Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

IMG_20130910_112634 (1)Gillian Flynn’s first novel, Sharp Objects, thoroughly impressed me. I loved her ability to take the mundane and turn it grotesque. Flynn’s debut really got me excited to read Dark Places and the much-hyped Gone Girl.

Dark Places goes to some very dark places. So it’s aptly titled. In 1985 a mother and two of her daughters were brutally murdered. The two survivors – seven-year-old Libby and fifteen-year-old Ben – have managed their way into adulthood, but both are deeply scarred. Ben is in prison having been convicted of the murders and Libby is surviving off the funds she’s received from being ‘famous’ for her survival. Libby’s funds are quickly running low so she agrees to speak with and sell childhood memorabilia to a group calling themselves the ‘Kill Club’. What she doesn’t expect is to find a group of strangers obsessed with her family, the murders, and led by the belief that her brother is innocent. They agree to continue paying Libby if she agrees to look into clearing Ben’s name and discovering the truth of what really happened 24 years ago. So the journey begins…

Flynn’s trademark imagery is present again although the notch is definitely turned up. I love how dirty, how scandalizing, and how unapologetic her writing is. The narration is perfectly paced and told surprisingly well through three narrative voices: Libby, present day; Ben, the hours leading up to the murders in 1985; and Patty, the murdered mother in the hours leading up to her demise. Each 1985 timeline is time stamped and the reader is able to countdown the hours until the ultimate doom. Loved that – made the book nearly impossible to put down. Dark Places is also genuinely creepy. I may have yelped more than once when the phone rang while reading. Such a tangible atmosphere which is something I’ve been lacking in my horror reading in the past few years.

What doesn’t work so much is the conclusion. I think Flynn relied far too heavily on the predictable and commercial shock value tropes. Nothing was surprising about the way the novel wrapped-up in the way that Sharp Objects managed. Dark Places lacked a sort of organic feel – it felt manufactured and far too polished. It lacked bite and edge. I think several parts also felt a little lacking. For instance, I’d love to have had more of Ben’s present perspective to better understand the lasting effects of his prison sentence and the guilt he’s lived with. I also missed seeing how the ‘Kill Club’ reacted to the truth once it’s revealed. We never got to see how satisfied or unsatisfied they were with the reality of the events from 1985. Bummer. Perhaps the movie will flesh those parts out a bit more. With the fantastic cast signed on, I can only hope.

Have you read any of Flynn’s novels besides Gone Girl? Which is your favorite? Are you looking forward to the film versions of Dark Places and Gone Girl?

RATING: starstarstarrating_star_half-1cx8y5d

Advertisements

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake

12507214Girl of Nightmares is Kendare Blake’s follow up to Anna Dressed in Blood. Anna was a decent YA read for me, but had some flaws I had a hard time over looking. I had heard mixed things about the sequel in this duology, but hoped for the best. When the BookTube-a-Thon came along I decided to meet one of the challenges (finish a series) with this book and it was a perfect addition to my reading list.

(There will be Anna spoilers ahead so beware.)

When we left Cass and his friends, Anna had just been swept away to God knows where. Her Victorian mansion had collapsed, but everyone else had survived to journey on into Girl of Nightmares. This time around, Cass is seriously missing his ghostly honey, hating that he doesn’t know what actually ended up happening to her. Things turn rather strange when he begins having visions of Anna that at first seem harmless and just slightly crazy, but then he begins to suspect that Anna is actually contacting him from the hell she’s been living in during the past few months. Cass and company now must figure out if helping Anna is the right thing to do and whether or not it’s even possible.

You guys, Girl of Nightmares was so much more enjoyable than Anna Dressed in Blood. I’ve been trying to nail down why that is since I finished reading. Partially, I was aware of some of the book’s previous pitfalls and so didn’t let those things bother me as much in the second book. When Cass’s mother just sort of benignly accepts his job of choice, death be damned, I let it go. Mostly, however, I was so pleasantly surprised at how genuinely creepy this book turned out to be. At moments, I actually shuddered at some of Anna’s ghostly visits. The spookiness of Blake’s second outing was a wonderful improvement. Horror novels should incite fear – duh.

The new characters and the new London setting for the book’s second half were also a huge win! I loved that Gideon wasn’t all he seemed and that Cass’s job was on the table now that a kickass new female protagonist has been introduced. I say protagonist because I would totally love a novel from Jestine’s perspective. Plus, the hell world Anna’s living in with the Obeahman was so perfectly rendered and imaginative. I finally feel like Kendare Blake has transcended the multitude of other YA novelists into an elite group of talented super writers.

Yes, I liked Girl of Nightmares just that much.

Bonus:

I love that the girl on the cover doesn’t appear to be white – but rather looks Asian. At least to me. You can’t really tell in the above picture. She looks a lot like Kendare Blake, actually.

It by Stephen King

1131777I know many bloggers partook in the It-along a few months back and really enjoyed this novel – particularly the audio version. So way back in February I downloaded this baby and have been listening ever since. I cannot believe it took me two months to finish, but some of that time was monopolized by Vanity Fair. And before you think I didn’t enjoy the audio, please think again! The narration by Steven Weber is just as fantastic as everyone says. An Oscar worthy performance if there ever was one!

The long story short version? This epic length novel is about evil in a small town and the somewhat momentous differences between childhood and adulthood. There are two main timelines – one in 1958 following a group of children who call themselves the ‘Loser’s Club’ and one in 1985 where those children have all grown up. Every 27-ish years an evil often personified as Pennywise the Clown haunts the town of Derry, Maine, focusing on brutally murdering children. The Loser’s Club manages to escape but must come together again to fight this evil force when it reappears.

A lot more happens, trust me. 44 hours of stuff happens. There are Derry interludes where we discover tidbits of Derry’s history. But honestly, all those diverging plot lines take a major backseat to the 1958 setting where we get to know and love the Loser’s Club. Stephen King is a master of writing children. I loved each and every one of those kids which made all their horrors and fears so vivid.

Pennywise the Clown was never what scared me. I was, instead, truly terrified by the more real life violences that King doesn’t shy away from portraying. Bev’s many encounters with domestic violence – especially as she’s trying to run away from her father’s rage as a young girl. The bullying brought about by Henry and his followers. The ballshit evil that was Patrick.  Some of those moments were almost impossible to listen to because Steven Weber made them feel so real.

All that being said, It wasn’t a perfect book for me. The scene with the kiddy orgy was absolutely wrong and off-putting. I cringed throughout the whole thing and would have skipped had I not been driving. Also, long parts were extremely slow and boring (remember those Derry interludes?) and could have been edited out easily. If the book had been culled down to a much more efficient but still affecting length, I’d probably have nothing but praises to sing.

I’d still recommend to readers who enjoy the horror genre or King’s writing in general. I’ve watched the first half of the IT mini-series and wasn’t very impressed. So much was changed that I couldn’t get into it. I did like the child actors though. It was lovely seeing Jonathan Brandis again. I used to love him way back in the early 90s. Now that I have two King novels under my belt, I’m going to give him a little rest. He’s not an author I can read day in and day out without growing tired. But I’m looking forward to revisiting him soon!

Ten by Gretchen McNeil

11958033Ten was a specifically chosen read this week because the Litwits are meeting this Sunday to discuss Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Gretchen McNeil’s novel is a YA retelling of Christie’s classic. Since I’ve read ATTWN in the past year, I decided to give Ten a go instead of rereading.

The most basic plot description of both books is rather simple – 10 people meet at a house on an isolated island and start to die one-by-one.

McNeil’s version mostly won me over for nostalgia reasons. I could not help but feel this retelling oozed a little bit of R.L. Stine one moment and a whole lot of Christopher Pike the next (he even blurbed the book!). I cannot tell y’all how many books by those two authors I inhaled as a young reader. They were better than candy. And current YA tends to lack so thoroughly in good old-fashioned fast paced horror that I just sat back and let this book happen to me.

As the teens are slowly and bloodily killed off, you won’t find anything literary or even fresh. This story has been told time and time again with all the red herrings and gimmicks barely doing their job. I knew who the killer was before the book was halfway over, but it didn’t really matter. I liked the suspenseful moments and the psychological torment these young people were facing and how they reacted to their situation.

The dialogue is filled with teen speak which many readers have bemoaned, but really, what else should we expect? These are teenagers after all and slang is fairly normal among even the most mature. Hell, I still use slang all the time and so do y’all! So I won’t fault it too much. I did have slight issues with who was using the slang. Certain times a phrase just didn’t sit well with a male character versus as female character – but those gender slants are my own issue.

And the ending? Cheestastic and the only real disappointment – especially compared to Christie’s.

I’m not going to recommend running straight out and reading this YA horror novel. I’m not even going to recommend it to those readers who read and adored ATTWN. But if you enjoyed Stine and Pike at some point in your life, this little gem will take you back to those days in the best of ways. And if you’re young and have never experienced YA horror – give this one a shot. Yes, there’s some gore. Yes, there’s some foul language and sexual situations, but nothing too graphic! It’s just enough to tantalize the younger crowd without going overboard.

I look forward to discussing Ten with the ladies this weekend. Hopefully, I’ll be able to convince someone else to give this a shot. And I’m convinced more than ever that I need to find some Christopher Pike novels and settle in for a nice, lovely visit with ghosts of my childhood past.

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

salems-lot-new-coverOh, the joys of audio books! This month’s audio theme has been Stephen King, an author I’ve read very little of ashamedly. But what better way to enjoy a King story than through audio and visual mediums! So I listened to the book and then watched the TNT made-for-tv miniseries starring Rob Lowe and I has opinions.

The story is really rather simple and embraces many of King’s common thematic structures. Writer Ben Mears is returning to his brief childhood home, Jerusalem’s Lot, where he had a frightening encounter as a boy. He plans to exorcise his personal demons by researching and writing a new book concerning the family that built and owned the creepy old mansion high upon the hill overlooking the town. On a dare, he entered that house as a child to discover a rather bleak murder-suicide situation and has never mentally recovered, try as he may. Nightmares still haunt him and the house represents All. The. Evil. Things. Upon his return, he discovers that someone has bought the old house and that they might be vampires.

A great little vampire story. Loved getting back to those fierce and bloody creatures that live…unlive?… to maim and kill. No sparkles here, folks, and that’s such a welcome relief. King manages to write superb moments of genuine terror and narrator Ron McLarty does a good job ramping up the thrills. I’m also happy to report that King goes beyond the simplicity of cheap scares and rounds out his story with a decently literary discussion on the secret evils of small towns. Having grown up in such a place, I enjoyed seeing the seedy underbelly of ‘Salem’s Lot instead of the oft idolized vision of picket fences and howdy-dos. Now granted, the in-your-face personification of small down ill-deeds as vampirism can be a bit heavy-handed at times, but the fun factor always dances back in just when you need it!

Some little things bothered me here and there. Too many characters fighting for my limited memory space. A rather odd group of heroes at the end that didn’t seem entirely plausible. Ben and Susan’s ridiculous insta-love. And…well…just the end in general. How did this vampire outbreak manage to stay relatively confined to this one particular town in Maine? I forgive King these slight irks because he was a new-ish author at the time and was still honing his craft. I’m excited to move on and read later works to see how his talent increased. So I recommend ‘Salem’s Lot when you need a good dirty vampire story! It will wash away all the Twilight unpleasantness.

SalemsLot1

As for the miniseries, I’m not sure what to say! Such a mixed bag. The special effects were both the worst and best parts. Sometimes they were spot on and genuinely frightened me, but other times they made me giggle uncontrollably. I thought the casting was rather good and the changes to the story didn’t bother me so much – particularly Father Callahan’s ending. However, the acting left a lot to be desired. And it’s not something I blame the actors for, but the script was lacking and the direction as well. A fun little cheese-fest all the same and gets the point across efficiently enough. I love Donald Sutherland in all he does – especially when it involves vampires!

 

 

At the Cinema: Let Me In

I’m really enjoying watching movies and recommending them to everyone.  It’s also a great filler topic for when I don’t have a book I’ve recently finished to discuss.  So be prepared for this feature to become a blog norm – after all, movies are stories just as much as books are.  The title isn’t perfect since I didn’t actually see this film ‘at the cinema’, but you get the general idea.

Let Me In was released a couple of years ago and is a remake of the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In.  The Swedish movie was also based off a novel of the same name.  What initially drew me in was actress Chloe Grace Moretz who I happen to enjoy immensely, plus she’s from Atlanta and I feel some weird need to support hometown successes.

The movie follows a young boy, Owen, growing up in small town New Mexico during the early 80s.  His parents are divorcing and he’s struggling with being a loner and being bullied by some particularly heinous kids at school.  Owen needs a friend, badly.  When Abby and her father move into the apartment next door, he thinks he’s found not only the perfect friend, but also his first girlfriend.  The sweet, innocent smiles that pass back and forth between Owen and Abby are endearing, subtle, and remarkable in actors so young.  The chemistry and relationship between these two characters is absolutely what makes this movie so wonderful.

Abby, of course, is not what she seems.  I’m not really spoiling anything as most everyone knows this is a vampire movie since it was marketed as such.  She’s not a ‘Twilight’ vampire by any means.  She must kill to survive, can’t go in the sunlight, must be invited into your home, and sees vampirism as a curse – something she wouldn’t wish on anyone.  Owen loves Abby, but does struggle with what being a vampire means and the idea of evil.  But he stays by her side until the end and the audience wouldn’t have it any other way.

This movie is definitely a horror film and there is some gore.  The gore, however, is never indulgent.  Beautifully shot, this film is quietly and darkly gorgeous – slow-moving, deeply engaging, and morally poignant.  Let Me In is a genre film with substance and heart.  In the same frame, it will creep you out and break your heart with no apologies.  Such a rare kind of cinematic treat and I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys a great film, even if horror isn’t your cup of tea.