Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Rating: 4 of 5

Synopsis: “A spellbinding and darkly humorous coming-of-age story about an unusual boy, whose family lives on the fringe of society and struggles to survive in a hostile world that shuns and fears them.” (source)

My thoughts: I was compelled to read this book thanks to an article/ interview posted on Cemetery Dance Online. During the interview, Jones mentioned WHEN ANIMALS DREAM; I thought, hey, this dude may be alright, so I picked up Mongrels.

A coming-of-age tale with werewolves seemed like a perfect idea to me, and Jones delivers. Seriously, I was hooked from sentence one: “My grandfather used to tell me he was a werewolf.”

I adored the unnamed narrator’s Grandpa from the get-go. And it wasn’t until I finished the story and started thinking about my “review” that I realized the narrator was never named; I felt like I knew him so completely. Crafty, sneaky author. While I did not enjoy the grisly details involving owls and bunnies and dogs, those added another layer of realism to the werewolves’ behavior. I simply looked away from those poor animals’ death scenes and read on.

I couldn’t stop reading either. Their dysfunctional little family was messed up, sure, but man there was a lot of heart there. Loyal and protective, accepting of one another. Hell, if one were to overlook their criminal tendencies and, you know, the occasional murdering, it’d be hard not to want family members like them to have your back.

There was also an interesting mix of new and old folklore surrounding the werewolves in Mongrels. I won’t go into specifics, because it’s more fun to let them unfold as you read, but I will say the whole story had a freshness that I’ve missed in horror recently. Plus, like I already mentioned, it had heart and, ultimately, I think that depth was what allowed me to overlook its minor imperfections.

Highly recommended especially if you devour everything werewolf.

Author’s website | Read an excerpt | Add on LibraryThing | Add on Goodreads

(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Hello, My Name Is Doris (2015)

Rating: 7 of 10

movie poster Hello, My Name Is Doris (2015)It’s never too late to live the life you always wanted.

Synopsis: “After a lifetime of being overlooked and ignored, a woman of a certain age finds her world turned upside down by a handsome new co-worker and a self-help seminar that inspires her to take a chance on love in Hello, My Name is Doris, a witty and compassionate late-life coming-of-age-story.” (source)

My thoughts: Sally Field plays Doris, a single women in her sixties who still lives in her childhood home, now alone in that house following the death of her mother. Oh, and she’s a hoarder. Quirky is one word to describe Doris. She’s quiet, prone to daydreaming, socially awkward, and yet she’s unafraid to wear whatever she wants and her sense of style is…different. While it’s slightly uncomfortable to watch Doris navigate life, especially after the self-help seminar motivates her to go after that which is most likely unattainable, there’s also an excitement to the story, wondering just where Doris will end up. The interactions between Doris and the hipsters are hilarious!

A coming of age story that proves you’re never too old to start living the life you always dreamed of.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed films like GARDEN STATE or RUSHMORE.

Check out HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS official website and trailer | on IMDb | on Facebook

(Watched DVD on 7/30/2016)

Uncaged (2016)

Rating: 6 of 10

movie poster Uncaged (2016)Most teens look at birthday #18 as the key to their freedom. Great things are supposed to happen when one is officially an “adult” … unless your family is hiding a curse triggered at age 18.

Synopsis: “A sleepwalking teen straps a camera to himself and discovers a sinister family secret.” (source)

My thoughts: Another random selection that surpassed my expectations. UNCAGED’s limited budget is obvious (especially in the transformation department) but it overcomes those constraints by casting Ben Getz as Jack, a young man with a tragic past who just turned 18 and is starting to sleepwalk. Liking Jack and wanting to know what was going to happen to him is really the only thing that kept me watching this movie. Jack’s cousin, Brandon, who Jack grew up with, is borderline douchey. And their friend Turner is 100 times worse. But I guess they provided some comic relief. Sure, the writing needed fleshed out (HA!) and the women needed to be actual people – you know, instead of being either a) a damsel in distress or b) a sex object – but all in all, I had fun. Plus, werewolves are sorely underrepresented in modern horror movies.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed films like WHEN ANIMALS DREAM or NIGHT WOLF.

Check out UNCAGED official website and trailer | on Facebook | on IMDb

(Watched on Netflix 3/31/2016)

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Things are only impossible if you stop to think about them.

Synopsis: “While her friends are spending their summers having pool parties and sleepovers, twelve-year-old Carolina — Carol — is spending hers in the middle of the New Mexico desert, helping her parents move the grandfather she’s never met into a home for people with dementia. At first, Carol avoids prickly Grandpa Serge. But as the summer wears on and the heat bears down, Carol finds herself drawn to him, fascinated by the crazy stories he tells her about a healing tree, a green-glass lake, and the bees that will bring back the rain and end a hundred years of drought. As the thin line between magic and reality starts to blur, Carol must decide for herself what is possible — and what it means to be true to her roots.” (source)

My thoughts: Twelve-year-old Carol meets her Grandpa for the first time, rediscovers her roots, and learns about the cycle of life. The stories Grandpa Serge told were my favorite part of the book, and I loved how real and believable the magic of those stories was. (The Giving Tree came to mind more than once.) For any tween experiencing the slow loss of a grandparent to dementia, or another similar illness, Hour of the Bees may help them process their own feelings and fears. Maybe Carol’s story will show them that sometimes endings are only the beginning.

Author on Twitter | Read an excerpt on Candlewick Press | Add on LibraryThing | Add on Goodreads

(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Received ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

When Animals Dream (2014)

Rating: 8 of 10

movie poster When Animals Dream (2014)Coming of age is itself a nightmare most everyone hopes to survive unscathed. Toss in supernatural DNA and things can go downhill real fast.

Synopsis: “Marie is a beautiful and lonely 16-year-old who lives in an isolated village on a small island of the west coast of Denmark. Marie’s mother is seriously ill, suffering from an unknown disease – on medication, mentally absent and tied to a wheelchair. Marie’s father, Thor, runs the small grocery store and tries to make life as normal as possible for the small family. On the surface, everything seems fine – and yet, Marie can’t help feeling that Thor is hiding something about her mother’s illness.” (source)

My thoughts: It’s not easy being a teenager in a small town. Feeling like you’re stuck in limbo, between being a kid and being an adult. There’s an inherent otherness to that stage of life. Twist up all those emotions and thoughts with a suspicion that you’re even more of an outsider because of a secret your father denies but your gut insists on, and you have the recipe for a thrilling coming of age horror movie. I absolutely loved Marie’s transformation; no, not the physical one (although it’s frighteningly awesome). I mean the one where she embraces her true self.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed movies like TEETH, CARRIE, or GINGER SNAPS.

Check out WHEN ANIMALS DREAM in Danish Film Catalogue | on IMDb | Watch the trailer

(Watched on Netflix 1/16/2016)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

So much more than its “gothic romance” label, thank goodness. Yes, there’s a sheltered teenage girl who falls for her employer, an arrogant, seemingly unattainable “bad boy.” But the deeper love story was not between man and woman; it’s the love Jane showed for herself by never, and I mean never, compromising what she believed right. That’s why Jane Eyre is a “classic” and must-read for all ages.

Orphaned Jane Eyre endures an unhappy childhood, hated by her aunt and cousins and then sent to comfortless Lowood School. But life there improves, and Jane stays on as a teacher, though she still longs for love and friendship. At Mr Rochester’s house, where she goes to work as a governess, she hopes she might have found them – until she learns the terrible secret of the attic. (Source)

Paperback cover dover jane eyreCharlotte Brontë knew exactly what she was doing when she started the story in the midst of Jane’s torment at the hands of her loathsome aunt and cousins. Immediately I was on Jane’s side and admired her for standing up to authority; most children her age (and gender) would be too scared to do or say anything in opposition. Her passion was evident from the get-go and the quality of her character revealed itself naturally through her experiences at Lowood and in her life at Thornfield. Jane’s coming-of-age was believable and relevant. I never felt she did anything contrary to the person she made herself out to be.

While Jane Eyre‘s themes are timeless, its prose and scandals are not. Modern readers may view the narrative as somewhat boring, certain plot points as too convenient, the romance as contrived, and the “twist” not shocking but bland. For me, the heavy role of religion in everyone’s life was the least relatable aspect of the story. So when Jane’s reliance on God’s rules rubbed me the wrong way, I reminded myself of the century, the country and the culture in which this novel was written. When read within that context, the tale features ground-breaking ideals and spotlights female empowerment. Whatever your opinion, 165 years after publication, Jane Eyre still garners fanatical support from those deeply affected by the story – readers moved to tears then smiles then mixtures of tears and smiles.

For the record, I only cried once (Helen), but my emotions ranged from anger (Mrs Reed = EVIL!) to angrier (Mr Brocklehurst) to grief (Helen) to confusion (Mr Rochester) to relief (Jane’s newfound cousins) to confusion (Mr Rochester) to satisfaction (Jane’s CHOICE at the end). There aren’t many books today that offer such emotional depth to readers. I plan to re-read Jane’s tale at least every couple years.