"Take my hand when I falter, for I cannot make this journey alone. I do not know you, but you will know me." ~Nadia Comaneci, Letters to a Young Gymna
"Take my hand when I falter, for I cannot make this journey alone. I do not know you, but you will know me." ~Nadia Comaneci, Letters to a Young Gymnast
If, like me, you've lived a life of inexplicable obsession fascination with the world of competitive gymnastics, this latest by the Mighty Megan Abbott is going to rock your world. If you've never given competitive gymnastics a single thought what is wrong with you -- this book is going to rock your world anyway.
In recent years, Abbott has taken the domestic thriller, suburban noir and made it her bitch. She's often writing about the interior lives of adolescent girls because she's proven time and again what deep, murky waters run there, what unsettling truths there are to be found when innocence is lost and a sexual awakening is found.
You Will Know Me is more focused on the family unit this time, though its teen protagonist -- 15 year old Devon Knox -- certainly plays a major role. Devon's compulsive, all-consuming journey to be the best, to be a champion, has also consumed her family -- mom Katie, dad Eric, and little brother Drew (who just about broke my heart). Most of the book unfolds from Katie's viewpoint as she strives to be the perfect support and anchor for her prodigy daughter, while keeping the domestic front of chores, groceries, wifely duties and a freelance job on track. Katie also has a quiet, patient, introverted little boy to nurture who sees much but says very little.
Down into the rabbit hole of competitive gymnastics Abbott takes us, the sacrifices required of a family to raise an Olympic competitor, because the young female gymnast could never get there on her own. But Devon's quest to reach Olympic level competition will be threatened by the tragic death of a handsome young man, a death that comes like a nuclear bomb dropped into the middle of a perfectly, rigidly balanced life of discipline and routine. The Knox family are left reeling, seeking answers, and fearing truths. Secrets will out, and in the light of day they will come to realize that those we often feel we know the best, we don't really know at all.
This is a twisty book, and Abbott has a few surprises up her sleeve, but not of the Gone Girl variety -- that's not what she's up to here. I figured it all out several times, and knew where she was headed, but that in no way diminished from the sense of tension and inexorable suspense. If anything, knowing amped it all to eleven. As readers we're watching the train leave the tracks in slow motion as the main characters move closer to unbearable discovery. And I felt the point wasn't really figuring out what happened, the point becomes what characters do now that they know.
Abbott is at the top of her game here -- I had no hesitation awarding all five stars. This one you will not want to miss.
"Because now, of course, these gymnasts are girls but also, and foremost, powerful and blazingly talented women. Perhaps that is the paradox that keeps us rapt. Biles, four feet nine inches tall, in a pink, crystal-studded leotard and with that cherubic face, radiates girl. And yet the instant she takes glorious flight, she is beyond reckoning, defying gravity, logic, reason. ~Megan Abbott, "Why We are So Obsessed With Gymnasts"
I wasn't super hopping crazy for Beukes's The Shining Girls, but with Broken Monsters this woman has now got my full attention. I'm here to tell you t I wasn't super hopping crazy for Beukes's The Shining Girls, but with Broken Monsters this woman has now got my full attention. I'm here to tell you the lady's got mad skills.
It helped a lot I think that I picked this book up at the exact right time. I was ready. I was primed if you will. That kind of timing doesn't always work out. But I'd just come off my binge listening, over analyzing obsession with Sarah Koenig's Serial podcast where I lost countless hours pondering motives, cell phone logs, cell tower pings and an anti-Glee cast of Baltimore teens. I was in an arm-chair detective frame of mind. I was already down in the rabbit hole before the first page was turned. The exact right place to be for where Beukes was going to take me.
And where was that exactly? Broken Monsters is unique and surreal and dark and weird, but there's some lingering familiarity of remembrances past that give the story texture and resonance. And what the hell do I mean by that?
Well, think of the gritty procedural elements to be found in True Detective, Seven or Silence of the Lambs. That's a start. There's a substantive case here and a seasoned kick-ass woman detective chasing down clues and following a trail that's twisted (and broken!) and could run cold at any moment. There's pacing and reveals. Tension and release.
Then there's the atmosphere, mood and vivid -- vivid! -- descriptions of crime scenes, urban decay, and violence that bleed across the page -- an artistic fusion of destruction with creation -- visual feasts in the mind's eye both terrible and beautiful.
The following images may be offensive to some so I shall hide them behind a spoiler tag. However, fans of True Detective and NBC's Hannibal should click (because you know you want to).
I mention these two television shows not just for the obvious authentic procedural similarities found in Broken Monsters, but for each show's masterful artistic vision and gobsmacking cinematography. Whatever inky black well these kinds of hellish tableaux originate from, Beukes has a bucket of her own and is drinking her fill to bursting.
Something else she's mastered with Broken Monsters is a rich cast of characters whose stories intertwine and crash together then rip apart again. She is a maestro here -- a mad puppet master -- creating a symphony of action and reaction. I surely do not want to be Job when this woman is God.
With so many characters running around you really have to sit up and pay attention as a reader. Beukes is not slacking so we can't either. It's easy to get a bit lost and confused in the early stages getting to know everyone and their back stories. It wasn't a smooth transition for me -- I had to go back and re-read a few sections just to orient myself before I read on. But that's okay. With that kind of investment comes huge reward.
I can't say I was completely satisfied with the crashing cacophony that was the book's climax. In some ways it was effing brilliant -- in others it was a hot mess (get on board the Lindsey Lohan/Charlie Sheen train to hell!!!!) Still, as Charlie would say: WINNING!
I agree Charlie. This is definitely a check mark in the win column for Lauren Beukes. I'll be coming back for more.
(Sorry, but nobody puts Charlie in a corner under a spoiler tag. Deal with it people) ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
3) Last but not least, the author's blog post entitled: God Bless Librarians. In case you didn't know, flattery will get you everywhere, and it just might make me read your book (joking! I'm really not that shallow or vain, I promise; I just thought it was a nice post).
This is a beautiful book that hits a lot of my kinks: small towns, seeecrets, family drama, and coming-of-age. Krueger's storytelling style was reminiscent for me of some of Stephen King's best work (when he's not trying to scare the bejesus out of us that is). Krueger's two main protagonists are young brothers -- Frank (13) and Jake (10).
Frank is hitting adolescence hard with a penchant for doing things he's not supposed to and an even worse habit for eavesdropping. Jake is his quiet sidekick who likes to listen and observe more than run his mouth because he is plagued by an awful stutter. As they run around small town 1961 Minnesota all the best elements of King's novella "The Body" are present. It will be a summer of tragedy and innocence lost.
Where it missed that fifth star I will put under a spoiler tag:
(view spoiler)[I saw the ending/twist coming a mile away, and it's not like me to "figure these things out" which probably means the author was not trying to hide it, but rather have the readers be in the know and sweat it out. I appreciate that, but I felt to have the jealous, mentally challenged sister kill in a moment of blind rage was too predictable in a very Gothic "woman in the attic" way.
It was interesting to introduce the element of racism as it applied to Native Americans in Minnesota in 1961, but I felt at times the reading came too close to mimicking To Kill a Mockingbird in that one respect and that Frank's dad was very Atticus Finch in a preacher's garb rather than a lawyer's suit. (hide spoiler)]
But these are VERY small quibbles in what is a gripping story, wonderfully told. ...more
Magical realism and I have a very standoffish, disinterested relationship. We have never gotten along, and we tend to avoid each other like the plague Magical realism and I have a very standoffish, disinterested relationship. We have never gotten along, and we tend to avoid each other like the plague at parties. So despite some very beautiful five star reviews I knew this book probably wasn't going to resonate with me the way it has for others. And it didn't.
It is quite the provocative, unusual, sensory read. Yes. This book engages the senses. All of them. And it is terribly sad. Incredibly violent. Unforgettably dark. There's the soul crushing awareness of grief and love and love lost. For all of that, I should have been hugely emotionally invested but I remained rather detached through the whole experience. Maybe that says more about me than the book, that my heart responds more to realism than it does to magic. Maybe at a different time, this would have been the exact right book.
This wasn't that time.
It should also be said, this isn't a book for sensitive readers. There are two distinctly disturbing scenes, the second of which I was not prepared to encounter at all. In fact, it sideswiped me utterly and I felt that nothing that had come before it hinted at this destination. A part of me admires the author for such a bold choice; another part of me feels a bit exploited.
I do feel I was given an uplifting ending however, and after the ordeal of the journey, this was much appreciated by this reader bumping The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender from two stars to a very respectable three.
It puzzles me -- and sometimes frustrates me to no end -- how or why some books get categorized/released as Young Adult. These days it seems the label It puzzles me -- and sometimes frustrates me to no end -- how or why some books get categorized/released as Young Adult. These days it seems the label has become so loosey-goosey all that's required is that there be a teen protagonist. Content, language, themes -- all of the meatier, important elements of any book are blithely ignored in the rush to market and movie deals.
There are definitely books that walk the hinterland -- the very, very outer reaches of YA and upon reading them you realize that there's way more 'Adult' in the pages than 'Young'. On any given Sunday it shouldn't really matter ....except for when it does. In the case of Scowler it makes me think about how many people will ignore it and miss out turned off by its YA label, and then it makes me think about the young teen readers who will lack the emotional maturity and mental resilience to process such a dark and disturbing tale.
Yes, it's that good and that dark. Patriarch Marvin Burke is as chilling and disturbing a villain as any I've encountered and belongs in the pages of a Frank Bill novel. The language is vibrant and pulsing -- a living, breathing thing:
The cracks in the dirt now yawned to proportions slutty with thirst...
There it was. A miracle, really, finding this speck of bone in a world of dust. There was a brown spot of blood on the tooth's root, and to Ry it seemed the encapsulation of the bum deal of life: a once-perfect thing plucked and bloodied and tossed to the dirt.
I had originally shelved this as 'horror' but am now removing it because while Scowler is horrific in parts, it has much more in common with realistic, gritty fiction that has a psychological underbelly.
I could really tear this book a new one if I wanted to, seeing as how it is plagued by incredulous plot twists and nonsensical melodramatic c 2.5 stars
I could really tear this book a new one if I wanted to, seeing as how it is plagued by incredulous plot twists and nonsensical melodramatic character motivations that at times positively scream daytime soap opera antics.
Despite these maddening shortcomings, I was able to overlook most of them most of the time as the novel fairly hums along with just enough speed and tension to keep you turning the pages. It's a beach read in the sense that if you are sun stoned and feeling epically lazy, this one has just enough salacious bite to keep you conscious and wondering just what the hell did happen to Amelia that day on the roof: did she jump? or was she pushed?
I liked how the author uses various bits of social media (texts, Facebook, emails, etc) to "reconstruct" a young woman's life and state of mind proving how much can be found there and yet how inadequate all that "sharing" can turn out to be when your goal is to really understand someone. But in the end, it just felt hollow and gimmicky anyway.
I was just expecting so much more here with such a fantastic premise fueling its engine. In the hands of Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott, I'm certain I would have gotten exactly what I was looking for. Not here though. Not this time.
One thing that really bugged me:
(view spoiler)[when Amelia's case is reopened, why would Kate as her mother be allowed to become so involved in the investigation -- going on interview calls and asking questions. It seems to me, it would have been her job to sit tight and wait to hear the results, not chase them down side by side with the Detective assigned to the case. That took me out of the story every time. If Kate had hired a PI, and was going about this on her own without police involvement, that would have made sense. But to be working with the police and be so immediately included in the investigation in this way drove me mental. Because that would never happen. Especially once foul play was suspected. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Sexual debut. Sometimes it seemed to Deenie that high school was like a long game of And Then There Were None. Every Monday, another girl's debut. --
Sexual debut. Sometimes it seemed to Deenie that high school was like a long game of And Then There Were None. Every Monday, another girl's debut. --The Fever, Megan Abbott
Nobody (and I mean nobody) writes the dark and secretive interiors of a teenage girl's psyche better than Megan Abbott. But make no mistake: while she is writing about teenagers, she is not writing Young Adult. Her books are so far removed from YA Lit it's not only a different country, but another planet. So if you haven't had the shocking and titillating pleasure to read her yet and have Ms. Abbott shelved as Young Adult, get her off there post-haste please -- asap -- I mean immediately.
Seriously, do it.
I'll wait for you.
One of the things I've come to love about Abbott the most is that even when I think I've figured out how the story is going to go, she always manages to surprise me. And she never cheats. Here, she not only surprised me, she creeped the hell out of me, something I wasn't expecting at all. The Fever isn't a horror story, but Jesus damn, there are aspects of the story that are extremely unsettling and creeeeepy. I was reading this into the wee hours of the morning last night, and got to this one part and the little hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention:
She started clearing her throat, and once she started it was like she couldn't stop. "But most of all it's here," she said, clawing at her neck. "It feels like there's something in my throat. And it's getting bigger."
I've been fangirling for Megan Abbott for awhile now, but with this she's made me her slave. And she's so pixie-cute petite you can fit her in your pocket. Looking at her mischievous, Mona Lisa smile you'd never expect her to so eloquently and ruthlessly explore the twisted, perilous, coming-of-age waters of teenage girls, waters that run black and deep. There are monsters that swim in that water, monsters that bite, scar and maim for life.
My only sadness and regret is that I'm finished, and this book isn't even coming out until June, which means I've got a bit of a wait before I get my next Megan Abbott fix. I'm jonesing already. What can I say: she's made me her junkie bitch.
A free copy was provided by the publishers through Netgalley for an honest review.
First five star book of 2014 and I don't begrudge a single star (I must be getting soft in my old age). Eleanor & Park achieves epically sweet, em First five star book of 2014 and I don't begrudge a single star (I must be getting soft in my old age). Eleanor & Park achieves epically sweet, emotionally complex and infinitely satisfying without ever once spinning off into maudlin or melodramatic (which is an amazing achievement when your two protagonists are teenagers in the grips of love's first rush).
Speaking of: Eleanor and Park are wonderful. It's always such a treat when you get characters this fully realized that you can swear you've met them, that you actually know them. Their story is sweet but not saccharine, and as uplifting as it is perilous and nerve wracking. It's tough being a teenager, forced to navigate a capricious world known for its wanton cruelty; where life, as Eleanor so eloquently puts it, "is a bastard."
Isn't it though?
This is a book about how music is its own language that can be used to speak to someone when words fail us. It's a book about family: how much it can save us, and how much it can devastate us. It's a book about two misfits finding each other and discovering what it is in each of them that's worth falling in love with.
“I feel sorry for you, and I'm going to be your friend." "I don't want to be your friend," Cath said as sternly as she could. "I like that we're not fr
“I feel sorry for you, and I'm going to be your friend." "I don't want to be your friend," Cath said as sternly as she could. "I like that we're not friends." "Me, too. I'm sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.”
“There are other people on the Internet. It's awesome. You get all the benefits of 'other people' without the body odor and the eye contact.”
At first glance, Fangirl positions itself to be a silly, fluffy piece about identical twin sisters and their freshman year at college, and how one sister in particular must navigate her way through this perilous and confusing time, all while trying to churn out chapter after chapter of fanfiction to her adoring online readers. And it is that book, sweetly refreshing, never taking itself too seriously, but it also manages to be so much more -- about mental illness, friendship, sisters, mothers, living as an introvert in an extrovert's world, and falling in love, safely and sensibly with someone who deserves it (no creepy pouty vampires here ladies and gentleman! and no love triangles! hooray!)
I really related to Cath and her introverted, super anxious in social situations ways. I got her Simon Snow obsession and her need to escape into that world rather than dealing with real life. A lot of times, that is why we're reading in the first place, isn't it? To escape? To fall down the rabbit hole and be somewhere else, be someone else?
The compulsion to create fanfiction is just taking it one step further, so in love are you with a particular world and characters, that you are willing to write your own stories about them just to keep the magic from ever ending, and keep the reality wolves away from your front door for just one more day.
I love what the author has to say about the act of writing, its highs and lows, obsessions and doubts, how telling the story can be as profoundly transformative an act as reading it. When you stop to think about it, the synergy between author and reader is a gobsmackingly powerful, beautiful thing. Neither can exist without the other.
I'm home today with a horrible cold and this was the perfect book to help me escape the realities of my bodily suffering. Fangirl is a complete rabbit hole, and down I went. I was going to use this review to confess to some of my own fangirl proclivities, but I think I'll save that for another time. ...more
Deciding to tell a story about a physically disfigured child who lusts after his biological mother while living out their lives in the long, judgmenta Deciding to tell a story about a physically disfigured child who lusts after his biological mother while living out their lives in the long, judgmental, crucifying shadow of the Catholic Church in 1950's St. John's Newfoundland ... is ... curious at best. But also weird and ... questionable.
I'm not sure what kind of a book Johnston thought he was writing. At first it seems humorous and whimsical, a slice of Frank McCourt meets a heaping portion of John Irving. There's poverty, a dysfunctional family, religion, sexual awakening, and some odd occurrences that make you laugh just for their very oddness and inappropriateness.
But as the book progresses, the oddities start to fall flat onto the very shoulders of uninteresting and boring. If Son of a Certain Woman is meant to be Johnston's indictment of the corrupt and nasty hold the Catholic Church at one time held over the historic and capital city of St. John's it really doesn't succeed, neither as a parable, or tongue-in-cheek satire (if that's what you're looking for, get Codco on DVD).
Where it really fails is as a meaningful and emotional coming-of-age story. I didn't fall in love with anybody and did not feel as if there were any stakes worth cheering for. (view spoiler)[Despite Percy's precociousness and precarious place in the world, I could not open my mind wide enough to hope that his gob-smackingly, sensual mother finally lays him. (hide spoiler)]
My disappointment here is heartfelt. I love Johnston's writing and his unerring ability to capture the layered realities and eccentricities of my home and my people. I did enjoy some of his descriptions of the 1950's streets of St. John's, but sometimes, in an effort to paint that portrait, the brush strokes felt a little heavy-handed and clumsy, like a travel book or described video.
While it pains me to do it, I am recommending a pass on this one.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
There's a buzz book for the summer - you might have heard of it already -- The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. Featuring a time traveling serial kille There's a buzz book for the summer - you might have heard of it already -- The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. Featuring a time traveling serial killer, it has huge potential for a beach read thriller, but I don't know. Despite enjoying the main character, I felt it was missing something and my overall reaction after reading it was lukewarm.
This book on the other hand is much more to my liking. Probably closer to three and a half stars, it's an easy four in my books because it features all the elements I adore -- suburban New England setting, family secrets and lies, prepubescent girls doing naughty things with tragic consequence. It's an "all grown up and looking back" story as the adult tries to untangle the mysterious events of a dark childhood summer. It's a dual narrative that flips back and forth in time -- from the summer of 1979 to the summer of 2003. There's mood and atmosphere and dread and intrigue. It's a voyeuristic look into the oft-twisted and inappropriate shenanigans of life in the 'burbs.
Sadie is a pushy, bratty kid, with razor sharp smarts and a vivid imagination that's only going to get her into trouble. Her mother is a domineering, manic depressive drunk who isn't going to be there for Sadie when she needs her the most. Out of boredom and as an act of rebellion, Sadie hatches an elaborate ruse to amuse herself and her best friend. It's the summer of 1979 and her victim is the neighborhood outcast, a young girl with a miserable home life. The consequences of this cruel prank will have a tragic ripple effect.
Sadie grows up. The memory of that time is locked away in a deep, dark corner of her mind. She has a husband and two beautiful children. But sorrow has found Sadie. She is grieving her miscarriage and in this vulnerable state, back walks the boy she crushed on as a young girl. He's all grown up and stirring up more than the overwhelming sexual attraction she feels for him. Sadie begins to think about that summer long ago, seeking truth to all the unanswered questions she's lived with her entire life.
For a debut novel, The Longings of Wayward Girls (great title) shows a lot of promise. In the best ways, I was reminded of Megan Abbott's The End of Everything, and Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects. Author Karen Brown is on my radar now and I will definitely be seeking out more of her writing.
Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Congratulations, Ms. Tartt on such a stunning return.
The Goldfinch is a doorstopper, weighing in at oveWinner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Congratulations, Ms. Tartt on such a stunning return.
The Goldfinch is a doorstopper, weighing in at over 700 densely written pages. Yet, I found myself tearing through it as if I couldn't read it fast enough. I don't know what the secret is to Ms. Tartt's prose, but I dig it. I dig it a lot. Maybe it's due to sheer deprivation (absence making the heart grow fonder and all that jazz), because this lady, while her talent goes undisputed, has only managed to pen three novels in three decades -- the very antithesis of James Patterson (whom I wish would just go away -- how many trees have to die for you, Jim? HOW MANY?)
I can be a real sucker for a sense of place. Tartt writes New York in such a way that I was able to feel the thrum of traffic and smell the bakeries (and the sewers). Taxis, doormen, park benches, museums, lunch counters -- all swirling together in a portrait that's as carefully rendered as any artist's painting. When she transplants readers to the parched and desolate Las Vegas suburbs, I became just as enthralled by the startling contrast between bustling city and dry desert.
There's really not much to say here other than I became totally immersed in this book while I was reading it. It's a character-driven piece in the sense that it's without an intricate plot, or Big Reveals. But oh, what characters! All the feels! It was just such a heartening experience to get to know them all and watch them hurl through life together, for better and for worse. It's the characters from which we draw the tension and the pace of the story and it's all so deftly handled by Ms. Tartt that I'm actually left floundering for ways to adequately describe it.
So I won't. Let her take you on this journey and I'll get the hell out of the way. ...more