Romancing the Duke (Castles Ever After, #1) by Tessa Dare

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: September 06 to 07, 2016
Recommended by: the Vaginal Fantasy group
Recommended to:

A very light and sweet tale that’s at times adorable, but not precious or twee.

What started off as a light Beauty & the Beast retelling turned into something unexpectedly sweet half-way through the story.

After having lost her father to old age and his whole estate to a distant male cousin, Izzy is left penniless, save for a strange inheritance from an estranged godfather. He left her a castle, but not a dreamy, happily-ever-after kind of castle. It’s old and decrepit and on the verge of becoming a pile of rubble–so more of a fixer-upper–but it’s her castle officially, she even has the paperwork to prove it. However, there’s one big problem. The castle also comes with its previous owner, Ransom, Duke of something or other–I forgot, it’s been a few months. Anyway. He’s brooding, snarling, infuriating man who’s determined to kick Izzy out so he could reclaim his castle, but since the castle is her only shelter, she fights him for it.

They get off to a rocky start, but of course there’s simmering mutual attraction and I have to say their battle of witty repartee is pretty funny. Romance isn’t my preferred genre; cutesy historical romance written with the modern audience in mind is even less so, if that’s even possible, but I’ve been trying to read more to broaden my horizon and whatnot. When it’s done right, when there’s a balance between plot and romance, it’s pretty good. So I’ve been following along with the ladies of the Vaginal Fantasy book club for most of the year now and… meh. Their book picks have been all over the place in terms of content and quality of writing, and not one book has impressed me yet. That is, until this one came along. I found it very engaging, even with the rocky start at the beginning, and Izzy and Ransom are pretty good together. But still, I have yet to find books with that balance I’m always looking for.

Another thing is I don’t normally enjoy traditional happily-ever-afters romances–which is basically all of them, right? They contain too many unnecessary explanations of things that should be left up to the reader to infer or figure out, such as the heroine’s and the love interest’s mutual attraction, sexual tension, and budding relationship. No need to spell it out. I can’t stand it when these things are explained, sometimes almost to death, because it’s too much telling and gets to be repetitive further into the story. Another thing I can’t stand is how strickly heteronormative these types of romances are. It’s expected that the main couple are, but must every other character in the book be so as well?*

So in spite of all of that, I did like this book and found myself enjoying it for its many, rather noticeably modern, details and embellishment, which were definitely a bit jarring and took me out of the Victorian setting (or was it Edwardian?), like the characters’ modern sensibilities, specifically Izzy’s open-minded views of sex and relationships and her noticeably lack of uptight-ness, and the hilarious cosplaying troupe of devoted fans following the her around the country. And the humor. It was, once again, unexpected and enjoyable. I found it neither cheesy nor eye-rolling, and it was one of the things I liked most about the read.

“Every time you wake up, you let fly the most marvelous string of curses. It’s never the same twice, do you know that? It’s so intriguing. You’re like a rooster that crows blasphemy.”

[…]

Izzy was utterly convinced. Never mind Arabian horses, African cheetahs. No creature in the world could bolt so quickly as a rake confronted with the word “marriage.” They ought to shout it out at footraces rather than using starting pistols.

[…]

Why must this be so mortifying? Oh, that’s right. Because its my life.

[…]

Astonishing. In the morning, when she sat working at that table of correspondence, silhouetted by sunlight . . .

Her hair truly did look like an octopus.

It was the way she wore it, he thought. Or maybe the way it wore her. It all sat perched atop her head in that big, inky blob. And no matter how strenuously she pinned it, dark, heavy curls worked loose on all sides, like tentacles.

Of course, it was an entrancing, strangely erotic octopus. Ransom worried this might be how fetishes developed.

*And must they all get their own spin-off novels so they could all live out their own happily-ever-afters which pretty much mirror the first book’s plot? Why can’t some of them end up divorced or widowed and spend the rest of their lives partying from one country estate to another, from one affair to another? Oh, wait, that’s not a romance… but definitely something I would read.

Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: August 12 to 24, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

Liked it much better this time around mostly because I chose to read it (for a book club), not because it was forced on me as a school assignment.

Back then, I didn’t–or maybe couldn’t–appreciate the sweeping nature of Emily Brontë’s use of language, but now I like it. She painted countryside scenery so very well, and she did the same with extreme characterization. I could read whole books about the wilderness and the moors and cliffs and crags of Wuthering Heights. More setting, less plot and even less on characters, and we’re good. The land on which the estate sat was painted with sweeping language as well, but with a haunting overtone. The scenery overall is beautifully rendered, and the characters and their relationships too, though tragically so.

I think it was this book that made me first realize I had an intense appreciation for stories that don’t end well, and the intensity of Bronte’s language makes experiencing her creation a deeply visceral–albeit somewhat satisfying, somewhat disturbing–journey.

“I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”

I admit my enjoyment of this book stems from my enjoyment of seeing melodramatic, first-world-problems characters suffer, mostly at their own hands. But the melodramatic prose is good too. Sometimes you’re just in the right mood for an over-the-top period drama with beautiful sweeping scenery and lots of people screaming. Nothing beats Wuthering Heights there.

Review: The Last Wish (The Witcher, #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: August 12 to 20, 2016
Recommended by: Milda
Recommended to:

A fast fairytale-filled book of short stories that’s just right for anyone looking for subversive retellings with a wry humorous undertone. A big thanks to Milda for the rec.

Last summer, I had an odd, several-month long fairytale craving and just had to read my fill. The odd thing about it was I was specifically looking for Beauty & the Beast retellings, which led me to that boring Court of Thorns and Roses thing. Fortunately, I branched out after that and found Beauty by Robin McKinley, which was a nice pleasant read and a throwback to the days when I used to read Robin McKinley for fun–Beauty & the Beast retellings are Ms. McKinley’s specialty; then there was Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, which was another pleasant read and a huge surprise because it’s got the same look and feel and marketing as ACoTaR but the writing was so much better; and finally Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier which was so lovely and amazing and easily the best of the bunch.

In the midst of that fairytale-filled summer, there was this Witcher book that a friend recommended. Fun fact: it’s actually the inspiration for the video games, not the other way around. I didn’t know that at the start, so I think I went in expecting something similar to Assassin’s Greed but with magic and magical creatures, and that’s basically what it is. But to my surprise, there was a lot of depth to the world and characters and an assortment of mythological and fairytale creatures, and the writing was good. I’m not a fan of short stories, unless they’re part of a series I’m currently following, but I enjoyed these short episodic adventures of the Witcher’s and found that they work really well for this particular character and the life he’s led.

A witcher is a magically trained and transformed exterminator of the supernaturally wicked. He travels alone from town to town getting rid of monsters, many of which are straight from fairytales and folklore. But the world is a different place now than it once was in the time of previous witchers, and these “monsters” are no longer a threat to everyday life like they once were, some of them even live among people.

Geralt is a witcher going through an existential crisis because he is one of the last of his kind in a world that no longer needs his expertise or services. We follow him through six stories in which he has to face down and defeat something supernatural, as well as confront himself and his dwindling place in the world. Each monster makes him question the purpose of his job and life. Sounds like a downer, but it’s not. It’s a fast, adventurous read, interspersed by unsettling bouts of an existential crisis, but you know, minor details.

I don’t remember what I expected–Assassin’s Creed with magic maybe–but I know I didn’t expect the writing to have any depth or to be a lot of fun, while at the same time quietly poignant. Existential crises in a high fantasy setting can ruin everything run the risk of being too maudlin or comical or both. It wasn’t the case here. I found both the short stories and Geralt to be engaging and strangely realistic, within the context of his world but also outside of it. There’s something about him that rings true.

“I manage because I have to. Because I’ve no other way out. Because I’ve overcome the vanity and pride of being different, I’ve understood that they are a pitiful defense against being different. Because I’ve understood that the sun shines differently when something changes.”

[…]

“Justice will be done!”
“I shit on justice!” yelled the mayor, not caring if there were any voters under the window.

[…]

“The demand for poetry and the sound of lute strings will never decline. It’s worse with your trade. You witchers, after all, deprive yourselves of work, slowly but surely. The better and the more conscientiously you work, the less work there is for you. After all, your goal is a world without monsters, a world which is peaceful and safe. A world where witchers are unnecessary. A paradox, isn’t it?”

Like Geralt, I too had to spend a lot of time questioning my job and purpose in life and whatnot, etc etc. So I empathize with him on many levels. And if I had to kill monsters to make ends meet but the rest of the world no longer needed to have that done, then I’d probably empathize more.

Review: Silent Blade (Kinsmen, #1) by Ilona Andrews

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: August 14 to 15, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

Liked it. Interesting world/universe, interesting factions, interesting back stories, interesting power dynamics. Looking forward to reading more of this world/universe and hoping there’s more in the work.

This is a light futuristic sci-fi novella that feels otherworldly, yet familiar somehow.

Some time in the distant future, corporations run by wealthy families will dominate a whole planet–think of it as each family is its own country–and there will be no governing bodies to keep them in check, though what does keep them in check are the other families, their holdings and vast array of weapons and assassins. It’s like an arms race, but between the families.

Meli Galdes is from a middling family with some important corporate ties, but not enough and they’re on the brink of bankruptcy. She has known her whole life that she would have to marry Celino Carvanna to secure their families’ alliance and help move her family up the social ladder. But when he breaks off their engagement abruptly, he not only severs those ties, but he also ruins her whole life. Because the Carvannas are rich and powerful, no suitors, even ones actually interested in Meli, would want to cross the Carvannas, even though Celino Carvanna had already set her aside.

So what does she do? She leaves her family and train to be an assassin. Not just any assassin though. She becomes one of the best. And then she plots her revenge, slowly and meticulously. And then she sets the plot in motion all the while playing innocent.

I liked this story, especially this planet and its strange corporate-run culture. There’s something brutal and brutally honest about how the families off each other, all in the name of business and turning a profit, and no one bats an eye. Literally no one.

*

* *

* * *

* * * spoilers below * * *

Continue reading

Review: Origins (Alphas, #0.5) by Ilona Andrews

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: August 09 to 14, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

I quite enjoyed this intro to a relatively new series by Ilona Andrews, and I should mention this is not the kind of thing I thought I’d like.

It starts with a kidnapping… :/

And it’s billed as a paranormal romance… :/

But after picking up and putting down countless books in an attempt to find something good that could hold my attention for more than a page or two, I finally had to return to Ilona Andrews, knowing that they never fail to deliver. I decided to go with this one for the simple reason that its cover looked interesting.

Overall, I think it’s a bit too rushed, and so much of the world(s) is either hastily explained (without giving you a good grasp of the existence of these worlds) or not explained sufficiently. Maybe if this book was a full-length novel, these strange alien worlds would develop gradually along with the plot and characters. I think if this series continues, it would definitely improve because the writing has all the familiar signs of a pair of authors who know their audience and know what to deliver and how to do it. They just need more room to expand on their ideas.

All through the read, I got the sense the Andrews wanted to test some limitations of the genre and take this story down a darker path that’s just as psychologically challenging as it’s physically challenging. And one of the things they put to the test was the romance starting off with a kidnapping, followed by imprisonment. I know… :/. So then how could this be a “romance,” right? I was unimpressed myself and had to make an effort to keep reading, but then the thing at end happened which made me think well, different. It was pleasantly different, as well as unexpected, and I thought it tied the story together really well. I trust the Andrews enough to not royally screw this up, whatever the tenuous “this” is.

The tone for much of the story is tense with some humorous moments in between to break up the hostility, and sometimes there’s sexual tension that borders on being unbearable due to the kidnapping and imprisonment–’twas a tad uncomfortable during those moments–but both main characters seem to have enough sense and chemistry to make their interactions interesting, and they seem grounded in reality enough to keep their budding whatever from becoming too cringe-worthy. The strength lies in these two holding the story together, and for me it worked.

Other than that, I think this story is a fun read and I’m cautiously optimistic of this series’ prospects, but maybe that’s because I’m so used to these two authors by now that entering a new world of theirs and encountering hostile natives is just another adventure.

* * * mild spoiler * * *

Oh, and I really could do without the kid–famous last words?–not that there’s much that could be done about it since she’s already embedded too deeply in the story.

Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1) by Sarah J. Maas

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Rating: (DNF)
Date Read: August 04 to 05, 2016
Recommended by: the Vaginal Fantasy Group’s alt pick
Recommended to:

DNF @ 38% because slow and boring.

I don’t think this book would have worked for me in any mood. There’s just too much that bothered and not enough to entice. Not even the fae “mythology” was interesting enough to pull me in. Not to mention the meandering writing featuring a young “feisty” protagonist and her long-suffering POV were a huge hindrance.

Plus, there’s an overwhelming “YA-ness” to the writing that irked me: lots of self-evaluating inner monologues; lots of discussion of good vs. evil; lots of self-righteousness; lots of characters to hate; lots of descriptions of lavish clothing and decor; lots of ridiculous “logic.” And to top it off, the “beast” wasn’t a beast but a beautiful cursed fairy lord in a mask–OMG, so frightening–and the heroine was an overly self-righteous, self-sacrificing caricature. It’s hard for me to believe this book isn’t a parody of high fantasy YA.

I completely lost interest around 15% when the main character Feyre killed a fairy lord in wolf form and wasn’t punished for it–because a life for a life made too much sense in this world? Instead she was offered a chance to live out the rest of her life in leisure in the opulent fairy realm. As punishment. That’s her “punishment” for killing a fairy. Rolled my eyes so hard I sprained a muscle.

But I pressed on anyway to no avail. Finally had to give in when it looked like nothing was happening and that Feyre and the beast were just frolicking through the fairy countryside for a couple hundred pages.

Review: Chosen (The Warrior Chronicles #1) by K.F. Breene

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Rating: (DNF @ chapter 3)
Date Read: June 24 to 26, 2016
Recommended by: DJ
Recommended to:

This book came to me highly recommended by a friend who loves the Kate Daniels series, so of course I had to give it a try.

She described it as high fantasy with a kickass heroine, and she’d read all the books in the series several times. I’m always looking for a new series to get into, so I was very interested.

Unfortunately, it’s not for me. But this time, I think it’s the book’s fault for the simple fact that the writing is just not… any good. I found it a struggle to get through, even just the first chapter. The writing comes off as awkward and juvenile and blunt, not unlike the style of a first draft and not unlike an exercise piece you’d see in creative writing classes. Not a diss, just pointing that this book reads like a work in progress.

Here’s what I mean by the writing being awkward. The sentence structures are weird and full of cliches.

His cruel smile winked out as confusion stole his countenance.

[…]

Her empty stomach sucked the ribs into the middle of her body, trying to fill that void. Her brain thumped against the inside of her skull with dehydration.

[…]

She didn’t have long. She had to find something to eat and drink or her journey would end right here, in this crypt that used to hold a forest.

[…]

She was in the last leg of her journey, nearing the Great Sea, and instead of fulfilling her supposed destiny, she was knocking at death’s door.

[…]

Her brain pounded so hard it felt like it was trying to rip out of the casing of her skull.

This is just from the first chapter. And there are 50 more chapters presumably just like it.

I went on to finish the second chapter, but it was a real struggle. Definitely not better and desperately needed an editor. I got the sense there was an attempt at humor, specifically “edgy” humor, but the execution of it seems forced, like it’s trying too hard, and kind of embarrassing to read. Moreover, the addition of more characters to build up this fantasy world didn’t improve it–they’re more like caricatures than characters. And the writing’s still very much the same, still a pain to read.

Though to be fair, I should add that the friend who rec’d this book to me said the story gets much better and that later books are significantly stronger and more interesting. Shanti, the main character, is a kickass heroine with kickass powers and there’s lots of action throughout the series. If that’s what you’re interested in, this book might be a good fit. However, the writing style remains the same because it’s the author’s thing. It either works for you or it doesn’t.

I don’t read SF/F for the writing (obviously), and I used to think I could put up with pretty much anything, that it wouldn’t matter much if the story and characters are okay, but this book, or rather what little I’ve read of it, is making me reconsider my standards for “good enough.”

Review: Updraft (Bone Universe, #1) by Fran Wilde

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: June 03 to 07, 2016
Recommended by: book club’s pick
Recommended to:

Not really a review, just some scattered thoughts I had after reading this book.

After seeing so many positive reviews and hearing so many people praising this book, I couldn’t wait to read it. Almost all the book blogs made it sound just fascinating–a city made of bone towers, wings and flying contraptions, sky monsters, a conspiracy, steampunk-ish technology, I think there were even mentions of otherworldly ecosystems. So a lot of hype, more than enough hype to get my attention. Turned out, the book was a let down. I wouldn’t go as far to say it was bad, just not right for me.

My biggest issue with this book was not being able to make sense of the setting, nor was I able to connect with any of the characters, but that’s a lesser issue than the setting. The point of reading genre fiction, for me, is all about the setting/world building. If a book can make me feel immersed in its world like I had lived there for the duration of the read, and it’s a great world, then that’s all I need, really. Just simple as that–“simple” hah! Characters, plot, narrative, story arc, prose, etc etc. all take a backseat to world building. But here in bone universe of Updraft, very little about this particular world seemed right and very little about it made sense. I think I checked out of this adventure around the point the Singers were introduced because I got tired of things not making sense, but ironically I continued reading to see if the ending made any sense.

This book without a doubt is a coming-of-age dystopian YA. Maybe if a few blogs and reviewers had mentioned that early on, I would’ve reigned in my expectations and gone in with the knowledge that the writing might not have been a good fit for me. YA is not my thing, neither is dystopian fiction, and together they… are really really not my thing–personal preference. That plus the world building inconsistencies made it an uphill slog. And this book had all the genre trappings of teenagers being angsty while rising up to challenge an oppressive ruling body. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve all read too many stories like it before. And if I had known that early on, it would’ve changed my whole reading experience.

Maybe my expectations were too high, maybe I shouldn’t have fallen for the hype, maybe I should’ve read between the lines (of blog posts and reviewers) more. Or at least wait until a few friends pick up the book before deciding whether or not to read it myself. I wasn’t disappointed exactly because I’m not the book’s target audience, but it really was too bad it didn’t work out.

* * * initial reaction * * *

I was so looking forward to enjoying this one, but it just wasn’t meant to be. There are just too many things wrong with it, so I’m amending my previous rating because I don’t see what everyone sees in this book.

The bone world and the world-building is where all my issues lie. Nothing about these bone towers makes any sense to me, not even when I look at it from the context given and the logic of the bone world. And the more I think on these things, trying to unpack them, the less sense they make.

How is this bone world, way above the clouds, livable, let alone sustainable? Where do these tower people get their water? And I haven’t even touched on the baffling dystopian social structure or the flying contraptions yet.

Still can’t believe this book was nominated for a Nebula or that it won the Andre Norton. Then again, Uprooted by Naomi Novik winning the Nebula still baffles me too, so… yeah.

* * * * *

Not quite 3 stars but close enough to round up.

I don’t know what exactly it is about the setting and world-building that bothers, so will have to think on them some more, but in general, almost everything about this bone world is not sitting well with me. There are too many questions about infrastructure, environmental upkeep, and basic ecology and evolutionary things that are keeping me up at night.

Btw, this is a coming-of-age, rite-of-passage, dystopian YA told in first person, and it’s very obnoxious obvious. I wish I’d known that going in because I was not prepared for all that teenage angst and foolhardiness.

Review: The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next, #1) by Jasper Fforde

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date Read: June 01 to 03, 2016
Recommended by: book club’s pick
Recommended to: fans of British lit, history, and humor

The barriers between reality and fiction are softer than we think; a bit like a frozen lake. Hundreds of people can walk across it, but then one evening a thin spot develops and someone falls through; the hole is frozen over by the following morning.

In theory, this book is the prefect fit for me and is almost exactly what I look for in urban fantasy–a good mix of sci-fi and fantasy, alternate universe, time travel, a world that heavily features books, plenty of pop and lit references, plenty of book puns, wry humor.

Thursday Next–will always make me wince–is a British operative whose task is to preserve books, mainly the British classics. Nothing is said about literary works outside of Great Britain, so… Anyhow, Thursday Next–*wincing internally*–gets temporarily assigned to a black ops team to assist in a sensitive, pressing matter concerning a literary terrorist who’s out to destroy British classics unless his demands are met. 

Thursday Next–*still wincing*–and a few other operatives chase down this menace and somehow they end up rewriting the ending to Jane Eyre with the help of Mr Rochester. How they get there and how they rewrite Jane Eyre is very clever. I applaud Jasper Fforde for his creativity for working it into the plot because it explains so much about that ending. Unfortunately, by the time I got to this point, I’d lost too much interest in the story to care.

This book definitely missed the mark for me. Although the plot and setting were fine, I found the characters, main and supporting alike, wooden and needlessly tiresome and unnecessarily wordy–there were so many words, so many unnecessary explain-y words. It definitely didn’t help that all the characters tried so hard to be clever and quippy and full of witty comebacks. That got tiring after a scene or two, and so I couldn’t work up enough energy to care about any of them and thus spent much of the read counting how many pages were left.

I think my biggest obstacle in this book was the main character herself. Thursday Next–*wincing forever*–felt like a female character written by a male author, which is exactly what she is. I’m only stating the obvious because I couldn’t not forget that she’s a female character written by a male author all the way through the book. I vaguely recall several instances in which she tried, in my opinion, too hard to appear as though she’s particularly female and it came across as unnatural. I can’t really point to an exact scene or moment now though. It was more a general sense I got, from her thoughts and narration, that she’s trying too hard to appear a certain way.

The writing in general is fine, but again, I got the sense it was trying too hard to appear a certainly way. I think its aim must’ve been for witty and punny, but instead, it came off as forced and heavy-handed. And it felt especially heavy at several key points in the story which should have been fast-paced and action-packed. Instead, these moments dragged on–and on and on and on and on. So for me, reaching the end felt like a real triumph because I didn’t think this book would ever end.

* * * * *

Even though I finished it only a couple of weeks ago, I’m having trouble recalling much of the plot and characters. They’re all fine, I suppose, but easy to forget.

While I can see why this book is a hit with fans of Brit lit (all those puns), the only thing that still stands out to me is the way in which the ending of Jane Eyre is explained and worked into the plot. That was clever and unexpected. Everything else though? Meh.

* * * spoilers below * * *

The main reason this book didn’t work for me? I found myself siding with the villain all the way to the slow slogging end because I sympathized with his comical “plight” and immense disdain for the classics. I myself used to fantasize about setting those piles ablaze when I was forced to had to read them for school. Was not and still am not a fan of the British classics, you see. I hope that’s not too obvious.

Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: May 27 to 28, 2016
Recommended by: Stephen King
Recommended to:

This is the kind of book you have to finish in one sitting or else it will haunt you until you do. I read it on Stephen King’s recommendation precisely because he said it scared him, which I found amusing and that was the reason it stayed on my radar. If not for Stephen King’s comment, I mostly definitely wouldn’t have picked it up because there wasn’t anything about Paul Tremblay or the blurb that made it stand out or look more interesting than other horror new releases.

I don’t read horror anymore, not because it’s scary, but because there hasn’t been anything new in the genre since Stephen King. i guess you could say that about any genre and have whole libraries of books to back you up. For me, though, the genre stopped being interesting when I realized every horror book I picked up was basically a Stephen King knock-off. Moreover, I don’t like contemporary fiction or the contemporary-ness of the writing in most horror stories, and I especially don’t like stories about domestic upheaval, decrepit old houses, and the ol’ possession or mental illness theme, all of which this book had. The irony is not lost on me.

The basic story is this: there are two timelines–now and 15 years from now. The book opens in the future with Merry revisiting the old house where she and her family lived during her sister Marjorie’s illness. What had happened to her family, particularly her sister, has since become an urban legend. Now Merry finally wants to tell her side of the story.

Like most possession stories, this one began with a series of weird things happening inside the house that no one in the family could account for, and they got steadily worse as Marjorie’s illness progressed. What further compounded the situation was her father losing his job and turning to religion, Marjorie’s medical bills piling up, the family falling further into debt, all the while Marjorie got worse and the weird things in the house kept happening. The family had to turn to exorcism as a last resort to save Marjorie.

The twist to this exorcist retelling is the introduction of a “documentary”/reality TV show. Because the family was financially strained, they had agreed to let a TV crew film a “documentary” detailing Marjorie’s condition in their home, and they had to live with the show’s cast and crew during the filming. Again, all the while Marjorie descended further into madness, which made her condition worse. 

I thought the fake documentary was a clever way to make a familiar plot seem more modern. It added an interesting, yet much needed cringe-worthy, feel to the story that speaks to this day and age of exploitative reality TV.

This book leaves you with a parting question: was what happened to Marjorie a deteriorating psychological disorder or was it supernatural? There’s no clear answer and there’s enough for you go back and forth and second guess yourself.

It’ll keep you up at night, that’s for sure.

* * * * *

A big thanks to William Morrow for holding the GR giveaway where I won a copy of this book.