DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn lived up to it's title, but not in the way I first expected. This is not so much a story about devil worship as it is about poverty and where it can lead under the worst circumstances. I love the protagonist, Libby Day, she is outside the box of conventional main characters. Short, plain looking, and without much of a will to do anything, she listlessly cashes checks from a fund created for her after the murder of her family. And she is mean, without apology. It is through her history that you become sympathetic, you get the feeling she never really had a chance. Even if her mother and sisters were not murdered, her brother in prison for committing the crime, you get the idea her life would have been one filled with sorrow and desperation. The Day family are poor, their clothes aren't new, the son is a janitor at his own high school. Things are okay for the girls in grade school, but the pressures of high school under such circumstances, along with a penchant for bad luck, quickly put the family on the path to total destruction. Along with this great social commentary is a pretty strong mystery. If the book was strong throughout, the ending cinched my feelings that this is a book to be had!
I was pretty disappointed with THE HUNGER GAMES. For example, there was so much anticipation as to where the children would be sent for the games, but very sparse description once they were there. And for being Hunger games, they were never really so. You never got the idea they were suffering, it was rather ho-hum. This pretty much sums up my complaint of the book, a building up of suspense and a general letdown upon delivery. It's sad because there's a lot of potential here, but an uninteresting story. You get the idea that there's a coming of age, romantic interlude, but it's impossible to believe any of the characters actually have any feelings! If you want a good post-apocalyptic story about children participating in reality games gone too far, go for THE LONG WALK, an earlier work by Stephen King, on par with the great Orwell!
(Assuming you've read the publisher's summary) It's hard to review a book as good as TREE, I'm going to keep it short. The era, early 1900s in Brooklyn is lovingly and smartly rendered. I'm thinking that Frank McCourt was a Betty Smith fan, as there are many reminiscent moments from his book ANGELA'S ASHES. However, Smith is a bit more gentle as she leads you through the poor Irish tenements. The writing is very straightforward, as are the characters and place. With that, it's not a simplistic novel in any way. Another reviewer said that any well read person shouldn't miss this one, and I completely agree. Terrific narration as well.
(Assuming you have read the publishers summary) This is a pretty good book. I've read or listened to most of his works and at times can get a little sick of the upbeat attitude and good luck of his downtrodden characters. Four Fires has this problem, but the story ultimately won me over. Courtney has a gift for descriptive writing and vivid characters, and he has put the gift to full use. Like the people, the places are also fully fleshed out and nuanced. I'm feeling a trilogy coming on... If you have never treated yourself to Bryce Courtney I suggest beginning with THE POWER OF ONE or BROTHER FISH. If you are a fan wondering if this is a gem or a dud, I recommend it. Also, as usual, great narration from the wonderfully gifted Humphrey Bower. There is a lot of dialogue in this book and I'm amazed at his ability to create unique voices for everyone and keep them all straight.
In 1963 there is a village called Scarsdale where time still exists in a feudal system as it has for hundreds of years. The Squire still owns the land and reigns supreme in general as an overlord. Only this squire has inherited his position and isn't from the village, making him an unpopular outsider. When his teenaged step daughter goes missing his reluctant cooperation with investigators makes him even more loathsome to everyone, especially George Bennett, lead detective on the case.
This is a village mystery holding hands with a police procedural. George Bennett is new to the area, his wife pregnant with their first child, but he can think of little else beyond the case. In fact the case will shape his destiny. The picturesque village is a tight knit community, an extended family in reality. They don't trust the cops, or anyone else for that matter. They're in a tough position because the distrust is innate, but they want to find Alison's killer and bring them to justice.
This is a story of a young boy on a quest. Johnny's twin sister Alyssa has been missing for a year and the case seems to have been shelved. His father has walked out on him and his mother has spiraled into a pit of miserable self-destruction. Johnny is forlorn, but refuses to give up and tirelessly searches for his lost sister.
There are some great characters in this book. Jack is his best friend, ailing from a deformed arm, is full of attitude. The boys cut class, drink beer and smoke cigarettes on the riverbank. Their lives are complex and this is a reminder that life is not always simple in adolescence
Johnny is parent to his drug-addled mother, a beautiful and helpless waif. He steals her car to go across town to the cheap super market where he buys the bare essentials, fixes her coffee and an egg. It is a soulful relationship, and again captures a true scene of a darker Americana.
THE LAST CHILD has its share of villains, but at its center is Ken, upstanding pillar of the community, abuser and drug enabler to Johnny's mom. He's a creepy sicko whose power and influence make him formidable.
Clyde Hunt is lead detective of a small North Carolina town. He is haunted by his failure to discover the whereabouts of Johnny's missing sister. Obsessed with Johnny and his mother, he is under the scrutiny of ambitious coworkers and a self-serving boss. While he seems intelligent and respected to a degree, he is a doomed man on the verge of a crash and burn. He has a case file of Johnny's sister Alyssa sitting permanently on his desk at home, yet there never seems to be a clue. Until a year later another girl goes missing.
The story unfolds not through the eyes of a single protagonist, but elegantly from the perspective of many. I'm a fan of stories involving adolescents; most recently a favorite was THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWETELLE. THE LAST CHILD shared elements of a Shakespearean tragedy, full of politics, love, redemption, and loss.
I loved, loved, loved this story. A smartly written tale of a frontier planet and what happens when the Little Fuzzy reveal themselves to the people living there. Are they animals or a more evolved being, and what of it? The question is meted out very wittily by H. Beam Piper and the ensuing drama is beyond entertaining. On the light side, I was totally charmed by this classic. The narrater was absolutely brilliant, using many different voices that sound not at all alike. Amazing talent.
A QUIET BELIEF IN ANGELS by R J Ellory
The town of Augusta Falls is in pain. It must come to terms with the rise of Hitler's power and the dawning of WWII. To the town's inhabitants, this is mostly a psychological war. If they don't feel directly the affects of mass murderer, Adolf Hitler, they have their very own serial killer in their midst. They are plunged into depression and a dark fugue as young girls are brutally slain. The main protagonist, Joseph Vaughn, seems doomed.
It's hard to write a review worthy of A QUIET BELIEF IN ANGELS. The novel seems created by some mythical hybrid, Truman Capote and John Steinbeck. An unthinkable crime befalls a bucolic town, sprawling landscapes, schoolhouses, and murdered girls abound. I'm not sure this book is for everyone. It's very intense and introspective. For example there is a lot of repetition, but Ellory digs a deep well of emotion. Also, it's not just sad, it's morose. Given the quality of the novel, I'm willing to make allowances for aspects some people might consider flaws. R. J. Ellory is not only a master of language, but also an excellent researcher. His first person narrative feels truly authentic. The book seems as though it was indeed written by someone from the era where the book takes place. My personal feeling is that this is one of the best books I've come across in a long time.
P.S. The narrator is amazing!
Mankell is known for unhurried, almost real-time, procedurals. It's easy to see his detectives working on a case, drinking stale coffee in a bleak office somewhere in a small, bitterly cold city in Sweden. Everyone's always grabbing their jacket, but that's what would happen, isn't it? His juxtaposition of the bleak Nordic life and the horror of a violent crime is stark in a fantastic way. In some of his books, ONE STEP BEHIND and SIDETRACKED this style was absolutely brilliant. In other books I felt these same devices were overdone. I still can't say I disliked anything of his since I appreciate his writing. In THE MAN FROM BEIJING I think he has taken his writing to another level. I'm sure some purists will lament in the more upbeat tempo, but don't worry, he still takes his time. There is a lot of Chinese history, which I thought was very interesting and interwoven into the story well. His main protagonists are women, a detective, a judge-cum-sleuth, and a person of some indeterminate, but high rank in China. Mankell has always had strong women characters, and I'm glad to see him base a novel from a female perspective. As usual he has a lot to say about the world's state of affairs, with an emphasis on society and it's woes. (He doesn't take it to an Ayn Rand level, which I appreciate because there can only be one of her!) Here he takes a micro and a macro view. The underlying story is great, a bloody mass murder in a tiny Swedish hamlet, just so all you purists are happy! Of course I can find flaws, for example, the evil psychopath isn't empathetic enough Also, the plot gets a little wild at times, but I'm fine with these minor shortcomings since I'm finding the novel as a whole so entertaining. P.S., I'm only 3/4 way through, so I can't comment on the end!
I've been interested in Mormonism and polygamy, and have read several books on the subject. This book fell short of the others, not without being interesting. SHATTERED DREAMS is a memoir by Irene Spencer, a second wife who goes in her tender teens to live in a sect in Mexico. Her story is incredible and quite painful to imagine living, but it was the subject herself I had trouble with. She seems to have no issue with the marrying off of young girls to men much older or the inferior position of women in general--unless it relates to herself. When she describes having to have more wives added to her family, the only problem she has with it is her jealousy, that she will have to share. I guess I was somehow under the impression that this would be a scathing view of a Mormon sect, but it's really not. In fact I found myself thinking this woman should just get herself together and stop whining! Either you're in or you're out! I thought the book was good in revealing the capacity of humans and culture, but it was too long and should have been edited A LOT.
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