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!

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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.

BOOK REVIEW | The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh| Man Booker Prize 2018

3/5 stars

I didn’t know what to expect going into The Water Cure, but comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale are no joke, so I guess I was expecting a lot. This is an eerie book, telling the story of three sisters living on a secluded island with their parents (“mother” and, aptly, “King”). Women’s bodies are under siege, and on the island they are safe from the outside world and its “pollutants”.

Grace, Lia, and Sky share a sisterly bond that is beautiful and touching at moments, dysfunctional and violent at others. The sisters must navigate treacherous waters, both metaphorically and physically, as they seek survival with their tyrannical parents, and then later on as men arrive on the island. The arrival of the men marks a turn for the sisters, and they must learn to handle the complex emotions and circumstances that inevitably arise. At the heart of this story, I believe, is the enduring power of their relationships with each other.

There’s depth missing in this story, a greater significance that could have put this book on another level  –  something felt distant and cold, and the plot never fully connected for me. I wasn’t able to connect with the characters and was unsure of this book’s message, but Mackintosh writes with dreamy, lush prose that I raced through in the first third of the book. Something slowed in the pacing in the middle section of the book for me, but things did pick up again at the end. This was a really unique and atmospheric read, though I’m not sure it’s one that will stay with me in the long term.

BOOK REVIEW | The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner | Man Booker Prize 2018

3/5 stars

All of them were people who suffered and along the way of their suffering they made others suffer.

In this powerful novel about women in prison, Rachel Kushner touches on both issues within the correctional system, and the cycle of poverty and addiction that often leads women there. More than once, correctional officers allude to the women’s poor choices in life that led them to an existence under lock and key, with no regard for the circumstances which may have contributed to their crimes. An added layer of depth would have been beneficial here, as I feel in many ways this book only scratched the surface on this complex topic.

The story is focused on Romy Hall and the inmates she encounters while serving two consecutive life sentences at the Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. We get a picture of Romy’s life before prison through recounts of her youth in San Fransisco, her drug use, and her experiences working as an erotic dancer at The Mars Room. I liked this book, and found many scenes to be especially powerful; Romy’s relationship with, and separation from, her son was the most affecting for me. Romy is not forgiven of her crime by Kushner, she murdered the man who was stalking her. Rather, we examine how Romy’s socioeconomic status may have led her to such a place.

There are many timelines and perspectives at play, which occasionally made for a disjointed read. I can only describe my relationship to Romy and the other characters as distant – there was a lack of emotional connection at work. I think focusing a little less on certain secondary characters, and honing in more on Romy’s emotional journey would have kicked this book up a notch for me. Romy seeps ennui about her life and crime, and it’s only when she realizes her son may be alone on the outside that we feel the retching pain that she must endure. An interesting addition to the Man Booker list, and a valuable read for those who have an interest in the mentioned topics.

BOOK REVIEW | White Teeth by Zadie Smith

3/5 stars

I’ve delayed writing this review because I’m struggling a little with placing it appropriately. Zadie Smith is an immaculate writer and this book is witty and insightful, with razor sharp prose. Smith writes dialect beautifully, crafting characters that feel real. Something is lacking in the plot for me though, and while this is a character driven story, something is missing from each character’s arc that would push this into 5 star territory. This is a multi-generational saga that follows 2 two very different families as they overcome immigration, racial tension, war, and the pressures to raise their children in modern society without losing connection to their heritage. Throw in some genetic engineering and The Godfather, and that about sums it up.

There is a weighty plot here with a lot going on, but it essentially boils down to the story of Archie and Samad, two friends who meet at war, and their families. Archie, an Englishman, marries a Jamaican woman named Clara, and they have a daughter, Irie. Samad and his wife Alsana are Bengali immigrants and they have twin boys, Magid and Millat. I absolutely loved Clara but she disappears before long, becoming a secondary character. There was an interesting friendship between Clara and Alsana which could have been fleshed out into something significant as well.

I felt the deepest connection with Irie and I wanted so much more from her story; I would have loved to follow Magid and Millat further, to find out how they reconciled after a lengthy separation. Too many narratives felt incomplete and I wanted to go deeper. We are introduced to a third family, the Chaulfens, resulting in a completely unexpected turn in the plot. I found many scenes with the Chaulfens to be worthwhile, but ultimately felt like I was reading two different books – it felt disjointed.

Smith’s style is reminiscent of my favorite writer, John Irving: confident, bold, a little over the top, but never lacking in the right amount of sentimentality. Even though this wasn’t a home run for me, I’m really looking forward to reading more of Smith’s work.