Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

I’ve been on a bit of a Gillian Flynn thing lately and I just can’t help it.  Her mind is a scary, wonderful place and her writing manages to be somehow lyrical.  In fact, in this book there were a number of descriptions that made me gush, “OMG!  I think of it the same way!  I thought I was the only one!”  On the other hand, sometimes that kind of language can really notch up the thrill factor.

How is it that Gone Girl put this woman on the map?  I think it’s kind of her worst book.

Recently I’ve been attracted to narratives about Satanism for no apparent reason except that it popped up randomly a few months ago.  Since then I’ve been really thinking about the Satanic Panic of the 1980’s and so this book managed to ring a couple of my bells.  It is the story of Libby Day who survived the murder of the rest of her family by her bother.  Her mother and two sisters were killed, the house thrashed, Satanic messages scrawled on the walls in their blood, but Libby hid by the pond and survived, losing some fingers and toes to frostbite in the process.

Understandably, Libby is not living her best life.  She’s managed to survive off of money from the sale of the farm and that was sent to her out of pity but the money is gone and she can’t face the idea of getting a real job.  How could she manage to work like a normal person when she can’t even manage to get out of bed some days?  Instead she ends up making contact with a man named Lyle who is part of a “kill club.”  Groups of people obsessed with unsolved or questionably solved murders get together and try to solve them.  He invites her to speak and for the first time Libby begins to question whether or not her brother is actually a murderer.

In a desperate grab for money that quickly becomes something else, Libby begins to sort through what happened that night.  What does she actually remember?  Who talked to her family that day?  What went so terribly wrong?  Mixed with Libby’s narrative are flashbacks to that day told from her mother and brother’s points of view, flashes that slowly build a picture of that last day and lead the reader closer and closer to the truth.

I loved this book.  It was the kind of read that had me wondering what was going to happen even when I was busy doing something else.  I would be making dinner only to pause and think, “What’s happening in my book right now?”  I found it positively engrossing.  I may be my favorite Flynn.

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

It happens once in a while that I will go to watch a show and have to turn it off because it’s so good that I want to read the book first.  That’s how I decided to read Sharp Objects.  Actually, Hubby put the first episode on and I was hooked but I had to go to bed and he watched the next one without me.  It might have been spite reading but I don’t regret it.

I listened to Gone Girl a few years ago, when it was all the rage, and a friend of mine told me she really liked the book but “it was kind of a dark time.”  That’s how I think of Flynn’s writing.  It’s excellent but it’s dark and messed up and you are probably going to spend the week under a kind of dark cloud.  Still worth it.

Camille is a barely making it reporter at a barely making it paper in Chicago when her boss calls her into his office and asks her about what is going on in her home town of Wind Gap.  A girl was murdered there a year earlier and now one has gone missing.  Suspecting that they might have the lead on a serial story, and also thinking he can do something good for a not-so-healthy Camille, she is assigned to the case and she grudgingly returns home.

Wind Gap is one of those delightful small towns that I like to read about.  It’s small, everyone knows each other, there are lots of quirks and gossips, and, most of all, it’s f*cked up.  Camille is the product of this town, a woman who knows she is beautiful and ran with the popular crowd but also has had a lot of unhealthy sex that she doesn’t think is unhealthy, a serious problem with self-mutilation, and a bit of a drinking problem.  Camille is the kind of character who never really pretends to be okay while still totally pretending to be okay.  She talks about how she’s been really good about her drinking and she’s going to get better about it but she does this while drinking from a water bottle that’s been filled with vodka.

Camille’s family is loaded and owns the pig farm that provides jobs for the poorer half of town.  Her mother, Adora, runs the show and is pretty much intolerable from the start.  Her half sister, Amma, has a lot of the same tenancies as her sister, drinking and hanging out with boys who are too old for her and a real mean streak.  Camille also has a dead sister whose memory she can never live up to.  This is a messed up family and it never gets any easier to read.

This whole novel has this oppressively dark feeling about it and Flynn has a way of throwing in a disturbing image here and there, just when you start to feel settled.  Basically I loved it and I loved it enough to go check out Dark Places and decided that I just have to read everything Flynn writes forever because her brain is scary.

Crooked Spur by Jack Hazard

Everyday, I walk down the same shelves at work numerous times.  I glance at the books as I go by.  Some are familiar because I know them and some are familiar because I see them everyday but once in a while I will spot something that I am sure I’ve never seen before.  And when you see something that you’ve never noticed before, you start seeing it every time you walk by it.  That was Crooked Spur for me.  When I looked it up online, I could only find a used copy of it on Amazon and NOTHING on Goodreads.

I had to read it.

You may be surprised to learn that I like a western once in a while.  I’m not sure why.  I guess that, for the most part, I like everything once in a while.

This was the story of Brad who returns home after three years of running cattle to make amends with his father.  His father owned a local store and wanted Brand to take over for him but Brad had no interest in settling down.  They fought but he’s still surprised to discover upon his return that his father has sold the business and gone on to Denver.  Brad’s father was very town-proud and not the kind of man who had much interest in the city.  When Brad meets with the man who purchased the business, Lafe Gorman, Gorman tells him that he paid more than the business was worth, enough that his father couldn’t have said no.  But then Brad ends up with a gun pointed at him and he’s smart enough to know something is awry.

I don’t have a lot of experience, but this was kind of an odd western in my opinion.  It kind of meandered around.  It was more of a mystery than anything and more than once it made me think of Agatha Christie.  It was fine.  It read fast and I enjoyed it.  Still, I have no idea why it was called Crooked Spur.  You’ll have to hunt down that used copy and let me know.

The Night Circus- Erin Morgenstern

Way back in June, I was suddenly seeing The Night Circus everywhere.  I had been meaning to read it for years but, par for the course, hadn’t gotten around to it.  Then one of my patrons pulled it off the teen shelves, where it did not belong, and handed it to me with a, “This doesn’t belong here.”  What began next was a reading odyssey.  I would read in sprints of 5 to 10% of the book and then find myself unable to touch it for days.  I returned the physical book and check out the e-book.  I checked out the e-book over and over and over.  Then I saw that it was due yesterday and made it my goal to finish.  I read 25% in one day.  It was a marathon.

It was a good book.  Really, it was.  I enjoyed it.  I cared enough about what happened to the characters to check it out repeatedly.  I can really see why other people like it.  It just was okay for more.  Just okay.  No sparks or anything.  We won’t be going on a second date but I won’t be displeased if we happen upon each other in the grocery store.

Two magicians, one a showman and one of a more discreet sort, select students and pit them against each other in a game.  They have done this before a number of times.  This time their students battle in a circus, each altering it in turn.  And it is a marvelous circus, held together by mechanics and magics.  It appears in the night.  Nobody knows where it is going or how long it will stay.  It has a collection of devoted followers.  Its performers are the best.

But what are the rules of this game?  What happens when the two students do not want to play anymore, do not want to continue to fight one another with grander and grander works?  What happens when they fall in love?

Again, it was a good book.  There were times when I got swept up in the story and had to read on.  There were other times when I could tell, based on pacing and twists, that this was a NaNoWriMo book, an exceptionally good one but one that is still susceptible to NaNoWriMo fits and starts.

Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts

I don’t think that there is a book nerd of my age who didn’t, at one point, decide to read the Oprah Book Club books.  Y’all, I worked in a library and had no idea how to navigate the adult fiction section and they just seemed like easy picks.  I didn’t even watch Oprah.  Never in my life have I watched a whole episode of the show.  But I had a printed list of the book club books and I was going to read them.

I read Where the Heart Is when I was in high school and really it was kind of the perfect pick.  I actually read it for an English class where we got to pick the book we wanted to do our report on and when I asked to read Stephen King I was given this instead.  Of course I liked it.  Of course one of my favorite teachers would force me into reading something so not Goth that I would love.  I decided to re-read it earlier this year when I was pregnant because it just seemed like a good book to read during that time.  I mean, at least there was a pretty good chance that I wouldn’t be having my baby in a WalMart.

It’s a good book.  You know how sometimes you try to read something popular and it feels like you are reading something that’s just poorly written?  I didn’t feel that way about Where the Heart Is then and I don’t feel it now.  It has the ability to suck you into this little town where the characters feel real and you can’t help but want to know about their lives.

Where the Heart Is is the story of Novalee Nation who is seventeen and seven months pregnant when we first meet her.  She’s going to California with her boyfriend, Willy Jack, who is going to get work with a rail company only his real plan is to have an accident and collect a settlement, like his cousin who lost a thumb.  When Novalee needs to pee, Willy Jack stops at a Walmart and gives her a little bit of cash for some shoes and then leaves her there.  Novalee takes up residence in the WalMart but by the time the baby is born she has already found her way into the hearts of some new friends.

I really do like this kind of book, this small town quiet story of a life as it snowballs.  Also, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I almost cried at my desk while I finished this one even though it didn’t seem like I should be crying.

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

This book was originally chosen for my now defunct sci-fi/fantasy book club.  It took me a while to get to it because I just kind of got buried by other books and then my reading slumped a bit with the pregnancy and so on and so forth.  This was the last library book I had left to read before my maternity leave and I figured it would be fast because it is so very short.  I also thought that it might prove to be atmospheric enough to pull me in and distract me because I liked the idea of reading about hot, humid lagoons and jungles.

It didn’t work.

My reading of this book went in three phases, splitting the book roughly into thirds.  First, I was in for it.  I was interested in the setting and the people and the ideas.  I told Hubby that he would probably love the book.  I let the language carry me.  Second, I was a little bored.  I don’t know why, really.  It was like a struggle to read.  The language weighed me down.  I would get through a page or two and then put it away or fall asleep.  Finally, I hit the “I just do not care” point.  I didn’t.  I almost gave up on it a number of times, even when I was only 20 pages from the end.  I had to fight to finish and it took a very long time.

The Drowned World takes place in a time when solar flares have caused the world to warm up, melting the ice caps and causing the water levels to rise.  With the rising water, silt deposits have completely changed the map of the world and now most of the globe is covered in dense jungles and lagoons.  The only truly inhabitable places are the far north and the far south.  A group of military men and scientists are in submerged London but things are beginning to go bad.  People are haunted by dreams that seem to drive them slowly insane.  When word comes for everyone to move out and back to their base, Dr. Kerans decides to stay behind with Beatrice, the only woman in the area.  They have forged comfortable lives there in penthouses with air conditioning and food stores.  Kerans’ associate, Dr. Bodkin, stays behind as well, chasing down vague memories of his childhood in the city.  Before long, a kind of pirate arrives to loot the city and as he attempts to draw the three from their self imposed isolation, it becomes apparent that he is not to be trusted.

I will agree with many that the setting and the ideas are good and that the language can at times be poetic.  That is not enough to carry a book, though, not even a short one.  I found the characters to be flat and the plot felt a little too cliche and convenient.

In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan

I finished this book yesterday and have been trying to decide what to say about it.  In fact, I was thinking that I wouldn’t say anything about it at all.  Then I thought that I really wanted to say something about it, but what?

Last summer I read The Girls by Emma Cline and for some reason it threw me into a frenzy for all things counterculture.  I made a list of fiction, nonfiction, and guide books as well as music to explore.  It was kind of silly, right?  I mean, I’ve been listening to the music for all of my life but what if I missed something?  Anyway, this book was on the list and it was really short so I decided to go for it.

I don’t really know what I read.  I don’t even know how to categorize it.  Is it scifi?  Fantasy?  Somebody’s acid trip?  It’s described as expressing the mood of the counterculture but a book can’t just be a fictional account of a mood, can it?

What I can tell you is this:  Even though I had no idea what was going on, I liked it.  Even though I am pretty sure that there are things that I DID NOT LIKE about it (I really hate how heartbroken women are portrayed sometimes), I liked it.  I enjoyed reading it.  I could see the world.  I could see the characters, even if the main character does not have a name.  Well, he does have a name but it’s whatever is on your mind right now.

Basically, this is a book that could be read in one sitting and that I think is definitely worth it but that I can’t really tell you anything about.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.