A Cool Breeze on the Underground

Don Winslow’s A Cool Breeze on the Underground was a fun book to read. Neal Carey is a graduate student who works for a RI bank and fixes the wealthy clients’ problems. When a vice-presidential hopeful’s daughter runs away, Neal is brought it to find her, clean her up, and bring her back in time for the Democratic convention.

Neal heads to London, Allie’s last known whereabouts, to search the city for her. The charm of this novel is not just in the mystery that Neal is trying to solve, but how he got into this business in the first place. Neal’s upbringing was less than ideal and Joe Graham, who works for the bank, helped raise him into the cunning and great fixer that he is. The flashbacks show how Joe trained Neal in the art of detection, in creative and unorthodox ways. Neal uses his training to track down Allie and trap her all the while battling with the ethics of returning a runaway to the family she ran from.

This was a quick, fun read. Neal’s interactions with those around him are part of what makes this book a good read. He usually says what people want to say, versus what they should, and yet manages to stay in almost everyone’s good charms. He’s a fun character and gets himself into and out of very unusual circumstances.

Read November 2014.

Awakening

S.J. Bolton’s novel Awakening creeped me out. There are a lot of snakes in this book, venomous and not, and this novel should not be read by anyone who is terrified of snakes. With that said, I’ve never been particularly bothered by snakes and yet while reading this novel I saw snakes everywhere!! In the rain drops that moved the grass on the side of the road. In the roots that gnarled their way across my hiking trail. And I live in an area that doesn’t have many snakes, and yet I was freaked out.

So, with that disclaimer, this book was fantastic! Our heroine, Clara, was disfigured as a child and now tries to limit her experience with fellow humans and focuses her energy on her wild animals that she treats at the veterinary clinic. Unfortunately, her quiet village is being terrorized by venomous snakes and her neighbors seek her out for her reptile knowledge. When a non-indigenous, very deadly snake turns up in a neighbor’s home, Clara works with Matt, the local detective, and Sean North, a TV star who works with wild animals, to try to determine how these wild snakes are getting into homes and killing people.

Bolton include many elements into this mystery. Clara is also psychological mess allowing her disfigurement rule her life. Clara in her quest to understand how the victims are tied together, also uncovers a religious cult that many neighbors were part of over 50 years ago. As she tries to tie the past and present together, she becomes a target.

This was a great, scary crime novel!

Read November 2014.

Her Fearful Symmetry

Audrey Niffenegger tells the story of beautiful twins and how twin-ness can consume them. 20 years ago, Elspeth and Edie parted, never to be together agin, when Edie left her twin and England under strange circumstances that no one quite understood. Edie and her husband have twin daughters who are beautiful mirror images of each other, outside and inside. Julia is the strong willed twin and Valentina is more timid and sickly, and both are currently stagnating in their parents house.

When Elspeth receives a terminal diagnosis, she writes her will so her nieces will inherit everything with a caveat being that the girls must live in Elspeth’s apartment for a year and their parents are barred from entering the apartment.

Niffenegger creates a gothic novel with Julia and Velentina living a warped life, totally codependent on each other and their twin-ness. Once they move into Elspeth’s apartment, right next to the famous Highgate Cemetery, Niffenegger begins to show the differences between the 2 girls. Their symmetry and closeness only allows for one personality to thrive but there are 2 of them to contend with.

To add more strangeness to the story, Elspeth, who passed away early on, begins a second life trapped within her apartment walls. While the twins and Elspeth get to know each other, the story about why the mom and aunt are estranged remains a secret.

This ghost story delves into the supernatural and creates a reality that many hope exists, life after death. Although I cannot imagine anyone hoping that when they die they get trapped in their home to watch the next generation of twins living out a replica of their life. This is a strange, compelling story that I had a hard time putting down. And unlike many horror books that lose their audience with the final horrific reveal, in Her Fearful Symmetry, Niffenegger keeps the reader engaged and the story plausible until the end. Creepy as the end is, I still bought it and all the characterization throughout the novel lead the characters to making the choices they made and created the ending.

Great read! Read October 2014.

Fly Away Home

I’ve been mostly drawn to horror books lately. Maybe its the weather and the season. But this is the second Jennifer Weiner book I’ve read in the last two months, which must mean something. I think there’s something very personal and inviting in her novels, and Fly Away Home is no exception.

In this novel, the Woodruff family’s three women take turns telling their stories. The matriarch, Sylvie, has been the perfect politician’s wife for the past couple of decades. Her oldest daughter, Diana, has worked her whole life to be the perfect daughter and now is a successful doctor who is married with a son. Lizzie, the youngest, who has not fared as well and comes up short in the perfection department, has recently been released from rehab. With all the perfection in the family working hard for Senator Richard Woodruff, there’s not a lot of time for real emotion and love to be expressed.

It isn’t until Richard’s extramarital affair makes the news, that the perfect family has to struggle with the damage that perfection has caused. Finally free from the restrictions of her life, Sylvie hides at her Connecticut beach house and rediscovers parts of her that have been hidden behind the perfect facade. Diana, who is also having an extramarital affair, realizes that the appearance of a perfect marriage is far from her reality. She played it safe and is now seeking the passion that she missed out on. Lizzie is struggling with her black-sheet stigma and is trying to create a life for herself where she doesn’t have to hide behind her drugs. All three are seeking their true selves and once they start they can begin mending the family bonds that haven’t existed and all have missed.

Again, Weiner’s ability to capture her characters emotions and translate them to paper enchants me. There’s a lot of psychological messes that the characters struggle through so they can begin their lives again. This was an easy book to like and to read. I feel like I really know the characters when I finished. To me, thats a great way to end a book.

Read October 2014.

Frankenstein

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein went through multiple editions and changes, and the version I read is mostly based on the third edition from 1831 and some text from 1818. I learned that this story originated when Mary Shelley was holed up in a vacation home and the group decided to have a contest to see who could write the scariest story. Shelley was inspired to begin the Frankenstein story on that vacation and work at it through her life.

The novel itself was difficult for me to start due to the slow beginning and archaic language, but once we meet Frankenstein the story is fascinating. Shelley skips a lot of the details on how he created the monster just as Frankenstein skips over his responsibility in the creation. The monster, while feared at first, becomes an intelligent being who just wants what most of us want in life: companionship, love, family. The problem being that he’s a hideous creature from whom everyone runs. He wants to be good. He tries to be good. But the nature of man to fear him, changes him and turns him into the monster that everyone already thinks he is.

Its a very interesting story about how science brings man too close to being God-like, and man cannot handle the responsibility of creating life. Frankenstein immediately runs from his creation, beginning the downward spiral of his life. Shelley allows the reader to feel empathy and compassion to the monster, which Frankenstein cannot, by telling his story of what happened once abandoned by his creator.

This novel has survived for so long due to its originality and also because Shelley is questioning man’s role in the world. Should man strive to be God-life, or should he remain ignorant to protect himself. Its an interesting story told during a time of great scientific and medical breakthroughs, but its still relevant today in the discussion of GMOs. When should man stop interfering with the natural order.

Although difficult to read, I chose to read this since its one of the first horror novels written by a woman. This novel may have been heavily helped by her poet husband, Percy Shelley, but the idea and originality came from Mary Shelley. This book took me much longer to read than most others, but it was worth it.

Read October 2014

One Kick

Chelsea Cain’s newest character is not for the faint of heart. She introduces us to Kick Lannigan in One Kick and it is a memorable meeting.

Kick has not had a normal life. She was kidnapped at a young age to be transformed into a child porn starring in her own series of films where she is known by her alter ego Beth. It took a lot of isolation and torture to transform a regular 6 year old into a pedophile’s dream. Now 21, Kick is still dealing with issues from her abuse and dedicates herself to never being powerless again. She is strong and armed, no matter where she goes.

She is recruited by Bishop, who is looking into the recent disappearance of 2 children. Bishop, who has his own messed up childhood, is focused on finding the missing children in a separate investigation from the FBI. He has resources and methods that far exceed the government’s ability and he wants Kick’s memories and instincts to help located the children.

Cain writes of brutalities against children and this might turn off many readers. This is not an easy book to read, especially since so many details of her fiction are reality for some children. It breaks my heart to think that there are children in the world who have experienced Kick’s childhood and many who are never returned home. By having Kick as the main character, Cain explores the psychological response that a child might have to regular life. All the while engaging Kick in an investigation that threatens her life but might help save a child like her.

This is a hard, but great read. Cain is a great horror writer.

Read October 2014

Broken Monsters

I read Broken Monsters after reading an article where Stephen King, the kind of horror, recommended it. I was not disappointed.

What a story! Lauren Beukes has a handful of main characters that tell the story of a man succumbing to madness. But no matter who the narrator was, the city held the main stage. The decrepitness of the city, the population fleeing, the artists trying to dress up the crumbling houses, the homeless surviving on what’s left behind by those leaving, the children growing up while the landscape dies. All the characters are essential to this story but it wouldn’t be the same in another city. All the characters are witness to the descent of the city and the madman that is slowly terrorizing it, but they all have their own story to tell as well including single parenthood, failed aspirations, bullying, creating art, friendships, and priorities in life. Life must go on even when it seems like the city is over.

As we learn about how those living in a shrinking city are surviving and sometimes flourishing, we also get glimpses into madness. The madness should almost be its own character since it doesn’t seem to be a man, but something that controls man outside of himself.

This book is dark with an evilness that most novels stay away from. It is so well done and creepy with a ending that holds up and transforms the story. Great read!

Read September 2014.