Dark Places

Dark Places

Enter if you dare
Enter if you dare

There are a lot of people who like Gillian Flynn. I have tried, but I am not one of them. I read Dark Places on my way here to Peru and found that I was so deeply disturbed it messed me up a little bit when I got here.

“Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas. She survived and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club–a secret society obsessed with notorious crimes–locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer.”Indiebound

There are several people I’ve spoken to who think this is Flynn’s best novel. Published before Gone Girl, there was apparently even a flop of a movie made, also. It does have all the elements of a twisted thriller designed to be devoured by readers. It is engrossing and suspenseful. It has a character at the end of her rope, despicably unlikeable, which for some reason makes her story that much more engaging. Can she redeem herself, or was her whole existence ruined when she was seven years old? It’s got gore, and some truly disturbing scenes, and if that is your thing, then it is masterfully written, and you should read it. You would probably enjoy it.

I am able to admit that I recognize how well this novel is written. Flynn is a talented storyteller, and she is not shy in her explorations of the more twisted pathways of the human psyche. Her character is manipulative and useless and fits into her story perfectly. The mystery itself, while incredibly disturbing and brutal, is suspenseful enough to keep even the most disgusted reader (me) reading until the very last page.

If dark, gory thrillers are your jam, then please read this book. You will like it. It will keep you reading long into the night.

The “Throne of Glass” Series

The “Throne of Glass” Series

Ladies and gents, readers of all ages, you have got to read the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. If you’re a fan of fantasy, assassins, young adult books, or general female badassery, these books are for you.

16034235

Throne of Glass begins the series and opens with Celaena Sardothien being pulled out of the mine where she’s been enslaved for a year as punishment for her crimes as her kingdom’s most notorious assassin. The King offers her a choice–compete for the title of King’s Champion against a score of nefarious opponents, or return to a life of slavery and die in the mines. Throughout the competition, oddly dark events occur around the castle that lead Celaena on a twisted trail of intrigue, danger, and potential rebellion.

This book is packed to the brim with action, wit, humor, emotion, and suspense. It’s one of the most magical, creative, and engaging novels I’ve read in a long time, and the series just gets better.

17167166

Crown of Midnight is a punch in the gut. I remember a friend of mine reading it first, and she looked at me and said, “Courtney, just wait.” A few days later, I reached the part she was talking about and screamed out loud. Being a kind book reviewer, I’m not going to tell you what this novel is about, as that would spoil the end of the first. Be satisfied knowing that it has some new characters that are just as loveable (or hateable) as those in the first novel. Celaena is her usual self, which is to say: awesome.

20613470

The end of Crown of Midnight left me breathless and I couldn’t wait to read Heir of Fire. Celaena’s journey takes a turn that I could not have possibly foreseen. I am so impressed with Maas’s ability to take her readers completely by surprise over and over and over again. Heir of Fire brings Celaena away from everyone and everything she knows, to a part of her world that the reader has never seen before. It’s beautiful and terrifying, and I think this may have been my favorite of the trilogy. I cannot wait to see what Celaena does next, in Queen of Shadows!

18243700

The Assassin’s Blade is a prequel collection of novellas that tell the story of how Celaena became the fierce and gifted assassin she is, and how she was betrayed and enslaved in the mine where Throne of Glass began. This book absolutely broke my heart. For such a young girl, Celaena endures and feels so much. She is a master of her art, and yet at heart she is just a teenager who, in addition to the unique problems associated with her profession, experiences the growing pains of becoming an adult human being.

In all, this is an incredible, beautiful series that I absolutely love. I tore through these before I left for Peru, and I will be purchasing Queen of Shadows as soon as it is released on September 1.

Flowers in the Attic

Flowers in the Attic

891522

While I’d stop short of saying I loved this book, I will say that it did keep me in thrall. I was skeptical about how any author could make the goings-on of one room interesting for 400+ pages, but Andrews accomplished this feat.

In case you’re late to the party, this novel recounts the story of four beautiful children, nicknamed “Dresden dolls” by their neighbors for their porcelain skin and fair features. Theirs is a charmed childhood, and until the events of the novel unfold, the worst thing narrator Cathy can imagine is that her new twin siblings will usurp her place in her parents’ affections. Early in the novel there are allusions to incest, like when one of the suspicious neighbors remarks that the parents look more like brother and sister than husband and wife. After an accident rips away one member of their perfect family, the mother moves her children to her family’s estate in rural Virginia in the middle of the night. There, the children are kept in an upstairs room, where they must stay quiet, tidy, and wary of “impure” thoughts.

The children stay in the attic for years. Years. While their mother cavorts about with her money and her new clothes and her jewels and her suitors, her children moulder in the attic, awaiting the day when dear trusted Momma wins her sick father’s affections, gets written back into his will, and they can live like kings with his money. Little by little, the reader comes to realize, as do the children, that something is rotten in the state of Virginia, and Momma hasn’t been quite honest with them.

Yes, this book has incest in it. Oh dear, just get your freak-out over now. While I’m by no means “into” that sort of thing (yeah, it’s pretty gross), there are worse things in this novel about which you should express your disgust, like religious fanaticism, physical and emotional abuse, and attempted murder.

The writing gets off to a rocky start. The sentences are simple and somewhat dated. Cathy makes exclamations of variations of “great golly lolly!” throughout the book and that gets annoying, but I think the point is to drive home how very naïve and innocent these children are. Their (frankly, psychopathic) grandparents consider them the spawn of the devil and expect them manifest evil from the start, but it’s fairly obvious that the evils that eventually happen do so because they’ve been locked in an attic and told they’re evil. As the novel continues however, and Cathy grows up with her siblings, the writing becomes more introspective and mature, and I think we as readers witness author’s maturation, as well as the characters.

This book is fascinating in the same way train wrecks and car pile-ups are. In true Gothic fashion it is melodramatic and horrifying in an immensely pleasurable way. The wicked kind of pleasure that kids get from pulling the tails of cats and adults get from look at someone’s life and saying, “Thank goodness that’s not me.” I felt guilty for even wanting to read this, but actually I think it’s an important milestone in the YA canon, and so deserves to be read by people who care about literature.

Out of the Easy

Out of the Easy

11178225

I’m struggling with this book, but not for the reasons you might think. I struggle with it because it’s just SO GOOD, and, as a bookseller, I want to recommend the books that are JUST SO GOOD to all the teens that come in and ask me what to read. But this is how I picture this scenario going down:

Overprotective mom/aunt/grandparent: “I’m looking for something for my daughter to read on her vacation this summer. She likes historical books. Can you recommend something for her?”

Me: “SURE! This is a fantastic historical YA novel set in 1950’s New Orleans! I loved it!”

OPM/A/G: “What’s it about?”

Me: “A girl whose mom is a prostitute, whose guardian is a brothel madame, who gets caught up in a bit of trouble when there’s a murder, and oops, then the mob comes after her.”

OPM/A/G: *glares, shoves the books in my direction, and storms off, never to return*

Okay, so maybe that isn’t everyone I meet, but it seems like a lot of the time I’m recommending books to parents instead of kids, and it’s a rare occasion when one says to me, “I don’t care if there’s cursing and sex in it.”

There isn’t cursing and sex in this one. Let me just put that out there. For a novel about hookers and gangsters in one of the most notorious cities in the US, it’s surprisingly clean. This novel has a lot of beautiful things to offer: it portrays deep, abiding friendships; it’s headed by a heroine who wants to better herself for her own sake, and who doesn’t compromise her desires for the sake of romance; it stresses the importance of a college education; and it shows that lies just breed more lies, and if you want to maintain good relationships (not to mention safety and sanity), you should probably tell the truth.

Josie is a girl who basically raised herself. Her mother is a beautiful but vain “woman of the night,” who is in love with exactly the wrong sort of man, and whose dreams are to achieve Hollywood wealth and fame, stay young and beautiful forever, and have every luxury imaginable close at hand. Good role model, right? Josie somehow manages to grow into her exact opposite: she hates attention, she never buys new things, and she dreams of going to college and escaping New Orleans. New Year’s Eve and early 1950 is a turning point for Josie, when she meets two people who become the hinges on which her story swings.

Ruta Sepetys is one of the most underrated authors I’ve ever had the privilege to read. Both of her novels occur in periods and places of history that people often overlook because of other simultaneous events (in Between Shades of Grey, she tells the story of a Lithuanian family displaced from their homes during Stalin’s cruel regime; most people focus on the atrocities of the Nazis during the same period). And her novels are beautifully written, deeply emotional, and very well-peopled. Her characters are easy to get along with. I found myself wishing Josie were a real person, whom I could visit in her bookshop and have tea with around the corner in the French Quarter.

If you like good characters, read this novel. If you like a suspenseful plot, read this novel. If you like stories that make you cry, and then laugh, and then laugh while crying, read this novel. I cannot recommend Ruta Sepetys highly enough. Please do yourself a favor and put this author on your list.

13.17–The Night Circus

13.17–The Night Circus

I am so excited to review this one. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a thing of beauty. If there was a single flaw, I was completely unaware of it. It is a magical, captivating novel, and I adored every second I got to spend with it.

Goodreads Summary

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.”

The novel is set in the Victorian Era, but has no coherent timeline. Almost every chapter is set in a year different from the previous chapter, so that the reader has to put the story line together on his or her own, a trait which I loved.  It made the novel just as elusive as the Cirque itself, and it caused me to devour every page faster than the last so I could find the next piece of the puzzle.  The time period in which it sets is part of what makes it so incredibly beautiful.  Sumptuous silks, brocades, and velvets; dancing flames and primitive electricity; trains; cities just beginning to bustle with industry; opera; theater; elegant parties and dinners…the world of the circus performers is glamorous with an undercurrent of repressed sexuality and magic.  The setting itself, even without the plot, is wholly unique and captivating.

There is something so impossible about the circus itself that makes it difficult to describe in any review.  It is more than just the fact that it opens only at night and is deserted by day, or that everything within it is black and white, and it’s full of people who can work real magic, rather than just sleights of hand.  It’s more than the two powerful magicians who oversee the work of their students.  Perhaps it’s the romance of the “love letters” that Celia and Marco create for each other, or the fact that each member of the circus is suspended in time, as is the circus itself.  Whatever it is, the pervading air of somethingness, of otherness, about Le Cirques des Rêves truly invites you in and makes you comfortable.  I found myself simultaneously wanting to find out how it would end and wishing it would never end so I could stay inside the gates of Le Cirque des Rêves as long as possible.

Speaking of ending, I loved it.  It was perfect.  Morgenstern sets up a horrible situation that it was difficult to imagine a way out of for Celia and Marco.  Yet one forgets that in this world of Morgenstern’s creation, magic is possible and the possibilities go on forever. I enjoyed her solution to the conflict.  It wasn’t perfectly happy and it wasn’t piss-your-reader-off tragic.  It was just right.  Literally everything about this novel was perfect from beginning to end, and I truly applaud Morgenstern for writing one of the best novels I’ve ever read in my life.

Sadly, I’ve discovered that it’s going to be made into a movie.  It’s only of those novels that is so incredibly perfect, and so much fun to imagine for yourself, that I don’t even want to see the trailer.  I don’t want any director’s limited vision ruining what Morgenstern has so perfectly created in my imagination.

12.33–Days of Blood and Starlight

12.33–Days of Blood and Starlight

Laini Taylor does it again! I was hesitant about Days of Blood and Starlight because I didn’t like the way it began. I was really nervous about the theme of the book.  Where Daughter of Smoke and Bone is extremely romantic, Blood and Starlight is all about war.  It’s tough to read, absolutely fraught with emotion, and it’s definitely a nail biter.

For character, Taylor delivers.  Karou unfolds further as a character with untold layers.  It is so easy for the reader to get invested in her.  In this installment, she comes dangerously close to being broken and defeated, but pulls through to find her true self, ten times stronger and more passionate before.  With her people threatened like never before, she must stand against all the forces allied against her–forces she finds in unexpected places.  Her friend Zuzana is as irrepressible and hilarious as usual.  Her recently-acquired boyfriend adds a new element to her hilarity as well. Their banter is some of the best (and only) comic relief in this extremely heavy, war-torn novel.  And Taylor has brewed up a whole new cast of baddies for the reader to hate.  Taylor is a masterful creator of characters, and this novel is no exception.  Can someone please turn me into Karou? Give me some of her spunk? Thanks :)

For plot, I still can’t say much, because I don’t want to give anything away about this book or Smoke and Bone.  I’ll just say that it kept me on the brink of a lot of things the whole time: screaming, crying, throwing things, pulling out my hair, laughing hysterically in public, etc.  In addition to a stunning ability to create engaging characters, Taylor then sticks those characters in situations for which the reader can’t possibly dream up solutions.  She is constantly taking her reader by surprise and giving them new reasons to turn the page.

There is no end to the things I could say about Laini Taylor.  I really haven’t encountered a series I’ve felt this passionate about or affected by since The Hunger Games.  Once again, I can’t recommend this series highly enough.  I encourage everyone who doesn’t have this on their TBR list to get it on there, and those who do have it to bump it to the top. Now.

12.28–Wicked

12.28–Wicked

I revisited this one because it’s been quite a long time since I read it.  I remember sincerely loving the book, and marveling at the darkness with which Maguire writes. By the way, how gorgeous is this cover? Mine doesn’t look that good. Mine looks like this:

Not as pretty

Anyway, I don’t know how many people have read this novel, since it’s been out for years.  For those who haven’t, it tells the story of Elphaba, who is more familiar to fans of The Wizard of Oz under her identity of the Wicked Witch of the West (which I will now refer to as WWW).  In this first novel of Maguire’s, he gives the reader the backstory of the WWW, from her humble beginnings in the country of Munchkinland to her college years at Shiz to her rebellious youth in the Emerald City.  From the novel, the reader learns that Elphaba, or WWW, is not the evil villain we love to hate.  She has been misunderstood her whole life, ostracized because of her green skin, and villainized because she disagrees vocally with the Wizard’s politics.  By the time she meets Dorothy (in part four of the novel), she is middle-aged and beaten down, having suffered a lifetime of loss after loss.

I remembered virtually nothing about this novel.  In my mind it got confused with the musical, which I’ve seen twice.

It’s pretty fabulous

Because I’d forgotten the novel, I was amazed by how different the two stories are.  For one thing, the musical is optimistic. It is the touching tale of two friends that somehow manage to overcome obstacles to their friendship and also make changes for the good of Oz.  The novel, conversely, is not.  For one thing, Elphaba and Glinda do not stay friends the way they do in the musical.  There is a massive cast of characters that pass through Elphaba’s life, but their presence is always fleeting.  Maguire’s novel is also a lot more political.  There is the Wizard, who blew into Oz in a hot air balloon and deposed the reigning child queen, and who oppresses the people of Oz indiscriminately. Munchkins, Quadlings, Animals–all fall under the Wizard’s iron hand.  There is a religious group that closely resembles Christians, known as the unionists, who worship the Unnamed God and attempt with futility to convert people away from the “pleasure faith.”  In fact, Elphaba at one point joins a group that, if not extreme enough to merit the distinction of terrorists, come pretty darn close.  No, it certainly isn’t the Wizard of Oz that we know at love from novel and film.

Part of me really didn’t like reading it this time.  I still give it five stars, because it is masterfully written, is a great and engaging story, and is engrossingly creative.  But there is a hopelessness that dominates the tone of the novel, and sometimes I wasn’t in the mood to pick up such a downer.  The novel seems to hint that resistance to the status quo, to tyranny and oppression, and to evil itself, is a useless pursuit that should be abandoned so that one might have a happy life.  Maybe this is mostly true, as it seems like one person has little power to make change, but I didn’t want to read about it in every word of the novel!

Still, as I said, it is a masterful work.  Maguire has a very dry and sometimes offensive sense of humor, playing with things that one would not normally find amusing (for instance, senility in the elderly). His words are beautiful.  It is a novel that is effortlessly thoughtful, which forces the reader to contemplate their own complacency.  Maguire also creates wonderful characters.  Elphaba is, despite being prickly and somber, a character that the reader can love, though it may stem from pity.  She tries so hard to do the right thing, and it often goes wrong for her.  She is going against the whole of Oz, and one cannot help but admire her courage.  The other characters that come and go (Boq, Galinda, Fiyero, Sarima, Liir, Nessarose, and others) are, if not always fully rounded out, entertaining.  They complement each other well, and yet, simply by existing, create conflict between each other.  Their differing beliefs and ideals clash enough that very little outside strife would be necessary, though it often makes an appearance anyway.

I definitely think the novel has more value than the musical.  Don’t get me wrong. The musical is great–beautiful costumes and sets, catchy and sometimes moving songs, and an entertaining plot line.  But where the musical is fun, the novel is important.  It is a witty, dry, and entertaining commentary on the world in which we live today.  If you’re one of the last people in the world to read this novel, I recommend you get around to it soon!

Or she’ll get you