Category: Trudi's reviews
Be careful who you slight
Slights by Kaaron Warren
After an accident in which her mother dies, Stevie has a near-death experience, and finds herself in a room full of people - everyone she's ever annoyed. They clutch at her, scratch and tear at her. But she finds herself drawn back to this place, again and again, determined to unlock its secrets. Which means she has to die, again and again. And Stevie starts to wonder whether other people see the same room...when they die (Product Description)
First of all, can I just say how much I love this cover? A bunch of new paperbacks arrived at the library a few months ago, and this immediately caught my eye for its supreme creepiness. For some reason it reminded me of that movie Jacob's Ladder, but I digress.
This is an exceptionally well-written book, with an original premise that's solidly executed, but reader beware: it is a dark, depressing, claustrophobic read that never lets up. It is a richly textured novel, quite literary, but also ruthless in its barbarity. This book will shock you and make you squirm, of that I am certain. It is a mystery wrapped up in devastating family secrets.
Stevie is a villain like no other I've read in a very long time. Getting inside her head is akin to cracking open a log on the forest floor and having all sorts of creepy crawlies come pouring out -- beetles, centipedes, maggots, you name it. The ick factor is off the charts. I wanted to feel sorry for her, find some reason for empathy, but she is just so completely rotten to her core that you can't. I'm telling you, you can't! Just when I felt myself starting to soften, my burgeoning empathy was squashed by a cruel or selfish word, thought or deed.
And it's not just Stevie: no one is likable in this book. There is no one to root for and I struggle with that kind of post-modern existential reading experience. I need a hero, or at least an anti-hero, someone with one redeeming quality to hang my hat on. But everyone is horrible. Maybe it's because they're seen through Stevie's eyes, but it doesn't matter because the end result is the same.
The first half of the novel reads like a coming-of-age story with lots of jagged edges. It's a slow build, but Stevie's reminisces are painful, ugly and uncomfortable to read because Warren's language is graphic, brutalizing, and scalpel sharp. Certainly not for everyone, but an intriguing and impressive debut.
Are you ready to go to a dark place?
by Gillian Flynn
I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it....Draw a picture of my soul and it’d be a scribble with fangs.
Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.
With her second novel, Gillian Flynn has become one of my favourite authors. She blends genres like a mad genius -- crime, mystery, the macabre, the grotesque, family dysfunction, small town Americana -- all the while taking the reader on dark and disturbing journeys, where the landscape is familiar yet strange, a conflicting barrage of soothing and hostile. Her characters are careful, textured, compositions of flesh and bone. Even when you think you know how it's all gonna end, she finds a way to surprise you. Such talent fills me with a deep and respectful awe. Flynn's prose is precise, cutting, and courageous -- she does not shrink away from the truth (or going for the jugular). This is storytelling on par with Flannery O'Connor and Shirley Jackson.
Read about Flynn's bestselling debut novel Sharp Objects.
Judge a book by its cover (December 2010)
Even though we're told we never should, I love judging books by their covers, and here's one that caught my immediate attention! When I first saw that antique "English" carriage, all I could think of was Rosemary's Baby. When I read what it was about -- changelings and the dark underworld called "Gentry" I was reminded of the film Labyrinth. Either way, I definitely want to read this!!
The Replacement (2010)
by Brenna Yovanoff
Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world.
Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate's baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs
In the dark with Stephen King
Full Dark, No Stars
by Stephen King
... in the dark with Stephen King ... there ain't no place I'd rather be!!
If you really want to give the gift of the heebie-jeebies this holiday season, then you really want to make sure your loved one has a copy of Stephen King's four new novellas waiting for them under the Christmas tree.
The title really sets up the collection well -- make no mistake, these are dark tales, in places gruesome and hard to read. All of these stories feature ordinary characters forced to make awful choices. What choices! And this is why I love King -- he'll find the horror -- the real, true, white-knuckling, knee-buckling horror -- in the most ordinary of places amongst the most ordinary of people. His scariest stories are often the ones you know could really happen.
In the Afterword, King writes:
I want to provoke an emotional, even visceral, reaction in my readers. Making them think as they read is not my deal...if the tale is good enough and the characters vivid enough, thinking will supplant emotion [only] when the tale has been told and the book set aside.
If that is his goal, he succeeds brilliantly here because when in the fierce, unrelenting grip of these stories you are not thinking, but feeling -- terror and repulsion mostly. It's a visceral experience all right. In places I was sucked into an almost fugue state where I forgot to breathe, because I was in the story, as if it were happening to me rather than as a third-party voyeur safely removed from the action. These stories will haunt me, as will the choices contained therein.
1922: Beware the Conniving Man!!! This story has lots of gooshy parts and if you have a rat phobia, it may just land you in a straight jacket. What is it with King and abandoned wells? ::shiver:: So how far would you go to get your way? To maintain your life as you know it? When is someone worth more to you dead than alive? What I love most about this story is that it shows getting what you want often comes with too heavy a price tag -- it's the Monkey's Paw conundrum.
Big Driver: This was my least favourite of the four, if only because of the subject matter -- rape and vigilantism. It's a simple story, with a fairly predictable ending. Where the story's strength lies is in King's exploration of rape victim psychology. How Tess feels and reacts to what happens to her is how I imagine a lot of women think and feel in that situation. I hope I never have to find out. This one is a real nail-biter though, total edge of your seat stuff.
Fair Extension: The shortest of the four, but wicked and horrible. It's the classic Deal with the Devil scenario, but unlike you've ever seen it. What if all the things you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, suddenly befell them at your behest? I think the most shocking part of this story for me isn't that Dave Streeter makes the deal, but that he becomes so gleefully accepting of the fallout. Not once is there a twinge of guilt. What does Streeter do? Pull up a front row seat and watch it all unfold up close and personal.
A Good Marriage: While Lisey's Story will remain King's final, beautiful, haunting word on marriage, this novella shares some worthy insights too, both soft and jagged. You can know someone, but you can never really know them. Is it possible to keep a secret from the one person who knows you and loves you best? You bet. This is my favourite of the four novellas, and I think the perfect choice to end the book. It's archetypal horror - Pandora's Box and Bluebeard are mentioned in its pages and with good reason. Is it better to know, or not to know? When presented with a secret, do we snoop or let sleeping dogs lie? When we snoop, and what we find is so horrific, what is our moral duty? Legal responsibility? To our children? To our society? I don't know what I would do in Darcy Anderson's position. Even when she went poking into that box, my heart was pounding. I was truly terrified by what she was going to find, and since I was feeling and not thinking, I was totally shocked by what she did find. In the moments leading up to the revelation, I was in no position to guess. I had to keep remembering to breathe!!!
Numbers (2010) New!
by Rachel Ward
Whenever Jem meets someone new, no matter who, as soon as she looks into their eyes, a number pops into her head. That number is a date: the date they will die.
Burdened with such an awful awareness, Jem avoids relationships. Until she meets Spider, another outsider, and takes a chance. But while they’re waiting to ride the Eye Ferris wheel, Jem notices that all the other tourists in line flash the same number. Today’s number. Today’s date.
What pushed this book from good to great for me, is the dark and gritty subtext going on here between the lines. Jem's and Spider's world is not a kind one -- their story represents all those underprivileged, disenfranchised kids who fall through the cracks to end up working dead-end jobs, addicted to drugs, serving time, or dead. It's not a pretty picture, and while Ward is writing from a clearly British perspective, I feel it's not all that different in Canada either -- born into poverty, drugs, and violence and most likely that's where you stay. The cycle is a vicious one and very hard to break.
But this rip-roaring page-turner is more than just a social critique of the English class system, it's a story of a young girl with a very unusual problem -- once she makes eye contact with you she knows the exact date of your death. That's a great hook and as soon as I heard about this book I just knew I had to read it. It doesn't disappoint. Jem is wonderful -- prickly, antisocial and with a huge chip on her shoulder, but lovable nonetheless. She's been "through the shit" and has every right to be weary and leery. It's only until she meets Spider that all that begins to change for her. And oh how I love the gangly ADHD Spider, who jitters and jives to the music in his head, never able to quite shut up or sit still.
What I love about this book is that it forces us to contemplate our own mortality (terrain most teens eat up and are comfortable with) but grown-ups often run away from. If each of us started our lives knowing exactly when we were going to die, would it change how we live? Would any of us want to know? I'm fairly certain I wouldn't. I know it's going to happen "someday" but it's freeing to not know exactly when. Knowing would somehow suck the life out of the time that's left, rather than make it more precious. I think. And you gotta respect a book that makes you think.
Author of Speak tackles tough topic in new book
Laurie Halse Anderson
Summary: Eighteen-year-old Lia comes to terms with her best friend's death from anorexia as she struggles with the same disorder.
Anderson is the bestselling author of teen fiction, including multiple award-winner Speak, which became an instant classic, reaching out and resonating with teens in a meaningful way.
Wintergirls isn’t an easy book to read. It’s powerfully sad and unflinching in its look at sufferers of eating disorders and distorted body images. I can’t stress enough how important this story is, not just for the young people who are currently suffering, but those who are in recovery, and for all those who love them.
From Booklist (Starred Review):
Problem-novel fodder becomes a devastating portrait of the extremes of self-deception in this brutal and poetic deconstruction of how one girl stealthily vanishes into the depths of anorexia. Lia has been down this road before: her competitive relationship with her best friend, Cassie, once landed them both in the hospital, but now not even Cassie’s death can eradicate Lia’s disgust of the "fat cows" who scrutinize her body all day long....Struck-through sentences, incessant repetition, and even blank pages make Lia’s inner turmoil tactile, and gruesome details of her decomposition will test sensitive readers. But this is necessary reading for anyone caught in a feedback loop of weight loss as well as any parent unfamiliar with the scripts teens recite so easily to escape from such deadly situations.
Revisiting a heavenly read
The Five People You Meet in Heaven
by Mitch Albom
Summary: Eddie is a war veteran who feels trapped in a meaningless life of fixing rides at an amusement park. On his 83rd birthday he is killed in a tragic accident as he tries to save a little girl from a falling cart. He awakes in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a destination, but a place where your life is explained to you by five people.
The Mad Hatter says: I didn’t read this book when everyone was championing its readability, its imagination, its magical splendor. Nor did I read it when the inevitable backlash kicked in, when it was accused of being trite, overly sentimental manipulative dreck, one of the worst books to be foisted upon Western literature. The fervor has since died down on both sides and at last this book found its way to me. Which side would I fall on?
Well I must be a sentimentalist, for I just absolutely loved it. I thought it resonated with profound emotion and insight into the human condition. Humans aren’t that complicated, but we sure do have a way of making things so. A life lived is filled to the brim of hurt feelings, misunderstandings, misplaced grudges … we carry the burden of guilt over things we had no control over to begin with. Always, we seem confused by life and our place in it, plagued by pernicious doubts about what we didn’t do, what we failed to try, to say, to give.
Mitch Albom’s version of heaven is a wondrous, engaging concept – without being preachy or overtly recognizable as any particular faith. I appreciated that. If we’re lucky, we all believe in something, and it will be that something that waits for us when our life on this particular plane is through. Who would my five people be, and what they would teach me?
Her Fearful Symmetry
By Audrey Niffenegger
In the Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger does something unique and wonderful to the concept of time travel and weaves a story so transfixing I will remain haunted by it for the rest of my reading life. She attempts to achieve a similar feat with Her Fearful Symmetry, only this time Niffenegger tackles ghosts – and in its way this novel is a ghost story unlike any ghost story I have read.
Elsepth’s afterlife experience essentially "haunting" her flat in London and those she has left behind is poignant and rich in detail. Her evolution from a vague mist into a defined presence able to make small changes in the physical world that surrounds her is engaging and well told. However -- and this is a big however -- the rest of the novel falls apart around this promising nugget.
I could not identify with any of the eccentric and bereft characters that populate this book. The estrangement between Edie and Elspeth seems contrived and I just did not buy “the big reveal” at the end regarding their history, finding it immensely disappointing and wholly unsatisfying.
The twin relationship between Julia and Valentina screamed unhealthy and drove me nuts because I couldn’t think of two rational women behaving in this dysfunctional way, identical twins or not. There had been no separation, no maturation, to the point where each young woman was emotionally and mentally stunted. You would think that would somehow make them interesting, but it really doesn’t. In the end I found them pathetic rather than sympathetic.
This story really did have the makings of a fabulous Gothic tale – weird sisters, love triangles, a ghost, and the ghostly ability to rip out the soul from a living body. It just didn’t quite make it. Grade: C+
by Lori Lansens
Find Lori Lansens in the RPL catalogue
Plot Summary: The story of Rose and Ruby Darlen, conjoined twins born in a rural farming community in 1974. To some they are freaks, monsters or witches. But to most in small-town Leaford, they are known simply as "The Girls".
I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to a beguiling moon. I’ve never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that. I’ve never driven a car. Or slept through the night. Never a private talk. Or solo walk. I’ve never climbed a tree. Or faded into a crowd. So many things I’ve never done, but oh, how I’ve been loved.
Enchanting and heartwarming. Great character development. While this is essentially Rose's story, her conjoined twin Ruby weighs in periodically with her no-nonsense thoughts and observations on practical matters. Her approach is quite distinctive from Rose's literary sensibilities, who leans towards keen observations on life's larger meaning. Both girls speak with their own unique voices and I fell in love with each of them for very different reasons.
On the surface, The Girls tells the story of conjoined twins and the challenges of living as such, but really, it's a story we can all identify with: one of growing up, finding our way, and uncovering essential things about the people who love us best. It's about paying attention to the little things, of embracing life, and that this living is not a dress rehearsal. As far as each of us knows, we get one shot, mistakes, warts, glories and all. Make it count.
Compelling fiction at its best
The Kindness of Strangers
by Katrina Kittle
Book Jacket Description:
A young widow raising two boys, Sarah Laden is struggling to keep her family together. But when a shocking revelation rips apart the family of her closest friend, Sarah finds herself welcoming yet another troubled young boy into her already tumultuous life.
This was a tough read because of its subject -- child sexual abuse -- but Kittle handles her narrative with skill and imbues her characters with dignity. Once begun, I could not put it down ... I was totally riveted by the events as they unfolded, and started to care about the characters involved almost immediately. It helps that Kittle alternates the chapters so that the story is told from four major points of view -- Danny, Jordan, Sarah and Nate. Readers get to know each of these characters intimately, their thoughts and motivations. Kittle does not rush her revelations, creating enormous tension throughout.
Descriptions of the abuse are graphic and upsetting, but the overall message in the novel is one of hope and perseverance and triumphing in the face of tragedy. Humans are remarkably resilient creatures and this story beautifully illustrates that. While this is a work of fiction, I remained chilled to my core all while I was reading it thinking of the children who will face such trauma for real.
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