Wednesday, September 29, 2010
From the very beginning of the very first lines, one feels as if they are on a one way trip on a speeding train that is quickly picking up even more speed on its way to a fiery and spectacular wreck--and, as they say, it's hard to rip one's eyes away from a train wreck. One knows this cannot end well for a narrator who has already survived what no one should have to survive.
The narrative unfolds in three alternating parts: there are the chapters that recount the events that take place in the present of the novel; these are interspersed between chapters that recount the events and months leading up to the emotional train wreck that takes place at least four years in the past. These chapters are also interspersed with those that tell the story of the family tragedy that occurred several years before that and that set the stage for the emotional train wreck that occurred four years in the past.
Katherine's a young, single mother now and she's trying to raise a little girl without letting the grief, sorrow and tragedy that defines her also define and stain her little girl's life. Years after her sister, Rachel's, murder Katherine moves to the city, changes her name and is determined to remain as anonymous as possible in order to finish high school. She's vowed to keep to herself, to keep her secrets even closer and to maintain a solitary existence at school. Instead beautiful, popular Alice singles out Katherine to befriend. Soon Alice introduces Katherine to Robbie, Alice's maltreated boyfriend, who loves Alice despite the toxicity of their relationship. The three become a tight and inseparable trio. Under Alice's magnetic, charming, kind and generous exterior there are disturbing cracks in the perfect facade she presents to the world. The fissures in Alice's personality run deep and dark and hide the disturbing and devastating secrets that she keeps from her friends. Too late Katherine realizes that Alice's shiny magnetism hides cruel narcissistic and cold streaks that run deep and manifest themselves in brutal acts of cruelty, selfishness, infidelity and other betrayals that threaten both Robbie and Katherine. Robbie knows well Alice's moods and tendencies but he loves her and is willing to endure them if it means Alice will remain in his life, but Katherine, still vulnerable in the wake of her sister's murder, is only beginning to learn just what Alice is capable of.
Katherine's story of her sister's murder--the event that changed her forever right down to the very fiber of her being--is breathtaking and heart-pounding in its terror. The terror, the darkness, and the uncertainty of what's to come for her and her sister that night is vividly portrayed just as the dark twistedness of what Alice has planned for Katherine permeates each chapter of the novel. And when Alice's own secrets and her endgame are finally laid bare, it is devastating, brutal, insane, and diabolical.
I highly recommend you try this novel.
--Reviewed by Ms. Angie
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Food For The Dead: On The Trail of New England's Vampires is written by Rhode Island folklorist Michael E. Bell; it was published about ten years ago--way before the current vampire craze spawned by Twilight and True Blood and their compatriots. The author spent two decades tracing the origin of the legends of New England's vampires, and the New England legend is not your stereotypical, Hollywood vampire.
Bell uses interviews, newspaper and other published accounts, as well as town records to research various local, Rhode Island vampire legends. He also utilizes genealogical research to trace the origin of several vampire legends back to a single Rhode Island family. Bell paints an intriguing, fascinating and, at times, puzzling picture of Rhode Island's own vampire legend.
In eighteenth and nineteenth century America a bloody, deadly and mysterious ghoul was stalking its citizens, indeed, entire families in some instances: this was the ever dreaded disease consumption, now known as tuberculosis. In New England when certain families lost multiple members in quick succession to the disease and when medicine and science failed to stop the disease's progressive death march, a community determined the most likely recently deceased corpse that's wandering from its grave to visit its family members who then fall ill, waste away, and die. The community then exhumes said corpse, performs an autopsy to see if blood still exists in the heart and if it does--a sure indication that the corpse is undead--they cut out the heart and burn it to ash. In some instances the ashes are then fed to sick family members in order to cure them of the wasting disease. It is both a desperate and a gruesome act undertaken by a community at its wit's end that hoping to save itself before the disease spreads beyond a family to decimate the community.
For me the most enjoyable parts of this book are the ones that recount Bell's many interviews with the locals--historians, descendants of involved families--and his searches for corroborating genealogical, newspaper and other documentation to prove that the families named in these legends actually existed. The parts that analyze the spread of folklore tradition, the historical account of consumption, etc. while necessary and insightful, serve to slow down the narrative. Especially interesting to me were the genealogical connections that emerged from his research to show how many of the various families involved in several legends are linked through marriage and community connections.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys folklore, an unusual vampire legend, local history and genealogy.
--Reviewed by Ms. Angie
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb is a spooky ghost story. Spooky. Creepy.
One day out of the blue Hallie James receives a bewildering and shocking missive from an attorney on Grand Manitou Island, Michigan, that shatters everything she ever knew about her past and about her father. The letter claims that Hallie's mother, Madlyn Crane, a famous photographer, has not been dead for thirty years as her father, who refused to speak of her mother, maintained. What's more the lawyer says Crane has only recently died and he needs to speak to Hallie regarding her mother's will. Hallie finds that not only did her mother, Annie, not die in a house fire three decades ago, but that wasn't even her name--and Hallie and her father have been living under assumed names all these years. Unfortunately her father's unable to shed light on why he fled the island all those years ago and faked their deaths because he's deep in the weeds of early onset Alzheimer's.
Upon her return to the island in blustery November, Hallie finds a close knit, insular, suspicious community and an isolated, long extinct way of life. From the moment she sets foot on the island, Hallie sees visions and strange things happen to her. Can Hallie see ghosts and visions of the past? Is someone playing tricks on her? Or is she going mad?
Hallie is immediately confronted by the cloud of mystery and suffering that hangs over the island due to the thirty year old unsolved murder of one of Hallie's childhood girlfriends in which her father was heavily implicated. She decides that for her to live peacefully on the island, she needs to get to the bottom of the mystery in order to clear her father's name. Meanwhile, Iris, the ancient and creepy housekeeper who kept house and history for Hallie's mother's family tells Hallie the spooky, odd, and tragic tale of her great-grandparents, her grandfather and Hallie's own tale--the tale of Halycon Crane.
In general this is a well-drawn story. There are places the writing is a bit sappy with its turn of phrase, while in others it rises above this to show the author's potential. Ghost story lovers who appreciate a splash of romance with the spooks and scares will love this tale.
--Reviewed by Ms. Angie
Thursday, September 2, 2010
I just finished Spider Bones--the latest release in Kathy Reichs' Dr. Temperance Brennan series. It was on my own personal list of (in some cases very highly) anticipated summer blockbuster book releases. I look forward to some book releases with a higher degree of trepidation, anticipation and excitement than I do most movie releases. In some cases (this means you Karin Slaughter, S.J. Bolton, John Connolly and this summer, Tess Gerritsen), I'm nearly beside myself with obsessing over what the next book will be about and what will happen to the characters (this is especially true for the series I read).
This summer was an especially busy summer of book releases. It began in May with Brunonia Barry's The Map of True Places, her follow up to The Lace Reader (which in the end didn't live up to her debut but was still good nonetheless). Then came Broken by Karin Slaughter--it did not disappoint. Karin Slaughter never disappoints. John Connolly's The Whisperers and Tana French's Faithful Place both dropped the same July day. I've read The Whisperers and just received Faithful Place this week (it's on the pile at home to read).
Joshilyn Jackson's Backseat Saints was released in early June. I haven't read it. I had it for several weeks and when I finally bit the bullet and started it, I couldn't finish it. A review I'd read earlier turned me off of that one, and I couldn't abide the narrator so I ditched it after a couple chapters. I may come back to it later or I may not. Spider Bones finally came in. I'm now only waiting for Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen. I'm number one on the reserve list so someone better hurry up and return their copy so I can get it already. Ice Cold is the title that I've been beside myself about ever since I read Amazon's synopsis a few months before its release. I hope that what it says is going to happen in that book is a big fake out or that review will be one long freak out and sob fest the likes of which haven't been seen since I read Slaughter's Beyond Reach. No one saw that twist coming and its reverberations are still being felt two books later (and I still can't believe Slaughter did what she did! Karin Slaughter, you know what I'm talking about!).
On to Spider Bones. Much as I love the series--book and TV--I'm beginning to think that Kathy Reichs isn't half the writer that Karin Slaughter or John Connolly are. This suspicion has been sneaking its way through my brain for the past few installations of the Brennan series. I can't help but wonder if the early books are the same as the later ones or if its just that my tastes and critiques have become more discerning. One thing I must say for the series: the books are quick reads. I read Spider Bones in two days. It is a fast developing, page turning read. I've decided that Brennan is neurotic at times and when this quality comes through it grates a little on my nerves. She's at her best when she's not quite so chipper and neurotic.
The body of John Lowery, a Vietnam veteran, is pulled from a lake in Quebec, Canada. He's the victim of a bizarre autoerotic asphyxiation stunt gone horribly awry except Lowery returned from Vietnam in a flag draped casket and is currently planted in the cemetery in his hometown in North Carolina. Thus begins the mother of all complicated story lines.
Brennan is called in to identify the remains in Quebec and then to exhume the remains in NC and then to accompany them to the military's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii. Their mission is to identify remains of unidentified soldiers and locate the remains of unaccounted for soldiers from past military conflicts in which the US has been involved and then return them home. Upon arrival at JPAC Brennan is tasked with assisting in the re-identification of the remains exhumed in NC. Before long more digging and research yield another set of unidentified remains left in storage at the facility since the '70's that are also linked to Lowery, whose dog tags are found with remains.
So. Who does this third set of remains belong to? How much more complicated can this plot get? It turns out--a lot. I'm still not sure I have it all straight. And to top it off there are two other subplots vying for attention in this novel--three if you count the off-again, possibly heading toward on-again, romance between Brennan and her boy wonder detective Ryan. It all adds up to one jam packed, over stuffed story that careens toward a rather quick and tidy resolution that comes off as implausible and a little rushed.
This will not disappoint long time Brennan/Reichs fans.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Then all of a sudden there's a flash of white in front of the car. Lindsay yells something--words I can't make out ... suddenly the car is flipping off the road and into the black mouth of the woods. I hear a horrible, screeching sound--metal on metal, glass shattering, a car folding in two--and smell fire. I have time to wonder whether Lindsay had put out her cigarette--
That's when it happens. The moment of death is full of heat and sound and pain bigger than anything, a funnel of burning heat splitting me in two, something searing and scorching and tearing, and if screaming were a feeling it would be this.
from page 80
Before I Fall is the heart wrenching debut novel by Lauren Oliver. I first read about it in BookPage, and then looked it up on Amazon for more information. Recently one of the county libraries acquired a copy and I put a reserve in for it and was surprised at the thickness of the book when it arrived. It has some heft to it.
Samantha has it all: three great best friends, a cute boyfriend, good grades, a nice family and hard won popularity in school. One night there's a party where they've been drinking and where there's a been a bewildering, disturbing and upsetting confrontation between her friends and Juliet Sykes, a girl they've cruelly dubbed "Psycho" and ostracized at school. On the way home Samantha and her friends, Lindsay, Ally, and Elody, get into a horrific car wreck in which Samantha dies a hot and painful death. The next morning she wakes up in her bedroom convinced it's all been a really bad dream until she realizes it's still Friday, February 12, and she still has the rest of the day to get through before she dies again.
In seven chapters the following seven days unspool a mystery surrounding the circumstances that led up to her death. Can Samantha change her last day enough to alter her fate? Or is she doomed to die young? And why has she been given this chance to relive her last day over seven times?
As Samantha's mysterious week unfolds she realizes the ripple effects that each change and event of the day elicits and a picture emerges--an unflattering one of the popular crowd and how they treat others on the outside of their circle. It's revealed that even the popular girls have their own secrets about which they do not speak, not even among themselves.
The book explores the effects the popular crowd has on the school environment and the little cruelties that build up into a mountain of hurt in a teen's life--a mountain that seems insurmountable. It is also an extremely, poignantly beautiful coming of age story for Samantha, who has only a week to do what others get a lifetime of chances for.
I highly recommend you pick up this book.
--Reviewed by Ms. Angie