In the Woods

I’ve heard of the Dublin Murder Squad books for awhile now and have been meaning to read them for awhile. I finally sat down and made a point to read the first one, In the Woods. I like a good thriller/murder mystery, and was really pleased with how well done this one is. It seems like most thrillers are cheap, predictable, and churned out so quickly that much thought isn’t put into craft. However, there were some really great passages in this book that made the reading experience much more enjoyable than the average thriller.

Det. Rob Ryan is a member of the Dublin Murder Squad, meaning his job is to investigate murders. His partner, Cassie, is like a sister and together, they make a great team. However, Rob’s secret has the ability to hinder his perspective. When he was a kid, three kids went into the woods to play, and only one, Rob, came out. The other two have never been found and Rob doesn’t remember much. He now goes by his middle name, went to boarding school and acquired a different accent, so he flies under the radar and no one, save Cassie, knows his story.

Their newest case is the death of a 12 year old girl whose body is found near the woods were Rob was found. His memories are triggered, and he wonders if the two situations are connected. The book is full of several twists and turns, some of them I saw coming, but most I didn’t, and by the end, I was reading as quickly as I could to see who killed the young girl and whether or not Rob was able to put all the pieces of his own childhood together. There are several other books in the series, all are spin offs of the previous one, and I can’t wait to delve back into this series.

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IT

I read this book over a decade ago and didn’t remember much, aside from the vivid memories I have of the miniseries, all hail Tim Curry. So with the upcoming movie, I wanted to revisit the book this year. And for the 2017 book challenge update, I needed a book set in two different time periods, so this book fit perfectly.

The story takes place in Derry, Maine (of course) and follows 7 kids, AKA The Losers’ Club, and one summer in their lives. Kids keep disappearing, including Georgie Denbrough, brother of one of the Losers, Bill. Slowly, the kids discover they have all been seeing a terrifying entity, a clown, werewolf, leper, etc and that something strange is happening in Derry. One of them, Mike, does some research into Derry’s history and realizes random disappearances and murders happen every 27 years, and have been happening for over a hundred years. They take it upon themselves to kill IT, as it comes to be known.

Interspersed with the childhood stories, we also see these Losers as adults. Because they vow to return to Derry if ever IT returns (no spoilers…this happens in the first few pages), they will get back together to rid the world of IT once and for all. However, since they have left Derry, they don’t remember their childhoods there or each other, even. Mike has stayed behind and does remember, so he has the job of gathering the Losers again. Once the Losers return to Derry, their memories begin to unlock.

This is such a basic synopsis for an 1100+ page book. King really does lead you down some terrifying paths of childhood trauma, horrifying events, and the power of friendship. There’s no way to capture all of these in one review. I’ve read more than half of his books, and this one is easily one of his best. He definitely has some duds in the bunch, but IT is worth reading.

I also saw the movie. It’s not like the book, understandably. There are some big changes between them, and I really was disappointed in them. But, overall, I’m glad the book was translated to the big screen. Maybe more people will read the book now.

The Golden Compass

I’m just going to tell you this in advance. This is my all-time favorite trilogy. I would name my daughter Lyra, if I had the chance. Back when I taught middle school, my students raved about this series. I was quite skeptical because I just don’t enjoy much fantasy, and make no bones about it, this is quite fantastical. But the series has so much heart, that it was impossible for me to forget. And I ended up with a son who could be Lyra’s male counterpart. As much as I wanted to see this book on the big screen, I was completely disappointed with the end result. I have high hopes for the BBC series, though. Last I heard there will be 40 episodes (8 each season for 5 seasons) to cover the entire trilogy.

The basic story isn’t unique: the chosen child goes on a quest, however, the fantastic elements make the story memorable. First the humans have daemons who are essentially their souls who live outside their bodies as animals. Children’s daemons shift shapes until puberty, then the daemons fix. Some daemons take on the human’s future career, dogs are servants, water animals are fishermen, etc. Daemons and humans can only be separated by a few yards and are connected by an invisible thread. Lyra accidentally hears about Dust and ends up traveling north to the Arctic on a mission. She has one tool with her: The Golden Compass, also known as an alethiometer. This device, which is one of 6 in the world, can only be read by a few people, Lyra being one of them, of course, being the chosen one. The alethiometer can give her answers to questions. It’s a truth telling machine.

Along the way she makes friends with gyptians, talking Arctic bears, witches, and a man with a balloon. To get deep into the plot is to give many spoilers, but what is happening in the north involves Dust and is horrifying. Keep in mind this book is for young adults, so it’s not graphically horrifying, but more symbolically horrifying. And in the center of it all is Lyra, brave, clever, kind, selfless Lyra. She is impossible to tame, but would do anything for her those she loves. She hates formal education, but is very wise. She is a truly perfect character. I cannot recommend these books highly enough.

 

Mycroft Holmes

I have been a fan of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s since I was a kid. Some of my formative years were spent in front of the tv with my dad cheering for the Lakers. Magic was my favorite, and Kareem was my dad’s. But as I got older, I grew to appreciate KAJ for the intelligent, thoughtful, humanitarian that he is. I’ve been following his essays for awhile now. You can find many of them here in Time Magazine. When I heard he had published this book, I thought I would give it a try. Let me preface that I have read a sum total of one Sherlock Holmes book, so reading this little off shoot was a shot in the dark.

I’ve been told that Mycroft is Sherlock’s older brother and much more likeable of a character. And while Sherlock is in this book very briefly, I can say that I did think Mycroft was a great character. Very insightful and thorough, but with a good heart and nowhere near as eccentric as his brother. The story follows 23 year old Mycroft and a friend, Cyrus Douglas, who is from Trinidad. Douglas tells Mycroft about certain supernatural mysteries that are happening on the island and the two travel there to solve said mysteries. There is also a pretty clear political element going on with the setting in Trinidad. Douglas is a black man and Mycroft is his white friend, but they work together to free some slaves. The politics aren’t in your face, but definitely not ones to be ignored.

The book was a quick reader and kept me guessing. Some of the people involved were clearly playing a double role, and they were fairly easy to spot, but the story was still engaging. I appreciated all the historical details that seemed to be well researched. Overall, this was a really fun read that kept me guessing, but wasn’t too far fetched.

The Winter Over

I started Winter’s Tale a couple of years ago, but never finished it. I got about 1/3 of the way through and was just so utterly bored that I gave up. And for the 2017 book challenge, I had to have a book with one of the seasons in the title, so I made the commitment to giving it another shot. And, obviously, by the title of this post, I didn’t do it. I just finished 2 700+ page books and am working on another (IT….wow….just wait for that review) and I just couldn’t make myself try this book again. So, I headed to my kindle to see if I had another book that would qualify. Thankfully, through the Kindle First program you get with Prime, I had The Winter Over downloaded and ready to go. Fortunately, this was just a mere 300+ pages. Totally doable.

I really hate cold weather. I live in a relatively warm state and I can barely stand the winters. So books about cold weather really make an impact on me. And this book oozes frigidity. Not just the cold weather, but the characters themselves are standoffish and cold to each other. You know something suspicious is going on really quickly. The story revolves around a science expedition in Antarctica where they are transitioning between the summer season where there are dozens of crew members to the bare bones winter season with just over forty members. Just before the last flights out, one of the members is found dead, outside frozen to death. And let me just say this book isn’t about monsters or aliens or anything supernatural. The book is very straightforward and you know early on that people are the natural enemy. There is a mystery to be solved and the author, Matthew Iden, gives you a lovely trail of breadcrumbs to follow to figure out just what in the hell is happening.

I truly selected this book simply for the title, but I really enjoyed it. I’m a big fan of a well written thriller and this is one. I was able to solve a few of the mysteries along the way, but overall, was pleasantly surprised with how everything turned out. This is a new release, and I recommend you get your hands on it. Be sure to bundle up first because the icy descriptions can permeate your brain, sending you into the shivers.

The Historian

Here’s another book that has been on my to read list for quite some time. When the 2017 book challenge came out, I noticed I needed a book of letters. Unless I know of a title right off the bat, I head over to Goodreads to search for books that might fit this category. I discovered there aren’t a ton of books of letters, however, this one fit. All I knew about this book before starting was that it was about Dracula.

At over 700 pages, it does take some time to sink into the story. You have a young girl and her father who live in Europe and travel quite a bit for the father’s job and once she is old enough, he begins to tell her a story of his youth. Unlike most stories, this one involves vampires. The father, Paul, spent a good chunk of his early adult days searching for the tomb of Dracula. His mentor, Professor Rossi goes missing, and Paul decides he’s going to find him. Along the way he meets Rossi’s daughter, Helen, and the two of them embark on the quest. All this information is revealed via letters Paul has left for his daughter. You see, Paul has gone missing as well, and his daughter uses the story in the letters to try to find him. So you also have a story within a story going on here.

Once you really get into the meat of the story, it flies by really quickly. And it’s not about vampires really. Sure, Dracula’s tomb is the ultimate quest, but it really is just about solving problems, finding people, and searching for a treasure. I would consider it a quest book more than a vampire book. If you’re looking for vampires, might I recommend The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin. Overall, a really good read and it moved much more quickly than I was expecting it to.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

Roxane Gay is a badass. This was my very first thought when she came onto my radar. This was back in, oh, 2012, maybe? I was part of The Rumpus book club for over 2 years, and Roxane was a writer for the website Roxane Gay’s work while I was there. I knew of her from her essays and articles, but never really *knew* her until she popped into the book club discussions. There was a woman in the book club who drove met bat shit crazy. I will call this woman Batty. She was rude and condescending and just awful. And no one stood up to her. Until Roxane showed up. She, very directly and firmly, put this woman in her place. There were no words minced. And I cheered from behind my computer screen because FINALLY someone had the nerve and ability to do this task that I had secretly been begging someone to do. Batty was silenced. And it was beautiful. I knew from that minute that Roxane Gay was a badass. Let me be perfectly clear. She still is a badass.

Back then during the Batty takedown, I had no idea what Roxane looked like. Not one clue. When her book An Untamed State came out, I finally saw pictures of her attached to her reviews and realized she is black. Okay. Got it. No problem. But it truly wasn’t until this book was released and subsequent podcasts, reviews, interviews, etc that I realized that Roxane is fat (her words). Clinically, she is “super morbidly obese.” And after reading this book in a matter of hours, I stand by my original statement that she is a badass.

It is perfectly clear that Roxane doesn’t want pity for her body. Because her body doesn’t reflect who she is deep down. Or it does. (stealing a bit of her writing style here) She is more than her body. Aren’t we all. But living life with her body isn’t just a challenge. It is an all encompassing every minute of every day challenge. There are things in life she deals with that aren’t even on the radar of other people. Roxane doesn’t fit neatly into a mold of what society feels a woman should look like. She is also 6’3″, which provides its own challenges, of course. But her weight is what this book mainly focuses on.

And, as she puts it, there is a before and after in her life. Before a certain event (which I will not tell here. It is much too personal of a story for her. It is her story. Not mine) she was happy, shy but friendly, typical girl growing up in the Midwest. Her family loved her. She was supported. Then the terrible thing happened and she changed. Her world changed. Her life changed. And her body changed. She ate to escape the pain. She ate to make herself bigger so people wouldn’t want her. She ate and ate and ate and tried her best to hide her sadness, blaming herself for everything. Deep down parts of that girl still live inside her, shouting from the depths “You aren’t worthy. You don’t deserve love. You are fat. You are ugly.” Her internal monologue is brutal to read. Absolutely heartbreaking. Because Roxane is a badass. And not just because she took down someone who drove me crazy. But because she is authentic. Because she is true. Because she is real. Because she is healing. Because she is human.

I am not a writer. I don’t even pretend to be any form of writer, even in these reviews. So I know I’m not doing justice to her as a writer or her book, and I apologize for that. However, let me make this as clear as I can. Every woman should read this book. Not just women who society has labeled because of their weight. Not just women who look in the mirror and view themselves negatively. Not just women who avoid mirrors at all. Not just women who struggle with finding clothes that fit. Each and every woman. Because Roxane speaks to us all. Our insecurities, our need to be loved and accepted, our desire to be seen for who we are on the inside and not judged by our outsides. Thank you for this book, Roxane, and thank you for being a badass.