Kate’s Review: “Fellside”

26030697Book: “Fellside” by M.R. Carey

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to end up. But it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.

It’s a place where even the walls whisper.

And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.

Will she listen?

Review: My husband and I would consider ourselves ‘casual’ fans of the Netflix show “Orange is the New Black”. Casual in that we like it, but we never actually finished season 3 but will probably just dive headfirst into season 4. I’m a big enough fan that when I read about “Fellside” for the first time, my thought was ‘Oh wow, it’s like OITNB but it’s like a haunted prison or something!’ I will be the first person to admit that I wasn’t terribly impressed by M.R. Carey’s other novel, “The Girl With All The Gifts”, but given that I love me a good ghost story and the women’s prison setting sounded intriguing, I knew that “Fellside” was going to be on my list of must reads. There are a lot of things you can do with a prison setting in terms of storytelling, and I was hoping that it would be ripe with possibilities in this book. I wasn’t completely wrong, but I also found myself sort of falling into the same trap as I did with “The Girl With All The Gifts”.

I want to give a little more background to this story than the Goodreads description did. Jess Moulson is a heroin addict who has been sent to Fellside Prison because she was convicted of starting a fire that killed a little boy named Alex. While in Fellside, she starts hearing the voice of a little boy who says he is Alex. She wants to atone for what she thinks she did, but then starts to find out that maybe it wasn’t her who was responsible for Alex’s death. Meanwhile, the prison system around her is festering with corruption, and a fellow inmate named Grace is basically running the joint through intimidation and violence. So you not only get a sad and gothic ghost story, you also get the thrills and fears of a prison drama. And I really do mean gothic. One of the things that I really liked about “Fellside” is that it does ready like a gothic novel, with a protagonist who is in an isolated setting in a large new environment (which is located on the goddamn moors for crying out loud), who may or may not be haunted. In terms of giving a new twist to a gothic tale, I think that Carey did a fabulous job. I also did like the prison setting for the most part, as it gave opportunities for a lot of very disturbing, and pretty darn political, truths about prison life. The violence inside, the way that the justice system fails some people who have no business being in such a place (there is one character named Naz who was a victim of human trafficking but ended up inside because she was basically seen as more a perp than a victim, and her story ends VERY tragically), and the way that those in power don’t care or purposely abuse their power are just a few of the themes that this book touched upon.

I think that one of the problems I had with this book was that some of those side stories didn’t do much for me as a whole. I wasn’t as invested in reading about how the warden was blackmailing the prison doctor into doing his bidding. I didn’t really care about the nurse who hates Jess for being a supposed child killer and yet has to care for her as dictated by her profession. I also didn’t understand the point of having one of Jess’ lawyers be in love (but more likely savior complex lust) with her, as I think that even without his romantic attachment to her he could have wanted to help his client. I thought that some of the supernatural systems, like Alex showing Jess how to leave her body and walk through other people’s minds and dream-scapes, weren’t as intriguing as I had hoped they would be. I think that had it been limited to Alex being able to do that instead of giving Jess that ability too, I would have been more okay with it, but as it was I just found that aspect to be the weakest of the ghost storyline.

For the most part I enjoyed my experience reading “Fellside”, as it did creep me out and it did surprise me. I liked it more that “The Girl With All the Gifts”, and it has convinced me to keep picking up books by Carey when they come out. I wonder if “Orange is the New Black” would consider ever adding a supernatural storyline. I mean, obviously not, but if they DID, they should look at “Fellside” for a good how-to guide.

Rating 7: A spooky read with some very political and important themes, but some of the side stories and mythology left me feeling a bit cold.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Fellside” is included on these Goodreads lists: “2016 Horror Novels”, and “Upcoming Books of Note: Horror”.

Find “Fellside” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Don’t Breathe a Word”

9581507Book: “Don’t Breathe A Word” by Jennifer McMahon, Lily Rains (Narrator)

Publishing Info: HarperAudio, May 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: Audiobook from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Two young lovers find themselves ensnared in a seemingly supernatural web that ties them to a young girl’s disappearance fifteen years earlier in this dark and twisty tale from the New York Times bestselling author of Island of Lost Girls and Promise Not to Tell. Jennifer McMahon returns with a vengeance with Don’t Breathe a Word—an absolutely chilling and ingenious combination of psychological thriller, literary suspense, and paranormal page-turner that will enthrall a wildly diverse audience including, among others, avid fans of Keith Donohue (The Stolen Child), Laura Lippman (I’d Know You Anywhere), and Tana French.(In the Woods).

Review: I have had very mixed results with Jennifer McMahon. Before I started “Don’t Breathe a Word” I had read three other books of hers. I liked “The Night Sister” and “Promise Not To Tell”, but I wasn’t impressed by “The Winter People”. I was looking for a new audiobook, and decided to try this one. I had pretty high hopes for it as I started it, walking around my neighborhood at dusk. I was taken in by the story of Phoebe, a woman with a dark past, and her lover Sam, a man whose sister Lisa disappeared fifteen years prior when she was twelve and he was ten. Lisa had been obsessed with the idea of fairies, and thought that she had been chosen to be the next Fairy Queen to Taylo, King of the Fairies, and she disappeared without a trace. But then Sam and Phoebe get a phone call from a woman claiming that she is Lisa, and has returned from the Fairy Realm. So now Phoebe and Sam are trying to find out if this is Lisa, and if so, where she had been all this time, because fairies can’t be real, right?

Well don’t ask MacMahon, because she kept changing her mind about that little fact. And this probably isn’t actually what happened, but as I was listening to this book the evidence kept jumping between being something supernatural going on, or something very real and very insidious. While I think that it’s fine if a writer does these things occasionally to raise questions,  making the reader keep jumping back and forth between these questions gets tiresome. Eventually I didn’t even care anymore if it was actual fairies or some creep who preyed on a young girl, and that’s generally not a feeling you want your reader to have. I also had a hard time with the characters in this one, as none of them were particularly likable. Phoebe made terrible and stupid decisions, Sam was two dimensional AND something of a jerk to Phoebe a good chunk of the time, and Sam’s cousin Evie, a mysterious presence in the story, wasn’t threatening enough OR sympathetic enough, both things that her character needed to be depending on what the reader was supposed to believe at the time. The one character who seemed the most authentic was Lisa, whose perspective we got as well in the weeks leading up to her disappearance. I liked those parts more than the modern ones, as that was the only part that didn’t shift back and forth about whether or not this was a story about fairies or a story about evil people. For Lisa’s parts, it was about the dysfunction of her family and the tragedy that befell her because of it. I was mostly on board for her parts, and could forgive the rest of it…. But then…..

SPOILERS. SCROLL DOWN IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW

Okay I am going to just talk about the ending, because that is where I just completely wanted to toss my phone out the window. So the book spent a lot of time making you wonder if fairies took Lisa, or horrible people. It turns out that she was kidnapped by her aunt Hazel, Evie’s mom, who was raped by her grandfather, and gave birth to a secret son who was part Fairy (as Hazel’s grandfather was rumored to be a Changeling fairy). So Lisa was held in captivity by her aunt, not taken to the fairies to be a bride to Taylo, but to be breeding stock with her cousin. SUPER YUCK, but okay. I was satisfied with that solution… BUT THEN, Phoebe and Sam have a baby, and MacMahon decides that “Oh wait, Taylo is actually real and he set up Phoebe and Sam through his influence and magic and he wants their baby and steals her away, replacing her with a changeling”. I was livid. You had an ending. You can’t just change your mind in an attempt to pull the rug out from under the reader!!!

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There is no other way to describe how I felt.

END SPOILERS

But I do want to say that Lily Rains, the narrator for this book, did a pretty good job. She changed her voices for every character and had a lot of life and passion in her voice.

The end pretty much ruined the rest of the book for me, and I really hate it when that happens. “Don’t Breathe a Word” had potential, and I do like MacMahon enough to give her another chance. But definitely skip this one in favor of “The Night Sister” or “Promise Not To Tell”.

Rating 4: A strong start, a shaky middle, but then an end that unraveled everything before it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Don’t Breathe a Word” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Changelings”, and “WTF Endings”.

Find “Don’t Breathe a Word” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “The Fifth House of the Heart”

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Book: “The Fifth House of the Heart” by Ben Tripp

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, July 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Filled with characters as menacing as they are memorable, this chilling twist on vampire fiction packs a punch in the bestselling tradition of ’Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.

Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang, a vainglorious and well-established antiques dealer, has made a fortune over many years by globetrotting for the finest lost objects in the world. Only Sax knows the true secret to his success: at certain points of his life, he’s killed vampires for their priceless hoards of treasure.

But now Sax’s past actions are quite literally coming back to haunt him, and the lives of those he holds most dear are in mortal danger. To counter this unnatural threat, and with the blessing of the Holy Roman Church, a cowardly but cunning Sax must travel across Europe in pursuit of incalculable evil—and immeasurable wealth—with a ragtag team of mercenaries and vampire killers to hunt a terrifying, ageless monster…one who is hunting Sax in turn.

From author Ben Tripp, whose first horror novel Rise Again “raises the stakes so high that the book becomes nearly impossible to put down” (Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother), The Fifth House of the Heart is a powerful story that will haunt you long after its final pages.

Review: If there is one thing that you need to know about me when it comes to my love of horror, it’s that I am supremely picky about my vampire fiction. I love vampire lore, and have always enjoyed a vampire tale if it is done right. What do I personally define as ‘right’ when it comes to vampires in my pop culture? Oh, let me tell you.

  1. The Lost Boys
  2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  3. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
  4. Martin
  5. Dracula
  6. The Hunger
  7. Lestat as a whole

And of course….

8. What We Do In The Shadows

What don’t I define as right?

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I will beat this dead horse forever. (source)

I am happy to report that “The Fifth House of the Heart” is going to be able to be used as one of my personal good examples of what I look for in vampire fiction. I will admit that I had to sort of have a jump start as I was reading, because I found myself skimming more than I wanted to and not appreciating the writing. So I jumped back about a hundred pages, and really delved deep into the narrative.

The vampire world and mythology that Tripp has created is a familiar one, but he puts his own spin on his vampires and his vampire hunters. While vampires have generally the usual characteristics and tropes that has become a part of the collective narrative, Tripp adds things and twists things to make them unique to his world. For example, in this world, vampires take on the form of their prey over time, so there are encounters with vampires that look like giant spiders and malicious frogs. He also gives a lot of time to theories on metallurgy and chemistry in relation to vampire weaknesses, giving garlic some potency through means of scientific explanation and silver weapons enhanced by blacksmithing. I really enjoyed that Tripp gave such deep thought to his story that he made stalwart themes completely new and creative. I also really enjoyed our rag-tag group of vampire hunters, as they felt like they were coming right out of an “Ocean’s Eleven”-esque heist movie. Sax is a very fun protagonist, because he’s by no means a brave man. Hell, he kills vampires because he wants their antiques for his collection, and doesn’t get his hands dirty unless he absolutely has to. And even then he really doesn’t want to out of sheer cowardice. But in spite of that you can’t help but really like him and root for him. His team consists of a paramilitary badass, a sociopathic assassin who has a tragic link to vampires in her past, an obnoxious burglar type, and a blacksmith and metal specialist who is far more interested in banging women than hunting vampires. Not to mention the Bollywood actress who is suffering from a vampire bite. It is seriously charming!

Tripp’s writing is also something that gels with me completely, as I found it laugh out loud funny, but also really scary at times. There were many scenes that had me on the edge of my seat, and his descriptions are vivid and evocative. I could picture everything so easily, and the change of place never felt awkward or choppy. There are a few flashbacks in telling Sax’s story, but they were always clear cut and put in at just the right times. And the shifts from really funny scenes to scenes that had me on the edge of my seat were never jarring, as the comedic elements were just a part of the characters and always felt like they were in place, no matter how tense the situation was. And his descriptions of gore and vampire things of that nature were just the right amount of brutal without making me squeamish. Granted, my threshold for that stuff is pretty high, but it never felt supremely exploitative or graphic to me.

Vampire fans really need to try out “The Fifth House of the Heart”. It was a true joy to read it, and I think that it should take it’s rightful place of honor in modern vampire fiction.

Rating 8: A solid vampire mythology with some really fun characters. The mix of humor and horror really gives in a bite and the creatures Tripp has created are fabulous.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Fifth House of the Heart” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Picks: Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror Novels of 2015”, and “Hugo 2016 Eligible Works”.

Find “The Fifth House of the Heart” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Perfect Days”

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Book: “Perfect Days” by Raphael Montes

Publishing Info: Penguin Press, February 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: A twisted young medical student kidnaps the girl of his dreams and embarks on a dark and delirious road trip across Brazil in the English-language debut of Brazil’s most celebrated young crime writer.
 
Teo Avelar is a loner. He lives with his paraplegic mother and her dog in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn’t have many friends, and the only time he feels honest human emotion is in the presence of his medical school cadaver—that is, until he meets Clarice. She’s almost his exact opposite: exotic, spontaneous, unafraid to speak her mind. An aspiring screenwriter, she’s working on a screenplay called Perfect Days about three friends who go on a road trip across Brazil in search of romance. Teo is obsessed. He begins to stalk her, first following her to her university, then to her home, and when she ultimately rejects him, he kidnaps her and they embark upon their very own twisted odyssey across Brazil, tracing the same route outlined in her screenplay. Through it all, Teo is certain that time is all he needs to prove to Clarice that they are made for each other, that time is all he needs to make her fall in love with him. But as the journey progresses, he digs himself deeper and deeper into a pit that he can’t get out of, stopping at nothing to ensure that no one gets in the way of their life together. Both tense and lurid, and brimming with suspense from the very first page, Perfect Days is a psychological thriller in the vein of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley—a chilling journey in the passenger seat with a psychopath, and the English language debut of one of Brazil’s most deliciously dark young writers.

Review: I honestly could not tell you what gave me the idea to pick up this book. I think that I saw it on a list on upcoming thrillers and when I perused the description I thought ‘sure, let’s give that one a go’. I’m also always on the look out for works that are of a more diverse kind, so when I saw that the author, Raphael Montes, is from Brazil, I was extra intrigued. But thriller? This is listed as a thriller? Because to me, as a woman, this is pure, unbridled horror. So I am going to call this book as such, this is a horror novel. This is a book where a crazy man, WHO IS THE MAIN PERSPECTIVE WE GET, stalks, kidnaps, and holds a woman prisoner in hopes that she will fall in love with him. Who decided this is a thriller? Lies. False. Now I’m someone who can take a lot of messed up twisted nonsense in her books. Hell, I read “A Clockwork Orange” when I was fourteen years old, not to mention a LOT of the Stephen King catalog at that age as well. But even this book gave me lots of moments of pause, and one moment where I just had to set it down and walk away after yelling out in pure, unadulterated unsettlement.

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This was basically me for about 2o minutes after the fact.

Teo is the worst, and he is supposed to be the worst, so Montes got his point across. But as much as he was worst and as much as reading this book gave me a serious case of the icks, I really, really appreciated what Montes did with it. Nay, I would go so far as to say that I even liked it. I liked it a lot. It wasn’t a pleasant experience reading it by any means, but it was visceral and it was scary as hell, and I really see what Montes was doing with the whole thing. Bully for me, I guess. What I liked about this was that by seeing this all through the eyes of Teo, we see his perspective and what he’s thinking and why he’s thinking it. But, along with that, Montes does it in such a way that you never, EVER, feel anything but disgust and contempt for him, and for everything he does to Clarice, the supposed girl of his dreams. I feel the need to put out there right away that what he does to her is awful and extensive, so I am going to set out a TRIGGER WARNING for violence against women and men alike, and a rape scene. You’ve been warned. Clarice, however, is a very interesting character even when seen through the unreliable eyes of Teo. She’s certainly a victim of a horrible crime and unspeakable acts at the hands of a psychopath, but what I liked about her was that she wasn’t merely a victim; she has moments of manipulation, moments of power, moments of getting the best of Teo and the upper hand. While initially I was worried that she was going to be one of those ‘I’ll save you with how interesting I am’ characters, and while she was at first, she very early on made herself her own person who is not anyone’s sex object, be it through the eyes of a blatant stalker sociopath like Teo, or even through just a nice guy who needs a jolt in his boring life. The brilliance of this was that Teo completely bought into the idea that she was going to be the one to save him from his dull life (A life, I might add, that involves spending waaaaaay too much quality time with a cadaver at his medical school. That he has named GERTRUDE), and exposes this ‘wonderful interesting savior girl’ fantasy for the harmful and misogynistic nonsense that, at its heart and in its most extreme form, it is. I would even go so far as to say that Montes rips it to shreds. The moment that clicked for me, my mind was blown and I had to have another moment of stepping away for a short while. I saw Clarice through Teo’s eyes, but I also saw her through my own, and the character that I got from her was very, very satisfying and someone that I cared about. I think that had this been a two hundred-some page book of her just being abused, I would have had to put it down. But there were a lot of mind games going on and power plays that simmered below the surface, which gave me hope that somehow she would eventually, totally, find that moment of empowerment and revenge.

I need to talk about that ending though. Without spoilers, of course. But I need to talk about it because I’m not really certain what to make of it. A lot of the reviews and notes I’ve read about this book say that the ending is incredibly, poetically unjust. And while part of me is inclined to agree with that, another part of me wonders if there is a bit of a glimmer of hope to it. I’m waxing poetic here, I realize, but there was one thing thrown out there that, if my own personal theory/interpretation is right, could completely turn the meaning on it’s head. I don’t know if it’s because I need to cling to hope in a book that is basically hopeless, but I see something there that makes me think that all isn’t what it seems by the time we turn the final page in this book. I think that Clarice is going to surprise Teo one last time, even if we as the readers don’t get to see it.

“Perfect Days” was a difficult read, and I wouldn’t recommend it willy nilly to just anyone. But while it made me feel gross and upset and deeply disturbed, I really, really liked it. Raphael Montes, I’m going to keep my eye on you.

Rating 9: A very well plotted and scary book, but not for the faint of heart. Trigger warnings all over the friggin’ place. Skip this unless you are prepared to be very upset.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Perfect Days” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Amazon Best Books of February 2016 – Combined Fiction” and  “What Women Born in the 90’s Have Read in 2016”. (Note: Okay let’s be real, it’s not on many lists yet. Tell you what, if you liked ‘Misery’ this will probably be reminiscent.)

Find “Perfect Days” at your library using WorldCat!