Book reviews: Notes from Neil

By Neil Rajala

Be Afraid, Be Amused, Then Relax

Friday, May 9 — So many must-read books these days. Late Spring into Summer is the first major publishing season of the year, and our publishers are are in serious competition to release the best titles. In my opinion, they're all winning. Here's what we're reading:

Jeff Vandermeer

A lot of booksellers and customers were huge fans of the first book, Annihilation, in Mr. Vandermeer's trilogy about a coastal area of the U.S. that's become...infected...with something we can't understand, and has thrown a nearly impenetrable border around itself. Book One introduced us to Area X by following one of a series of expeditions sent in by the government to explore and analyze the situation. It was seriously weird and intensely creepy, and we learned Area X is very unwilling to give up its secrets.

Book Two leaves Area X alone for a while and centers the action around the Southern Reach - the U-shaped government/military complex just outside the border. We follow its new director, charged with unlocking the secrets of what lies behind the barrier; what it is, what it wants, and if it can be removed. Years of study by scientists and bureaucrats at Southern Reach have uncovered very few clues, and the new director finds more reasons for that failure than actual answers. The nagging creepy sensation at the back of your neck takes longer to arrive this time out, but when it does it comes full force, just like the last one. And when the previous director returns...lets just say Area X comes very much back into the story.

Michael Smerconish

A true it-takes-one-to-know-one book. Mr. Smerconish is what the story's main character is: a political talk show host of some renown. He uses his intimate knowledge of that world to tell a funny and thoughtful tale of what lies behind the curtain of news outlets with a political agenda.

What's behind the curtain in this case is Stan Powers, a former big-city rock and roll DJ thrust almost by accident into the role of conservative political radio host in central Florida. Through a series of fortunate (or unfortunate) circumstances Powers finds himself as one of the nation's key power brokers for an upcoming presidential election. As his fame and influence grow by the day, so do the nagging doubts about his course of action. He's led unavoidably to a major decision at a critical moment in the election, and while you want to root for his better character, you can't help but remember that he's a political radio host with all of the baggage we've learned goes with the job. Will he or won't he? Should he or shouldn't he? The author's sly skill means you really won't be able to guess until it happens.


Dan Harris

Sometimes, the universe will tell me what book to read. Purely by coincidence, I saw Mr. Harris on the evening news talking about his new book. They showed the film clip of his unfortunate on-air panic attack a handful of times, and he told the impressive story of how that incident led to this book. The very next day a colleague at the bookstore handed me a copy, saying she wouldn't likely read it and wanted to get it into the hands of someone that would. It felt like fate to me.

The author made several changes in his life following the episode, including eliminating some harmful substances, investigating traditional and non-traditional self-help methods, and learning a little neuroscience; all in an attempt to control the voice we all have in our heads that can lead us to bad decisions. He found his answer in meditation - chronicling not only the ways in which it helped him relieve a great deal of stress, but also how it has made it's way into surprising places in our society; including professional sports locker rooms and CEO's offices. kobo eBook

Having been delightfully unnerved late into the night by Authority this past week, I'd like to ask what your favorite creepy book is. Not necessarily the one that gave you the biggest fright, or was the most shocking - which one most effectively gave you that delicious sense of dread or disorientation while you were reading?

Until next week,


NeilNeil Rajala is Currently Director of Community & Business Services for Schuler Books, Neil's decade with the company has included the wearing of many different hats - and lots and lots of reading.