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Rachel Smalter Hall

Scottish Alien Cannibal Women

Some book clubs plan their reading list and meeting schedule a year in advance.  Friends, that is not my book club.  We’re what I’d like to call “charmingly” disorganized; we often don’t know when or where we’re going to meet until the day before.

So when we spontaneously decided to meet at the Taproom this Tuesday to talk about Michel Faber’s Under the Skin , I knew I had to get reading… fast.  Because books about Scottish alien cannibal women do not lend themselves well to spoilers.

You guys, Under the Skin is the most fun I’ve had reading since Gone Girl in June.  Part morality tale, part horror story, and part dystopian sci-fi, it’s a lightning-paced read with a serious literary backbone, featuring an embattled, tough-as-nails heroine.  Better yet, it taps into pop-culture’s beloved hitchhiking motif, but in totally new and unexpected ways.  I promise you’ll want to hitchhike even less after reading this book. Read More..

A Hello Kitty Obsession

Not only am I nerdy about literature, hip hop, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer; I also harbor an abiding obsession with cute tiny Japanese things: origami, bento box lunches, bonsai trees, crocheted amigurumi dolls. (I blame it on the Hello Kitty my grandma gave me when she took me to the rodeo in 1987.) The word “amigurumi” comes from the Japanese words “ami,” meaning crocheted or knitted, and “nuigurumi,” meaning stuffed doll, and they typically take the shape of adorable li’l animals. Over the past few years I’ve gotten to know our library’s arts & crafts section in the 700s quite well, and we have a handful of amigurumi books I’ve been dying to tell you about: Read More..

From Happyland to the more Familiar

Author J. Robert Lennon first landed on my radar after his debacle with the “American Girl” mogul.

Pleasant Rowland, creator of the iconic American Girl doll, had been buying up property in New York’s Finger Lakes region in the early 2000s.  Meanwhile, W.W. Norton was readying to publish Happyland, J. Robert Lennon’s “plot-driven satire about a manipulative doll-company millionairess who buys and renovates much of a small college town in upstate New York” (New York Times book review, Aug. 27 2006). Read More..

A True-Life Winter’s Bone Tale

I was sitting on the patio of Wheatfields on a drizzly Saturday morning, eating a croissant, when the woman doing a crossword next to me noticed the title of the book I was reading: Methland.  “Excuse me,” she said, “but can you tell me a little about that book?”   Read More..

Ozark Outlaws

I’ve got a literary crush on Daniel Woodrell, who’s the author of Winter’s Bone and our guest of honor for Read Across Lawrence next month.

Mr. Woodrell first launched his writing career as a crime novelist with his haunting and gritty Bayou Trilogy featuring Detective Rene Shade in the Louisiana swamp town of Saint Bruno, a place where “tempers went on the prowl and relief was driving a hard bargain.”  Soon after came Woe to Live On, which was adapted into the Ang Lee film Ride With the Devil and explores the dark and twisty undertones of Quantrill’s Bushwhackers and their raid on Lawrence, KS.  Winter’s Bone is one of his most recent works, and familiar as the inspiration for the film that was a multiple Oscar contender in 2010. Read More..

And Away She Goes

Sure, there are times you might be jonesing for a 1200 page philosophical classic about battles won and lost; marriage proposals made and broken; births and, ultimately, deaths.  And other times you might be in the mood for an actual list of white things that are or are not as evil as Ahab’s White Whale.

But sometimes, let’s face it, it’s pretty satisfying to read a sharp, smart thriller that you can dive into and devour in 48 hours flat.  So says Nick, one of the slippery narrators of Gone Girl, the latest bestselling novel by KU alum Gillian Flynn.  Honeymooning with his devastating bride Amy, Nick observes: “She’d made a grim figure on the Fiji beach during our two-week honeymoon, battling her way through a million mystical pages of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, casting pissy glances at me as I devoured thriller after thriller.”  Nick knows it, I know it, and you know it: sometimes it takes a thriller to hit the spot. Read More..

The Composition of Love

I like to think of myself as a modern woman — cool, level-headed, doesn’t cry easily, likes Duran Duran, but not too much.

Leave it to Rolling Stone editor Rob Sheffield and his ruminations on Pat Benatar, Whitney Houston, Sleater-Kinney and Pavement to make me cry like a baby.  It also wreaked havoc on my bank account balance as I went on an iTunes downloading spree.  Hanson’s “MMMBop,” anyone? Read More..

“Twilight for the Boudoir”

I’m not ashamed to admit that I loved 50 Shades of Grey.

Sure, I laughed to my husband about the terrible prose and ridiculous characters.  And then I waited till he fell asleep to read the next chapter.  I complained to my girlfriends about the heroine’s “Inner Goddess.”  And then I picked it back up on the sly and kept right on reading.  In fact, for two weeks of my life that I’ll never get back, I utterly neglected the “TBR” pile on my nightstand, ignored my book club’s current book, stopped reading about project management for work, and kept leafing through 50 Shades of Grey to find out what new, um, entanglements Ana and Christian would find themselves in for the evening. Read More..