Book Talk – the Making of Gabriel Davenport by Beverley Lee

The Making of Gabriel Davenport by Beverley Lee came out on April 1, 2016 and I read it August 15-16, 2017.

A synopsis, from Amazon:

In a house built on truth something lays hidden. Beth and Stu Davenport moved to the English hillside town of Meadowford Bridge to give their young son, Gabriel, an idyllic, rural childhood. But in a single evening, the Davenports’ dream is shattered by a hidden, ancient darkness– and their lives are forever changed. Years later, Gabriel Davenport, now a capable, curious young man, makes the ill-fated decision to go looking for answers about his mysterious past. As soon as he begins his quest, his life becomes a place of shadows. The people he loves and trusts are acting abnormally. The strange woman who lives upstairs is even more haunted than usual. Even his most trusted friend seems to be hiding something. As one fateful night deepens, and the line blurs between darkness and light, Gabriel must confront the terrible events that destroyed his family all those years ago. He is faced with a choice: continue living the life that was never his to begin with, or give himself over to a terrifying new reality more sinister than anything he’s ever known. The darkness is watching.


This book is part ghost/haunted house, part demonic threat, and part vampire stories. It makes for a satisfying read because if you like the horror genre, a lot of boxes are ticked by this novel. I have still been itching for a good haunted house story and the almost haunted houseness of this book made that itch even worse.

But it brings me to one of my favorite things about this book: the setting. Setting is one of my own biggest weaknesses, so I pay close attention to the people who do it well. Lee does it very well. It starts with the Davenport house, but it’s also capturing the spirit of the village, of the shape of the roads, and the distance between neighbors. The real success is the Manor though; the house is a character in itself as much as it is a setting – the house itself is almost as possessed, as manipulated, and as broken as any of the people who inhabit it during the course of the story. Houses, dwellings, are always safer than we think they are, and the Manor learns that it is not invulnerable, and that secrets rarely stay buried. The Manor is also part of the character of Edward Carver, and the secrets the house reveals are either Carver’s own, or hurt him the most. This is definitely a story about secrets – the real and the supernatural kind – and the consequences for thinking keeping them is the best course of action.

The other thing I loved about this book was the eponymous Gabriel Davenport. He is a perfect depiction of that liminal space between child and young adult – he believes that he is ready to know the truth about what happened when he was a baby and that he can handle it, while simultaneously being terrified that he cannot. He’s also young enough and has lived such a life that he is aware of his emotions, aware of his fear, and sometimes he even finds the strength to overcome it and do the right thing. I enjoyed the chapters that were in his perspective the most because he was the least damaged in traditional ways (the damage we acquire upon growing up, and the loss of innocence) – Gabriel is ultimately still innocent, but has also been carrying an enormous burden and sense of blame his entire life which is a unique kind of damage. It made him easy to care for, and easy to empathize with.

The only character that ultimately frustrated me was Noah Isaacs, but I wonder what will be resolved with him in the next book, A Shining in the Shadows. One of the subtle questions that Making asks is what power faith has – and not just the religious kind, but the faith we place in other people. Noah’s religious faith is tested, even fails, and that effects the faith the other characters have in him. It’s about the faith the Gabriel has in Carver and Noah to “solve the problem” and save him, and when he begins to doubt that they can, he trusts someone that maybe he shouldn’t.

It’s a book with a very unique family unit, and it is both their strength and their vulnerability. It’s hard to see anything coming in this story, and I liked that a lot. I am definitely curious about what happens next.

If you like moody, scary, semi-violent horror novels then the Making of Gabriel Davenport is definitely for you.

 

A Rant About Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

This isn’t about Miriam, it’s about Harriet, but Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig is killer (ha!) (4/5)

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig was published September 2015, and I read it February 16-18, 2017. It is the first book in the Miriam Black series – a brief summary:

Miriam Black knows how you’re going to die. This makes her daily life a living hell, especially when you can’t do anything about it, or stop trying to. She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides. She merely needs to touch you—skin to skin contact—and she knows how and when your final moments will occur. Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. But then she hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, and she sees in thirty days that Louis will be murdered while he calls her name. Louis will die because he met her, and Miriam will be the next victim. No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.

Yeah, yeah way to go Chuck, great book. It was a 4/5 read for me – some parts were slow going and I’m taking a point off because I really want to hate Ashley but I mostly don’t. I am, however, deeply amused that a book character shares my name and was excited that for once it was a dude. I am a lady, but I know the origins of my name and think men need to reclaim it.


This book is dark, humorous, gory, and pretty graphic. You know how Stephen King sometimes writes really horrifically specific descriptions of bad things happening to genitals? It’s like that, but whole bodies and brains and emotions. But you’re also laughing and the tension is built SO FANTASTICALLY, especially the Interludes of the Interview. It took all of my self-control not to skip ahead and read those parts to see the whole sub-plot. There was also kind of a Pulp Fiction vibe, and I dug it.

I’m also super grateful to Chuck for the Interludes idea, because it really helped with something I was stuck on in my own novel.

Anyway, this isn’t really a review of Blackbirds, I just want to have a kind of spoilery rant about the character of Harriet.

Honestly, just thinking “carpet noodle” fills me with fury! Righteous, glorious fury! Not at Wendig, at Harriet. Wendig is awesome for this.

It just blew my mind that part of how Harriet became Harriet involved murdering a man because down with the fucking patriarchy…only to be manipulated and trapped under the thumb of another man. Only to be willing to disobey his orders to keep him all to herself – Harriet was oppressed by a man, and then controlled by one, and it’s like she couldn’t even see it. She couldn’t see that she was LEASHED! Ugh, even though Harriet was totally amoral and is not a person I would ever like to meet, the stunted possibility of her character just crushed me. Part of me was like – “Yeah, that’s right, carpet noodle, because once again you’re losing everything for a man who doesn’t even appreciate you!”

Yeah. So. You should read this book and then rant with me in the comments.

 

Review: the Winter People

When Ruthie’s mother goes missing, she is pulled into a mystery and a horror more far-reaching than she can imagine. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon (5/5)

“If snow melts down to water does it still remember being snow?”

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon was published in 2014 – I read it December 4-5, 2016.
As summarized on Amazon:

West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.
 
Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

It’s a mystery about grief and letting go – about magic – about ghosts – and maybe even…zombies? I definitely fall into the camp of people who would call this a zombie novel, albeit an elegant and delicately crafted one.

The novel switches between times and points of view: in 1908 we are with Sara and Martin, and in the present time we are with Ruthie, and a woman named Katherine who is pulled into the mystery through trying to understand the source of her own loss.

How things tie together is so immensely layered – all these little pieces come together to form a picture that is multi-dimensional. Things from the past effect the future of course, but things from the present shed a lot of light on the past. It really asks you to consider – how far would you go to see a loved one again? What price would be too high?

It’s interesting as well that the relationships mothers have to daughters and the bonds we form with our families play such an important role – even the peripheral characters have important roles in the plot, and in the survival of the mystery so that it stretches all the way to the present.

I cannot say enough that this novel is just expertly crafted – there are no wasted words or scenes, there’s very little exposition for its own sake, and it makes you question. Art is supposed to make you feel something, it’s supposed to make you uncomfortable or wonder or doubt. I hope that anyone who reads this novel feels uncomfortable. It makes us confront the cost of our choices.

Also, it manages to be totally supernatural in a way that seems completely plausible. It plays on the unknown – just enough is revealed or explained to make you keep your disbelief suspended, but in the end you still don’t entirely understand how the magic works. You even get the feeling that you don’t want to – and I love that.

“Oh what power the dead have over the living!”

I give the Winter People 5/5 – it’s an excellent read.

Review – Ink and Bone

A haunting is a two way street. A review of Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger. (3/5)

Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger was released June 7, 2016 – I finished it October 12, 2016.

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Ink and Bone is part detective story, part supernatural thriller, all heartbreak.

Finley Montgomery is some kind of psychic, a Dreamer or Listener depending on who you ask, and she’s come back to the Hollows, NY to learn from her grandmother. Finley was born with her gifts, Eloise got them after a car accident that killed one of her children and her husband. Eloise collaborates with a private detective, Cooper Jones, to solve cases as well as comfort the living left behind. But the Hollows gets what it wants, and it’s reaching out for Finley. Cooper Jones gets a case where all psychic roads point to Finley – and she begins to embrace and explore her gift in order to rescue a kidnapped child from a family of monsters.

As someone who is still moving through grief over the loss of a friend, I found this book oddly comforting. In the world of Ink and Bone, a haunting is a two way street – sometimes the spirit chooses, but sometimes the living haunt the dead and don’t let them go. The sense of peace and awareness of something beyond was also positive without being preachy, without ascribing to any religious belief, and managed to ring true. There are spirits who are recently lost, as well as ones who’ve been haunting Finley’s family for a long time. She can be led astray, or led to the truth. Finley needs a little leading in this book.

This is really a book about exploring the connections we have with one another, and that some of those connections can’t be rationally explained. A lot of Carl Jung is pulled in and the concept that psychic abilities are just a part of the human brain and psyche that we don’t yet understand. Finley and Eloise explain abilities like a spectrum – everyone has a little bit of something, all they have to do is explore it and honor it.

I liked the relationships between Finley and her family members – they were complicated, sometimes negative, but ultimately loving. People don’t always understand each other or get along, and that’s especially frustrating when they’re related. Some of the descriptions or attributes of characters start out very shallow or stereotypical, but Unger always goes deeper. Even the mistress is more than meets the eye, when so much of the initial description is meant to make her seem like nothing. What we learn about some of the side characters almost says more about the narrating character than it does about the people they’re describing. Everyone has something you should recoil from, but they all have something redemptive – hope is a thread that pulls this novel together.

It was a quick, emotional read that I enjoyed getting lost in. It was a good book to cozy up with on a really rainy fall day. It pulls you in to a very vivid world. I give Ink and Bone a 3/5 for giving me a sense of peace, and an intriguing mystery.

Review – Hex

A review of Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt – in which you will question, who should you really fear? (5/5)

Hex was first published in Dutch in 2013, and then re-worked and translated into English. It was released in the US in April 2016. Amazon kept recommending it to me and I kept not buying it. So what happened? The library. When I held the book in my hands and read the sleeve, I wanted it.

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For 350 years, the frightening and solid ghost of Katherine van Wyler has haunted the town of Black Spring, NY. Once you become a resident of Black Spring, you can’t leave. If you’re away too long you are overcome with the desire to kill yourself to be free. Parts of Katherine’s existence have a pattern, while in other parts she just appears in homes, in the woods, on the streets, in the stores, carrying the stench of death and the clinking of the chains that bind her body. See, Katherine was killed for being a witch, and somewhere along the way her eyes and mouth were sewn shut. And so she appears around Black Spring, a ghoulish but normalized specter, a sign of their coming doom.

Hex follows Steven Grant, father, doctor, resident of Black Spring – his sons Tyler and Matt, and his wife Jocelyn. Through Dr. Grant we see the town of Black Spring as a resident, and as someone who made the mistake of moving there. The novel also follows Robert Grim – born and raised in Black Spring, its protector, leader of HEX – the organization that keeps the secrets of Black Spring from getting out to the rest of the world. The sanest man in a town of people corrupted by darkness.

Things start changing – the teenagers of the town begin to rebel against the rules that keep them safe and Katherine from public knowledge. They begin a chain of a events that leads to destruction.

This is supposed to be a horror novel – and don’t get me wrong it is incredibly unsettling and has some very frightening moments – but what will haunt me about this novel is not the supernatural horror, but the human kind. The horror of humanity. At the end of this novel I didn’t shiver, I cried.

Because you start to guess the ending. You start to guess the truth. But it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t change the one-two punch to the face of the ending. Somehow, knowing what’s coming and why makes it worse. It is more frightening to see humanity stripped bare and find it wanting than it is to find a supernatural source of the horror. The very best horror novels are not about the supernatural itself, but what that supernatural entity either says about humanity, or become a mirror that we are afraid to look into for too long. Hex does that.

The entire premise of this novel is unique and high-concept. I have never read anything like this before, and I am going to read more work by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. He is a master storyteller, and his acknowledgements section was so enlightening to him as a person and an author. It might just be worth it to learn Dutch, or bribe a Dutch person, to read the original.

A lot of other reviews complain about some of the gendered issues in the novel – particularly regarding breasts and rape. As someone who works every day in the realm of gender-based violence, these moments felt earned and fitting given the concept of human depravity within the novel. It was not placed without genuine narrative purpose, and it wasn’t just a plot device. And except in one more metaphorical occasion, it wasn’t so overly described that it became the blending of violence and pornography either – it was not sexualized violence, just violence. Heuvelt wanted the reader to be appalled, not appealed, and did so successfully.

5/5 for a heart-rending, complex, and fantastically realized work of horror. Read this immediately.

 

Review – Fates and Furies

A love/hate review of a novel about the blur between love and hate…Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (3.5/5)

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff was published on September 15, 2016 and released in paperback on September 16, 2016.

I loved Groff’s the Monsters of  Templeton. When I finished, I looked into Fates and Furies but wasn’t really interested. As before, I saw it in the library and thought, why not?

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In order to truly review this book I have to treat it as two distinct entities. One is the story within the novel, and the other is the way in which the novel is written.

Because I love one. The other, not so much.

Fates and Furies is the story of a marriage told in two parts: Fates – mostly from Lotto’s perspective, and Furies – from Mathilde’s. It’s how they met, married, their lives, careers, choices, understandings, fights, failures, intrigues, friends, and family. They live in New York – Lotto is a failed actor turned successful playwright, Mathilde is a saintly supportive wife turned business manager. Things are exactly what they seem; things aren’t what they seem.

If you like tense interpersonal drama, a wide-ranging cast, characters you hate to love and love to hate, this is absolutely the novel for you.

Structurally, this book deserves all the praise it’s gotten because it’s dynamic and unique. The writing style, the craftsmanship, the movement of time and place, the lyricism in the language and the asides like a Greek chorus are brilliant. The structure itself is compelling regardless of the story the words are shaping – run on sentences, use of semi-colons, parentheticals. It’s not just the characters’ thoughts, it’s these droplets of an omniscient narrator that provide insight into life in general. If I was going to review just this, 5/5 – one of the most uniquely designed and planned novels I’ve ever read. Groff is a genius.

My struggle to praise to this book to the heavens is the story. I like Mathilde more than Lotto, but I like Mathilde the way I like Claire in House of Cards. She’s a cornered woman who has had to live her life as an incomplete person due to a sense of self-protection; she is ice and fire and secrets. Lotto is the golden child, the one ignorant of the feelings of others but manages to get away with it. Often. There is a goodness in Lotto that means his ignorance is often in line with the needs of others, but he is written to be the worst kind of representation of the benevolent patriarchy. I know that Groff wrote Lotto very intentionally – I know she wrote him to be the person you hate to love, but you also know he’s a deeply problematic person. His arrogant beliefs regarding his wife’s needs and wants, his sense of ownership of her, his belief that love is more important than respect just drove me crazy. When I got to Furies and I was reading Mathilde’s experiences my disgust with Lotto went straight to repulsion. I could not understand why Mathilde wanted to be with him – even if she’d been a whole person she could have been with better than Lotto. And it’s frustrating, because even self-aware Mathilde thinks Lotto is special or deserving and I just don’t see it. I was disgusted with everyone because there are powerful and intelligent women in this novel and they seemed to be reduced to idiocy by Lotto. And there are no good men.

I also believe it’s pretty popular in adult fiction, film, and television right now to have characters who are mostly bad people – we don’t like competent, good people dealing with ordinary struggles. We like knowing about horrible, selfish people dealing with extraordinary struggles. Yes, both characters have redeeming qualities but it’s a very small percentage of who they are on the page. It allows us to live out the worst parts of ourselves. It’s just not my taste. Maybe it’s because most people believe they don’t know a benevolent misogynist like Lotto, or a damaged feral calculator like Mathilde. I see them every day in my work, so it’s hard to be pushed through that experience in my free time. So…3/5.

Anyone would be impressed and compelled reading this book – whether or not you come out of it feeling amazing or depressed is a matter of taste. I can’t say I recommend Fates and Furies, but I am in awe of it. I’ll compromise with 3.5/5.

Review – A Discovery of Witches

Witches, vampires, love, alchemy…it’s got everything. Review of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (4.5/5)

A Discovery of Witches was published February 8, 2011 by Penguin Books. I am upset that I went through 5 years of this book being out in the world and did not read it until now. I’d never even heard of it until this year! If you already read this and enjoyed it, I recommend the River of No Return by Bee Ridgway – there’s a similarity of tone.

I spent an entire Sunday reading this and finished it on Monday, September 19, 2016.

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The blurb does not do this book justice. I immediately loved the cover, but was turned off by the summary. I didn’t buy it when I saw it in the store, but decided to check it out of the library.

Oh my, was I in for a treat.

A Discovery of Witches is the blend of so much of the best stuff in modern fantasy; bear with me because every time I tried to figure out how to summarize this excellent novel it came out sounding like Twilight. Only its a vampire/witch love story. With adults. And depth of emotion. And historical context and obscure references. It’s a novel that takes the cliche of being the Chosen One and makes it interesting again.

Our heroine is Dr. Diana Bishop – the last of the Bishop witches – who spent her life denying and strangling her own magic after the death of her parents as a child. Diana is a science historian with a focus on alchemy; the medieval blend of science and magic that experimented on the transformation of matter. While researching in Oxford’s Bodleian Library she calls up a manuscript for her research: the mysterious Ashmole 782. With her first view of the manuscript she knows its bewitched, and after a brief encounter with the book, sends it back into the bowels of the library in order to keep her life divided from magic. With the finding and returning of Ashmole 782, Diana sends a ripple through the supernatural world: every witch, vampire, and daemon wants Diana and the manuscript. One vampire in particular, Dr. Matthew Clairmont, enters Diana’s world and changes it forever. Diana and Matthew begin fighting a world of magic, segregation, science, and thousands of years of history in order to not only be together, but figure out the blended future of for all the creatures.

Speaking of creatures, there are four types of creatures in this world: humans, witches, vampires, and daemons. I like that witches are distinct creatures, not just humans with magical powers. The vampires are a blend of the traditional myth with Harkness’s own twist, and daemons are manic, creative geniuses – similar to demigods but they are the creature with the most questions in regard to their creation and origin.

This book covers history, literature, philosophy, and science and the way it has shaped the world we live in. There’s so much more to this story than I can possibly summarize – Matthew’s personal history and his family, Diana’s history, her family, and her burgeoning magical powers, not to mention the ramifications of Ashmole 782 on the entire supernatural world. The world is so complete without being over-explained. I know the political landscape of the witches, vampires, daemons, and their fear of being discovered by humans while also adhering to their own strict rules against co-mingling. PLUS, Matthew is a scientist exploring the genetics of the creatures – how they differ and overlap with each other and with humans. If you know nothing about genetics, evolution, and DNA now, you’ll know more afterward. I already put myself on the waiting list for the Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes at the university library.

I could spend an entire post just summarizing all the details of this novel. It is so fantastically fleshed out – the world is dynamic, the threat real, and I am ready for the next book to find out what happens next. I honestly considered not reviewing A Discovery of Witches and instead reviewing the entire trilogy. I feel like I read at least three different books in the span of one anyway.

Most of the novel is spent with Diana coming to terms with the fact the she herself is dangerous – she’s spent most of her life forcing herself to be a human instead of a witch. Diana must embrace her true nature as a creature and all that means – the danger, the violence, and the wonder. Her power is huge, uncontrolled, and unacknowledged and it’s led her to find herself both a risk to those around her and sometimes utterly defenseless. Diana is marvelous – she’s intelligent and decisive, a little stubborn but attempts to be logical when she realizes it, and is aware that she guards her emotions. Diana is fun to read. She was a character I liked following around. Her desire to be her own woman and to make her own way on her merits is admirable and relatable – she demonstrates how easy it would be to get all she wanted with magic, but she’d rather have done the work.

Matthew is a little…predictable. At first. He’s the super-hot vampire who’s lived for a long time and he’s seen everything and knows everyone and is experiencing a new kind of love for the first time, a love which he resisted and brooded about. You see his protectiveness coming from a mile away and the explanation of his predatory instincts is unsurprising if well thought out. What makes Matthew different is that there’s a certain level of self-awareness that his protectiveness is not always welcome or necessary, and that Diana is capable of taking care of herself. Matthew’s violence is also real, not just a threat made or an inference that he can’t control himself around warmbloods. Matthew kills because it’s his nature – not just to feed, but to protect and avenge. Matthew is a real danger, which makes him a dynamic character to follow.

It helps that Deborah Harkness is actually a science historian so her grasp of the background material is deep, and something she’s used to translating and theorizing on. Her ability to simply explain who historical people are, why they matter, and what their work was is done in such a way that someone without any other context can grasp it. It’s interesting because the author is reflected in both Diana and Matthew – the science historian connection is obvious, but the span of knowledge and research needed to write a novel this complete is pure Matthew.

This book is dense – not that it’s difficult to understand – there’s just A LOT going on. It’s a world that is easy and fun to disappear into, and I highly recommend for someone looking for an immersive read that you are going to get excited about. And that you will want the next book, Shadow of Night, immediately.

I give A Discovery of Witches 4.5/5 for being a wild, detailed ride of a novel and for leaving me wanting more. Half-star off because some of it feels oddly placed and improbable; I have full faith however that Harkness will resolve much of my few issues by the end of the trilogy.