From such an intriguing, eerie, and promising beginning, I found “The Vanishing Season” to be sadly quite disappointing. Reading this on a short tripFrom such an intriguing, eerie, and promising beginning, I found “The Vanishing Season” to be sadly quite disappointing. Reading this on a short trip to Door County, Wisconsin, where it is set, added a lot to their atmosphere of the ultimately empty novel.
16 year old Maggie’s family has fallen on hard times and are forced to move into a dilapidated inherited vacation house in the tiny tourist town of Gill Creek, Wisconsin, on the Door Peninsula. Maggie, a serious, staid girl, is apprehensive about the move but soon meets her neighbors, Pauline, a wealthy, beautiful quirky girl who seems refreshingly unpretentious and childlike, and her childhood friend Liam, the gentle eccentric outdoorsy boy who loves woodworking. The two soon help Maggie adjust to her new surroundings and she even begins to think of it as home. It is evident pretty early that there will be a love triangle between the three, as Maggie soon finds Liam her first love, while he is smitten with Pauline, who sees him only as a friend and appears completely uninterested in romance.
Meanwhile, terror is being spread on the peninsula as a mysterious serial killer begins murdering young women and dumping their bodies in Lake Michigan, while at the same time a mysterious ghost-like entity watches the three teenagers and the killer, while trying to remember his or her reason for lingering. These asides became the most interesting part of the novel, but unfortunately neither the ghost nor the murders effect the characters or the plot in any tangible way, and they could be removed entirely with very little change in the proceedings.
While we got to know Maggie a little throughout the novel, I felt the characterizations of every other character were misleading and weak, if they got any characterization at all. Their actions often contradicted what we (or at least Maggie) thought they knew about them- is this because Maggie is a bad judge of character or because of poorly described characterizations? I think I’m going with the characterization, judging that aside from these three, nobody else got more than a token identity- with cases such as Liam’s dad receiving just a handful of lines of dialogue. As the novel closed into it’s last few chapters I was like, “Hmm, they’re going to have to make a reveal pretty quick here,” but...
(view spoiler)[While not completely unexpected due to overt foreshadowing, I was surprised to find that what I thought were red herrings ended with Maggie freezing to death for no real reason, led to her death by the happy go lucky Pauline. I was not certain what the tragic death of our viewpoint character was supposed to signify, narratively? It seemed to render large portions of the proceeding story totally meaningless, I felt. Compared to another tragic ending I’ve read recently, Maggot Moon, Maggie’s “sacrifice” seems feeble and pointless; yes “bad things happen to good people” and anyone can just be hit by a bus, as it were, but since we were never really interested in these characters in the end, the tragedy serves no purpose but to annoy the reader. Pauline, Liam, and Maggie's parents ability to go on without much thought of either Maggie's tragic death or their roles in it also seemed odd. (hide spoiler)]
Beautiful writing and atmosphere coupled with a disappointingly meandering love triangle and a hasty, unsatisfying ending was not enough to make “The Vanishing Season” anything but a disappointing read. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A more or less satisfying conclusion to the lovingly crafted Wildwood Chronicles, Wildwood Imperium highlights both the strengths and the weaknesses oA more or less satisfying conclusion to the lovingly crafted Wildwood Chronicles, Wildwood Imperium highlights both the strengths and the weaknesses of this ornate young adult fantasy epic series. I quite enjoyed the trilogy, finding it to be a rich celebration of childlike fantasy adventure nostalgia and imagination, as melodic wordsmith Colin Meloy of the Decemberists takes a beloved real life location (Portland, Oregon and all its quirks) and paints on a lush overlay of secondary world. However, as the final book in the trilogy, Wildwood: Imperium, stretched into it’s final (final) few hundred pages, I think I came to the conclusion that it was becoming a little over indulgent. The quirkiness began to over spice the proceedings, just a bit. Like eating a gigantic layer cake, delicious, rich, but in the end, just a bit too much sugar. There is a cultivated, almost vintage, oddness to the characters and events that I’m not sure how much will appeal to most children, but it somehow feels like one of those books that Suzy Bishop would have been reading in Moonrise Kingdom.
As a big fan of the Decemberists, throughout the series, Meloy’s trademark use of language and elements of folklore, mythology, and history come through strongly, making each of the plethora of elements mixed together fun, if not altogether coherent. The Chronicles chronicle the mysterious Impassable Wilderness (known as Wildwood), hugging the western border of Portland, Oregon, what in this world would be called Forest Park. Having recently visited this lovely place, including the integral Pittock Mansion and the scenic Wildwood Trail, the setting of the verdant, Pacific Northwestern forest nestled next to an urban area comes through powerfully.
Continuing where Under Wildwood left off on a cliffhanger, Imperium wraps up much of the simmering plots and multitude of characters begun when young Portlanders Prue and Curtis found themselves in the strange principalities of the “Impassable Wilderness,” defeating (for now) the power mad Alexandra, the Dowager Governess, joining the honor bound but anarchistic Bandits, negotiating the power vacuum left by the collapse of an old regime, and attempting to fulfill the prophecies put forward by the Elder Trees, oldest life forms in the forest, while the future of both Portland and Wildwood is threatened from outside by the machinations of industrialist Joffrey Unthank and the Titans of Industry who rule the Industrial Wastes.
It seemed very comfortable reading, obscure vocabulary aside, with too little actually at stake, as unlike say, His Dark Materials, I never really feared for the outcome. The almost overstuffed ambiance, following at least three or four different plot lines which come together only loosely, if they came together at all, tired a little. A couple of the plots cutting through the latter two books in the series, particularly involving the Mehlberg siblings (as much as I enjoyed them) and the battle for the Industrial Wastes, seemed a bit superfluous and could have been cut without effecting the rest of the story. Maybe they deserved their own novels? While I still enjoyed almost all of these elements, on occasion it just seemed somewhat crowded, in particular the prominent use of the chosen one type of prophecy, which I had hoped might be subverted but is played fairly straight throughout the novel. In the end, Meloy’s ornate writing and almost collage like amalgam of fun coming of age fantasy tropes was enjoyable, but for me, did not really push the envelope. ...more
This short collection of ghostly folklore from North America certainly brings back some memories. I remember checking out "Whistle in the Graveyard,"This short collection of ghostly folklore from North America certainly brings back some memories. I remember checking out "Whistle in the Graveyard," from my elementary school library in 3rd Grade and reading it that fall, sharing the spooky short tales with my friends and family (my sister, in particularly, found the stories chilling- especially the one about the thing that stalked a child by whispering which step of the stairs it was on each night before striking). Slightly less gruesome and blood curdling than the "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" series (particularly the art) folklorist Maria Leach retells the tales with a simplicity that makes it a good introduction to spooky stories for children. I recall being especially intrigued by the locations and people evoked by the folklore, particularly Nova Scotia and the Inuit of Alaska. Leach may have helped to kindle my continuing interest in folklore and mythology (as well as scary stories), the book would be great for a curious kid, but still offers some insights for adults as well. ...more
**spoiler alert** I began this small press local book with high hopes. It seemed to hit all those entertaining, pop-corn read, conspiracy thriller not**spoiler alert** I began this small press local book with high hopes. It seemed to hit all those entertaining, pop-corn read, conspiracy thriller notes, only with a local twist and a cool name; I mean, the Titanic and the Kensington Runestone being linked via Minneapolis and Duluth, shedding light on the secret history of North America and the groups who conspire to keep it hidden? Sounds great, right? Sadly, not so much. It soon became apparent that I was destined to be disappointed by "the Sisterhood of the Hennepin Chalice."
Salmela's ideas had so much promise, as the Kensington Runestone story is a rich vein to draw upon and has a lot of potential for just this kind of conspiracy thriller (along the lines of the Da Vinci Code, but better!). I was hoping to be entertained, at least, if not wowed. Having studied the Runestone story for several years, I had been looking forward to such a rollicking adventure following local legends in the same way Dan Brown lazily cribbed old conspiracy theories for his page turner. Unfortunately, from the beginning Salmela was not able to sustain my suspension of disbelief, which died as soon as it was born, and disappointment and frustration quickly resulted as I crawled through this clunky tale.
Aside from the distracting typos, which are sprinkled liberally page by page, the "Sisterhood" is a thriller with precious few thrills. A turgid, trite plot is shackled to the "messages" of the author with characters who exist only to serve as mouthpieces for the authors own personal screeds, however well meaning they might be. Ostensibly following block headed grad student Tim Malone and his attempts to prove the authenticity of the runestone, Malone blunders with his equally incompetent friends into a conspiracy involving two distinctly uninteresting secret societies. One, the "Sisterhood of the Hennepin Chalice," (basically a sorority of serene, middle-aged non-denominational nuns who secretly safe guard the true history of the world) and the other, an evil splinter group of the Knights of Columbus (really?) who desire to destroy all knowledge of this secret history so that they can keep up the myth of Columbus. Malone, learning from the Sisterhood of the legendary "Gotland Book," a who's who of the all important "Pre-Columbian History of North America" soon gets involved in a race against time to rescue it from those who would see its wisdom burned.
But all of this isn't really important, as by far the majority of the book consists of bland, undeveloped characters meeting at coffee shops or churches around Minneapolis and lecturing each other on religion, truth, the "Pre-Columbian History of North America" (I was thoroughly tired of this phrase the tenth time it was uttered), and other pop-philosophical platitudes. Grappling with a variety of strawmen, including skepticism in all its pernicious forms (atheists, people who don't believe in the runestone), fanaticism, and being too ambitious, the characters are secondary to the authors viewpoints they must represent. Most annoyingly, real life skeptics of the authenticity of the runestone, their names (barely) changed, are explained away as being threatened and bullied by the Knights of Columbus to discredit the stone (not a difficult notion, as they are depicted as hidebound scholars needing little reason to blindly defend the sacred achievement of Columbus). Reducing years of careful scholarship and reasoned conclusions of the “authenticity” of the stone to mere mean spiritedness and influence from a sinister man in a purple cape is just insulting (I guess that's the point). This is especially bad in the case in which the scholar is still alive.
In awkward, stilted, dialog we are treated to info drop after info drop (in one especially egregious chapter, we actually are provided a bibliography of Pre-Columbian historical resources by a Sisterhood archivist who rambles off all of the books and periodicals in her "secret library"- most of which can be found in any good research library). Telling, not showing, is the name of the writing here. This is especially evident in the setting of the story; I was excited see how many local landmarks are used by Salmela, but despite crisscrossing Minnesota from the Prospect Park's Witches Tower to Duluth's Enger Tower, little atmosphere or local color is established; they feel like they could be anywhere. Action scenes could be expected to break up this mind numbing monotony, but the utter ridiculousness of the scenes presented (unintentionally hilarious, I would say) only brings further frustration; spoilers! (picture this: a man dressed in a purple cape orders his Men in Black thugs to toss a jogger off the Washington Avenue Bridge at six thirty in the morning). As if in order to make up for the complete lack of anything happening for most of the book, these scene go over the top (the same villainous professor meets a messy and untimely end later in an unfortunate mishap involving the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth)
The “Sisterhood of the Hennepin Chalice” continued to annoy me as the Tim and other characters go on a half-baked scavenger hunt (what passes as codes in the book) as the Sisterhood, who never seem to do anything efficiently, feed them “clues” to locate the book before its found and destroyed by the reactionary Catholic thugs. Our heroes, sadly, miss the obvious and fail miserably at the end, allowing the nameless thugs to beat them at their own code finding game to locate the oh so cunningly hidden book and then burn it right outside of a crowded church, again in broad daylight. “What's this small fire?” a police officer asked later. But its all okay, this just teaches our heroes humility and that facts don't matter, only faith that you're right. The Sisterhood apparently found it of little importance in the great scheme of things. Oh well!
I feel sorry writing this review, I have to admit. I just was very frustrated and disappointed with the ham handed way Salmela chose to express his plot, and the worst part is, I can see how it could have been an entertaining read. Like I mentioned in the beginning, the runestone story is just begging to be mined and there are definitely some interesting themes running throughout this work. It is, however, in dire need of a major rewrite and some hardcore editing, cutting down at least a hundred pages of digressions and rambling, tightening up the lackluster plot, and, well, making us actually care about what's going on. ...more