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Review: The Cellar

The Cellar

by Natasha Preston

“ Four vases sat proudly on the side table behind the dining table and chairs; one held roses, one violets, one poppies.

The fourth was empty. “

Natasha Preston began her writing career on an online platform called Wattpad – and I hate to say it, but it shows.

I try not to judge books by their cover and in keeping with the trend, I try not to judge authors by their bios. But when Preston boasts ” I stumbled into writing completely by accident. I was searching the ‘app store’ and came across Wattpad – an amateur writing site,” the writer in me cannot help but be offended. She stumbled upon a site, threw some stuff against the wall, and as luck would have it – for her – some stuck.

One of the books that stuck relatively well was The Cellar.

The title gives you a great understanding as to what the book is about. While the storyline was not original, I was willing to give it a shot. A $2 book found in clearance by a NY Times bestselling author can’t be that bad, right?

A mentally deranged psychopath kidnaps women and keeps them trapped down in his cellar. He visits a few times a day to spend time with his hostages, and every once in a while, brings another woman down with him – to kill.  I feel like I’ve heard all this before. . . oh, wait –

Not too long ago, my daughter and I saw the movie Split, starring the enormously talented James McAvoy. The storyline is extremely similar, and so I think my expectations for this book were a little high, as the film was highly entertaining. I also figured if a story is so good that it is been plucked off of a highly-rated website and subsequently mass produced as a published work, then I figured it must be worth reading, right?

Um. Well.

I rarely consider leaving a book unfinished. I have this thing within me that forces me to finish all things that I begin. Call it a compulsion, call it a control issue (as I have many), but I have to end something before I can begin something else. And this book almost made me quit in the middle, which is something I’m not sure I can forgive it for. I really disliked this book. And I think I disliked it so much because I felt like it bamboozled me. The first 30 pages or so were not the best quality of words, but there was definitely an element of “becoming hooked.”  I’ve learned that expecting stellar writing styles from YA authors is a little unfair, and in my opinion, the same can be said of thriller writers. Thriller writers are there to get you into and through the story/mystery in a fast-paced manner because typically, there is just a lot going on while the person or persons tries to solve the crime or is involved in the crime. There isn’t a whole lot of fluff, especially if the book is not a part of a series. But one thing that YA authors consistently do well is character development, and that is something that I really love. I am a fan of detail and elaborations, and YA authors love to give it to their readers. A lot of focus is given on characters so that the focus of the young reader tends to stick; young readers are more visual retainers, and as such, they need detail. The storylines are typically not deep – although there are exceptions – but I can look beyond that and appreciate a good YA novel for what it is.

Not so much with this book, on either front. As I said earlier, I felt as if I’d read and seen this plot many times before. It wasn’t original in the least. Again, I could look past that if the author gave me something. . . and the character development? Forget it. I couldn’t tell you what anyone in the entire story looks like, what their hopes and dreams were, or even their last name. I was annoyed that the book hooked me  quickly with the action of the main character being kidnapped, her boyfriend on the hunt to find her, and her realization that she was now stuck in a basement with three other mysterious women. But as the pages were turned, chapter after chapter, the book became a monotonous monologue of “Oh my God, like, I hate it down here so much” and I wanted to throw this book out of the window.

Teenagers are not stupid, and a)writing them like they are and b)assuming that they are, as a reader, really pisses me off.

Colin grew up the son of a single mother, his father having been banished from his only son’s life when he was caught in bed with another woman. As a product of a broken home via adultery, Colin has come to hate women and crave family, even more now that his mother has passed away. His twisted solution to this is to create his own family by kidnapping women and holding them hostage in his fortified basement, where they will serve him meals, entertain him with Movie Nights, and generally listen to his day to day grievances. Occasionally he uses these women for sexual gratification, but only after he’s fallen in love with them and only on a very strict schedule (cue rolling of the eyes).

He also combats his childhood issues by murdering women that he feels are of a certain persuasion. There seems to be literally no shortage of prostitutes in his neighborhood and he goes out several times a week, picks one up, brings her home, and then murders her with a pen-knife in the basement in front of his “family.” Yes, you read that right – a pen-knife. That is his only weapon of choice (seriously, no other weapons whatsoever in this novel) and one that he uses to murder women with one stab. Yes, just the one. I have no idea what type of neighborhood Colin lives in that he is surrounded by prostitutes, but. . . there you have it. He must also be one lucky stabber, because it only takes one jab in the gut to kill the women he brings down to the cellar.

“Loneliness was like a terminal disease. With every passing day you faded just that little bit more. I had felt as if I were dying for the past four years and I’d had enough. Combing my hair one last time, I slid my wallet in my black pocket and picked up my keys. The girls’ room was finished and had been for three days now. There was just one thing missing before I would be ready for them — their clothes. 

On the way to the department store, I stopped off at my local florist to buy a bunch of yellow tulips for my mother. They were her favorite. I never liked them, but I appreciated their natural beauty and purity. “

Sometimes the women in his “family” act up or smart off, and when this happens, they get smacked around or pricked with the dreaded pen-knife. On occasion, he accidentally kills one of his family members and then has to replace her. He has this weird thing about needing four women in the basement at any given time – a Lily, Rose, Violet, and a Poppy. He keeps flowers representing each woman in a plastic vase on the table, and when one of these flowers dies, the woman counterpart gets a beating. As you can imagine, this happens quite a bit, as the flowers are cut and deprived of all sunlight. I’m sure there is some deeper meaning here, but it’s beyond me.

After he kills a “Lily,” he begins the hunt for a new one. He finds 16-year old Summer in a park on her way to a party. Why she is wandering around out at night alone, I have zero clue, but I do know that she can’t believe her boyfriend let her leave the house unattended. The reason I know this is because the author reminds the reader of this fact no less than 10 times, via Summer and her boyfriend’s point of view. Colin kidnaps Summer and throws her down in the cellar, where she spends the first few days cowering in fear and wishing she could see her boyfriend again. Not her mother, her father,  or her brother. . . just her boyfriend.

She took a few steps toward me, still holding out her hand as if she honestly expected me to take it. ‘Come on, Lily, it’s okay.’ I didn’t move. I couldn’t. She took another step. My heart raced in panic, and I pressed my back farther into the wall, trying to get away from her. What did they want from me?

‘I — I’m not Lily. Please tell him, please? I’m not Lily. I need to get out. Please help me,’ I begged., backing up the rest of the stairs until I came to the door. Turning, I slammed my fists against the metal, ignoring the pain that shot through my wrists. “

Several flashbacks of Summer and her boyfriend Lewis are actually quite sweet. He is her brother Henry’s best friend, and as such, he’s been involved in her life for a few years. The only engaging parts of this novel involved Lewis, and I enjoyed reading about their innocent progression from being friends to falling in love;  with the exception of one (very, very mild) sex scene, it’s all very above board. There is only one other sex scene, and it is between Summer and her captor, but again it is very mild (basically showing a scene before the incident, and a scene after. No in-between).

Summer spends the entirety of her captivity trying to escape, obviously. Why she and the other three women don’t band together and beat the you-know-what out of Colin is glossed over a bit and explained rather poorly. In fact, there are so many literary discrepancies in this book, it made my head hurt. The plot holes and writing style in this book were at times so difficult to bear, I had to force myself to plow through this book so I would be sure to actually finish it. I truly believe I’ve read better developed and written stories by 12-year olds.

The point of view begins to change about halfway through the book, becoming a combination of Summer-Lewis-Colin. I found Lewis to be the most interesting character in this entire book, and his quest to hunt Summer down is admirable and heroic, and something teenage girls will be sure to swoon over. He never gives up (and he’ll tell you about 500 times so you don’t forget – he is not giving up!) and of course, there is a very happy ending. Summer is thrilled to be reunited with not her mother, her father, or her brother – but her boyfriend!

I give The Cellar 2 out of 5 stars, and I am being generous. I only give The Cellar those two stars because of Lewis. Seriously. I am appalled by the 4 out of 5 star rating on Goodreads, and I have no idea what book they were reading because it obviously wasn’t this one. As a fan of the YA genre, I’ve read a lot of it, and I don’t appreciate authors who dumb things down for that audience. But I’m guessing that Preston didn’t dumb anything down on purpose; the bio she wrote about herself leaves a lot to be desired and her follow up to The Cellar has so many typos that it’s embarrassing. I suspect her style is just sloppy, uninformed, and shallow. If your child has read any of Natasha Preston’s work, has actually enjoyed it and wants to read more, I would recommend this book for any reader ages 13 and up (unless they are mature). The kidnapping is a bit scary, as is the murdering, and of course there are the two suggestive sex scenes.

And if you just have to have more – there is a sequel on Wattpad entitled You’ll Always Be Mine. I won’t be reading it.

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Review: All The Missing Girls

All The Missing Girls

by Megan Miranda

I couldn’t sleep in the house, worrying that there was something I was missing — someone who’d been in my house, possibly out there right now.

I came out to the back porch sometime after midnight for the cooler air, the clearer head. I sat on the back steps but kept the outside lights off — I felt too exposed otherwise, with nothing but my dad’s words echoing in my head:

The woods have eyes.

I stared off into the night — the shadows against the dark — drifting in and out of consciousness. The shadows shifting as clouds passed in front of the moon. The dark shapes in my peripheral vision, creeping like monsters. “

Nic left her hometown right after high school graduation, trying to put the past behind her. Trying not to look back.

Trying not to remember that her best friend went missing. And that they never found the body.

And desperately trying to forget the boy she was leaving in the rear view window.

But a decade later, Nicolette gets the phone call she’s spent years dreading – the one from her brother, asking her to come home for a while.

Daniel needs help preparing their childhood home to sell. The fixing up, the cleaning out, and the paperwork. He also needs her to convince their stubborn and confused father to sign the documents that will allow the sale to happen. Nic has been home very few times since she left a decade before. One of those times was to shuffle her father off to an assisted living facility, his dementia finally forcing his time of living alone to come to a close.

She hates coming home. It reminds her of everything bad that she left behind. And Tyler.

All the Missing Girls is a thriller that fans of perplexing Gone Girl and gritty The Girl on the Train will enjoy. In the spirit of what-the-hell-just-happened writing, the story is told mostly in reverse – something I had to get used to but quickly found riveting. Reading about the consequences of the events of the day before before reading about *today* kept me hooked; I anxiously turned page after page, trying to figure out what happened. And even better – I wasn’t able to figure it out, like I am with so many other mysteries.

The day that Nicolette returns home, another girl mysteriously goes missing. This time, it’s the beautiful and young blonde who lives behind Nic’s familial property. The dense but familiar woods between the houses is where the search begins, and what is found (and not found) spins a tale of deceit, blackmail, and the truly unexpected. The disappearances are related, as far as Nic can tell, but figuring out what they have in common is going to be a difficult and convoluted task.

 ” The cops were all from around here, had been here ten years ago when Corinne disappeared. Or the’d heard the stories through the years, over drinks at the bar. Now there were two girls, barely adults, disappearing without a trace from the same town. And the last-known words from Annaleise were about Corinne Prescott. 

It made perfect sense if you came from a place like Cooley Ridge. 

If the entirety of Corinne’s official investigation existed inside that single box I pictured at the police station, I’d imagine this was all the evidence you would see: one pregnancy test, stuffed into a box of candy and hidden at the bottom of the trash can one ring with remnants of blood pulled from the caverns; cassette tapes with hours of interview reports to sort through — facts and lies and half-truths, wound up in a spool; Corinne’s phone records; and names. Names scrawled on ripped-up pieces of paper, enough pieces to pad the entire box, like stuffing.

Until recently, I imagined that this box was taped up and hidden in a corner, behind other, newer boxes. But now there’s the feeling that all it would take is a simple nudge for it to topple over, and the lid to fall free, and the names to scatter across the dusty floor. The box is exactly like it is in Cooley Ridge. The past, boxed up and stacked out of sight. But never too far away.

Open the top because Annaleise mentioned Corinne’s name and disappeared. Close your yes and reach your hand inside. Pull out a name.

That’s how it works here.

That’s what’s happening.  ” 

Although Nic has made it perfectly clear that she now has a flawless and faithful. rich and handsome fiancee (the huge rock on her finger proof of his love for her and the money he has in the bank), her ex-boyfriend just can’t stay away. Tyler keeps showing up at the house and against her better judgement, she can feel the familiar spark shooting off in her belly. Back when she was a teenager, she and Tyler thought they could take on the world; and seeing him now transports her to that exact same headspace. Being around the easy and comfortable Tyler all while being bossed around by her big brother has her flashing back to  those clear and crisp nights when they were kids; running around in the woods, crashing parties, and generally getting into teenage mischief. Nic and her brother Daniel were left to their own devices as they grew up, and the mismatch motley crew of friends they collected along the way were in much the same boat.

Corinne was one of those friends. She was beautiful. She was enigmatic. She was someone who could draw you in and make you want to stay, even while she was being cruel and cutting you down to the bone. But she had secrets.

Were they secrets that got her killed? No one knows. Maybe she just ran away. Maybe it was all a bitter joke. Or maybe it was something else.

When the second girl, the blonde photography student Annaleise Carter, goes missing, it’s like deja vu. All of the old suspects from Corinne’s disappearance a decade earlier are reluctantly brought back into the limelight and questions start spreading around the town. Was it Jackson, Corinne’s old boyfriend? Daniel, the not-so-happily married neighbor? Tyler, the playboy around town? Everyone is on edge and uncomfortable, and it doesn’t help that Nic’s dad is starting to run his mouth about things that he surely knows nothing about.

As Nic begins to unravel the worn threads of what happened on the night she came home to rural Cooley Ridge, other things about the past begin to come to light. And as she gets closer to finding out what really happened to Corinne, she pushes herself deeper and deeper into the strangling arms of the town she fought so hard to get away from all those years ago.

” ‘Goodbye, Nic.’

‘Your daughter is beautiful,’ I said.

She started leaving, tossed her hair over her shoulder, gave me one last searing look. ‘I hope she isn’t like us.’

I heard the ride beside us, the gears shifting, metal on metal as the cars came to an abrupt stop and began spinning the pposite way. The squeals of delight from inside. I tried to focus on that, on every individual sound, so I wouldn’t think about me and Bailey and Corinne oat the top of the Ferris wheel. 

I must’ve seemed so pathetic to Bailey, standing here pretending not to know what she was talking about when that whispered word had become louder and louder over the years. So that sometimes when I thought of Corinne, it was the only thing I heard. 

Her cold hands at my elbows. Her breath in my ear. Bailey’s laughter, tight and nervous, in the background. The scent of Corinne’s spearmint gum. Her fingers dancing across my skin. Jump, she said. 

She told me to jump. “

While I found myself confused at times because of all of the backtracking, I really enjoyed this book. I’d love to read it again knowing what I know now because I bet I missed a lot. The author, Megan Miranda, did a beautiful job at holding the truth back from the readers until the very last second. What I loved most was that I really thought I had it figured out – that I’d solved the mystery – but it turned out I was only half correct. The twist thrown in wasn’t weird or wonky, like in some books I’ve read, but made complete sense once you really thought about it. Miranda has up until this point been a YA author, and this is listed as her first psychological thriller. I’m now pumped to read her second, The Perfect Stranger, that just came out on April 11.

I give All the Missing Girls 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s an easy read that will keep you guessing all the way up to the end (or beginning, depending on how you want to look at it).

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Review: Dark Places

Dark Places

by Gillian Flynn

“I was not a lovable child, and I’d grown into a deeply unlovable adult. Draw a picture of my soul, and it’d be a scribble with fangs.”

Gillian Flynn is best known for her astoundingly successful thriller, Gone Girl – the story of a not-so-good guy who is being investigated in the disappearance of his wife, the twist being that the wife is actually still alive and enjoying herself by putting her cheating husband through the ringer in a most complex act of deception and punishment. Viewers flocked to the theatre in droves when the movie, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, premiered. It received positive critical response both in novel and film form, and catapulted Gillian Flynn’s career to another level. Gone Girl is the third novel by the author and all three have been critically acclaimed.

Dark Places is in short, the story of the grown-up Libby Day, the only member of her family to survive a mass killing spree –  the exception being  her big brother Ben, who is incarcerated after being found guilty of the murders.

Libby was just a kid when her family were brutally slaughtered in her childhood home – a gun was involved, as was a bit of strangling and some serious business with an axe – and 24 years later, she’s still not dealing with it. She hasn’t worked a day in her life, living off the charity of others, and reality is beginning to hit home as her money is finally running out. She’s haunted by that night as any one would be, and memories creep in and out of her psyche as she struggles to sludge her way through a mundane life. She left the town of Kinnakee, Kansas behind in a cloud of Satanic cults and morbid ministrations, all of which her brother has been accused of.

” I passed a field of cows, standing immobile, and thought about growing up, all the rumors of cattle mutilation, and people swearing it was the Devil worshipers. The Devil lurked nearby in our Kansas town, an evil that was as natural and physical as a hillside. Our church hadn’t been too brimstoney, but the preacher had certainly nurtured the idea: The Devil, goat-eyed and bloody, could take over your heart just as easily as Jesus, if you weren’t careful. In every town I lived in, there were always the “Devil kids,” and the “Devil houses,” just like there was always a killer clown driving around in a white van. Everyone knew of some old, vacant warehouse on the edge of town where a stained mattress sat on the floor, bloody from sacrifice. Everyone had a friend of a cousin who had actually seen a sacrifice but was too scared to give details. “

When Libby is approached by a twenty-something kid named Lyle who promises her money in exchange for chats about her past, she’s tempted. Her anxiety and general laziness doesn’t make working a real job a viable option and the thought of being able to sell some old, doodled-up notebooks and letters from her dead family members for quick cash  is appealing. Lyle is quickly keen on getting Libby reveal and learn more information about that fateful night and when he senses her trepidation, he proposes a meeting with an organization he is affiliated with – The Kill Club.

Deep in the bowels of an abandoned warehouse, Libby is introduced to the members of the Day Chapter of the Kill Club, a group of mismatched misfits and conspiracy theorists, all of whom are convinced that Ben had nothing to do with the murders. They seem to know more details about that night even than Libby and are not as happy to meet her as she thought they would be. Libby’s testimony helped put away her big brother, testimony that many of the members believe was falsified and coerced. Lyle suggests Libby try and gather information from people involved with her family at the time of the murders, like her deadbeat and transient father or a guy named Trey, who used to hang around with her brother. But the most important interview they want Libby to conduct is that with her brother, Ben Day.

” Those “Day enthusiasts,” those “solvers” would pay for more than just old letters. Hadn’t they asked me where Runner was, and which of Ben’s friends I might still know? They’d pay for information that only I could get. Those jokers who memorized the floor plans to my house, who packed folders full of crime-scene photos, all had their own theories about who killed the Days. Being freaks, they’d have a tough time getting anyone to talk to them. Being me, I could do that for them. The police would humor poor little me, a lot of the suspects even. I could talk to my dad, if that’s what they really wanted, if I could find him. 

Not that it would necessarily lead to anything. At home under my bright hamster-y lights, safe again, I reminded myself that Ben was guilty (had to be had to be), mainly because I couldn’t handle any other possibility. Not if I was going to function, and for the first time in twenty-four years, I needed to function. I started doing the math in my head: $500, say, to talk to the cops; $400 to talk to some of Ben’s friends; $1,000 to track down Runner; $2,000 to talk to Runner. I’m sure the fans had a whole list of people I could cajole into giving Orphan Day some of their time. I could drag this out for months. 

I fell asleep, the rum bottle still in my hand, reassuring myself: Ben Day is a killer. “

Although ecstatic to see baby sister after 24 years behind bars, Ben is reluctant to give Libby any more information than what is currently on record, and Libby finds herself curious for the first time since the murders. Questions begin to swim in her mind about things she had once taken as fact – was her brother really part of a Satanic cult? Was he really a child molester as little Krissi Cates had accused? Who is Diondra? Did he really act alone? Aided by the motivation of fast cash and a nagging feeling in the pit of her gut, Libby is on a quest to find out the truth even if it means revisiting the dark places she’s locked away in the back of her mind.

” “Never mind,” I said, removing the phone from my ear so he knew I was leaving. 

“Libby, hold on, hold on.”

“No, if you’re going to work me like some. . . convict, I don’t see the point.”

“Libby, hold the hell up. I’m sorry I can’t give you the answer I guess you want.” 

“I just want the truth.”

“And I just want to tell you the truth, but you seem to want. . . a story. I just, I mean Christ, here comes my little sister after all these years and I think, well, here might be one good thing. One good thing. Sh sure as hell wasn’t helpful twenty-four goddam years ago, but, hey, I’m over that., I’m so over that the first time I see her, all I am is happy. I mean there I was in my fucking animal pen, waiting to see you, so nervous like I was going on a date, and I see you and, jeez, it’s like, maybe this one thing will be OK. Maybe I can have one person from my family still in my life and I won’t be so fucking lonely, because — and I mean, I know you talked to Magda, believe me I heard all about that, and so year I have people who visit me and care about me, but they’re not you, they’re not anyone who knows me except as the guy with the. . . and I was just thinking it’d be so goddam nice to be able to talk with my sister, who knows me, who knows our family, and knows that we were just, like, normal, and we can laugh about goddam cows. That’s it, you know, that’s all I’m asking for at this point. Just something as tiny as that. And so I wish I could tell you something that won’t make you.  . . hate me again.” He dropped his eyes, looking at the reflection of his chest in the glass. “But I can’t.” “

Dark Places tells its story via the perspective of teenage Ben, his mother Patty Day, and grown-up sister Libby. Having something to hide is an understatement when it comes to the angsty and hormonal Ben, and Patty is overwhelmed with the impending loss of her family farm and struggling with the raising of four young children all on her own. Through their words readers learn the truth of the night in question and will be shocked to find out what really happened, in true Gillian Flynn style.

While Flynn is known for her plot twists and dangerous turns as her novels progress, she is also known for surprise endings. Most avid thriller readers find their fun in figuring out the mystery before the literary super sleuth does, but Flynn makes that task difficult as she is very good at keeping things close to the vest. Dark Places is no exception, but unlike Gone Girl, I was very disappointed in the last minute plot twist and found it did not make any sense to the entirety of the story. I had one part of the mystery figured out and was still surprised by the exact how’s and when’s, but the definitive shock factor at the end was out of place and unnecessary – not to mention I found it completely unbelievable after reading testimony from the different perspectives as I had.

Just for that ending, I give Dark Places 3.5 out of 5 stars. She had me at a solid 4.5 stars until that ending. I swear, I was going to give it to her but Gillian Flynn really let me down. To say it was a WTF moment would be an understatement. I found the actual storyline of Dark Places to be superior to Gone Girl until the end, which really made it a disappointment, considering the bang Gone Girl ended with.

Dark Places has been made into a feature film starring the incomparable Charlize Theron. You can find it on Amazon Prime.

 

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Recommendation: The Witching Hour

The Witching Hour

by Anne Rice

“Who in God’s name are you? she thought. The incongruity of it struck her slowly, along with a completely alien thought. This is not what it appears to be. this is some form of illusion I’m looking at! And with a sudden interior shift, her anger passed into suspicion and finally fear. 

The dark eyes of the being implored her. He raised his pale hands now and placed his fingers on the glass. 

She could neither move nor speak. Then, furious at her helplessness and at her terror, she cried:

“You go back to hell where you came from!” her voice sounded loud and terrible in the empty house. 

As if to answer her, to unsettle her and vanquish her totally, the intruder slowly disappeared. The figure went transparent, then dissolved utterly, and nothing was left but the faintly horrible and completely unsettling sight of the empty desk. 

The immense pane of glass rattled. There came another boom from it as though the wind had pushed against it head on. Then the sea seemed to settle. The rushing of water died away. And the house grew still. “

Diving into a work written by Anne Rice can be a daunting task, to say the least. She has a way of writing that completely envelops you as a reader, bringing you into her twisting and turning world of the occult, vampires, and sexual deviancy with as clear a vision as if you were standing in the middle of the French Quarter yourself. Her Vampire Chronicles are legendary and her unique style at telling a tale is spellbinding and bewitching. If you’re ready to embark upon an adventure that will wind you through decades of the Mayfair family’s life, be prepared to put in the time. Anne Rice can spend three pages describing a perfectly serene and near reverent setting for you, and then challenge your sense of propriety with a shocking revelation or scandalous taboo all in the same chapter. You need time to read this book. It’s not something you’re going to fly through while lounging poolside or during quick reads while sitting in carpool. The Witching Hour is a marathon, not a sprint. But in my opinion, the novel is a perfectly woven tale with the most unique sense of mystique.

I began my journey with this acclaimed author by reading this very dense tome, the first in a series of novels known as the Mayfair Witches Trilogy. I soon learned that what I’d read about the author in my previous research was true – Anne Rice does not write anything easily. Her writing style is meaty, heavy, and full of a lyrical sense of description that can sometimes be daunting to sift through. Whether you like how she writes or not, her descriptive voice is mesmerizing and admirable. She sets scenes up with a deliberate and nearly obsessive amount of detail, but all while keeping her characters rather ambiguous and most definitely mysterious. After reading, I still felt there was much I could learn about the lead characters and I enjoyed that. Not having it all put on the table allows much room for interpretation and for growth, something that I admire in any writer. It’s not easy to hold things back from your reader and allow them to come to their own conclusions about characters; as writers our first inclination is typically to throw it all out there at once because we know our characters better than anyone. They are typically a piece of our very self. The character development of Mayfair beauty Rowan, her devoted lover Michael, and the devious ghost Lasher evolves like a previously cocooned butterfly as the trilogy spans on.

Rowan Mayfair is an accomplished surgeon living in California. She was adopted at birth by a distant relative and only later in life discovers her immediate family who are residents of New Orleans, Louisiana – the Mayfairs. Rowan has gifts she doesn’t understand, namely the power to kill or heal via telekinesis. Several incidents involving her seemingly malicious talent have traumatized her, making her closed off to others in the emotional sense. She tries to use her burden for good and through helping others and the field of medicine seems like the perfect match.

After Rowan saves a drowning man, her life takes a turn. Michael Curry is undeniably handsome, enigmatic, and charming. They soon become obsessively involved with one another. When he decides to move back to his hometown of New Orleans to work on restoring his dream house, she follows suit. The trip allows her to delve deep into the family history she wasn’t aware she had. She goes from being an only child to two less-than-devoted parents to being the heiress of a family so huge she can barely keep them all straight. They are respectful to her in an almost chilling manner, as she is the last of the female line, someone very important to their lineage.

“Once the glass doors of the restaurant called Commander’s Palace had shut behind them, and Rowan had realized they were now in a faintly familiar world of uniformed waiters and white tablecloths, she glanced back through the glass at the whitewashed wall of the graveyard, and at the little peaked roofs of the tombs visible over the top of the wall.

The dead are so close they can hear us, she thought. 

“Ah, but you see,” said the tall white-haired Ryan, as if he’d read her mind, “in New Orleans, we never really leave them out.” “

In Mayfair tradition, the legacy and subsequent fortune is passed down through maternal lineage, from one woman to her first born daughter. Rowan is the last of the female line and as such bears a responsibility of the largest magnitude. Rowan becomes the designee of the family estate and eventually ruler of a strange ghost-man named Lasher, who appears to her as the keeper of the Mayfair women. The nefarious ghost has haunted and stalked the women of the family for generations using seduction of the highest form as the chief tool in his bag of tricks. His greatest wish is to become human so that he may walk the world freely and he needs a Mayfair woman to help him achieve his goal. The novel goes back and forth through time, taking the reader to different eras and annotating different Mayfair women’s battles with the spirit.

“”And Stella was the one shot by her own brother.” 

“Yes, and that was a terrible thing, to hear Daddy tell it. Stella was the wild one of that generation. Even before her mother died, she filled that old house with lights, with parties going on night after night, with the bootleg booze flowing and the musicians playing. Lord only knows what Miss Carl and Miss Millie and Miss Belle thought of all that. But when she started bringing her men home, that’s when Lionel took matters into his own hands and shot her. Jealous of her is what he was. Right in front of everybody in that parlor, he said, ‘I’ll kill you before I let him have you.’ “

Aaron Lightner is a prominent member of an order called the Talamasca, an ancient group of scholars who study all things supernatural and prepare case files with as much information as they can garner. Aaron has followed the lives of the Mayfair family as part of his life’s work and is well aware of the spirit Lasher’s ill intentions. He has insight as to the spirit’s motivations and means and becomes friend to both Rowan and Michael as the story progresses. His retelling of the information he has gathered through the years is a beautiful puzzle with the elusive Mayfair family ever at the center. He knows something is about to come to a head but he isn’t sure what or how. As Aaron’s sense of urgency increases, the reality that Rowan is indeed in danger (as her female predecessors were) comes to fruition – but there is always hope of beating Lasher if one continues to push forward and doesn’t give up trying to solve the mystery.

“All these years he’d known that man wasn’t real. All his life he’d known it. He’d known it in the church. . . 

“Michael, that man is waiting for Rowan,” Lightner said. 

“Waiting for Rowan? But Lightner, why, then, did he show himself to me?”

“Listen, my friend.” The Englishman put his hand on Michael’s hand and clasped it warmly. “It isn’t my intention to alarm you or to exploit your fascination. But that creature has been attached to the Mayfair family for generations. It can kill people. But then so can Dr. Rowan Mayfair. In fact, she may well be the first of her kind to be able to kill entirely on her own, without that creature’s aid. And they are coming together, that creature and Rowan. It’s only a matter of time before they meet. Now, please, dress and come with me. If you choose to be our mediator and to give the file on the Mayfair Witches to Rowan for us, then our highest aims will have been served. “”

The history of the Mayfair family is so interesting and engaging, I just loved it. The way Ann Rice presents it is deep and magical and makes you feel as if you reading something you shouldn’t be privy to. The secrets are deliciously scandalous and I was thrilled to learn even more in the second book, Lasher. One characters in particular, Julian Mayfair, was extremely riveting; but I won’t give too much of his own personal story away. The story retells the lives of many decades of Mayfair women and their dealings with Lasher.

Many of the questions raised in The Witching Hour are laid to rest in Lasher. The third book in the trilogy, Taltos, I felt was unneeded. It felt as if the author was too involved in her characters and was having a hard time letting go. As a result, I had a hard time getting through the book and would not recommend it unless you are just a diehard fan. Three other books follow spurs from the Mayfair family tree- Merrick, Blackwood Farm, and Blood Canticle.  These books weave the Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches Trilogy together with familiar faces and unique story lines.

The Witching Hour provides a beautiful portrait of New Orleans and the Garden District, narrating a history in such a lovely way that you never doubt the love Anne Rice has for her city of birth. She lived there on a grand property (much like the Mayfair family home) for much of her 41 year marriage, selling and making the exodus to California to be closer to her son after her husband’s death. She writes of her city as a lover recounts infatuation with their beloved; New Orleans runs through the very veins of this author and I’m sure more than one reader of her work if traveling down the French Quarter, has turned their head to see if a vampire is lurking in the shadows behind them.

I rate The Witching Hour 4 out of 5 stars, recommending it only to a reader who has the time and energy to put into reading it. It’s a book clocking in at over 950 pages and takes a few chapters before you really get into it. Be prepared to expect and accept the unexpected and throw out the idea that anything can be taken at face value. Anne Rice dictates and categorizes the natures of the supernatural in a way that makes you wonder what sort of otherworldly company she keeps.

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Review: The Dark Tower 1 – The Gunslinger

The Dark Tower 1

The Gunslinger

by Stephen King

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” 

I have, regrettably, only had the pleasure of reading one Stephen King novel – 11.22.63. Before reading that particular book, I’d always avoided King because I grew up in the early ’90’s when the miniseries IT was popular and like many other 10 year old children, I was scared out of my skin. I figured Stephen King only did horror, and I wanted no part of it. (I do however highly recommend 11.22.63 – it was fantastic.) 

Two years ago I went back on my promise to never read books of a horror persuasion, and I read Ann Rice’s Mayfair Witches trilogy – and  while I found the third book to be completely gratuitous, I was spellbound by the first and second in the series…bewitched and fascinated with the story of a family of witches living in New Orleans . I decided to give Stephen King another chance while I was on the horror kick, and picked up 11.21.63, not knowing that it was not in fact a horror book, but in fact a wonderfully intricate mystery centered around the JFK assassination. I hadn’t had a chance to continue down the road Stephen King has paved with strange and twisting characters, until now.

There was an article I recently read that stated The Dark Tower series was considered King’s magnum opus. This intrigued me beyond belief. Of all the famous and quite frankly infamous novels King has written (IT, The Green Mile, The Stand, Misery, just to name a few) this was considered his greatest achievement? I began to comb the used bookstores in search of the first volume in The Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, but couldn’t find it. I’m almost glad I didn’t because when I went onto Amazon to Prime-order it, I noticed that this particular book had been given a facelift in 2003. King decided to go back and add a few scenes to tie all 7 of the books together in a more cohesive manner.

I had extremely high hopes as I began The Gunslinger, a relatively short book with only 250 pages in it’s entirety. The Dark Tower was originally written as a series of short stories that were published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and the book is set up in the same style, containing the first five of such stories.

Where 11.22.63 flowed and ebbed through a tale that  was incredibly easy to read and refreshingly relatable, The Gunslinger proved to be as mysterious and cantankerous as the title character, Roland Deschain – the gunslinger himself. I read the book in about three days and still had as much of an idea as to what was going on when I read the last page as when I read the first. The loose premise of the story is that Roland is on a steady, slow chase after The Man In Black, whom I believe to be a purveyor of death  or an agent of the devil – it was never made completely clear. I believe that is King’s intent, however, as there are so many other books in the series. The back and forth the reader receives as Roland reminisces and tells tales gives us some insight into the gunslinger’s world, but not much. I found myself yearning for so much more and was frustrated to no end as the story progressed without satisfying my hunger.

The reader is introduced to several characters along Roland’s journey, all of whom he gains something from. One in particular, a young boy of about 10 years old, is the most poignant of the group. The gunslinger grows to love little Jake in the short amount of time they spend together, and he learns of Jake’s violent death in New York City (in a time and world that is not where they currently inhabit)  through a hypnosis exercise. They become traveling companions and continue the search for The Man In Black across a ruthless and uncaring desert.

“”Look,” Jake said, pointing upward.

The gunslinger looked up and felt a twinge in his right hip. He winced. They had been in the foothills two days now, and although the waterskins were almost empty again, it didn’t matter now. There would soon be all the water they could drink. He followed the vector of Jake’s finger upward, past the rise of the green plain to the naked and flashing cliffs and gorges above it . . . on up toward the snowcap itself. Faint and far, nothing but a tiny dot (it might have been one of those motes that dance perpetually in front of the eyes, except for its constancy), the gunslinger beheld the man in black, moving up the slopes with deadly progress, a minuscule fly on a huge granite wall. 

“Is that him?” Jake asked.

The gunslinger looked at the depersonalized mote doing its faraway acrobatics, feeling nothing but a premonition of sorrow. 

“That’s him, Jake.””

The gunslinger was trained in his occupation from near birth, growing up in an Arthurian atmosphere among other boys his age who were also learning the delicate art of war. His father was a gunslinger, and his father before him, but I could never truly figure out what that actually meant. I believe gunslingers are protectors from evil, an angel of some sort, and they protect The Dark Tower. Or maybe I got it all wrong – something that would be easy to do considering how the story bounces back and forth so much while seeming to give nothing away. But again, I think this is the author’s intention. He really wants you to work for the meaning of this story; interestingly enough he mentions something to that effect in the newly added foreward. In any event, Roland has been chasing The Man In Black (not of the Will Smith variety) for roughly 12 years and they are on their way to The Dark Tower.

“Roland felt his face flush with heat in the dark, but when he spoke his voice was even. “That was the last part, I guess. Of my growing-up, I mean. I never knew any of the parts when they happened. Only later did I know that.”

He realized with some unease that he was avoiding what the boy wanted to hear. 

“I suppose the coming of age was part of it, at that,” he said, almost grudgingly. “It was formal. Almost stylized; it was a dance.” He laughed unpleasantly. 

The boy said nothing. 

“It was necessary to prove one’s self in battle,” the gunslinger began.”

The setting of the gunslinger’s world is one of enigmatic magic; a world that holds clues to what it used to be but is now a world that has “moved on”. There are snippets of the past world; a pianist playing “Hey Jude” in a saloon, a man who is the owner of a gas pump that is viewed to be a sacred idol. But the world Roland lives in is not normal. Ravens are able to enjoy conversations, men argue over eating meat carved from a mutated animal, and even the grass will turn one mad. I’m interested enough to read the next book, but I think I need some time for reflection before I dive back in. I was left feeling very curious about The Dark Tower, it’s meaning, and Roland’s quest…and much like many other frustrating books, the story didn’t begin to get interesting until the near end.

“Very well,” the man in black said. “To begin then:  You must understand the Tower has always been, and there have always been boys who know if it and lust for it, more than powers or riches or women. . . boys who look for the doors that lead to it. . .”

I do recommend this book, giving it 3.5 out of 5 stars – but I only recommend reading it if you plan on reading the series in its entirety. I cannot see the purpose in reading this one book, as it leaves all of your questions unanswered. Really. Not one thing is revealed in this book.

Read it in preparation for the movie coming out this summer staring Idris Elba as Roland Deschain and Matthew McConaughey as The Man In Black, as well as a proposed television series due for 2018. I’m sure anyone would agree while reading it that the casting is spot on.

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Review: Diary

Diary

by Chuck Palahniuk

“When you just cannot stop working. When completing this one project is all you can imagine. Then take a pill. Because Peter’s right. You’re right. Because everything is important. Every detail We just don’t know why yet. Everything is a self-portrait. A diary. Your whole drug history’s in a strand of hair. Your fingernails. The forensic details. The lining of your stomach is a document. The calluses on your hand tell all of your secrets. Your teeth give you away. Your accent. The wrinkles around your mouth and eyes. Everything you do shows your hand. Peter used to say, an artist’s job is to pay attention, collect, organize, archive, preserve, the write a report. Document. Make your presentation. The job of an artist is just not to forget.”

 

When I grabbed this book out of the library I share with my husband, he said, “Oh. That book was really good, but not one I would ever want to read again.”

This surprised me. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to read a good book over and over?

About 30 pages into this book, I understood his meaning. This book is creepy.

Diary is a novel by famed Fight Club writer, Chuck Palahniuk. He is known primarily for his off-the-wall way of depicting issues and ways of life that are not often told in everyday fiction. He pushes the mind of his reader to uncomfortable places and hopes to leave you enthralled, confused, disturbed, and delighted all in equal measure. The novel is short, coming in at only 260 pages, and in my opinion, could have been about a 100 pages less than it was. There was a lot of run-around in this novel, and while the story was interesting, I had a hard time relating to any of the characters and didn’t quite understand the actual storyline until close to the end of the book. But perhaps, this was the author’s intention…

We are introduced to our characters by diary entries. It takes a little while to figure out just who’s diary we are reading, and even then, the twist that comes out of it makes you take a moment and ask yourself – “what have I really been reading?” Authors who can determine a twisting plot line like that always garner my respect. It’s not easy to play a long con on your reader and keep them involved the entire time. The diary is presented to us as coming from our main character, Misty; a diary she is writing to her comatose husband in the hopes that one day he will awaken and be able to go back and read through all of the days he has lost.

“If you’re a little confused right now, relax. Don’t worry. All you need to know is this is your face. This is what you think you know best. These are the three layers of your skin. These are the three women in your life. The epidermis, the dermis, and the fat. Your wife, your daughter, and your mother. If you’re reading this, welcome back to reality. This is where all that glorious, unlimited potential of your youth has led. All that unfulfilled promise. Here’s what you’ve done with your life.”

Misty Marie Kleinman came to live on Waytansea Island once she married a fellow aspiring artist, one Peter Wilmot. It didn’t take long for her life to go downhill, which is disappointing, considering it had finally begun to move in an upwards momentum once she’d gotten herself into art school. She grew up poor, the daughter of a working class mother, resident of a trailer park, and dreamer of beautiful things. Peter came to her as a slightly awkward and very much unusual purveyor of all things lovely and full of light, but once she married and settled in on the island, he soon lost interest and went so far as to try and kill himself to get out of their marriage.

“The point is, when you’re a kid, even when you’re a little older, maybe twenty and enrolled in art school, you don’t know anything about the real world. You want to believe somebody when he says he loves you. He only wants to marry you and take you home to live on some perfect island paradise. A big stone house on East Birch Street. He says he only wants to make you happy. And no, honestly, he won’t ever torture you to death. And poor Misty Kleinman, she told herself, it wasn’t a career as an artist that she wanted. What she really wanted, all along, was the house, the family, the peace. Then she came to Waytansea Island, where everything was so right. Then it turned out she was wrong.”

Before Peter decided that life needed to end via a closed garage, a rolled down window, and an ignited engine, he went a bit mad. Misty is fielding phone call after phone call from disgruntled customers of Peter’s construction business – all with the same problem. They are missing closets, kitchens, spare bedrooms. Yes, missing. Hired to replace chair rail trim or baseboards, Peter instead sealed up entire rooms. Misty befriends one of the construction victims and they begin a quest to dig through sheetrock and dust to find the hidden rooms, all of which are graffitied with strange messages about how the island is trying to kill children and preserve a way of life.

Misty works a thankless job at a hotel as a server, but it’s not a job that anyone in town deems her fit to have. In fact, everyone in her life cannot get off her back about painting. The trouble is, Misty has no inspiration, and no matter how hard she tries, she cannot find anything that gives her the joy to go back to her life as an artist. Misty finds herself reminiscent on the beginning of her life with Peter and although it doesn’t quite seem right in some way she can’t put her finger on, she does indeed miss him.

“He lowered her to the gallery’s marble floor, and Peter said, “Te amo, Misty.” Just for the record, this came as a little surprise. His weight on top of her, Peter said, “You think you know so much,” and he kissed her. Art, inspiration, love, they’re all so easy to dissect. To explain away. The paint colors iris green and sap green are the juice of flowers. The color of Cappagh brown is Irish dirt, Misty whispered. Cinnabar is vermilion or shot from high Spanish cliffs with arrows. Bistre is the yellowy brown soot of burnt beech wood. Every masterpiece is just dirt and ash put together in some perfect way. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Even while they kissed, you closed your eyes. And Misty kept hers open, not watching you, but the earring in your ear. Silver tarnished almost brown, holding a knot of square-cut glass diamonds, twinkling and buried in the black hair falling over your shoulders – that’s what Misty loved.”

The money troubles are so bad that the Wilmot family home must be rented out to help pay for the extended care medical bills for Peter, and Misty, her daughter, and her mother-in-law move into the island hotel where Misty works. In an attempt to force her daughter-in-law into painting, Grace Wilmot poisons Misty and leaves her on a secluded part of the island with painting supplies. Out of this afternoon, one painting is produced, and Misty finds that her inspiration is on its way back to her. As a result of the poisoning, Misty begins to have a migraine that won’t go away. She consults the town doctor who prescribes her medication, and unbeknownst to her, she is being poisoned once again. What begins to transpire is a seemingly convoluted and strange plot by the town against Misty, all to get her to paint again – but is that the true purpose?

“She works on a picture every day. Working from her imagination. The wish list of a white trash girl: big houses, church weddings, picnics on the beach. yesterday Misty worked until she saw it was dark outside. Five or six hours had just disappeared. Vanished like a missing laundry room in Seaview, Bermuda triangulated. Misty tells Dr. Touchet, “My head always hurts, but I don’t feel as much pain when I’m painting.” 

The book gets creepier and creepier, with an underlining of dark humor. Near the end, where the true plans and plots of the town against Misty (or for her, depending on your interpretation) are revealed, you marvel in the true genius of Chuck Palahniuk. Through some sort of precise madness, he has produced a tale that is so twisted and strange that you cannot help but admire it, even if it was a bit difficult to get through. Nothing about this novel was predictable and the extensive knowledge on the subject matter was impressive. It could be a bit much at times, but I think this is just the way of the writer. You are meant to be left shocked and awed, and you are meant to walk away wondering about the story for many days to come. It’s not difficult to see how the author has acquired such a cult following.

I agree with my husband. Great book, but not something I would ever want to revisit. The creep factor ended up just being too much for me.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars, and would only recommend it to someone who enjoys this type of novel – twisty and dark, heavy on the haunting an bizarre.