Mini-Review: Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn (2012)

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Couldn’t put it down!

five out of five stars

(Caution: minor spoilers in the second paragraph.)

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

This is a story about two shitty people, trapped in a shitty marriage, and their mostly shitty parents and occasionally shitty friends. In spite of (or perhaps because of) the dearth of likable characters and the absence of a clear hero to root for, Gone Girl is a remarkably enjoyable read: witty, darkly humorous, wickedly fun. Even though I knew that there would be a major plot twist – and had a good guess as to its nature – Flynn still managed to surprise me, with multiple smaller twists beyond the first biggie. The overall structure of the book (Boy Loses Girl; Boy Meets Girl; Boy Gets Girl Back) serves the story well, and Flynn’s writing style is both entertaining and trenchant, and keeps the plot moving forward at a steady pace. GONE GIRL is a longish novel that feels lengthy – but in the best way possible. There’s so much action and observation crammed into these 400+ pages that I never got bored with it.

Gone Girl is ripe for deeper analysis: of the dynamics of interpersonal violence; rape culture; media sensationalism; the recession and erosion of the American middle class; sexism and misogyny; and gender roles and shifting expectations (Amy’s infamous “Cool Girl” rant comes to mind). For example, Amy’s false rape accusations are deeply troubling and play into rape apologist talking points (women lie about rape for their own benefit). Then again, she’s a sociopath! She hides jars of her own vomit inside frozen Brussels sprouts bags, and steals her pregnant neighbor’s urine. None of her actions really translate to an IRL setting. Which is why I (mostly) powered my thinking cap down for this one, and enjoyed it for what it was: crazy, crazy fun.

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Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Not much. Betsy Bolt – defense attorney Tanner Bolt’s wife – is a 6′ tall, stunningly beautiful (and highly intelligent) black woman, which catches Nick off guard – he expected a WASP like her husband.

 

Book Review: She Is Not Invisible, Marcus Sedgwick (2014)

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

“Coincidences mean you’re on the right path.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

She Is Not Invisible is not at all what I was expecting.

“Laureth Peak’s father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers–a skill at which she’s remarkably talented. Her secret: She is blind. But when her father goes missing, Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin are thrust into a mystery that takes them to New York City where surviving will take all her skill at spotting the amazing, shocking, and sometimes dangerous connections in a world full of darkness. She Is Not Invisible is an intricate puzzle of a novel that sheds a light on the delicate ties that bind people to each other.”

Somehow from this blurb, I came away with the idea that She Is Not Invisible is set in Las Vegas. With supernatural/scifi elements, possibly involving a blind teenage protagonist endowed with special powers; cue images of Laureth cleaning up at the poker table while fleeing from the law/loan sharks/the mafia/some other Big Bad with her kidnapped younger brother in tow. Needless to say, this only resembles the actual plot in the slightest.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Elizabeth Is Missing, Emma Healey (2014)

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

A Murder Mystery for the Ages

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an ARC for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

Elizabeth is missing.

Caught in the grip of dementia, Maud Horsham has trouble remembering even the simplest of things: When she last ate. Why there’s an annoying white mitten covering one hand. How she came to be in a certain room, and what for. The name of this strange, freckled blond woman standing next to her. Who she is, or used to be.

Yet one thought continues to gnaw at her, to taunt Maud from the scraps of paper stuffed into her purse, filling her pockets, and wedged between her couch cushions: her best friend Elizabeth is missing. Elizabeth is in danger. She must find Elizabeth.

But no one will listen to a dotty old lady. (Maud’s words, not mine.) Not her daughter Helen, or her granddaughter Katy (though Katy is much kinder in her humoring of Maud than Helen). Not her carer Carla, who is nonetheless quick to scare Maud with tales of the victimized elderly. Not the police she visits frequently at the station, nor Elizabeth’s son Peter – who is most likely the one behind her disappearance, the miserly boy.

In Maud’s eighty-odd years, Elizabeth isn’t the first loved one to vanish with hardly a trace. When she was just fifteen, her older sister Susan – Sukey to her friends – went missing. The year was 1946, and the police chalked her disappearance up to a “hasty war marriage” – marriages committed to in the heat of the moment supposedly led to droves of missing persons reports as women fled husbands, newly returned from WWII, they found they hardly knew. (“WOMEN: CONTACT YOUR HUSBANDS” screamed one newspaper headline.) Husband Frank, who was already under investigation for coupon fraud, became the Palmers’ primary suspect; secretly Maud also wondered whether their lodger Douglas was to blame. Maud’s mother died not knowing what became of her daughter.

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Book Review: The Shadow Year, Hannah Richell (2014)

Friday, June 6th, 2014

A Tense Psychological Drama

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program. Trigger warning for rape and violence. The second half of the review contains spoilers, which are clearly marked as such.)

The Peak District cottage couldn’t have dropped into Lila’s lap at a better time. Still mourning the death of her five-day-old infant Milly – and haunted by the accident that sent Lila into labor two months prematurely, the details of which still elude her – Lila needs a change of a scenery, a project to keep her busy, and (perhaps most of all) some time away from her husband Tom. Long since abandoned and falling steadily into disrepair, the remote, diamond-in-the-rough cabin certainly fits the bill.

Adding to the cottage’s air of mystery is its unknown origins: this was an anonymous gift. Lila’s father, recently struck down by a heart attack, is the most likely benefactor; but the lawyers are holding fast to their client’s wishes, leaving Lila to speculate about the cabin’s original owner and his intentions in gifting this beautiful and seemingly untouched piece of land to her.

This is in July. For the next twelve months – “The Shadow Year” – Lila’s story alternates, month-by-month, with the events that transpired in the cabin in the summer of 1980 through 1981. The beginning of the flashback story sees five college friends – Kat, Carla, Ben, Mac, and Simon – visit the lake one lazy summer afternoon. Newly graduated and facing the daunting prospect of finding employment in the face of a recession, the friends decide to claim the seemingly abandoned cottage as their own. Instead of jumping on the treadmill to adulthood, they embark upon a one-year project to see if they can rough it on their own.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The One I Was, Eliza Graham (2014)

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

All the world’s a stage.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program.)

Germany, December 1938. Only weeks after Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass,” an orgy of organized violence against Jews in Germany and Austria), eleven-year-old Benjamin Goldman boards a Kindertransport train for England. Carrying just his school satchel and his cherished leather football, Benny is traveling light; with his father long since imprisoned by the Nazis, and a mother who lay dying of diphtheria, Benny has no one to see him off, and is eager to put his life in Germany behind him.

Once in England, Benny is “adopted” by Lord Sidney Dorner and his young wife Harriet. The wealthy couple pledged to sponsor twenty Jewish refugees; the best and brightest six boys are to stay at their Fairfleet estate, where they’ll receive a top-notch education from university professor Dr. Dawes. For the next six and a half years, Benny tries his best to assimilate into his new, adopted country. Having always felt an outsider, he’s determined to shed his German roots and become a “proper” Englishman. From day one at Fairfleet, Benny struggles to speak in English rather than German, even outside of the classroom. He excels in his studies and forms tentative friendships with his dorm mates.

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Book Review: The Tell-Tail Heart: A Cat Cozy, Monica Shaughnessy (2014)

Monday, May 26th, 2014

A Cat of Letters

four out of five stars

“There are no coincidences, only cats with impeccable timing.”

Philadelphia, 1842. A series of most unusual and gruesome murders has left the city on edge. In a fortnight, the bodies of two women have been discovered: each with their throats slashed – and their expensive, prosthetic glass eyes stolen right out of their sockets. Speculation runs the gamut: could “The Glass Eye Killer” be building an automaton, one stolen body part at a time? Maybe he’s making a patchwork doll? Or perhaps it’s something about these fake eyes (both pale blue) that triggers the madman to kill? Either way, with little to go on, it appears that the local police won’t soon unmask the killer or his depraved motives.

Little Cattarina – “Catters” to her Eddie – is thrust into the middle of this human mystery when she stumbles upon a wayward glass eye while prowling the floors of Shakey House, a local pub. Much to her surprise and delight, the pilfered eye drags Eddie (as in Edgar Allen Poe) out of his funk. The Glass Eye Killer inspires him to begin a new story, which will eventually be known as “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

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