Can a Christmas story avoid quaintness? That’s a difficult question. It seems some quaintness is innate. And most of that tends to veer into schmaltziness. It’s just ever so twee, the heartwarming aspects of it all. Even with ghosts, you ask? Yes, even with ghosts.
But then again, I do love to read thematically. I actually got this book through Netgalley a while back and deliberately saved it for Christmas and sure enough if you read it exactly on Christmas day it does take care of some of the overwrought emotional heartstringtugging. Especially, since it’s actually a fairly decent book in and off itself – a decent story, well written and featuring some very nice photorealistic sort of original art.
Like so many stories, this is a love story, specifically a story of love interrupted, abbreviated all too soon by tragedy.
A cultural anthropologist specializing in urban legends uncovers one she can’t resist – primarily because it hits too close to her, a story of a young Navy man named Sam who desperately tries to get to his new wife on Christmas day only to vanish right before midnight. Seen by many London cabbies over the years, he becomes something of a local legend. One our protagonist, devastated by the recent tragic loss of the man she had just married, is determined to figure out.
Can two lovelorn lonelies help each other on Christmas day? Well, what do you think? Tis, after all, the season.
This book, appropriately enough, is a love child of a married couple, and is on its most recent reincarnation and it somewhat reads as such, which is to say it reads like a shorter story that’s been padded up. Which implies a certain level of drawn-outness and repetition (does the protagonist really need to tell us three times that she’s an ugly crier sort of thing), so it’s leisurely paced and the investigation of Sam’s story takes an inordinate amount of time for someone who’s meant to be an expert. And yes, it is overtly emotionally charged. But other than that, it’s perfectly readable and indeed perfectly suited for Christmas.
Thematically, it’s a book that’s determined to tell you there’s no place like home. Determined like it’s heel-clicking Dorothy. Or a cheesy holidays commercial.
Which is to say, that throughout the book the protagonist’s father (whom she as an adult woman calls Daddy), who continues to call her from Alabama to London at all times of day and night (because he apparently doesn’t understand the time difference) and emotionally manipulate/guilt her into coming home for Christmas. Which is to say that all Sam wants to do is to go home to his wife for the holidays. And also, (NON-CRUCIAL PLOT GIVEAWAY ALERT. BEWARE) the main character’s husband literally dies driving in a storm to get home for the holidays.
You’d think one of the best things about the last two nightmarish years has been the fact that people no longer HAVE to get home (as designated by their blood family) for the holidays and endure all the concomitant tedium of that. But no, guess where the protagonist winds up at the end of this story? (NON-CRUCIAL PLOT GIVEAWAY ALERT. BEWARE). That’s right, in her home, in Alabama.
There, the cheesy moral of social convention driven home with a subtlety of a freight train. Job done.
Anyway. HoHoHo and Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. May you celebrate where your heart is. Thanks Netgalley.
Once upon a time there was an old manse just outside of town. It belonged to an old lady who wielded a not inconsiderable amount of power. There were two kids in her charge. And then there were three. The kids who thought they were happy and content in their lives until they started asking questions and found the answers to be impossible to live with.
That can be any old witch story, can’t it? Leave to McMahon to make something genuinely original and terrifying out of it. McMahon is an author I absolutely love and read regularly. She seldom disappoints and all too frequently delights with her dark tales of her beloved Vermont.
Over the years, McMahon has veered from straight up thrillers that overpower the markets right now into the spookier, more supernatural of a territory, a bold and most welcome transition. This book, to be fair, stays away from the supernatural, relying instead more on the unnatural and, oh yes, there is a difference.
A pretty interesting angle from a book that’s all about monsters, isn’t it, but rest assured the monsters here are all of the horrifyingly people-like variety.
This is in a way a very Nietzschean story about abyss gazing. The old lady is in fact a renowned psychology expert in charge of a small prestigious mental institution and her grandkids are a happily homeschooled boy and a girl, both very smart and both completely obsessed with monsters. A new girl is placed in their charge, someone their grandmother has been helping, a traumatized girl with scars visible and otherwise, a girl who won’t say a word.
The three of them get along, though, and soon the girl is coming out of her shell, much to the delight of Vi, her adopted sister. The girls find themselves alike, two peas in the same scarred pod, and soon a very close friendship develops. So close, that Vi decides to defy her grandmother’s strict orders and invade her privacy, hoping to find out about her adopted sister’s past. What she finds will change everyone’s lives. Forever.
And that’s just one of the storylines. The other one features Lizzy, the 53-year-old version of one of the girls, who became a proper monster-hunting expert, devoting her life to investigating paranormal reports but secretly all the while the person she is hunting, the person she is hoping to find the most is her long-gone sister. It’s been four decades, but Lizzy believes that her sister might be responsible for a string of disappearances – all young girls from difficult situations/families/circumstances.
It’s a collision course that’ll eventually take Lizzy back to Vermont, a place she had so staunchly avoided this entire time, because sometimes to solve a mystery you have to go back to the beginning.
So, that’s basically the story, a very compelling one and not just because of my personal interest in things like asylums and eugenics. The entire thing is fascinating, excellently written and extremely emotionally engaging.
Tone-wise, though, it does a very strange flip toward the end - you know, that place that thrillers allot for wowing the readers with twists and turns. So the book is uniformly very dark in tone and then in the end it does this odd flip toward the light only to (at the very, very end) remember itself and turn dark once more. Peculiar. But good all the same. The entire thing is good…great even. So much fun to read. I enjoyed it tremendously. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
This is my third read by the author who continues to make a strong impression. It isn’t just that she’s a very engaging writer who can draw you into the story – a lot of people can do it, especially with thrillers – it’s that her writing is so much cleverer than the average thriller might offer, nay, that an average book of any genre might offer.
To be fair, what Candlish writes are technically more of crime dramas than outright thrillers, which denotes a stronger dramatic component. And though this might not be her favorite of mine, because I don’t care for “mommy thrillers” i.e. stories powered by the potency of mother’s love, there’s so much more to love here.
Technically, this is also a “daddy thriller”, almost thought not quite in equal proportions. So, let’s go with parental devotion drive work instead. The parents of Lucas adore him and think the world of him. They disapprove of the new kid his prestigious school has paired him up with, a kid from less advantageous circumstances, a kid seemingly determined to steer their precious baby boy in the wrong direction.
And sure enough, Lucas and Kieran become fast friends and Kieran goes on to seemingly return the animosity Lucas’ mom proceeds to develop towards him. Difficult few years of parenting, but sure enough soon Lucas is off to the university, Kieran stays behind, life returns to normal. Until the two get reunited for a party weekend over the Christmas and that reunion ends in tragedy.
And Mommy cannot let it go. No punishment is enough. No consolation is there to be found. She becomes obsessed with a revenge-style form of justice and that obsession drives the entire story.
There are side players there, her family, Kieran’s cobbled together family, people who really just don’t have enough power to curb a mommy on the mission. She is desperate, determined and (ever so slightly) demented. It seems like a one-way trip into the darkness, but Candlish is too smart, too nuanced of an author to let that stand. Instead, she pivots the story about midway through to Lucas’ dad, to provide a completely different perspective on the events. And it won’t be the last pivot, either. Because what Candlish has such a terrific understanding of is that every story has angles to it, not just the traditional she said/he said dichotomy, but a proper multifacetedness. In other words, it’s fifty shades of grey on the moral scale and then some.
And so, the games unfold. Twisting and turning until the very end. Candlish covers all the conventional aspects of the thriller genre, but her approach is slower, more measured, more complex – hence me saying this is more of a crime drama – so I’m not sure it’s right for every fan of conventional thrillers. But if you’re into it for the dark psychology, excellent character writing and nuances…step right up. This book will thrill you. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
I’m the first to review this on GR. My third read by the author. An author I apparently like more than remember.
I was reading this book with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. It reminded me so much of something…and, now with GR handy, I realized that what it reminded me of was likely its predecessor, which I read less than a year ago and apparently almost completely forgot about.
This is odd, because I really like Offutt’s writing, so much so I’ll even read his rural noir or country crime or whatever it is exactly that he writes. I’ve heard both, but for me noir just doesn’t stretch quite that far, so let’s stick with country crime drama set in the author’s beloved Kentucky, a place he tends to get all hillbilly elegiac about.
Not at all my scene, not at all a place I’d normally want to visit even at the safe remove of an armchair, and yet Offutt makes it worth a trip. There’s such ease and humor to his writing, such innate likability to his characters…it just draws you in.
And so, there you go, once more to the hills and small towns of Kentucky with its gun-toting English language manglers. It’s all about the family in them there (one Kentuckiasm and WORD is freaking out) hills and so when not one but two sons of a local matriarch Shifty get killed, justice needs to be served. And since the local sheriff is too busy trying to get herself re-elected, it’s up to her brother, an army investigator on leave, to figure things out.
Which he does, oddly enough at his own not inconsiderable expense, all while trying to stay sober and contemplating signing divorce papers.
From what it is I can possibly remember from book one, this is very, very similar. In tone, in themes, in subject matter, etc. And the actual crime here is solved in so much shooting, it’s almost like it’s trying to compete with the new Matrix movie.
But the thing is, this book for me isn’t about the crime or the scenery, I just really enjoy Offutt’s writing. It’s so engaging, so dynamic, so fun. It goes by very quickly, and even if it’s apparently not at all memorable, it’s still plenty entertaining for the duration. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
There are mainly two kinds of people who think living in NYC is a good idea – the moneyed elite and the idealistic lunatics. This is the story about the former, specifically about someone who begins to kill off the privileged wealthy scions of well-known and well-connected families. Their names are seemingly chosen from the society pages of a local newspaper at random. Or are they?
The police do their best to investigate and they recruit the protagonist of the novel – one of those loaded scions – to help them navigate the world where people swim in money Donald Duck style.
This book takes a minute to get into, it’s tone at first is very much British upper-class dramatics set in the modern America, but then you get used to it because all that obnoxious pretentiousness is, of course, satire. And that’s just some of it. The political satire elements are very present too. This book doesn’t just spoof its characters, it goes after the world they so luxuriously reside in too.
While I enjoy a good satire, I must admit this one is somewhat heavy-handed. But then again, it takes it upon itself to spoof a period of time that is practically ready-made for spoofing. The recent American past is pretty much a tragicomedy of theatrical proportions, a satire onto itself, the low hanging fruit of subjects.
The writing itself is quite good. The overblown pretentiousness of the tediously useless denizens of this novel is done with wry panache. It’s a smug novel, though. It sort of tells you how clever it is instead of merely showing you, right down to the gimmick of a trick ending. The protagonist is as glibly smug as the novel itself, and for a good reason, he is, after all, a perfect product of his environment.
Overall, it’s pretty fun, though, and a quick read. I wouldn’t mind checking out what the author does next, provided it’s away from the politics; the man seems to have a knock for dark comedy in bright places. Pretty good find for a random kindle freebie.
Looks like I’m the first person to rate and review this book and in this instance I’m glad to do so, because I enjoyed this novel and think it deserves an audience.
Interestingly enough, this is a father/daughter collaboration about (among other things) a pretty unconventional father/daughter relationship. The other things are, specifically, a death-defying white water rafting trip through the Artic wilderness…with a body in tow. Because just dragging yourself, a canoe, and a ton of supplies through the inclement weather and hostile environs apparently wasn’t enough. I seriously don’t get the appeal of these sorts of adventures, but then again it makes them all the more interesting for me to read about.
So, meet Lee, our protagonist, inspired in her adventurous spirit and her sexuality by the daughter side of this author combo. Lee gets dragged on this crazy adventure by her girlfriend - their relationship is just new enough that a lot of madness can pass for a good idea. The girlfriend drops off in the most modern of ways – taking a selfie – and Lee is then stuck with first a severely injured person and then a body. In a fit of inspiring dedication, she decides to bring the body back and so she drags it along. Lee’s supplies and spirits are getting precipitously low, but her inner strength preservers and on she goes.
Meanwhile, through flashback style stories told to stay sane, we learn of Lee’s most unusual upbringing by her off-grid fanatic father. Those stories always interest me, think Leave No Trace in movies, but with a much less likeable/sympathetic father figure. Still, it’s nuanced, complex and compelling. It’s also something Lee survives, much like she is determined to survive this wild trip, so in many ways this is a survival story and a good one at that. Strong emotional engagement all around, this book gives you a protagonist you want to succeed.
The writing is very vivid, it brings the story to life in all of its privations and quiet and dangerous beauty of nature. The book really doesn’t need the subtitle (and I don’t like those), it speaks for itself. It’s engaging, exciting and entertaining, all the things you’d want in a book. A family drama, a love story, an adventure, a survival thriller, a coming of age story. Well done, Johnson family. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
I’ve read Modan’s The Property before, so I sort of new what to expect with this book, both story wise and art wise, and sure enough, this was done very much in the same vein. Albeit, on a more basic scale. This book was Modan’s English language debut and it’s shorter in length, and to an extent in range, than the Property, but it still has that terrific realism and verisimilitude that she brings to storytelling with art that may seem simplistic at first, but it in fact very effective.
The story is about a man who gets dragged into searching for his estranged father aby his father’s much younger lover, a very tall young woman from a very wealthy family. The two protagonists end up being the proverbial odd couple searching for a man who was apparently a total player, a man who himself never makes an appearance within the pages.
The initial suspicion is that he might have been a victim of a suicide attack, which is a something as ubiquitously and uniquely Israeli tragedy much like America has with its school shootings. It’s interesting the way that gets treated culturally – like something fairly ordinary, something people just learn to live with. It makes you consider the way societies evolve to accommodate their dark sides.
The entire book, all Modan’s writing, really, is just interesting from a purely cultural perspective, but I also like her writing, the matter-of-factness of it, her style of storytelling, like a good indie or a good foreign movie.
There’s also a very good long interview with the author at the end of the book, all about her career specifically and the state of comic business in Israel in general. Very interesting and definitely worth a read. Recommended.
Perfectly serviceable doesn’t get the best rap and yet, it would be so apt here. There’s nothing really wrong with perfectly serviceable, it’s essentially the equivalent of conversational fine, as in “so, how’s that book?” “oh, it’s fine.”
I mean, it is fine, technically. It covers all the basis, the writing’s decent, the characters are decent…it’s just that nothing in this book ever gets above that level.
The plot of this supernaturally-themed thriller is a conglomeration of a number of genre themes – not a single original thing to be found here plot-wise. It’s one of those small town ghostly mysteries with the protagonist who sees dead people/premonitions/lake monsters. Does Adriana (Addie) make a compelling protagonist? Well, once again, she’s fine. Nothing special about her, got pregnant too young out of some teenage rebellion/stupidity, had a kid too young, now she’s living off her estranged father’s conditional largesse. The father, Bradley, is also the town’s longtime mayor and an all-around scumbag, who manipulates Addie and a bunch of other people for fun and gains.
Addie’s something of an artist, she draws, she does tattoos. Now, in order to maintain the custody of her kid, she has to get a proper job. And she does, but her dreams continue to be haunted by some terror rising out of a lake, so she begins to snoop around and finds out all sorts of disturbing but not-all-all-surprising truths about her father and other local potentates.
She scores some allies along the way, and, to his credit, the author does a good job with side characters. And then the story rolls down to its inevitable conclusion of justice and fairness for all, pretty much a happy ending.
Is it worth the almost 400 pages of getting there? Well, that’s a matter of personal preference. I’d say for an unoriginal story with nothing new to offer, featuring just average writing and just average characters, 371 pages might be a stretch. But then again, there’s nothing really objectionable about this book either. It’s that solidly committedly fine of a production. The realism of the narrative does its best to offset the tiresome convolutions of small-town politics and attitudes. Also stands to mention, this is a debut, so for a debut it’s decent, decently edited too. The author might get some original ideas down the road and step up his game. I mean, if the most negative thing one can say about the book is how meh, how bland, how plain it is…well, that’s actually ok, objectively. Especially, for a random debut. So, I'm going to round up my rating in a random display of uncharacteristic generosity. Reader mileage may vary. Thanks Netgalley.
The author of this book wrote ten poetry collections prior to veering into …well, whatever this is. For me, it read like a long form prose poetry narrative of a confessional nature. And no, I didn’t especially care for it.
To be fair, I’m not a huge poetry fan, I’m trying to read some things here and there, but overall, it isn’t really me. Nor am I a fan of memoirs, fictionalized or not. Nor am I really a fan of experimental fiction. So, really, what on earth am I doing reading this book? Well, what can I say…I don’t know, it piqued my interest.
It checked the international reading box, for sure, I’ve never read a Catalan author. This is a very European flavored book. And now and again, there were some interesting turns of phrase, some striking descriptions, etc. but overall, this wasn’t so much the case of being just too far out of my reading comfort zone, but a case of not offering enough to merit the venture.
The protagonist is a woman so emotionally distant that her carapace explains the title. She compensates for it by having sex, copious amounts of lesbian sex with random women whom she doesn’t love, but really she just prefers her own company. She occasionally relates to her much more conventional family. She observes life around her. That’s about it. Frankly, it’s too small of a book for the protagonist to do much, even if she did seem inclined to do so. This is more of a…scenes from a life in a style of a diary.
It’s very vivid and very visceral and vascular in a way that’s meant to be revolutionary or mind-blowing, but mostly it just seems like oversharing of someone trying to be all those things. Look how daring and bold to write so frankly about sex…sort of thing. It might work for some, for me it was kind of off-putting, that makes me sound like a prude I’m not, it’s just a matter of personal preference. For me, sex ought to serve a story not be the story. Nihilistic overstylized by a hyperreal approach orgiastic adventures of an unlikable protagonist are not really it. This book is all too aware of its subversive preciousness.
Then again, this book got a Critical Darling written all over its naked and glistening body, so I’m sure there’s an audience for this sort of thing. So, anyway, it was an experiment - they don’t all work. But at least, it had the decency to be brief about it. Pass.
I’m delighted to be the first person to read and review this book. For noir lovers this is a treasure trove.
I love movies. I love watching them, talking about them, I review some of them on my blog. There’s a universal appeal to movies that books (my other love) don’t quite hit. And what’s more, there’s a way that a good movie engages – so impressively, so multi-dimensionally, so strikingly – that oftentimes stays with me longer than a book does.
I don’t get to talk about movies as much as I want to. Blogging /reviewing is a one-way street. So is reading about movies, but it’s a different sort of a street at least. In fact, reading this book was very much like having a good conversation about movies with an intelligent knowledgeable person. In other words – fun.
Sure, the conversation had a format-necessitating one-sidedness to it. So, more of a monologue, really, But still…good.
To be fair, this book doesn’t just concentrate on noir cinema, it also features authors, actors, books, etc. Though the focus does seem to be on the movies.
I’m not actually a huge noir fan. I’ve a fine appreciation of the genre but haven’t watched or read all that much of it. Didn’t need to in order to enjoy this book, though, the author’s enthusiasm, passion and seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the genre was enough for both of us. Sometimes, it’s just nice to read someone go on about what they love if they are eloquent, erudite, and excited about it.
This was very much such a book. Noir, how David Lehman loves thee, let him count the ways.
Well, he loves it enough to tell you all about it, writes poems about it, draw clever comparisons and parallels about it. In other words - plenty.
So, yeah, I enjoyed this. Do I prefer a more comedic tone in my nonfiction? Sure, but it isn’t a must. Do I wish for photos and such? Sure, but also, not a must. Do I wish I read a proper edition and not an ARC? Definitely. Cornell University might offer a first-class education, but their press’ ARCs leave a lot to be desired formatting wise. Going to have to remember to avoid them in the future.
So, that’s it. The dames, the shamus, the femme fatales, the iconic detectives with unforgettable lines and their amicable sidekicks, the criminals and rogues…they are all here, making smoking seem so much more glamourous than repugnant and squinting into the fog of the city pensively. Just waiting to tell you a story. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.