A Madness So Discreet

A Madness So Discreet

Cover image for A Madness So Discreet
Cover image for A Madness So Discreet

Where has this book been?! The title seems familiar to me, but I cannot remember if it received any hype, or if I just remember seeing it hit the shelves and fizzle. It deserves more hype than it got, in my opinion, but these days it seems only paranormal romance and fantasy books get any hype at all. In any case, I tore through this one–couldn’t put it down.

“Grace Mae is already familiar with madness when family secrets and the bulge in her belly send her to an insane asylum, but it is in the darkness that she finds a new lease on life. When a visiting doctor interested in criminal psychology recognizes Grace’s brilliant mind beneath her rage, he recruits her as his assistant. Continuing to operate under the cloak of madness at crime scenes allows her to gather clues from bystanders who believe her less than human. Now comfortable in an ethical asylum, Grace finds friends and hope. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who will bring her shaky sanity and the demons in her past dangerously close to the surface.” —Indiebound.org

First, this novel is dark. Really dark. Especially in the beginning. We all know that insane asylums in the 1800s were not happy places to be, and that inconvenient people, especially women, could be remanded to their custody for anything from a fainting spell to infidelity. I assume that this author, having done her research well, did not invent any of the “treatments” inflicted upon our protagonist, Grace. To read the beginning of this novel felt a bit like rubbernecking–you know you shouldn’t look, but you can’t look away.

Grace struggles with the abuse she suffered, first at the hands of her family, and then at the hands of the people who are supposed to rehabilitate her (for an illness she doesn’t have). She is a powerful character with a hold on her emotions that borders on too strong. When she is removed from the clutches of the asylum, the reader hopes that perhaps her life will become a little lighter and brighter. In a way this is true, but in others, those rosy dreams can never be. Her life has already contained too much trauma to leave her completely happy. However, in her new life, she at least has purpose and friends, and the reader can’t help but enjoy her turn in fortune.

For cast of characters, this novel wins a lot of points. From the quirky voice who accompanies her in the dark at the asylum, to the doctor who rescues her, to her irrepressible half-mad friends, to the looming, terrible presence of this novel’s villains, each character is well-formed and wholly believable.

I also really enjoyed this novel for the sheer pleasure of reading about a subject I’d never encountered before. Asylums of this period hold a lot of interest simply for the bizarre way people approached psychology at this point–all the weird pseudoscience swirling around. It’s doubly interesting because it also explores the new fields of criminal psychology and, to a certain degree, forensics. I’ve only read one book about the actual history of early murder (especially serial murder) investigations, and the bumbling about of early investigators and stumped police would be amusing if it weren’t life or death for the people involved.

To wrap this up, this is a great novel. I’d recommend it to any fans of historical fiction, great female characters, and dark, twisted stories in which you’re not sure what’s right and wrong. It’s been out for a few years, and it definitely deserves more attention than it got.

Two Books Read Simultaneously (Because One Scared Me And I Couldn’t Read It After Dark)

Two Books Read Simultaneously (Because One Scared Me And I Couldn’t Read It After Dark)

I have mentioned in a previous post that I am very suggestible. Even the hint of something scary is enough to set my mind whirring into all sorts of horrifying possibilities. So when I tried to read Night Film by Marisha Pessl, I was spooked pretty much constantly.

Night Film
Night Film

“On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years. For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself. Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world. The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time, he might lose even more. Night Film, the gorgeously written, spellbinding new novel by the dazzlingly inventive Marisha Pessl, will hold you in suspense until you turn the final page.”–Indiebound

This book is supposedly a thriller, but I would argue it’s slightly scarier than that, although what do I know about true horror? I can’t read it. Books like this are difficult to talk about without giving too much away, so I will just say a few things about it. First, I liked the characters a lot, especially McGrath’s two “sidekicks.” Each main character, even the deceased girl, Ashley, is nuanced and detailed in a way that few authors achieve without seeming to show significant effort. McGrath, though unlikable, is an excellent, flawed protagonist whose mission to prove himself ends up driving the story. My only complaint is that he is not tremendously believable as a father.

There are almost two endings to this story, and I enjoyed that immensely. You’ll see what I mean when you read it.

And again, this book scared the daylights out of me. I could only read it during the day. It’s so spooky, and it hints at some really dark and even perhaps demonic dealings that go on in shadowy locations around New York. There are also pictures in this novel, so you never know when you’ll turn a page and come face to face with something weird and startling. Because of this, I had to have something to read that was definitely less scary, and less adult:

Deep Blue
Deep Blue

“Deep in the ocean, in a world not so different from our own, live the merpeople. Their communities are spread throughout the oceans, seas, and freshwaters all over the globe. When Serafina, a mermaid of the Mediterranean Sea, awakens on the morning of her betrothal, her biggest worry should be winning the love of handsome Prince Mahdi. And yet Sera finds herself haunted by strange dreams that foretell the return of an ancient evil. Her dark premonitions are confirmed when an assassin’s arrow poisons Sera’s mother. Now, Serafina must embark on a quest to find the assassin’s master and prevent a war between the Mer nations. Led only by her shadowy dreams, Sera searches for five other mermaid heroines who are scattered across the six seas. Together, they will form an unbreakable bond of sisterhood and uncover a conspiracy that threatens their world’s very existence.”–Indiebound

All I really want to say about this book (so I can forget about it quickly) is that it is stupid. The plot is stupid, the characters are stupid, and the world-building is stupid. The stupid “mermaidisms” drove me insane (example: their money is called “currensea.” Stop.)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The lines between the world we know and the fantasy world where mermaids exist are not well-blended, and it comes off rushed and sloppy. This book is about at the quality level of a made-for-TV movie. I’m not interested in the rest of the series. I’m totally disappointed because I think there is a lack of good mermaid literature in the book world, and I was hoping this would make up some ground. It didn’t. Even for children’s level reading, it was bad.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train

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Maybe I’m the last book reviewer to read this book by Paula Hawkins, but better to read it late than never at all! I almost never read mysteries or thrillers because they aren’t my cup of tea (give me dragons and a woman with a sword and I’m happy). But my mom read this one and it hooked her, so I read the inside cover at work last weekend and couldn’t resist giving it a go.

Here’s the text that got me: “Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life as she sees it is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?”  — via Indiebound

WHAT DID SHE SEE?? Amiright? Compared to the last mystery/thriller thing I read (Gone Girl) this was SO MUCH BETTER. I wanted to like Gone Girl as much as everyone else did, but I was too disturbed to like it from start to finish. This one contained similar themes, but with an ending that didn’t have me roaring with rage.

I feel like there isn’t much that one can review without accidentally spoiling something. The beauty of a novel like this is that the reader goes in knowing almost nothing, and the author unfolds the story with surprise after surprise. So I don’t want to give too much away. I’ll just talk about the things I liked in general terms. First up: the characters. I didn’t love all of them (because you aren’t supposed to), but I certainly did like Rachel. Rachel is an every-woman’s woman. Life dealt her some pretty sucky blows, and unlike the unrealistic heroines of many popular novels, she does not have her shit together. To be real, she’s a wreck. And yet, she still ends up being the one who sorts through the tangled threads of the mystery first, all while being judged appallingly by the people who do have their shit together. So take that, haters!

Second: plot, obviously. It was a whirlwind. I couldn’t and didn’t want to put it down. I had to know what happened and who made it happen. There are multiple characters with enough sketch-factor to keep things interesting from beginning to end. And I wanted to know what Rachel would do. There were several places in the novel where I groaned out loud, and I might have even said, “Oh, my god, you didn’t, again?!” Maybe.

Third: structure. There are at least three different women who tell the story from their point of view. Each of them keeps her own secrets, has her own flaws, harbors a dark side that she hides behind a veneer of suburban polish (except Rachel, who has completely lost all semblance of polish). The perspectives also jump about in time a bit, so you have to keep an eye on that. I thought it was a clever way of doing things because you get each woman’s perspective, rather than the perspective of one and a whole bunch of speculation about the inner thoughts and hidden activities of the others.

I think you will like this book. Yeah, you. Like I said, thrillers are not usually my thing, but this is one that bridges the genre divide and is smart and interesting enough to keep readers of all genre-preferences interested.

12.34–The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

12.34–The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

 

This book was an absolute delight to read.  I’m not a big mystery enthusiast, but this book was well-written, well-plotted, and intelligent in a way that many mystery novels are not.

Mary Russell is a fun character to delve into.  King wrote the story in first-person from Mary’s point of view, and Mary is delightful.  The Sherlock Holmes that the reader sees in this novel is not the same as that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original portrayal of him.  In this novel, he is 30 years older, seemingly retired, and much less sociopathic than the original.  It’s a little hard to get used to, because the original Holmes is strangely lovable as an asshole, but I came to love this one too.

Mary and Sherlock meet one day as she is walking across the fields of Sussex.  With her face buried in a book, the fifteen-year-old nearly tramples him, and that is their first fateful meeting.  After a brief conversation, in which Mary startles and fascinates him with her sharp wit and cunning intelligence, he brings her back to his cottage, where  he lives in retirement.  There, Mrs. Hudson feeds her undernourished frame, and her friendship with Holmes solidifies.  Shortly, she begins to come to his cottage multiple times a week, and an unspoken agreement that he will train her as his apprentice arises.  The majority of this novel is back story, though eventually they begin to solve cases together, until the last big one of the novel breaks over their heads like a storm surge.  I confess, the mystery of it was cunningly constructed, and I did not see the resolution coming at all.  This may be because I rarely read mysteries and am not used to deducing the outcome, but I like to think it’s because King is a clever writer.

The prose is extremely enjoyable.  Mary Russell is extremely intelligent and well-spoken.  Her vocabulary is exceptional, and I had to make a list of the words I did not know.

per·i·pa·tet·ic:  [per-uh-puh-tet-ik]

adjective

1.  walking or traveling about; itinerant.
Wonderful, fun read. I couldn’t put it down! I highly recommend it for fans of mysteries, Sherlock Holmes, and strong female protagonists.  Thanks so much to Peri for recommending this novel to me! I can’t wait to read more in the series.  You recommend more books to me than I do to you!