Book Review: Dark Places

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Libby Day was just seven years old when her evidence put her fifteen-year-old brother behind bars.

Since then, she had been drifting. But when she is contacted by a group who are convinced of Ben’s innocence, Libby starts to ask questions she never dared to before. Was the voice she heard her brother’s? Ben was a misfit in their small town, but was he capable of murder? Are there secrets to uncover at the family farm or is Libby deluding herself because she wants her brother back?

She begins to realise that everyone in her family had something to hide that day… especially Ben. Now, twenty-four years later, the truth is going to be even harder to find.

Who did massacre the Day family?” (Goodreads)

The final installment in what I guess I could call my “Gillian Flynn Series” is Dark Places. Once again Flynn explores the dark undebelly of humanity in the intense, sardonic way I’ve come to know and appreciate.  Libby Day has had a rough life.  Her dad was a drunk, weaving in and out of his childrens lives as it suited him (i.e. when he needed money), and her mother was an exhausted single mom of 4 children who could barely afford one of them.  Libby had always been a worrier, but one night in January when Libby was 7 years old she had good reason to worry when her entire family was brutally murdered, except her and her 15 year old brother Ben.  Libby escaped by crawling out a window and hiding in the freezing woods until the police found her. To top that all off, she then testified for the prosecution of her brother and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Twenty-some years later, Libby has been living off a fund of donations her whole life and she’s running out of money. In a strange attempt to get some money – she agrees to make an appearance at Kill Club, a sort of comic-con for those obsessed with unsovled or famous murder cases.  Turns out there is a lot of interest in her families case – and most of that comes from women who are obsessed with her brother and proclaim his innocence.  As uncomfortable as it is for Libby to face the idea that her brother may not have committed these murders, she is desparate for money and ends up going on a journey back in time to piece together what really happened that night.

As most of Flynn’s narrators are, Libby is decidedly unlikeable.  Cynical, sarcastic, blatantly rude and has a penchant for sticky fingers (she is constantly stealing the most inane items from places).  But, you feel like she deserves a little empathy after everything she has seen.  Getting the story through her point of view, you find yourself just as hesitent to believe what strangers are saying about her brother’s innocence.  The information that we are given points all fingers towards him.  However, beyond Libby’s narrative we get flashbacks from the point of view of Ben and their mother Patty – we slowly realize all is not as it seems and Libby is in for quite the shock.

Beyond Libby, there is quite a cast of characters.  From her dad, Runner – the career drunk, gambler and manipulator, to Diondra – Ben’s girlfriend who is her own brand of batshit insane, and the crowd of “devil worshippers” Ben was said to hang out with, there is once again not one innocent soul within this novel.  Even Patty, who was a well meaning mother that only wanted the best for her children has her nasty faults, and plays her own part in the massacre of two of her children. Or the young girl who accuses Ben of sexual molestation, which may or may not be entirely truthful – I’ll let you decide.

At the end of the day, it’s clear that Gillian Flynn is good at what she does and what she does best is the dark, gritty, surprising and ugly disection of the human condition. I look forward to reading whatever she puts out next – and I think she has some serious staying power in the literary world.

With twist and turns that will keep you guessing, Dark Places, will simultaneously confuse, suprise and sicken you with each coming chapter.

My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.89 Stars
Number of 1 Star Reviews: 1607

My Review on Bookdigits

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Book Review: Sharp Objects

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WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.

NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.

HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

With its taut, crafted writing, Sharp Objects is addictive, haunting, and unforgettable”

I recently read Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn and was captivated by her writing style and portrayal of awful, horrible people.  Sharp Objects is no exception, and for a debut novel it is a stunning example of literary fiction. It’s kind of funny, because looking at Gillian’s author photo and reading blurb about how she lives in Chicago with her husband and son, you would never guess that her writing would be so dark and nuanced.

I think Gillian and I actually have a lot in common, I find myself fascinated by stories that are somewhat dark.  Maybe it’s because there is a little bit of darkness in all of us. Gillian’s book delve deep into that darkness and even if you hate every single awful character, on some level you might find some little thing that you can relate to.  As with Camille, while I couldn’t understand her need to punish herself or constantly seek affirmation from her truly sick and twisted mother, there were moments where I was nodding along saying to myself “Girl, I feel you.”

“Every time people said I was pretty, I thought of everything ugly swarming beneath my clothes.”

Camille has a LOT of issues.  She is a cutter – in a semi-recovered state.  She has carved hundreds of words into her skin and they are used throughout the novel to accentuate her feelings.  When she is feeling something particularly strong – those words “flash” or “burn”, and it’s quite interesting because sometimes they are really inane words like “cherry” or “castle”, but the most telling is the last word she ever cut into herself – vanish, at the nape of her neck.  It’s telling because that is what Camille wants most – just to vanish, to evaporate and never have existed at all.

Upon returning to her small hometown on a work assignment from the Chicago paper that she works for, she sets out to uncover the mystery behind the murder of two young girls, not realizing how wrapped up in the mess her family is and underestimating the manipulative powers of her mother.  Her mother, Adora is a real piece of work.  Master manipulator, emotionally needy and hypocondriac, she is a typical southern bell on the outside and an ugly, sick, demon underneath.  Everything that happens to anyone in the world is happening to Adora, and she take responsibility for nothing.  In conjunction with that she is absolutely and competely clueless about her younger daughter, Amma who plays up the needy 13 year old at home and is a skanky little shithead outside the home – another piece of work.

What I like about Sharp Objects, is that there is no grand journey – there is no hero, there’s no winner.  There’s just this sad town full of horrible, grieving, manipulating, angry people and no clear reasons for it.  The bigger message – sometimes things just suck and that is all there is to it.  Sometimes people are awful for no reason at all other then they don’t know how else to be. That’s how I feel about Adora – she’s truly horrible, but in her mind she means well.  She craves love and affection, something she did not get from her own mother and goes the wrong way about getting it.  She forces people to need her in ways you could not imagine (and I don’t want to spoil for you!), and as you can imagine it doesn’t turn out the way in which she hopes it will.

If you are fascinated by darkness, if you find yourself entranced by stories of bad people doing bad things, if you are looking for a book that will leave you feel like the whole world might be a dark and twisted and unhealthy place – then this is a bood you need to read.

My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.87 Stars
Number of 1 Star Reviews: 1635

My Review on Bookdigits

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Book Review: The Retribution of Mara Dyer

retribution

Mara Dyer wants to believe there’s more to the lies she’s been told.
There is.

She doesn’t stop to think about where her quest for the truth might lead.
She should.

She never had to imagine how far she would go for vengeance.
She will now.

Loyalties are betrayed, guilt and innocence tangle, and fate and chance collide in this shocking conclusion to Mara Dyer’s story.
Retribution has arrived. (Goodreads)

This will be a short one, because even though I have a LOT OF FEELINGS about this book, I don’t want to give out too many spoilers for those who have not read UNBECOMING or EVOLUTION, and I also don’t know quite how to word all these feelings I have.

While I’m certainly pleased that we (finally) got some answers on to whether what was happening was all in Mara’s head or if it was real – I’m not sure that those answers satisfied me.  I’m on the fence.  I liked that there was a lot of history given to us in this book, we learned a lot more about how Mara came to be, about her grandmother and what Mara’s abilities really meant in conjunction with Noah.  However, it did feel a little cheap.  Where some authors have recently chosen to take a harder road by not giving readers what is expected – I feel like Hodkin may have played a little bit into what her fans wanted and gave them the ending they thought they deserved and for some reason, it just didn’t feel right.  While it was still an action packed and spine tingling ending (seriously, if you read it, that last chapter will leave you a little breathless),  I rolled my eyes a little bit because it was just too much.  It didn’t feel authentic, and even though the obvious raciness of it didn’t really bother me (after all, teenagers do take part in those types of things), it just wasn’t a very realistic interpretation of it.  It was too perfect and I fear that it might set up some unexperienced readers for dissappointment because from my experience – yeah… no.

Reading that paragraph again I realize how vague that all is…but you know, I want you to read it for yourself!

Hodkin’s writing remains strong and the characters voices shine through.  Mara is still Mara, and Noah is still Noah – I liked that we got to see a little bit from both perspectives and she arguably pulled that off a little bit better thant Veronica Roth did in ALLEGIANT. Still, we ended up with 3 distinct stories.  Mara, her Grandmother, and Noah.  It was a lot to keep straight.  So, this book gets a rare 3 stars from me, because as much as I was pleased to reach the end of this journey and get some answers, I was left just a little bit dissapointed. Still though, if you haven’t read the series, I urge you too – it’s a good one.

My Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.48 Stars
Number of 1 Star Reviews: 61

My Review on Bookdigits

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Book Review: The Body Electric

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For those fans of Beth Revis’s Across the Universe series, who wondered what was happening on Earth while Elder and Amy were on GodspeedThe Body Electric is your answer.  And it’s a good one.

The future world is at peace.

Ella Shepherd has dedicated her life to using her unique gift—the ability to enter people’s dreams and memories using technology developed by her mother—to help others relive their happy memories.

But not all is at it seems.

Ella starts seeing impossible things—images of her dead father, warnings of who she cannot trust. Her government recruits her to spy on a rebel group, using her ability to experience—and influence—the memories of traitors. But the leader of the rebels claims they used to be in love—even though Ella’s never met him before in her life. Which can only mean one thing…

Someone’s altered her memory.

Ella’s gift is enough to overthrow a corrupt government or crush a growing rebel group. She is the key to stopping a war she didn’t even know was happening. But if someone else has been inside Ella’s head, she cannot trust her own memories, thoughts, or feelings.

So who can she trust? (Goodreads)

What a ride!  From the outset, this novel never stops revealing secrets.  Chapter ever chapter unfolds and digs deeper and deeper into the mystery of Ella and what has happened to her.  At first, it all seems hunky dory – Ella spends her days working at the Reverie Mental Spa where people relive their best memories.  She worries about her mom, who suffers from Hebb’s disease – which is slowly killing her.  She communicates with her BFF who is a soldier on the lunar colony.  Seemingly, nothing is wrong in her life.

Until everything is wrong.  Literally nothing is at seems.  Ella’s memories have been tampered with but she doesn’t know by who.  Ella has strength she didn’t know she possessed and she doesn’t know how.  Androids are blowing up and she doesn’t know why.  Secrets have been hidden by her father and she doesn’t know where.

And also…Bees.

So basically, if you were wondering what was happening on Earth while all hell was breaking loose in space? Well… all hell was breaking loose.  No one is safe. No one can be trusted, and poor Ella – she holds the key to everything if she could just set it free.  Unfortunately whoever erased her memory, whoever made her into what she currently is did a damn good job of it.  Every time she gets close to the secret, to the answer, she is overcome with hallucinations of bees.  Fat juicy bees stinging her to death – it’s a pretty awesomely gruesome visual to be honest and very clever.  Once Ella figures out what those bees symbolize, everything falls into place and she starts kicking ass and taking names.

The best think about this book, is that it’s central focus is not the love story – which can be a crutch for so many YA novels.  Instead, the focus is Ella searching for truth, searching for meaning, searching for something (rather than someone) to hold onto in order to do what is right.  The love story between Ella and Jack, while important is not the end all be all for Ella.  It takes a backseat while she tries to figure out what in God’s name is going on.

I also loved the subtle reference to AtU, if you read the book and caught it as well – let me know in the comments!

Overall, this was a seriously good novel.  My props to Beth for not only managing to construct a well formulated, complicated and page turning read, but also to self-publish it! That’s right, Beth Revis, self published The Body Electric. And it’s clear that she doesn’t need a big publishing house or budget to put out a great novel – she has a true talent and voice that speaks volumes all on it’s own.

If you would like to purchase a hard copy of The Body Electric, you can do so from Beth’s local bookshop Malaprop’s, and also at Barnes and Noble, electronic copies are also available.

 

My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.84 Stars
Number of 1 – star reviews: 7

My Review on BookDigits

My True Love Gave To Me: Midnights by Rainbow Rowell

With the holidays upon us, and Christmas merchandise being shoved down our throats, I thought it might be fun to do some holiday themed posts.  I recently picked up My True Love Gave to Me, which is a book of 12 short stories by some of my favorite YA authors – with a holiday theme of course.  My True Love Gave To Me: Midnights by Rainbow Rowell

mytruelovegavetome

The cover is so cute, right?  Anyway, this is the review for the first story, Midnights by Rainbow Rowell.  And don’t worry, I’m nearing the end of A Clash of Kings, but these short stories are a nice break from Westeros once in a while.

Midnights is the adorable story of one girls journey through high school and into college via the New Year’s Eve party.  Mags meets the adorable Noel (cute name for a Holiday story – well played, Rowell) at her first NYE party and subsequently spends every other one wishing that he would be her midnight kiss while actively doing nothing to make that happen, exactly as I would in her situation.  Even though she and Noel grow to be best friends and have a totally cute relationship where they are actually both obviously secretly in love with each other, Noel somehow always finds himself next to another girl when the clock strikes 12, while Mags stands in the shadows watching.  While part of me was screaming at her to just put her big girl panties on and KISS THE BOY, the other part was totally in tune with her.

I have always been the kind to not act.  To not do what I’m thinking I should do, and could totally do, and should probably do, because what if it doesn’t go the way I think it is going to go.  So many unknowns.  Anxiety. Fear. Ugh.  Best just to not, right?  Wait for the other person to make the first move.  But… what if that other person is, at the same time, waiting for YOU to make the first move?  Then you are both just standing there, loving each other, pining for each other, waiting.  This story perfectly sums up my high school experience. I spent most of it waiting for other people to make the first move and probably missed out on an awful lot.

No worries, though, Mags and Noel’s story ends perfectly.  And it’s so cute your teeth will hurt. Rainbow Rowell, is so good at telling these types of stories, and just continues to bring on the feels.

 

 

 

 

Lessons in What Not to Do: Kathleen Hale Edition

The internet can be a terrifying place.  As a blogger and avid reader, I never thought that the danger of the internet could touch me because I’m just a harmless human being with a lot of opinions.  However, in the wake of the Kathleen Hale debacle, it seems that we are not as safe as we would like to believe. Then you think, oh well that’s just a fluke. Nope. Wrong.  There is actually more than one author out there who thinks it is totally okay to track down a reviewer, harass, stalk and even assault them because they received a bad review. Even if that reviewer didn’t read your book, or wrote the snarkiest review to ever exist – that is absolute no reason to engage with that person, let alone track them down and go to their house, place of work, or anywhere near them.

I get it, it is hard as a writer to read bad reviews and not take it personally. Every writer feels like the work they put out into the world is a part of them, a piece of their soul that they have chosen to share with the world. But here’s the thing… once you put it out there, it’s not up to you what people say about it.  I often say that opinions are like assholes – everyone’s got one.  And it’s true.  Not everyone’s is going to be sunshine and daisies.  Some people’s opinions are going to suck and they aren’t going to present them to you with a box of chocolates.  Unfortunately, they might give it to you with a bitter glass of vinegar.  But you don’t have to drink it.

Every single author on the planet has bad reviews.  I’ve written them myself (although I try to refrain from insults).  You don’t have to read the bad reviews.  You don’t have to take them personally.  You can say to yourself, “well, that person didn’t get it and that’s fine.”  Because it is fine.  Playing this game where authors engage with bloggers in some troll-tastic lashing of ever increasing insults, trying to one up each other in a game of whose more intellectually superior is just not a good look on anyone.  I mean, I don’t like Beyonce – in fact I really, really dislike her, and I’ve said so publicly – but Beyonce isn’t coming after me.

Breaking the law by physically assaulting someone, or tracking down their true identity is just plain wrong (clearly, that’s why it’s the law), and the fact that I even have to write this blog post is terrifying and really uncomfortable.  So, excuse me while I go change all of my privacy settings.

So authors, here is my advice to you when responding to negative reviews.  Don’t. 

Rachel’s Top 5 Books Read in 2014

Okay so I know it’s October, but I have to give you guys something to read while I work on A Clash of Kings, right?  So here are the top ten books I reviewed this year!

unbecomingevolution

1. The Unbecoming/Evolution of Mara Dyer – This one is a twofer, as it’s two books in a series.  Part psychological thriller, part paranormal, and part romance, this series has a little bit of everything.  The narrator is fairly unreliable and the plot thickens with every page.  Highly recommended if you are looking for a fast paced roller coaster ride.

gameofthrones

2. A Game of Thrones – Fantasy at it’s best!  Thick with family drama and epic world building, I have been sucked in to Westeros and don’t plan on leaving any time soon.  If you’ve seen the show on HBO, I can tell you that even though you may know what lies ahead, you will not be disappointed by reading the books as well.  GRRM is a highly detailed writer, but still manages to keep you from getting bored.  They might be long novels, but so so worth it.

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3. Gone Girl –  A book full of horrible people.  As a reader you won’t know who is guilty or innocent or whose side you are supposed to be one, because nobody is truly the “good guy”.  There is no hopeful message or happy ending here, but if you are looking for a book that will keep you guessing until the very last page this is the one that you want.

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4. If I Stay – Looking for something with all of the feels?  This is it.  Gayle Forman is a wonderful writer, who brings life into this story about a girl who is in a coma. This book asks some big questions – can a person in a coma hear us?  What is going on in their head while we are out here?  And most of all, do you have a choice if you live or die? Make sure you have some tissues handy for those last few chapters because you will need them.

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5. The Magician’s Land – A fitting end to Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy. This is probably one of my favorite series’ next to Harry Potter.  A more adult and American twist on the magic school theme, that plays with common tropes and fairy tales.  You’ll find bits and pieces of your favorite stories throughout the pages, but that is part of it’s charm.  You can tell that Grossman truly loves the worlds of Narnia and Hogwarts, and he’s asking the question – what if magic was real in today’s world?  Highly recommended!

There you have it!  What was your favorite book that you read this year?

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