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.

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock

A review of Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay (5/5)

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay was released June 21, 2016. I read it November 20-21, 2016.

One night in the heat of August, Tommy Sanderson disappears. He was with his friends in the Borderlands State Park at a place they called Devil’s Rock when he ran into the woods and didn’t come back out.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that.

Tremblay books are really hard to summarize.


This is the story of his mother, Elizabeth, and his little sister, Kate, as they try and figure out why Tommy and his friends went into the woods in the first place, and why Tommy didn’t come out. It’s a story of growing up and growing away, and the moments that take away innocence and thrust children into adulthood. It’s the story of the particular kind of loneliness that comes from losing a parent, from death or from leaving, and the way you might choose to fill that space. The story of what can happen not when we dream too big, but when we think our dreams are too big for us. It’s a story that asks you to believe in the maybe – maybe there’s something more out there, maybe there is a darker shadow in the shadows, and maybe sometimes we can see what’s coming and we can’t stop it.

One of my favorite things about this novel was how much I loved Tommy. Maybe it’s because the story is mostly told from the perspective of people who loved him, but I finished the story with such a sense of attachment to him. It’s also good to see myself reflected in a character – I too spend a lot of time discussing zombie contingent plans when there is a lull in the conversation. I have made note of some of the thoughts shared in these pages to bring to my next discussion with my husband.

I cannot help but compare this to A Head Full of Ghosts. Tremblay’s voice in both works is so strong – his talent for tiny details that make the scene brutally clear, the code in which children speak to each other, and the constant existential crisis of the cusp of puberty and what it means to grow up. Those are all there in both. The difference I enjoyed is that while Merry as unreliable narrator makes Ghosts terrifying, Elizabeth is a very reliable narrator and that makes what happens, the supernatural and the natural, all the more devastating. Her certainty makes me believe. And that’s what makes it scary. That’s what made me get the chills in the end of the book, reading her understanding of events, when I both knew and had no explanation for what happened.

Some might feel that the pace of Disappearance is a bit slow, but I think this was done very intentionally. We experience the waiting and the discovery in almost real time with Elizabeth and Kate. We live through those excruciating days of invasion and the unknown right along with them. We do not get a montage of their pain. We do not get to skip to the revelations. We read their pain, and we earn the revelation. I felt like I was learning teeny bits of information at a time and then when I stopped to look I found myself halfway through the book.

Another excellent book from an excellent writer – 5/5 from me, easily. It is a tight, well-crafted, makes you doubt your own mind kind of story and I would definitely recommend it.

I also want to share a last, slightly controversial, thought. I love the way Tremblay writes women. The controversial part is not that Tremblay writes women well, it is the obvious opposite that some male-identifying authors do not. In both books I have read by him, the women feel very real, like myself or women I know, and a lot of the thoughts and actions that occur could just as easily be a male character too because what they are doing and reacting to is not inherently gendered (for the most part; Marjorie is a bit but it makes sense within the story.) Tremblay writes women as complete people and I think sometimes that doesn’t occur, and is the struggle some women feel in the world of adult fiction. Women are not plot devices, metaphors, or achievements. Tremblay’s work crafts complex and detailed people – his work excellently captures essential humanness, and I think there’s something to be said for that. Both novels easily pass the Bechdel test, and in fact both novels highlight the bonds between women in a way that shapes the narrative. I think that’s awesome.

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.

Reviews – Shadow of Night and the Book of Life

A dual review of Shadow of Night (3/5) and the Book of Life (4/5) by Deborah Harkness.

After A Discovery of Witches I was really amped to read the rest of the All Soul’s Trilogy.

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I finished both Shadow of Night (2013) and the Book of Life (2015) by Deborah Harkness this weekend, and as they are the completion of the trilogy I am going to review them together.

Because Shadow of Night drove me crazy (in the bad way,) and I am a little teeny bit disappointed with the ending of the Book of Life.

I should have loved Shadow of Night. Time travel! Elizabethan England! Ruffs!

We find our heroes in 1591, mostly in London, where blossoming witch Diana Bishop has traveled in both time and space to learn to use her unique magic. There is a Matthew in 1591, and we are constantly reminded that he is going to be a very different Matthew from the one we know in the present. This is Diana and Matthew as a couple without hesitation, building their lives in a different time. It’s complicated by the social politics and drama of the Elizabethan age, and the demands of present Matthew inhabiting past Matthew’s place in time. Diana learns more about her magic, embraces the power of the sisterhood/brotherhood of witches, meets famous historical people, changes history, loves her partner, makes her family, and comes back to the present to use her power for its intended purpose. There’s so much that happens in the past that shapes how Diana and Matthew relate to one another…but a lot of it also seems completely unnecessary to the story.

My favorite thing about Shadow of Night was meeting Philippe de Clermont. He wasn’t what I expected him to be, and it’s a killer plot of playing the long game. He came up and had influence on SoN and tBoL in ways I could not have foreseen. He’s just a master stroke of a character and a plot device, and when all the myriad ways he planned ahead are revealed layer by layer I continued to be delighted with him. He’s the only character whose story made me feel deep emotion, and not just the satisfaction of story resolution.

Here’s the thing I hated about Shadow of Night in particular – it was so much about Matthew that sometimes I forgot I  was reading first-person narrator Diana. We lost her. I lost the intellectual, independent woman that I loved in aDoW. Which is really disappointing because I think Harkness did a great job showing how involved and powerful women were back then, how much influence they had on their households and families. We often talk about liberation without understanding context, and what we were asking for liberation from.

Luckily, we get Diana back a bit in the Book of Life. She goes where Matthew cannot follow. With her faith in herself returned, she is once again dynamic and intelligent. She is once again a match for Matthew’s dangerous need to protect her. Her power allows him a certain amount of peace to control his disease. That is a beautiful and balanced partnership.

In the Book of Life the true villain is finally revealed – and he is the worst kind of creature, the worst things we imagine about a villain are in him. We spend the last book figuring him out and hunting him down. There is also a subtle jab I’d like any other readers to look out for regarding our villain and the familial origins of a witch named Janet.

*Highlight below here if you want to see the spoiler…*
the only time he successfully had a living child was during consensual sex, CONSENT BURN! Take that Benjamin!

The message of the Book of Life was a little on the nose for me – I wish there had been room for the reader to make the jump about the origins of creatures and why knowing and proving those origins was world-shattering. It’s an important message, but for something to be truly valued it has to be earned. We didn’t earn the message.

Overall, I really enjoyed this trilogy and there are characters I won’t forget any time soon. I also do not recommend binge-reading the trilogy as I did. There’s SO MUCH that happens in each book that trying to remember what happened in which book is difficult. They are almost impossible to summarize because each novel is action-packed and a little insane. It feels like more than three books. But when you are telling an epic tell, there are going to be things that are brushed over or mentioned without delving into them. I didn’t need to see every scene and conversation. These are books that depend on the understanding of the relationships between characters. I would watch the heck out of a TV show based on this trilogy.

Shadow of Night – 3/5

the Book of Life – 4/5

The All Soul’s Trilogy – 3.8/5 (the average of the individual books’ ratings)

TBR – What I Plan to Read in October

The things I hope to read by the end of the month! Join in!

This is what I have planned to read in October – in no particular order. Although I will probably save the Joe Hill for the last, as I think it will take the longest.

Shadow of Night and the Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
I’m finishing up the All Soul’s Trilogy. Actually, I took the first nice, rainy weekend in October and finished both because I am always anxious to get to the end. My review of both will be posted soon!

Wink Poppy Midnight – April Genevieve Tucholke
I am very excited to read this book as a read-a-long with the Bookish Gals on Instagram. I have not read Tucholke’s other books (I just ordered Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and didn’t realize it was her.) This has not only an intriguing title, but the tagline has me hooked “A hero. A villain. A liar. Who’s who?”

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Nerve – Jeanne Ryan
I’m not sure why I decided to get this novel. The movie looks intriguing and I think the premise speaks to our obsession with performing for the internet and for others. I’ll get around to seeing the movie, but I have a good feeling about the book.

Three Dark Crowns – Kendare Blake
I’ll be honest, I am rarely interested in stories about alternative royal realities. There are so many books and series out there about imaginary kingdoms, and if that’s your thing, awesome, but it’s not mine. However, the premise of this reminded me a little bit of Stardust, but most favorite Neil Gaiman book, and I had to give it a change for that alone. The only way to win is to be the last queen standing – that sounds like a battle I’d like to follow.

The Graces – Laura Eve
A family of mysterious and beautiful witches, black magic, and a plot that will inevitably break my heart. This sounds like the Halloween read of my dreams!

The Fireman – Joe Hill
I’ve never actually read Joe Hill, I listened to the audiobook of Heart-Shaped Box over the month of July. I stole this ARC from my friend Ben’s collection and want to read it. I think a disease that causes you to start on fire is a unique take on the inevitable epidemic that will destroy us all.

Strange Times: the Ghost in the Girl – Tom Delonge and Geoff Herbach
It’s got struggling teenagers who try and band together to help a ghost, and most likely each other. I mean, it’s asking me to read it. It does help that I am a Blink 182 and Angels and Airwaves fan and Tom has always been my favorite – his projects always have a whiff of the ethereal that draws me in. Oh, I also know Geoff.

 

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.