Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn


I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her. The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club . . . and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer.

My take: 2 stars

I just can't jump on the Gillian Flynn bandwagon, and this book gets me no closer to liking this author. The story is presented from several points of view, and goes back and forth in time in alternating chapters. Flynn's writing is loose and cumbersome, and could have used a little more editing to tighten up the storyline, while adding space for necessary character development. I found that I could skim quite heavily without missing a beat.

The characters were also very flat. Libby is a grown woman now and stunted emotionally by her past. I didn't feel the desperation from Patty as a single mom struggling to make ends meet that I think Flynn intended. While Runner was a rascal, he was almost comical in his singular focus on asking for money - like a caricature. The depictions of the daughters read like an afterthought and lacked the detail and depth that could have garnered sympathy from me. Ben was a compilation of every wayward male teen I've ever seen in the movies.

The climax was completely unbelievable, and the viewpoints of the peripheral characters at the end felt manufactured to facilitate the reader's belief in the wrap-up. The only group that I was interested in as a "real" portrayal was the Kill Club. If the rest of the characters were as real as these members seemed, it would have been a much better book. This is probably my last Flynn novel.

Not recommended.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Silver Crown by Robert C. O'Brien


On her tenth birthday, Ellen wakes up to find a silver crown on her pillow; a few minutes later her house burns up, her parents disappear, and she is launched on an adventure involving a trek through the woods, a castle full of brainwashed captives, and the powerful Hieronymus Machine which wants her crown.

My take: 3 looks

This was a fun, well-written book. Specifically for the younger reader, the book is a page-turner with lots of action and rich characters.

The protagonist, Ellen, finds a fast friend in Otto, as she sets out on an adventure that may or may not end up with her being the queen of ... well, something.

Very entertaining, and a book this size and this pleasant to read is sure to encourage tentative readers to read more.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Author Spotlight: Linda Olsson

When I first picked up Linda Olsson's novel Astrid & Veronika, I was drawn to the cover. The simplicity of the photograph, along with the simplicity of the title. And yet, there were so many layers to these two things.

The cover of the book is a pair of hands holding picked fruit. The colors are stunning. Creamy white hands and blood red berries. Light blue at the top of the photo, and black at the bottom.

And the title: the names of two women. Not only names, but unusual and old-fashioned names, at least by today's standards in the United States.

The book promised so much, just in the cover visual. I was not disappointed. I read this book and fell in love with the author.

When Linda Olsson was invited to speak about this book, this is what she posted on her webpage:

There is the landscape, the seasons, the land. My native Sweden. In a sense perhaps the book is a love letter to the country where I was born. Perhaps it is a letter of farewell. But, more importantly, I think it is a book about friendship. The novel tells a story of an unusual and unexpected friendship. It describes the strength that is to be found in friendship, the comfort and perhaps the love. It describes how a deep friendship can be found and developed anywhere, anytime, at any stage in our lives and between persons who may superficially seem to have very little in common.

Because of the simple manner in which she writes, her stories are personal, completely relatable, and poignant. When I say "simple", I mean that Ms. Olsson does not rely on archaic words and seldom-used phrases that put some authors out of reach. Her words are charged with visions, emotions, and longings. Her descriptions enable you see clearly in your mind's eye where the characters reside, make your mouth water when they prepare meals, and tug at your heart when there are joys or conflicts.

Only a few authors are able to reach me in this way, and I have added each of her published novels to my collection. As a matter of fact, when I see one available, I purchase it to give away. I want everyone to find what I have in her works.

I hope you will seek out Linda Olsson and add her to your reading list.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman


THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE is a fable that reshapes modern fantasy: moving, terrifying and elegiac - as pure as a dream, as delicate as a butterfly's wing, as dangerous as a knife in the dark, from storytelling genius Neil Gaiman. It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed - within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.

My take: 5 looks

A fairy tale for adults - perfection!

As a 7-year-old boy, the narrator experiences situations, people, and creatures he had only ever read of. A malevolent spirit is awakened in the forest, and makes a way to follow him home, inserting herself in his world as her new playground. When Lettie, his new friend from down the lane realizes that she had a hand in this creature's presence, she determines to send it home.

And it goes from there. A novella written with several layers of meaning, I found what I think is the heart of the story on page 112:

"I'm going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the while wide world."

And there-in lies my love for this book. Gaiman hits it right on the head. Grown-ups need fairy tales, too, and here he delivers a grand one!

Highly recommended.