter*”, Houdini Heart slowly and meticulously reveals the narrator’s  troubled past, and the terrifying events leading up to her arrival at the River House. With extraordinary subtlety and skill, Longfellow slowly spins an inauspicious web, pulling readers in until they’re no longer sure of what is real or imagined.  Is the River House truly haunted, or is our nameless heroine (anti-heroine?) losing what little remains of her sanity after what happened back in California?  Free from vampires, werewolves, zombies and other traditional staples of the genre, Houdini Heart is a work of literary horror that delves deep into the psyche and leaves readers questioning their own lucidity.  This book will stay with readers long after uttering its final haunting words.

I cannot adequately express how much this book affected me.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t immediately drawn in, but by the time I realized what was happening (though I couldn’t really be sure what was happening), I was so engrossed I couldn’t put it down.  Once I finally (regretfully) did, I could not stop thinking about it.  I felt the need to discuss with others what had happened, and if what I thought transpired had really occurred at all. I wanted to not only keep reading far past the book’s conclusion, I also wanted to dive into “The Windigo’s Daughter”, the protagonist’s award-winning-novel-turned-movie that Longfellow expertly ties into the storyline.   My only true criticism is that at present, the book is only available as a print-on-demand or electronic download. That, and I still have no clue what really happened in the River House, though that is equally a criticism and utmost praise for Houdini Heart. I will definitely be reading other works by Ki Longfellow.

*Windigo: The wendigo (also known as windigo, weendigo, windago, waindigo, windiga, witiko, wihtikow, and numerous other variants) is a creature appearing in the legends of the Algonquian people.  It is thought of variously as a malevolent cannibalistic spirit that could possess humans or a monster that humans could physically transform into. Those who indulged in cannibalism were at particular risk, and the legend appears to have reinforced this practice as a taboo. (Thanks, Wikipedia).

“I’ve Got Your Number”

Kinsella, Sophie.  I’ve Got Your Number: A Novel.  New York: The Dial Press, 2012.  Electronic Book.

Borrowed from The Cedar Falls Public Library OverDrive Service.

Read between October 17-23, 2012.

Three and a half out of five stars.

Sophie Kinsella of Shopaholic series fame is back with another fun chick-lit novel.  I’ve Got Your Number is set in 2012 London, and follows Poppy Wyatt over the course of a week, and more than a few unfortunate events.  First, she loses her priceless family heirloom engagement ring, then her phone gets stolen, all just days before her wedding to the tall, dark and handsome Magnus Tavish.  She finds a cell phone in a trash can, which just so happens to belong to the up-and-quit-to-be-a-model assistant to a very important (and hot) businessman, Sam Roxton.  What follows is a smart, sassy, and sexy (though not erotic) story of Poppy’s attempts to turn the curt Sam into someone a bit more personable, all while using the found phone.  As she and Sam communicate through text and email, Poppy finds herself questioning her relationship with Magnus and their upcoming nuptials.  Is he truly the one for her? And will she be happy marrying into a family of academic elitists, who use words like “IRIDIUMS” and “CARYATID” in Scrabble and frequently discuss the merits of subjects (way) beyond the scope of her knowledge?

Told in a candid, conversational tone complete with text message jargon and acronyms, I’ve Got Your Number will appeal to readers who are looking for a fast-paced, dialogue-heavy book full of witty banter and gossipy twenty-somethings.  Readers of chick-lit will identify with the present-day setting and recognize somewhat stereotypical characters, though they may not agree with the protagonists choices, or will they… Kinsella includes footnotes throughout the book in a type of stream-of-consciousness rambling from Poppy, which was difficult to follow in an electronic format.  I enjoyed the book, though I can’t say I’ll be dying to read any more of Kinsella’s work, or any chick-lit, for that matter.  Kind of like a romantic comedy movie, I feel as though I know what’s going to happen before it does, but while I’m watching/reading I am briefly entertained but ultimately left wanting more character or plot development.  I would recommend this book as a good read for a beach: breezy and humorous, but not quite captivating enough.

“A Walk in the Woods”

Bryson, Bill.  A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.  New York: Anchor., 2006.  Print.

Borrowed from The University of Iowa Main Library.

Read between October 6-13, 2012.

Four and a half out of five stars.

This week’s title, “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail” is by one of my all time favorite authors and native Iowan, Bill Bryson.  Upon returning to the United States after living in England for twenty years, Bryson and his family settled in New Hampshire, where one day he came upon a path in the woods.  But this was not just any path, this was the 2,184 mile long Appalachian Trail, known to hikers as simply, “The AT”.  Bryson, who dabbled with the role of amateur hiker in England, decides one day that he is going to hike the trail in its entirety, partially in an attempt to “get me fit after years of waddlesome sloth”.  He (unsuccessfully) tries to recruit friends, colleagues, and  family members to join him on his journey walking from Georgia to Maine.  Finally, only a few days before he’s set to depart, a long lost friend (whom some readers may remember from another Bryson book, “Neither Here Nor There”), Stephen Katz calls and wants to walk along.  What ensues is an inspiring, humbling, occasionally depressing, but mostly hilarious memoir of Katz and Bryson’s “Walk in the Woods”.

Readers familiar with Bryson’s work will recognize the leisurely pace, self-deprecating humor, and personal anecdotes that the author is known for.  While his intent is mainly to entertain, Bryson also intersperses educational factoids about everything from the history of the AT and its founders to the National Parks Service’s many flaws, the idiosyncrasies of purchasing (and using) camping gear, and the many exotic and endangered flora and fauna that inhabit the mountain trails.  He meets many interesting characters along the way, but none so much as his partner in crime, Katz, from whom many of the most comical episodes occur.  Bryson has a way of describing the AT in such detail and emotion that the reader is transported to the mountains of Virginia, the parks of Georgia, the trails of Maine, and the many places in between.  While it is certainly no “how-to” guide for hiking the Appalachian Trail, “A Walk in the Woods” made me want to do many things: appreciate the beauty of nature, reconnect with an old friend, find humor and humility in life, reflect, walk.

I would highly recommend this book to fans of Bill Bryson’s work, lovers of nature and  recreational hiking*, seekers of (mis)adventure memoirs, and history buffs who enjoy a good story with affable characters.

*There is some (gasp!) naughty language in the book, and hardcore, purist hikers might not appreciate Bryson and Katz’s lackadaisical approach to such an arduous task as trekking almost 2,200 miles on foot.  For this reason I would steer clear of recommending this book to those who might take offense to these.