"Some people are made stronger by loss. Others are broken by it" (65).
Jennifer McMahon is one of my go-to authors for suspense. The first book of hers I've ever read was PROMISE NOT TO TELL, and the most recent before this one was THE WINTER PEOPLE. She's the author I suggest to people who want to read more books like Gillian Flynn's. The prevailing themes of her works? Bad things happening to young girls, majorly disturbed families, dark secrets, and real life horrors that straddle supernatural elements.
As soon as I started THE NIGHT SISTER, however, I realized that there were going to be some problems.
First off, THE NIGHT SISTER has three--that's right, three--separate timelines. One in the late 60s, one in the late 80s, and one in the here and now (well, semi-here and now--2013).
There are also a ton of POV swaps. The 1960s narrations are told either by Rose, or, in epistolary format by Rose's pretty older sister, Sylvie. The 1980s narrations are done by Piper, the best friend of Rose's daughter, Amy. And the 2013 POVs are done by middle aged Piper and Jason, who was in love with Amy back when they were all young. Oh, and just so you know? Jason's a total creep.
Which brings me to my next qualm. There isn't really any decent character in here to root for. They're all pretty horrible. Jason was slimy and skeevy, but Rose was annoying. I wanted to punch her in the face, she was so selfish. And Amy--was odd. There were some weird homoerotic moments between her and Piper that didn't really seem to serve any purpose at all except for shock value.
I said before that in McMahon's storylines, she frequently straddles the supernatural. And sometimes there's some kind of Pan's Labyrinth/Life of Pi revelation where the character struggles to come to terms with whether they prefer the fantasy or the horrible reality, because what is real? This is especially true with DON'T BREATHE A WORD and THE WINTER PEOPLE.
In THE NIGHT SISTER there are two separate incidences of horror that seem to be unrelated. There is Sylvie's disappearance in the 1960s and her sister Rose's ensuing madness, and then there is Amy's grim and brutal slaughtering of her entire family, with only her young daughter, Lou, being left unscathed. The only clue is a slip of paper, one that says "29 rooms."
The only thing that really kept me reading was a desire to find out how the two disparate storylines were linked, and what really happened to Amy's family and Sylvie. And then I found out what happened, and realized that this book sadly suffers from what I call "The Langoliers Effect."
The Langoliers effect is something that I coined, named after Stephen King's infamous 1995 movie, The Langoliers. It refers to a horror story that actually suffers from too much exposition, thereby ruining the suspense and rendering everything that came before the reveal corny, cheesy, or trite. Until McMahon's big reveal in THE NIGHT SISTER, I was trucking along somewhat steadily, motivated to finish because I was sure she had some brilliant twist that would bring the whole story full circle. But when the big reveal came, I blinked, did a double take, and thought:
"ARE YOU KIDDING ME?"
I held out hope for another chapter that my fears were wrong--they had to be wrong--but alas, they were not. The Langoliers Effect was already firmly in place. There was no turning back now from the CGI corniness of it all. Which is why I am giving a McMahon book less than three stars for the first time ever. I'm very saddened to do this, because her other stories are great.
I'd heard that Banks was an excellent contributor to the space opera genre. I'd also heard that his works were brutal. Having been reared on both Star Trek and Stephen King novels, this seemed like it would be a match made in heaven. That's the funny thing about expectations, though; they don't always pan out.
My first work of Banks's, SURFACE DETAIL, was very good. It had some slower moments, because it was a very chunky book, but the world-building was good and it featured a cast of interesting, if morally grey, characters.
Initially, CONSIDER PHLEBAS starts out with a bang. Our main character, Horza, is chained in a septic tank to drown in the filthy leavings of the powerful Gerontology happily feasting in the room above. Against all odds, he escapes.
Horza is searching for a "Mind", which seems to be a sentient ship or computer, that managed to escape to a dead planet being guarded by beings called the Dra'Zon, which have evolved past the need for ordinary bodies and collect dead planets the way kids collect Pokemon cards or marbles. In his quest to find it, and stick it to the Culture, he ends up running across a band of SPACE PIRATES who are led by a drunkenly sociopathic man named Kraiklyn.
What follows is:
-a fight to the death for space on the ship (dee dee deee deee deee deee dee dee dee deeeeee deeeeee).
-a game called Damage, which is like if you combined Texas Hold 'Em and the Hunger Games
-a cult that takes communion waaaaaaaay too seriously
-lots of stuff blowing up
Once Horza ends up on Vavatch for the second (or was it the third?) time, though, I thought the story began to fall apart. There was too much looking around and talking, and not much action. The first half of the book had some very vivid and memorable scenes, but the second half dragged. Stupid decisions were made. Many stupid decisions were made. The villain manages to get free using the oldest trick in the book. The ending was kind of cruel, like a giant middle finger raised to the reader.
(Cruel is kind of this book's key word, though.)
I have read a number of reviews for this book speaking in its favor and also against, and I can see where both groups are coming from. Banks paints a vivid and nightmarish world, and populates it with vivid and nightmarish characters and some very interesting ideas (I love the idea of a war between religious immortals and machines), but at the same time, he also makes a number of very poor plotting and writing decisions that detract from his creative world-building quite severely.
Since the Culture series appears to be a mixed bag, I probably will continue reading, even though I didn't really care for this book all that much. I have PLAYER OF GAMES ready to go on my e-reader, which I'm really excited about, because it seems like it's going to focus more on the death games aspect, and that was one of my favorite parts of this book. We'll see!
I usually hate the "Thing X meets Thing Y" way of describing a something, but the best way to describe the Last Man series is Streetfighter meets The Hunger Games, and yes, it really is as awesome as that sounds.
I got into the Last Man series on Netgalley, which turned out to be a really amazing thing, because it's something I never would have picked up while left to my own devices.
Book #1 is very much high fantasy, with a fighting competition involving a combination of physical skill and magic. The order of things is disrupted when an outsider, Richard Aldana, steps onto the scene and starts pwning serious noobage. His partner is a little boy named Adrian Velba, and at first we're led to believe Richard sides with him out of pity, but that is not the only reason...
The fantasy element continues into Book #2, although we get more background on all the characters, and it's heavily implied that Richard comes from a world like ours and somehow got into this one through reasons unknown. And then it's implied that Adrian's mom, who did the busy with Richard, might actually have been to this world, too, and kept it hidden from everyone...for reasons unknown.
In Book #3, things get really weird. Richard, we learn, is on the run from something...possibly something involving organized crime. Adrian and Marianne Velba chase him down, ending up in this truly awful crime world called Nillopolis where prostitution and drugs are the major money-makers, and the cops are super creepy and rape suspects in lieu of interrogating them and torture people in jail.
Book #4 leads to yet another world jump, this time in a world that is definitely recognizable as our own. We're introduced to Milo Zotis, a sociopathic businessman who is as cool as a cucumber. We're also introduced to one of Richard's old flings, Tomie, who is actually quite interesting (she's the blue-haired beauty on the French cover). There's an insidious drug that rots you on the inside and out, oh, and a fighting competition that's like MMA, that, of course, Richard, Marianne, and Adrian all get involved in...along with someone else. Yup, there's more familiar characters popping up, too.
I had my doubts after Book #3, because it was an entire clusterfuck of crazy. I shouldn't have worried. Book #4 really made some great developments on the twists from Book #3, and it developed some of the characters, and raised even further questions that have got me all hyped up for Book #5 (which I couldn't help but notice is on Netgalley at this very moment! YAHSSS!!!!).
The Last Man series is strange, but addicting. Sometimes it's cheesy, but at this point I'm fairly invested in the characters and want to see what happens next. Especially since we still don't know the identity of Adrian's dad, or why everyone is after that cup...
I just about peed myself in excitement when I found out I'd been approved for this ARC. I'd read the first one before, and it was a surprise--I thought I was looking at a collection of independent movies and their artwork. Boy, was I surprised and pleased when I realized that what I was looking at was original artwork done in the "indie" movie poster style for classic and celebrated films!
ALTERNATIVE MOVIE POSTERS II is more of the same as its predecessor, except most of the really popular films were already done, so this one has more horror movies and more B-movies than the first one. Also, more repeats. Wizard of Oz and Ghostbusters were done several times!
I liked this book. I mean, how could you not? Unless you hate movies or hate art, there is no way you could dislike this book. It has all kinds of styles for all kinds of movies, ranging from comic book style (THEY DID THE INCREDIBLES IN THE STYLE OF THE GOLDEN AGE COMICS!!!!), to Swedish pop, to 70s album covers, to Japanese chibis, to 8bit. I didn't like it as much as the first one, but it was still good, and I'd love to have it on my coffee table.
Thank you so much for approving me! THIS BOOK WAS THE SHIT!
SUICIDE NOTES FROM BEAUTIFUL GIRLS was incredibly irritating. It irritated me for the same reasons that Cat Clarke's UNDONE did and Leah Raeder's BLACK IRIS did. It trivializes and sensationalizes rape and suicide. It villanizes people--especially women--who are LGBT+ and have mental health problems. And, perhaps most damning, it suggests that you can do terrible things to people in the name of getting what you want.
Isn't that just lovely.
The big shame is, SNfBG starts out promisingly enough. June is devastated when she finds out her best friend committed suicide. She didn't do it in a quiet way, either--she locked herself up in a shed and lit it up. Kaboom.
But this being a YA thriller, the cops are total idiots who take everything at face value and don't bother looking deeper to see if maybe the in-your-face girl with her hands in all kinds of unsavory pies might not have killed herself, but been murdered instead. Detective skills? What are those? The only thing cops are good for in YA is for hassling teens who are just trying to have a good time. So the cops investigated nothing which means that Junie must INVESTIGATE.
Don't worry, guys! Inspector Dip is on the case!
I'm a sucker for books like these, even if the reasons for the girls being killed in these types of books are usually offputting and lame. I think it's the mystery aspect I love; there's something about a focal mystery that the entire story revolves around. I love seeing all the pieces fall into place.
I also like stories about women who do "bad" things. Traditionally, female heroines have to be so much more in order to be considered strong female protagonists, but I think it's interesting to see what happens when women go against the mold. Female antiheroes are my weakness.
But with SUICIDE NOTES FROM BEAUTIFUL GIRLS, I didn't get that. I got a character-driven story with bad characters that tried to keep people reading with shock value and increasingly inane twists. I got one an incredibly and troublingly psychotic character who would stop at nothing to get what they wanted, whether it was lying, hurting others, or doing criminal and morally bankrupt things. I got an insipid main character with no background who was so naive and passive that I wanted to smack her just to get the ball moving. Oh, yes, and I got quotes like these:
"He looks like a date rapist, but one who'd only stop raping you because his dick wouldn't stay hard" (65).
June stared at Delia's lips--shiny with mango gloss. You couldn't usually just look at a mouth and tell whether they got kissed much. But the thing was, with Delia's you kind of could (75).
"Remember a million years ago when I used to say I wish [my stepfather]'d rape me so my mother would leave him?" (123)
"I mean, all he did was hit on you a bunch. And...who can blame him, right?" (171)
And then there's that ending. I mean, I could have still given this book a two star rating if it weren't for that ending. That ending went against everything that I had been led to believe about June's character. It showed a disgusting lack of consequences. And, moreover, seemed cheap. Like the author couldn't figure out how to end it, so was like, "HEY! JUST USE YOUR IMAGINATION! WHEEEEEEE!!!!" Meanwhile, I'm standing there, like, "What happens next?"
I mean, where does your life go from that point on?
But what else would you expect from a book where teenage drug lords have their own sinister caves of evil where they throw parties in which everyone wears tuxedoes or prom dresses? Or where apparently it's really easy to acquire canisters of nitrous and steal people's insulin? Or where cops just apparently walk around blindfolded because OH HEY, CRIMINAL ACTIVITY? LOLWUT?
I was disgusted at the way this book contributed to stigma against LGBT+ women, especially women who are sexually autonomous and suffer from mental health problems. I was annoyed at how manic behavior was sensationalized, criminal behavior romanticized, rape was trivialized, and suicidality idealized. This is a book that tries to use key words to resonate with its readers. There's no humanity.
Also, I have done my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, so all that stuff I mentioned? That's not even the important stuff. That's just icing.