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 | Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

5/5 stars

I prayed forgiveness…for God to pluck me out like a coal from the fire… But Brothers, Sisters: What if that’s the wrong prayer? What if the right prayer is ‘Let me burn, only walk beside me in the flames’?.

Wow, that was intense. I’m not generally interested in books about religion, but Fire Sermon flipped the genre on its head, challenging the confines that keep devout followers trapped in unhappy circumstances.

Maggie, raised Christian, is married, contently. She has two kids, a boy and a girl, who are getting older and heading off into ventures of their own. Her husband, Thomas, is kind and attentive, though admittedly atheist. Maggie reaches out to James, a poet she admires, and the pair soon begin conversing regularly. Before long, Maggie and James are in the throws of a passionate, illicit affair. James provides Maggie with what she didn’t know she was missing; he encourages her to write and share her own poetry, and offers spiritually and intellectually satisfying theological debate. Though devoted to Thomas, Maggie struggles with her desires, and what she will lose if she continues in her affair with James.

You will watch the fire consume everything you care about. You will be left with ash – the proper and only end of any burning.

This book is as much about spirituality and monogamy as it is about the nature of female desire. In less capable hands, I don’t think this story would have been so effecting, but Jamie Quatro is a phenomenal writer. Her prose is haunting and poetic, resulting in a book that asks complex questions without surmising a moral standpoint.

BOOK REVIEW | I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

5/5 stars

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a total wuss when it comes to true crime. Give me the most grotesque, horrific, depraved fiction and I’ll be just fine, but as soon as a story is true, I’m out. I really struggle with the type of crime detailed in this book – I know it happens, I just have a hard time with the details. Pegged as part memoir, part obsession, and highly literary, I knew I’d be picking I’ll Be Gone in the Dark up. Within the first few pages I was completely gripped, and the story didn’t let up once.

Michelle McNamara had always been compelled to true crime, sort of an armchair detective. She journaled her thoughts and findings on her blog, True Crime Diary,  and it wasn’t long before she became obsessed with unveiling a serial rapist and murderer that she penned as the Golden State Killer. She spent countless hours analyzing every victim’s story, reading through case files, and agonizing over the gruesome details of the crimes. As lead detective Paul Holes mentions in the book,  she was able to place herself comfortably among the professionals, earning their trust and essentially becoming a part of the investigation team.

This book isn’t easy to take – this monster’s crimes were absolutely horrific. He fed off the fear and torture of his victims, even terrorizing some with chilling phone calls years after his attack. In reading this I became uneasy, and extremely weary of anyone I would see walking by my house. It instilled a certain paranoia in me that I am still trying to shake. McNamara’s writing, however, almost made this story read like fiction. This isn’t a great true crime book, it’s just a great book. She writes with a passion and fluidity that reads like silk. Sections of this book were pieced together posthumously from McNamara’s notes, and it’s clear that she moved everyone she worked with on this case.

The GSK’s crimes began before the dawn of DNA profiling, but it’s just that that will take him down years later. He was apprehended in April of this year, 2018. McNamara passed away in April 2016, just 2 short years before his capture. How I would have loved to hear her response to this massive feat; I feel like she’d have something damn good to say.

BOOK REVIEW | The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

5/5 stars

If you knew the date of your death, how would you choose to live your life? Chloe Benjamin explores this complex question through a narrative following the lives and deaths of four siblings in The Immortalists. If you knew you’d die young, would you live recklessly, essentially securing the prophecy? Or would you live a clean life, in hope of swaying fate in your favor?

It’s 1969 and the Gold siblings – Simon, Daniel, Klara, and Varya – sneak out to find a mystical woman they’ve heard about; she can predict the day you’ll die. One by one, the kids enter into the woman’s home to hear their destiny. Armed with this knowledge the kids move on with their lives, and the chapters that follow track each of them on their paths. They never share their death dates with each other but the siblings carry it closely as they traverse life, effecting each in its own significant way. The first story, and undoubtedly the one I connected with the most, was Simon’s. Next was Klara’s story, then Daniel, and finally Varya.

This isn’t a new concept, that death is what ultimately gives value to life, but Benjamin’s unique take on this theme was both heartbreaking and refreshing. It’s the sort of story that’s easy to get lost it, and I found it hard to say goodbye to these characters as they reached their ultimate destiny. This book calls to mind the final scene in Six Feet Under; if you’ve watched the show you’ll know what I mean. I’m not sure why books about death resonate so deeply with me, but this is another valuable contribution to the genre.

BOOK REVIEW | Foe by Ian Reid

 

*I received a digital advanced review copy from Simon and Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 Release date: August 7, 2018

4/5 stars

No writer confounds and surprises like Ian Reid. His books keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat. This book is particularly bizarre, but I read I’m Thinking of Ending Things very recently, so I knew what to expect: philosophical debate disguised by an eerie story in which all is not as it seems.

Junior and Hen have a quiet, rural life together. They work hard, feed the chickens, and enjoy their evenings together. One day, a man named Terrance appears at the farm with a strange announcement – Junior has been long-listed for a potential trip away from Hen via a research project called OuterMore. Terrance leaves, but says he’ll be seeing them again soon. A year or so later, Terrance returns with the news that Junior has been officially selected and will be leaving for the OuterMore project for an unknown amount of time. Terrance moves in with them to prepare and research for the trip. And that’s about all I can say.

Books like this are meant for going in blind -learn as little as you can before diving in, and then enjoy the ride. Reid is asking some big and often contemplated questions here – how well can you truly know another person? How well can you truly know yourself? Where is technology leading us, and is all advancement positive? What is the essence of lasting relationships? What is up with the horned rhinoceros beetle?! Ok, this last one may be one of my lingering questions…

I have to admit that I caught on to the big twist long before it’s reveal, though I wasn’t expecting the second twist right at the end. I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone, but know that Reid not only carefully crafts his words, but makes subtle stylistic choices that can be revealing. This is for those who enjoy thinking about a book long after it ends, and who are comfortable with an artistic storyline. This book doesn’t wrap up nicely at all, in fact the ending is completely open for continuation. My only criticism of this book is that it could have been longer, gone deeper, explored further. I can’t rate this as high as ITOET, as it doesn’t pack quite the gut wrenching, emotional punch that his first novel did. Reid may very well be one of my favorite new (and Canadian!) authors.

BOOK REVIEW | Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

5/5 stars

“Somebody…should have told us that not many people have ever died of love. But multitudes have perished – and are perishing every hour.”

This book blew me away. A precursor to Call Me By Your Name (which is no secret that I absolutely love), I can see where Aciman was influenced. Baldwin is such a beautiful craftsman of words; his writing is so simple, yet so affecting. This would have a been a bold and brave book during during the time it was published, 1956, and it’s just one way in which Baldwin continues to astound me.

While living in Paris, David, an American, meets a bartender named Giovanni. A spark is there, and through forceful encouragement, he invites Giovanni out with the group. The two connect, and before long they are living together, nearly penniless, in Giovanni’s tiny 1 room apartment. David struggles with his identity – is he bisexual? Gay? It all seems irrelevant when he is with Giovanni. However, David has a fiancé, Hella, and has to make a difficult decision about the life he wants to have.

While living in Giovanni’s small apartment, David refers to it as a closet he is trapped inside of, and I can’t really put it any better than that. This is a story about feeling trapped, choosing to eschew love out of fear, and the painful regret that comes later. David and Giovanni’s lives go down very different paths, and they must each account for the decisions they make and the regrets they have in the face of death. This book is stunningly beautiful at times, violent and tragic at others; it was an emotional journey that had me in tears more than once.