BOOK REVIEW | The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

5/5 stars

I’ve loved The Talented Mr. Ripley since the movie was released in 1999, and have been meaning to read the book ever since. I finally picked it up, and what a reading experience it was! I absolutely adored this book from the first page to the last, and can’t wait to watch the movie again to compare the two.

Tom Ripley is a fraudster – he tricks people into sending him cheques rather than the bank, and is genuinely proud of himself whenever he pulls off a deception. There is a sense of longing for more: bigger stunts and riskier plans are on the horizon. When an opportunity arises for Tom to go to Italy to convince playboy Dickie Greenleaf to come home to America, all expenses paid by Dickie’s concerned father, he jumps at the opportunity.

Once in Mongibello, the small Italian town where Dickie has been living, he intentionally bumps into Dickie and his girlfriend Marge, convincing them that he is an old friend. Dickie and Marge invite Tom into their home, and Tom soon realizes that he quite likes the life Dickie is leading – maybe he’d like to live this way too. A chance to make an easy dollar soon turns into a frightening obsession, and eventually to murder. What follows is a complex and expertly plotted tale of escape in plain sight. Tom Ripley is a sick genius, able to manipulate any narrative to suit his own.

Highsmith masterfully delves into the mind of a psychopath; early in the book she details a moment in which Tom rubs his hands together while laughing quietly to himself after pulling off fraud, and it’s so deliciously creepy that I knew I was in for a good ride. Throughout the story, it’s easy to both sympathize with and be disgusted by Tom; Tom’s is able to convince himself so thoroughly of his version of events that it’s easy to forget what really happened. My only critique is that it ends so abruptly – I guess I’ll have to pick up Ripley Underground soon!

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BOOK REVIEW | Tangerine by Christine Mangan

3/5 stars

Obsession takes stage in Tangerine. This is a dark story of a friendship gone terribly wrong, resulting in both tragedy and despair.

College roommates Alice and Lucy had a tumultuous friendship, but developed a close bond regardless. When tragedy occurs the women go in different directions, leaving behind their plans for the future. A year later, the women unexpectedly reunite in Tangier, Morocco. As the story unfolds, we learn that Lucy has dark motivations, ultimately leading Alice down a disturbing, black hole. The book is also littered with references to how exotic Tangier is, how bright and colourful the clothing is, etc. The story is about a sheltered woman in the 1950’s, but I found the romanticizing of Morocco to be a little tiresome.

Reading this book alongside of The Talented Mr. Ripley gave me whiplash – Mangan was clearly influenced by the amazing Patricia Highsmith. The parallels between the two books are uncanny, though the stories do eventually go down different paths. Highsmith actually mentions Tangier as a place where one of her characters may have ran off to, so it’s incredibly difficult to appreciate this in its own right when it’s so heavily borrowed. Mangan has something good going here though, and I look forward to checking out her future work with hopes that she will find her own voice along the way.

BOOK REVIEW | Broken River by J. Robert Lennon

5/5 stars

This book is so unique. It opens with a violent scene: a family in upstate New York is trying to escape from their house with their young daughter in tow. The whole scene is narrated from the perspective of “the observer”, a ghost-like presence that floats in and out throughout the entirety of the book. We do not know what the family is trying to escape, but the husband and wife are murdered as their daughter hides in the woods, leaving the young girl alone. The killers remain on the loose, with the observer being the only witness to the crime.

Over the years, the abandoned house becomes a spot for young lovers to find privacy and eventually for vandals to destroy. Realtors try relentlessly to sell the house – it is renovated beautifully, and then destroyed again. No one wants to buy a house where murders have taken place. After a long vacancy, the house is finally sold, renovations take place yet again, and a new family moves in.

Karl is an overgrown teenager – childish, irresponsible, and unfaithful. His wife Eleanor is a cancer survivor and begrudging, though successful, “chick-lit” novelist who suspects her cancer may have returned. Irina, their adolescent daughter, is witty and wise, brave and insecure, and an aspiring writer as well. Eleanor and Irina take a great interest in their home’s history, unknowingly becoming  apart of its narrative. A local resident, Samantha, soon becomes entwined with the family, culminating in a dramatic denouement.

It’s difficult to put into words that which makes this book so good. I cared about these characters – they are all spiraling in different ways, and I wanted them to wake up. They are messy, real. The omnipresent observer served as a clear vantage point for everything going on – sort of a non-judgemental landing place that helped to piece it all together. This is the sort of book that begs the question: what does it all mean? How much control do we have in our lives? Are we really writing our own narratives? Is everything predetermined? There are no bells or whistles here, just great storytelling and character development. I’ll definitely be checking out Lennon’s other books in 2018.

BOOK REVIEW | All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage

4/5 stars

I’m going to blast out a few very quick reviews today, as I want to get caught up before the new year.

All Things Cease to Appear continually reminded me of Idaho by Emily Ruskovich, though the 2 books are very different. In both books, a crime is committed and the details surrounding it never fully become clear. Much like when crimes happen in reality, I suppose.

George Clare returns home one day to find his wife Catherine murdered and their young daughter alone. He quickly becomes the top suspect in the case, and as we learn more about his marriage we begin to suspect him too.

The shining star of this book is Catherine – she transforms throughout the story, finally reclaiming her independence from a bad marriage shortly before he life ends. I went into this expecting a thriller, but this is literary fiction with mystery and tragedy as the drivers. Atmospheric, unsettling, beautifully written.

 

BOOK REVIEW | And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
First, there were ten – a curious assortment of strangers summoned as weekend guests to a private island off the coast of Devon. Their host, an eccentric millionaire unknown to all of them, is nowhere to be found. All that the guests have in common is a wicked past they’re unwilling to reveal – and a secret that will seal their fate. For each has been marked for murder. One by one they fall prey. Before the weekend is out, there will be none. And only the dead are above suspicion.

My thoughts:
This won’t be so much of a review, rather a reflection on how incredibly fun this book was to read! This was my first Agatha Christie, and I can’t wait to dig further into her collection.

And Then There Were None is a classic whodunit murder mystery with some interesting psychological twists thrown in. This is the story of 10 individuals who have been invited out to Soldier Island as private guests for the weekend. We quickly discover that whoever has summoned them to the island has a sinister plan in mind; following along with the eerie poem “Ten Little Soldiers”, the guests begin to die, one by one. The guests naturally begin to suspect each other, and tension builds as their numbers dwindle. Before long there are only two left, and the reader is left to make assumptions about who the killer is. The final revelations at the denouement had me flipping back to see what I had missed! This is a book I will definitely re-read over and over again in the future.

Christie’s narration is fast-paced and provides only the necessary amount of backstory to move the the plot along. She’s witty and straight to the point, and I can see how greatly she influenced the mystery genre. I’m currently reading Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin, so I’ve got Shirley on the brain these days! While Reading ATTWN, I immediately drew comparisons to Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House: in each work, a group of individuals are sent letters and invited somewhere a bit mysterious, and – mild spoiler alert – they are both essentially works concerned with psychology. I’d love to go deeper into these topics, but that might be something for a future blog post.

In short – I absolutely loved this book. If you’re a fan mystery or crime fiction do yourself a favor and pick this up right away!

BOOK REVIEW | The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

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4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
In the latest masterpiece by Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months-soon finds herself fighting to save the child’s life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels–a tale of two strangers who transform each other’s lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.

My thoughts:
How could the child bear not just the hunger, but the boredom? The rest of humankind used meals to divide the day, Lib realized – as reward, as entertainment, the chiming of an inner clock.

This book is fantastic! Admittedly, I went into this with fairly low expectations, but it blew those out of the water. It’s atmospheric and slow burning, mysterious and infuriating.

The year is 1859, shortly after the Crimean war and Lib, an English nurse, is called to Ireland to take watch over a young girl named Anna who claims she no longer needs food to live. In a time of religious fervor, the people of the town believe that Anna is a living wonder, chosen by God. Lib is convinced that Anna is playing an elaborate prank on everyone, sneaking food on the sly, and watches her every move closely in an attempt to figure out how she’s doing it. Anna’s explanation is that for the last four months, she has lived on manna from heaven – this confounds Lib, who is determined to understand what the girl means. No one can sustain themselves for this long without some nourishment, this she knows to be true.

The story unfolds slowly, leading up to startling confessions and disturbing realizations. Lib knows she must take immediate, drastic action to save Anna, who has deteriorated physically.

The Wonder asks the reader to consider questions about religious conviction, loyalty, and parenthood. It will keep you flipping the pages as you race to discover the truth.

BOOK REVIEW | The Good House by Tananarive Due

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
The home that belonged to Angela Toussaint’s late grandmother is so beloved that townspeople in Sacajawea, Washington, call it the Good House. But that all changes one summer when an unexpected tragedy takes place behind its closed doors…and the Toussaint’s family history — and future — is dramatically transformed.

Angela has not returned to the Good House since her son, Corey, died there two years ago. But now, Angela is finally ready to return to her hometown and go beyond the grave to unearth the truth about Corey’s death. Could it be related to a terrifying entity Angela’s grandmother battled seven decades ago? And what about the other senseless calamities that Sacajawea has seen in recent years? Has Angela’s grandmother, an African American woman reputed to have “powers,” put a curse on the entire community?

My thoughts:
Angela Toussaint’s Fourth of July party began well enough, but no one would remember that because of the way it would end. That’s what everyone would talk about later. The way it ended.

Why isn’t Tananarive Due a superstar in the horror genre?! She should be way more popular than she is – she is a master of her craft. I absolutely loved Due’s My Soul to Keep (book 1 of her African Immortal series), and The Good House is just as amazing. Her stories are sweeping and full of depth, with interesting historical elements. They are dramatic and fantastical, yet somehow so realistic. More than anything, her books are fun to read.

We follow Angela Toussaint as she returns to her hometown 2 years after a personal tragedy. We learn about her past though flashbacks, and begin to put the pieces of the tragedy together along side her. There’s mystery, voodoo, and a ton of tension.

It’s been said before, but fans of Stephen King must read this book. Like King, Due creates vast and complex stories with well rounded characters that you truly care about. Even her supporting characters have enough depth for the reader to get invested in. The Good House reminds me so much of King’s Bag of Bones, though the stories are completely different. There is a mysterious house that the protagonists return to in both, but it’s the eerie atmosphere that felt strikingly familiar. In both stories, of course, terrible things happen.

Next time you’re in the mood for something spooky, pick up one of Due’s books (if you can find one – they aren’t easily accessible in bookstores), and enjoy submerging yourself into her world.