SAWKILL GIRLS by Claire Legrand

“Why do the monsters eat girls?” she asked at last.

“Because,” Marion answered, looking beyond Zoey to the sea, “when a predator hunts, it seeks out the vulnerable. The desperate.”

Zoey’s laugh was bitter, “Oh, and we poor delicate girls are vulnerable and desperate, is that what you’re saying?”

“What I’m saying,” Marion said, now looking right at Zoey, her gray eyes bright, “is that girls hunger. And we’re taught, from the moment our brains can take it, that there isn’t enough food for us all.”

I finished Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand yesterday – and it’s a great spooky YA book. A monster lives on a small island populated by the wealthy elite – and it feeds on the innards of teenage girls. There’s a lot going on in this book – but at its heart its about girls and how disposable they are in society. It’s about female anger and how girls fight back.

I loved this book – but I confess I wanted more from it (which I’ll dive into below in the spoilers section). Overall, it was an enjoyable, spooky book and I definitely recommend it to those who seeking a good, bloody story featuring a diverse (in color and sexuality) cast.

I desperately want there to be more books in this series. All my fingers and toes are crossed for further exploration into the pocket dimensions, powers, cults, and monsters lurking in new books. Even if it’s different characters each time, she’s opened a window into a very unique world and I want to go there again and see more.

Rating: 4 Stars.

So… SPOILER DISCUSSION TIME…

 

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RECURSION by Blake Crouch

Finished RECURSION last night, by Blake Crouch – which was very good and kept me filled with anxiety as the mystery unfolded. It’s about mysterious individuals who have FMS (False Memory Syndrome) – a new plague that affects people randomly, causing them to have an entirely different set of memories (as well as their current memories). This affliction is so startling, so confusing and upsetting to most people, that the majority commit suicide.

You follow two plotlines. The first one is set in 2018, following a cop tracking down leads on the latest FMS suicide, trying to get to the heart of the mystery. The second plotline is about ten years earlier and follows a young scientist who is desperately trying to discover a way to map and imprint memories in order to help her mother with Alzheimer’s regain her past. As you can guess, this scientist has something to do with the memory plague…

A well written, fast-paced book – I thoroughly enjoyed all the mind bending psychics (thankfully explained in a way that even a layman like me understood, for the most part, what was happening). The concepts of this novel were exceedingly fun to explore. Who are we? How much of our identity is tied to our past?

I don’t want to say more – as the mystery is key to enjoyment. And it’s an enjoyable book. And such a fabulous cover, too… love some holographic print!

A solid four stars.

Originally published: June 11, 2019
Author: Blake Crouch
Title: Recursion

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys

“Whether love of friend, love of country, love of God, or even love of enemy—love reveals to us the truly miraculous nature of the human spirit.” 
― Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Just finished “Between Shades of Gray” by Ruta Sepetys… it was horrible. And by horrible, I mean it was wonderful. It’s an excellent book about a terrible thing.

Here’s the basic plot: Russian troops round up all the teachers, the artists, the military leaders, the politicians and theologians and stuff them on train cars and ship them off to Siberia to work in the freezing cold and the polar night during WWII. Almost everyone died. On the trains, in the labor camps, in the cold, of starvation, in the snow dropping from starvation, of disease or NKVD cruelty… it’s rough.

There’s one scene where a little girl won’t get on the train and the soldiers shoot her doll in the head… I don’t know why, but I found that small act of cruelty just too much… the little girl then goes slightly mad and talks to the ghost of her doll for the duration of the book.

Anyways, back to the plot: The main character is Lina, an artist, who uses her art to send messages, win favors, record history and escape the world. Her mother and younger brother are also with her – while her father is segregated to another train and never seen again. The struggle for survival is brutal – and the slow progression of days is very well captured in the narrative. The flashbacks interspersed a needed reminder that once these people lived comfortable lives.

This book won tons of awards… I mean, the award list is long and international… and I must say, well deserved. But I’m grateful to be done with this book – as I hate the cold and have no desire to ever venture towards the earth’s poles, be it north or south, and if I never see snow again in my lifetime, I would not miss it. What can I say? As good as it was, I just can’t love it. I’d loved other books about miserable, cold, war experiences (City of Thieves, for example), but this one…

Going to read fantasy next… need to escape!

P.S. The movie is out now – it has been renamed “Ashes in the Snow”… to avoid confusion with 50 Shades of Gray, no doubt

RATING: 3.5 STARS

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Originally published: March 22, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction

THE WRATH AND THE DAWN by Renée Ahdieh

“This dangerous girl. This captivating beauty.
This destroyer of worlds and creator of wonder.” 
― Renee Ahdieh, The Wrath and the Dawn

The Wrath & The Dawn, how could you do this to me?

How could be… unfinished… when clearly you present yourself as a stand alone novel?

I thought we went into this relationship with clear expectations.

But noooooOOOOoooo!

No, you drew me with mischief and stories of the desert and madmen and magic. You made me love your cursed king and your wicked silver tongued heroine! The mad alchemy that created this gorgeous romance! The delicious chemistry between the lovers! The expanses of the imagination! You gave me everything I wanted and more!

And then you just abandon me in a burning city with no resolution.

Ack, the cruel betrayal!

Now I have to purchase book two?

Is it a duology? Will there be even more?

Am I happy or sad about this?!

ARRRGH!

The evil… the unspeakable evil…

(P.S. congratulations on your stunning debut novel, Mrs. Ahdieh, it deserves all its accolades and more!)

RATING: FOUR STARS

Title: Wrath of Dawn
Author: Renée Ahdieh
Originally published: May 12, 2015
Genre: Fiction, Retelling

 

THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char – responsible for one of the worst sentences I have ever read in my life.

Carolyn felt a little squirt of horror at that but she squelched it.

What can I say? I liked this book… and I kinda hated this book. It’s a conundrum.

Image result for the library at mount char by scott hawkins

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins is a truly original story. Not quite fantasy, not quite science fiction, not quite horror – but rather a sprinkling of all three. It’s the tale of an ancient being, god-like in power, who takes twelve children under his wing to raise in mysterious, ancient arts. Each child is assigned a certain category to study, a discipline, such as death – languages – war – animals – the future – and so on. In order to learn these arts, the god-like figure known only as “Father,” goes to cruel extremes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book’s wacky premise and characters. Unfortunately,  there were…. problems. It’s the author’s first book – and I almost feel it was the responsibility of his editor to point out the issues with the plot that tangled this story into such a mess towards the end. Hopefully Mr. Hawkin’s will continue to hone his craft and his next book will be an improvement.

SPOILERS FOLLOW…. if you’ve read it, or if you just like spoilers… please follow me into section two of of this review… . Continue reading

THE BLADE ITSELF by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie.

Image result for the blade itselfNever before have I enjoyed a book so much that failed to have even a semblance of a plot. Well developed characters, lush and rich world building, politics, history, even a little romance. But plot? Nope.

It’s baffling.

What does our main character Logan want? Our brute with a fine mind from the North, who turns into the Hulk when the bloodlust takes him? He… uh… well, he’s just following another guy around cause… uh… well.

Basically he’s just living life.

What does our main character Jezal want? That handsome devil, the spoiled nobility with natural athletic abilities? He wants… to be an important man in government one day. Vaguely. And maybe to win a tournament to be further admired. I guess.  He’s just avoiding difficulties, flirting a bit, fencing, looking down on people.

You know… living life.

What does our main character Glokta want? Our torturer, our cripple, our grumpy guss who lives in pain? Nothing. He doesn’t want shit. He’s just… passing the time.

Living life.

And there we have it. The three main characters. Just living life. Just existing.

Listen, living life is fine and dandy. We’re all just living life, aren’t we? But no one is gonna write a freaking book about me if that’s all I’m doing.

Image result for the blade itself incites to deeds of violenceThere are other characters – who actually have some more pressing ambitions and motivations. Politics. An ancient war or a new one. Vengeance. Things that could be a plot – if they were driving the story. I guess the Magi is driving and everyone else is just in the car at this point, no idea why they’re along for the ride, where they are going, or why it’s important. And that’s how the book ends!

So basically The Blade Itself is a very long character introduction. I know all the characters very well indeed. I just don’t know what they want. Or what the plot is. I kind of care a bit about all of them, so when a plot is introduced at some point… odds are I will care about it. But will our characters care about it? Or are they just going to be dragged around for the rest of the trilogy, only invested in the events because they’re being forced into the car? What does it mean to them?

If some big evil is brewing that might possibly wipe out their hometowns or life as they know it… I should feel that it would matter to these folks. I’m not sure it would. These three main characters are all the types who would probably have a long sit down and consider the merits of the Eye of Sauron.

It’s exasperating. Because it really is a fun book. The characters are fun, the dialogue is fun, the world is interesting. It just… doesn’t have a plot.

Whatever.

Image result for the blade itself incites to deeds of violence

Will I read the next book? Probably. But I’ll probably read something else first… and the more books I put between myself and this book, the more unlikely it is I will return to the story. So… who knows.

RATING: 4 out of 5. Even without a plot, I still liked it.

THE ELEMENTALS by Michael McDowell

I remember the first time I ran across one of the pictures from Kolmanskop, a German diamond mining town in Namibia, Africa. The pale faded paint of the walls, the sturdy frames of the doors, and the mounds of sand that had gently, but fatally, invaded the homes. It was haunting. Mysterious. Two worlds that are generally separate, collided.

It’s what drew me to the book The Elementals by Michael McDowell. The story of a haunted mansion slowly being overtaken by sand… by the elements… by the Elementals. I ordered a reprint and sat down to read this tale, set in the American Deep South, expecting a quick read. It’s a relatively thin book, after all. Instead, I found myself wading through a story that took me a few weeks to finish. I would read a bit, and sit it down… almost exhausted by the effort. Not that it wasn’t good – in fact, it was too good.

This book is a classic Southern gothic tale, complete with decaying mansions, thick summer heat, and generations of secrets.  The descriptions were spot on, especially when the author sought to capture that lazy, lull of summers in hot climates. The mind-numbing pleasantness of just lounging around in swimsuits on sandy towels, napping in rockers on front porches, whittling away at a puzzle on a table somewhere in the house at night while your family members are spread out… reading, napping, talking quietly. The hours lose meaning. Daylight and not daylight. You rearrange your schedule to fight against the hottest time of the day.

Written in the early 80s, this book is a glimpse into the past. Of gentility and vanity and denials. Of the gay son that no one ever, ever, not once, acknowledges as gay (even the author) though everyone, and I mean everyone, knows full well he is. Of the alcoholics that are doted on, of the affairs that are ignored, of the weak willed gentle natures of men who have grown up under domineering women. It’s a story about loyalty and family and how that never really looks like we’re taught it does.

And, of course, it’s a story about the supernatural. The unknown that is never knowable, no matter how thickly you drape religion over it or decorate it with superstitions. Some things can not be known.

Of everything in this story, that was what struck me most: The strange acceptance of and blindness to the unknown. There are three mansions hidden away off the Gulf Coast in Alabama, cut off from the world inside miles of private property between the oceans and lagoons. Each historic mansion is facing in a different direction, all three identical. Except one of them is being slowly overtaken by a dune of sand and for years the house has been empty, abandoned by its owners. A source of suspicion and sometimes terror, the two families that own the other homes do not approach it, even though it stands between them, visible from the windows of their home. They pass it every day. They live with it. And yet they just pretend like it isn’t there most days. It’s there and they do not wish to acknowledge it. They don’t even investigate who owns it, they’ve just accepted its strange and ominous presence in their lives. Just like the family alcoholics, the cheating spouses, the homosexual children, and any other issue they don’t want to address. It is ignored. A Victorian mansion sized elephant in the yard.

This story is very, very Southern. In the Deep South, in the 80s, you could call a woman Big Barbara as a term of endearment. The dialects, the traditions, the strange and fluctuating social rules of Southern families are captured to perfection in this book. And yes, through the modern lens you can definitely read the homophobia, the racism, and the patriarchy seeping through the pages – though I honestly do not believe the author meant to include them as such. You live in the times you live in. How the future will judge you for that… well, I’m sure the author would be curious to know. But he died before the turn of the 21st Century.

Michael McDowell. Screenwriter of Beetlejuice and the Nightmare Before Christmas. He wrote a few episodes for Tales from the Darkside and the script for Thinner. Born in 1950 and raised in Alabama, he went off to Harvard to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.  He seems to have stuck with his Southern roots and based most of his novels and short stories there before succumbing to an AIDS-related illness in 1999.

What was your life like, Michael? I kept wondering that, even as I was drawn into the story he’d written. Who is the man behind the words?

“Savage mothers eat their children up!” 

There is a coldness mixed in with the love in this novel. Children are left to fend for themselves, despite how well meaning their parents are. They grow up quickly. They take their secrets with them, to New York, to nunneries. They face horrors alone.

I highly recommend this novel, especially as a glimpse into Southern culture in the mid-20th Century. It’s also a really creepy read with some genuinely terrifying scenes. The ambiance of horror lingers in the shadows of every page. The Elementals, and their connection to the two families, are lost in time… buried in history, just like the third house. How much does anyone really know about their grandparents? About their great-great grandparents? About the ones before them?

We pass the torch. Some things change, other things linger. There are good days and bad days. And through it all, things we don’t want to know… and things we can’t know.

THE WOLF GIFT by Anne Rice

The Wolf Gift, Anne Rice’s foray into the mythology of werewolves, or Morphenkinder, is an amazing, agonizingly slow, frustratingly rambling book. It was full of details you wanted to know, didn’t know you wanted to know, and absolutely didn’t want to know. Much like… most Anne Rice books. But the poorly paced plot is so well written you don’t really mind… much like most Anne Rice books.

I loved to hate it. Let me tell you why….

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NIGHT FILM by Marisha Pessl

Every once in a while you stumble on a compulsively readable story. Sometimes it gets you right away, sometimes you don’t notice until you’re a hundred pages in, but you’re hooked – and you can’t stop. You literally can’t stop turning the pages. Exhaustion usually forces you – and you crawl into bed with your head swirling and wake up a few hours later feeling elated, thrilled about the prospect of jumping back into the story. You waste no time – you get yourself a cup of coffee and disappear into the page again.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl was a compulsive read. A heavy book, pages interspersed with journal articles, website screenshots, investigative notes, medical reports, and photographs. The pages were silky smooth, like quality printing paper. I picked it up randomly from my TBR pile last night… and read it until 2AM, when I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer… then picked it right back up this morning.

I was intrigued. I was haunted. I was picking up pieces of a puzzle, hearing echoes, listening to rumors and letting my imagination run wild. It’s a terrific mystery, in my opinion, changing shape as it gets bigger. Extremely fast paced and moving quickly around the chess board – you’re never sure if you’re the pawn or the queen. I loved it. I loved its rather ambiguous ending – What is true and what is myth?

Ironically, the characters are rather boring and cliche. In a way, this worked very well with the theme – that what we imagine, the stories we tell ourselves and are entertained by, reveal more of our true natures than our daily lives. None of the three main characters were that compelling – but what drove them, what caught them up in the mystery, how they each were pulled in by it and changed – that was fascinating. The people they encountered, the enigmas they attempted to decipher… the secrets, which often revealed themselves to be sour disappoints or shoddy ordinary events, doubled down on this theme – these things were dazzling and full of life. The mystery solved is boring. Answers do not enchant us – what ifs do.

So if you like mystery – and dark turns down darker passages – that don’t rely on descriptions of gore or horror, but rather the implication of such – then this book is for you.

Sovereign. Deadly. Perfect.

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EVERY EXQUISITE THING by Matthew Quick

Every Exquisite Thing is about a teenage girl whose teacher gives her a book – and how her obsession with that book, and the ideas inside it, drastically change her life.

Like all Matthew Quick novels, it’s a story about figuring out your head space, about determining who you are and making peace with it. The man knows what it is to be human – and that’s a glorious, horrible mess of experiences and horrors and monotony and expectations and hopefully some really nice moments where you have an epiphany or two.

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