Damn you, Jenny Lawson. (Not really, I love you.) But because of your weird new book club I ended up ordering The Haunted Vagina from Amazon, and now my recommendations are almost as strange as yours. Almost.
It’s easily the weirdest book I’ve ever read. But it’s not the only one I’ve read recently, so rather than spending a whole post focusing on its oddness, here are a few of the books I’ve hung out with lately and what I thought of them.
The Haunted Vagina by Carlton Mellick III
I am writing this blog post in a hotel, at the edge of a balcony overlooking pools and the ocean, at the end of the first day of a conference I’ve been at for work. I am slightly paranoid that someone’s going to look over my shoulder and be like WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT so I’m going to have to keep frantically writing for the next few lines to fill up the space and make the picture disappear.
If you can imagine it, this book was in fact more weird than I’d originally thought. The premise is (I guess?) simple: a woman has a haunted vagina. Her boyfriend is slightly freaked out by this, understandably. Nonetheless he still agrees to enter her haunted vagina, and in so doing he discovers that it is in fact a portal to another world (I think? it’s not exactly the most coherent of storylines).
Going through the portal, he meets lots of strange people, including one whom he falls in love with. The mechanics of a pregnancy that happens inside another person’s haunted uterus are… odd…?
The whole book is just a weird vagina-themed drug trip. Like if Alice in Wonderland grew up, continued taking LSD and watched too many pornos.
One thing I will say for this book, though: I am normally a person who skips sex scenes because I find them disgusting, but I read all the ones in The Haunted Vagina because they were just so… weird?
I wouldn’t recommend it at all, obviously. It’s utterly ridiculous, has an incredibly tenuous storyline and just isn’t good in any way. It’s also quite short, though. And has a certain… weirdness… about it that made me read until the end.
An aside: Carlton Mellick III sounds like a douchebag. I didn’t google him or anything, but his other titles include Ass Goblins of Auschwitz and Baby Jesus Butt Plug, and those just don’t sound like the kinds of titles that’d come from someone I’d like.
Still. If you want something that’s unlike anything you’ve read before or will read again, I guess The Haunted Vagina might be for you.
One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
Now back to slightly more normal programming.
One Of Us Is Lying has been described as ‘The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars‘ and I see what they mean.
Five kids are held back in detention. They are all high school clichés: the brainy one (Bronwyn), the pretty one (Addy), the juvenile delinquent (Nate), the jock (Cooper), and the outcast (Simon).
By the end of the period, Simon is dead. But who killed him?
It’s well known that Simon has a peanut allergy, and someone has slipped peanut oil into his cup of water, and now he’s died. The police are stumped, but their investigation naturally focuses on the rest of the kids who were in the room at the time. All of them theoretically have a motive: as well as being a social outcast, Simon had created the school’s notorious gossip app, which managed to out people’s deepest secrets despite not naming names.
So with motive done and dusted, the investigation team just have to work out whodunnit. Sounds simple, but it’s not: as time goes on, it seems like it could have been any of the kids in the room… or maybe none of them?
My suspicion immediately fell on the teacher, who’d been in the room supervising but left quickly to deal with an urgent matter outside. Was I correct? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
The twist is intriguing and perhaps not what you’d expect from the average thriller. One Of Us Is Lying is a fun, intriguing read that’ll keep you tied in pretzelesque knots right up to the end.
The Witching-Other by Peter Hamilton Giles
I reeeaally wanted this book to be good. It wasn’t.
I wanted to like it for a number of reasons: the cover was beautiful (wait, isn’t there a saying about that?); I picked it up at my favourite witchcraft shop; it had a chapter about ‘existential witchcraft’.
But it was not good. At all.
The main thing wrong with it was that it tried to be intellectual when it wasn’t. Giles adds big long words that don’t mean what he seems to think they mean, and ends up sounding like that Friends episode in which Joey discovers the thesaurus.
I could go on, but I can’t be bothered: there are more important things in the world to write about. This is pseudo-intellectual bollocks without an obvious point. Perhaps if the author re-wrote it in language he (and therefore we) could understand, it might be better.
You’ll note that I didn’t even devote as much page space to The Witching-Other as I did to The Haunted Vagina.
Coastliners by Joanne Harris
Mado hasn’t been home in years, but one day she decides to make the journey back to Le Devin, the tiny island off the coast of Brittany where she grew up.
Like anyone returning home, Mado has a lot to deal with: family, friends, old relationships… nothing is straightforward. And when her local community is threatened by the corporate greed of a nearby developer, Mado finds herself surprised at how much she cares. Can she save her village from the threatened elimination of their traditional way of life?
Joanne Harris is a master of fiction. Her world creation skills rival those of the greatest fantasy writers, and she is one of a very small number of authors who can actually make pictures appear in my mind.
Coastliners isn’t one of her most famous works, but it’d certainly be worth being better known. It’s a beautiful story of love, hatred, denial, confusion, tradition and renewal, set in the kind of place many of us dream about living in one day.
The Owl Always Hunts At Night by Samuel Bjork
I read Bjork’s I’m Travelling Alone a while ago and I loved it, because I had to: it was practically made for me. Brilliant but troubled investigators! A hacker-turned-investigator who’s like, holy shit this stuff actually happens in real life and I can help stop it but that doesn’t make it easy psychologically! Sad dead children!
Alright, that last one isn’t something I exactly like, but it’s a fiction trope that’ll get me every time, because it’s a real-life trope I deal with in my job, and I like to be reminded sometimes that we’re making a difference.
The Owl Always Hunts At Night is a different story with the same team of investigators. Bjork is evidently building up protagonists in the way most crime fiction series writers do: Mia and Munch remind me a bit of Sinead and Rebus from Rankin’s novels, but as yet unrefined and with their characters somewhat switched.
This novel focuses around the death of Camilla, a troubled young woman who went missing from a children’s home and was found three months later, emaciated and dead, lying in the centre of a pentagram surrounded by candles and owl feathers. Are Satanic workings at play?
Any book that takes a pentagram and automatically goes ‘OMG SATANISM’ isn’t going to make it into my list of favourite reads, but the occult angle is redeemed to a certain extent further on in the story, although there’s a lack of research into pentagrams in general and the OTO in particular that grates against my witchy sensitivities.
On the whole, though, it’s a solid gripping thriller, and I really want to like it because I can see myself getting attached to Mia and Munch, so if you enjoyed I’m Travelling Alone then I’d recommend The Owl Always Hunts At Night too. Although it’s a standalone novel, at this point I’d still recommend reading the first one, since it gives some background on the investigative team and also it’s a better read. I’m looking forward to the next instalment and to seeing more of Mia, Munch and their tame hacker Mørk.
What have you read recently? Send me your recommendations!