BOOK REVIEW | Starlight by Richard Wagamese

4/5 stars

It’s not in our imagined wholeness that we become art, it’s in the celebration of our cracks.
-Richard Wagamese

Starlight may be the first incomplete, posthumous, story that I’ve read. Richard Wagamese passed away before completing his first draft of Starlight, but with his estate’s blessing, this story came to be published. It’s a follow up to Medicine Walk, a story that is on my bookshelf but I have yet to read.

Franklin Starlight is grieving the loss of the man who raised him, living a quiet life on his farm with his friend and farmhand, Roth. Starlight also happens to be a talented photographer, his respectful approach to wildlife giving him the unique ability to capture animals in intimate moments.

Meanwhile, a story of survival and escape is taking place: Emmy, a woman in an abusive relationship, manages to escape with her daughter and the pair set out on the run. With no money and no plan, the only goal is to create distance between themselves and Emmy’s abuser. When Emmy finds herself in trouble, a unique suggestion from a social worker brings Starlight and Emmy together. As Emmy enters life on the farm, a tender relationship with Starlight develops. Wile the threat of Emmy’s abuser tracking them down looms, the connection between Emmy and Starlight is a powerful force and one can only root for their happiness and safety.

This story reads like a first draft, but that’s exactly what it is: some grammatical cleanup was done, and some very light editing. I enjoyed reading something is such pure form, and can envision what Wagamese’s final vision may have been. I commend the way that the ending of this story was handled – it cuts off abruptly, ending where Wagamese had. I appreciate that no attempt to finish the story was made but found significant value in the insights regarding how the story may have ended, provided by those close to Wagamese. This is ultimately a story of recovery from trauma and the power of human connection.

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BOOK REVIEW | The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

3/5 stars

My first time picking up Ruth Ware was exciting – I’d wanted to read her for ages! I started with The Woman in Cabin 10 as it sounded a bit less formulaic than some of her other plot lines, and I am always intrigued by a locked room mystery.

Lo Blacklock is an ambitious travel journalist with an amazing opportunity in front of her – she will set sail on a new luxury cruise liner, the Aurora, mingling with the other elite guests; this is sure to be a big break in her career. Prior to her departure, Lo experiences a traumatic event leaving her tired and anxious, but ready to relax for a week of decadence.  Her week on board takes a turn for the macabre when Lo witnesses a woman being thrown overboard, and continues to spiral when her account is not taken seriously. All passengers are accounted for, so who was the woman she saw?

This was an average read for me: I wasn’t kept on the edge of my seat, but I was curious to see where Ware would take the story. Lo is continuously set up as unreliable, and as readers we question her account of what she saw, but not so much as to truly discredit her. Lo experienced trauma, she is sleep deprived, she drinks too much, and is on medication for anxiety – yet, none of these things made me question her sincerity. So, the unreliable narrator thread sort of missed the mark for me. I will say that I didn’t guess what the big reveal would be, which was refreshing.

This is a fairly standard, solid thriller. I don’t think it will blow fans of the genre away, but was still an enjoyable read regardless. I would recommend this book to readers who are not well versed in thrillers, looking for a light way to discover the genre – there’s enough tension to keep the readers engaged, but not too much violence to turn off less desensitized readers.

 

BOOK REVIEW | The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson

4/5 stars

Craig Davidson continues to prove himself as an incredibly diverse and talented writer. I adored his non-fiction story, Precious Cargo, and I’ve enjoyed his horror while writing under pseudonym Nick Cutter. The Saturday Night Ghost Club felt like a nice bridge between those two worlds.

This book is an account of neurosurgeon Jake Breaker’s childhood, specifically a summer spent with his eclectic uncle Calvin. Calvin owns a shop of oddities, which soon sparks the formation of their ghost hunting club. Along with a couple friends, Jake and Calvin seek out parts of town suspected to be haunted.

The book flips back and forth in time, using Jake’s skills as a brain surgeon to serve as commentary on the significance, and fragility, of memory, and the power of the brain. After another Saturday night exploration, Jake’s parents disclose some heartbreaking things to Jake about Calvin’s past. While Jake’s family is far from perfect, they have protected Calvin from his own memories in the only way they knew how.

Craig Davidson has been a surprising and inventive author, and I’m really looking forward to see where he brings his readers next.

BOOK REVIEW | Pet Sematary by Stephen King

5/5 stars

This may be my favorite Stephen King book to date – a book that King himself describes as too much, the one time he feels he crossed a line. I have a lot of King left to read, but I can understand why this one stands out for many super fans.

Louis Creed, his wife Rachel, and kids Ellie and Gage move to a quiet neighborhood in rural Maine. Louis immediately warms to the elderly couple that lives across the street, even describing Jud as the father he should have had. It’s an idyllic picture, but Jud warns the Creeds to be mindful of the commercial trucks that frequently speed through the area, suggesting they keep their pet cat close. Jud takes the family on a tour of the forested areas near the house, and they come upon a graveyard where kids burry their pets after they die – the pet sematary. The burial ground is believed to have some sort of power and when tragedy occurs, Louis will soon discover this to be true.

Reading this book as a mom to young boys was no easy task – I knew what was coming, yet dreaded it with every flip of the page. King takes every parent’s greatest fear, the loss of a child, and weaves it into a tale so dark and disturbing, yet utterly compelling. This is a great story, as well as a great scary story. Louis’ transformation into a father obsessed is a huge part of what drives the last third of the book – will he really go as far as the plot suggests? Jud had warned him, after all: sometimes dead is better. Horror readers won’t be disappointed either – there’s plenty of truly frightening moments within its pages. It takes a lot to scare me, but I had to take pause on more than one occasion.

This is a book that almost didn’t get published, but I’m certainly glad it did. It’s difficult to read, but horror that you can relate to is arguably the best kind. I finally get to watch the original movie, and look forward to the remake in 2019!

BOOK REVIEW | Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

5/5 stars

Finally, my first Megan Abbott! I loved this book and may or may not have purchased a few other Abbot books while reading this. I’d heard that Abbott writes women perfectly, and I absolutely loved her treatment of the two central characters in this story. If you’re a fan of Abbott, let me know what I should read next!

Diane and Kit bond through academics and athletics while in high school, each pushing the other to excel. Both have an aptitude for science, rising to the top of their class. Diane is mysterious, never revealing too much about herself, but it’s clear that her home life has something to be desired. Her mother is beautiful and elegant, but leaves her to live with her father. On one fateful day, Diane makes a critical choice and ultimately discloses a dark secret to Kit. Burdened with knowledge she wishes she didn’t have, Kit looks forward to a future after high school, a future without Diane.

Fast forward years later, and Kit is working in a prestigious lab under the guidance of renowned scientist, Dr. Severin. When the opportunity to be a part of a ground breaking research project arises, Kit is desperate to be selected for the team. The study is in PMDD, or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder – an affliction that causes women to suffer in extreme, and even violent, ways during their cycles. Abbott weaves a tale of blood, hysteria, and the stereotypes women face as a result of their biology. Diane, a rising scientist in her own right, is recruited by Dr. Severin, thus reuniting the old friends.

Written in alternating timelines, Abbot is able to build to a denouement that isn’t necessarily shocking, but completely satisfying, though tragic. Diane is troubled and complex, yet somehow sympathetic. With perfect pacing and tension, this was a home run for me.

BOOK REVIEW | Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

3/5 stars

I finished this up a couple weeks ago, but have had no time to write down my thoughts. I’m finally playing catch up! Here’s a quick review to get myself back up to speed.

Judas Coyne, the now middle-aged front-man of a popular metal band, is obsessed with collecting macabre items. He has sketches from serial killer John Wayne Gacey, a trepanned skull…even a snuff film. When he discovers a ghost for sale on an auction site, he can’t help but place a bid and purchase it. Judas soon receives a black, heart-shaped box in the mail which contains a suit said to house the spirit of a deceased man named Craddock. Turns out, Craddock is the stepfather of a young groupie that committed suicide after a past fling with Judas, and he is angry, vengeful, and hell-bent on killing the rockstar.

Hill shines in ability to take an unlikable character and build him up to someone we can root for. Initially Judas is not someone I felt invested in, there was nothing particularly interesting about him, and he refers to his girlfriends by the states they are from, rather than their actual names (Florida, Georgia, etc), which is just plain rude. I didn’t hate him, but didn’t like him either. Throughout the story, we get to see him evolve, his current girlfriend having a significant role in his change in character. As he learns more about her and her past, he also learns more about the girl who committed suicide, coming to realizations about how he has treated the people in his life.

This was not my favourite Hill – nothing can top NOS4A2 – but it’s certainly as unique and wild of a story as expected from this amazing writer. His stories are always such a blast!

BOOK REVIEW | Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

4/5 stars

As soon as I saw Sabrina on the 2018 Man Booker long list, I knew I wanted to check it out. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a graphic novel up for a major literary award before (please correct me if I’m wrong!), so I was definitely intrigued. I put in an order right away even though it was on backorder, and then waited nearly two months for it to arrive. It finally showed up at my house a few days ago and I couldn’t help but dig right in. This story is nothing at all like I expected – it’s a grim take on our media consumption and the ways in which we process violent crime.

A young woman, Sabrina, disappears suddenly and her grieving boyfriend, Teddy, goes to live with Calvin, an acquaintance, while he deals with the ambiguity of the situation. Calvin, who is in the Air Force, traverses working his desk job and ensuring Teddy is taken care of, as well as a separation from his wife and daughter. A mysterious videotape emerges and it’s clear that Sabrina has been killed; what follows is overconsumption, conspiracy theories, and an obsession with seeking footage of the crime taking place. The minimalist artistic style accentuates the character’s banal existences, devoid of intimate connection. It works well with the impersonal feel of the book.

My only real criticism of this story is how it ended; it was sudden and introduced a scene that I can’t quite make sense of. If you’ve read this, I’m referring to the man and woman arguing outside of Calvin’s room after he moves. Perhaps it’s a subtle statement about violence against women, or relationships. I haven’t quite pieced it together. I enjoyed this way more than I anticipated, but know it’s quite depressing and a bold commentary on our detached, digital lifestyles. I’m certainly impressed that Man Booker has this on their list, I wouldn’t have heard about it otherwise.