The Winter People

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The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon


Summary

In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea and her husband Martin were found dead at the edge of the woods behind their home. This is the beginning and end of their stories.

Meanwhile in the present, Ruthie wakes up one morning and discovers her mother has disappeared without a trace. With the responsibility of an entire farm to run and two young daughters to look after, Alice’s disappearance is shocking and uncharacteristic. While Ruth and her younger sister look for their mother, we meet another woman named Katherine who is still recovering from the shock of discovering her husband, Gary, has been killed in a fatal car accident not just two months after their son’s death. As she sorts through his lasting memories and oddly enough, bank statements, she notices a bill for a meal at a restaurant hours away from her home. Immediately she senses something is wrong. As Katherine seeks the truth of Gary’s whereabouts before his death, she too, becomes woven into the fatal tapestry of Alice’s disappearance.

Set in wintry Vermont, The Winter People, jumps in time and shifts between three main narrators who separately explore the chilling prospect of life beyond death.


Memorable Quotes

“Madness is always a wonderful excuse, don’t you think? For doing terrible things to other people.”

 

“If snow melts down to water, does it still remember being snow?”

“She was his great adventure; his love for her had taken him places he’d never dreamed of going.”

“I think people see what they want to see… But think about it: if you’d lost someone you love, wouldn’t you give almost anything to have the chance to see them again?”

“We all do what we think is best. Sometimes we make terrible mistakes, sometimes we do the right thing. Sometimes we never know. We just have to hope.”


Thoughts

I picked this book up on a whim back in January. I haven’t read many mysteries/thrillers/horror novels, (I would think this book could fit into all three categories) so I decided to give this book a shot. Given the title and the nature of the plot, I immediately decided it would be a perfect book to read in the gray months of winter. While I wasn’t wrong, I also didn’t really finish the book until February. (It seems my lack of apt scheduling has done me in once again. And yes, this review is out of order and very late. Not quite sure what happened to my queue, but I’ll go along with it.) 

In the beginning of the book the biggest inconvenience is the constant shift between characters and it’s something I would do myself while writing. When you are just starting to read and are not quite situated into the plot, it can be difficult to keep track of who is who. I know I complained about this in my last review, so at least I’m being consistent. However, if you encounter this issue, I would encourage you to just keep reading. It may take awhile, but (if you’re like me) you will become more aware of the characters and have an easier time keeping track of what’s going on within thirty pages or so.

There were no characters in the book I was drawn to or found myself thinking about after I finished, and I think this is the book’s weakest point. However, I appreciated that the story itself was spooky, but nothing so horrifyingly awful that I couldn’t sleep at night (which is a definite plus in my book). The plot is entertaining and will keep you reading. There’s lots of suspense and twists, but there are parts that seem pretty improbable so it’s best to keep an open mind while reading. Likewise, there are still some questions that remain unanswered in the end which can be slightly disappointing for some readers. Overall, I would give this book three stars. Fairly entertaining plot, but not the best horror/thriller novel of the year.

(I cheated a little by meshing a part of my review from Goodreads with the review I wanted to write on here… sorry not sorry. To anyone reading, thank you! Hopefully I’ll have a new post up by tomorrow or the next day. I just finished a Murakami novel a couple of days ago and I’m still sorting out my feelings about it so I can finally write a review.)

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Into the Water

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Into the Water by Paula Hawkins


Summary

Like any small town, Beckford has its share of strange residents and even stranger secrets. When Nel Abbott is found dead in the river that intersects the town, her estranged sister Julia returns to look after her teenage daughter and pick up the pieces following her tragic death. However, while some residents claim Nel’s death must have been a suicide given her obsession with the historic part of the river known as the “Drowning Pool,” Jules is not convinced.

Why would Nel throw away everything; her daughter, her forthcoming book about the river, her life, just to become a part of the town’s gory history of drownings? Into the Water jumps between various perspectives of Beckford’s diverse occupants to paint a picture of a town haunted by misconstrued memories and monsters hidden in plain sight.


Memorable Quotes

“To the untrained eye, it might seem you were a fan of bridges: the Golden Gate, the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, the Prince Edward Viaduct. But look again. It’s not about the bridges, it’s not some love of these masterworks of engineering. Look again and you see it’s not just bridges, it’s Beachy Head, Aokigahara Forest, Preikestolen. The places where hopeless people go to end it all, cathedrals of despair,” (page 15).

“Opposite the entrance, images of the Drowning Pool. Over and over and over, from every conceivable angle, every vantage point: pale and icy in winter, the cliff black and stark or sparkling in the summer, an oasis, lush and green, or dull flinty grey with storm clouds overhead, over and over and over. The images blurred into one, a dizzying assault on the eye. I felt as though I were there, in that place, as though I were standing at the top of the cliff, looking down into the water, feeling that terrible thrill, the temptation of oblivion,” (page 15).

“But appearances are deceptive, for this is a deathly place. The water, dark and glassy, hides what lies beneath: weeds to entangle you, to drag you down; jagged rocks to slice through flesh. Above looms the grey slate cliff: a dare, a provocation,” (page 41).

“She insisted there was nothing wrong, that it hadn’t been an argument at all, that it was none of my business anyway. A bravado performance, but her face was streaked with tears. I offered to see her home, but she told me to fuck off,” (47).

“‘So, two women have died in that river this year?’ I said. ‘Two women who knew each other, who were connected…’ The DI said nothing, he didn’t look at me, I wasn’t even sure he was listening.

‘How many have died there? I mean, in total?’

‘Since when?’ he asked, shaking his head again. ‘How far back would you like to go?’

Like I said, fucking weird,” (page 50).

“I wanted to touch you again, to feel your skin. I felt sure I could wake you up, I whispered your name and waited for you to quiver, for your eyes to flick open and follow me around the room,” (page 53).

“Julia stood very still, turning her head towards the window as though she were listening for something. ‘What?’ she asked, but she wasn’t looking at me. It was like she was looking at someone else or at her reflection. ‘What did you say?'” ( page 57).

“Something about that image jarred, made me feel something I hadn’t felt in a while. Shame. The dirty, secret shame of the voyeur, tinged with something else, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on and didn’t want to,” (page 65).

“I could feel it [the river] pushing against the walls, seeping into the cracks of the brickwork, rising. I could taste it, muddy and dirty in my mouth, and my skin felt damp. Somewhere in the house, I could hear someone laughing, and it sounded just like you,” (page 66).

“Something got missed though, didn’t it? Like one of those con tricks, when you take your eye off the ball for a second and the whole game changes,” (page 97).

“Seriously, how is anyone supposed to keep track of all of those bodies around here? It’s like Midsomer Murders, only with accidents and suicides and grotesque historical misogynistic drownings instead of people falling into the slurry or bashing each other over the head,” (page 129).

A/N** I have a few more quotes I could include, but I didn’t want to risk including any spoilers as this book is still fairly hot off the press.


Thoughts

I’m not exactly sure where to start, but I will say I did have high expectations for this book and I think this alone really contributed to the way I read it. If you saw my post from earlier this year, you know I reviewed Paula Hawkins previous novel The Girl on the Train and loved the psychology that went into the consideration of the characters’ thoughts and motivations. I know in a lot of ways it’s unfair to judge a book by its previously adored sibling, but I ultimately couldn’t help wistfully thinking about Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train as I read Into the Water. 

From the first batch of reactions I saw online I expected this book to be different from TGOTT, but excellent in its own way. I read reviews claiming ITW was similar in style to TGOTT but further developed in both plot and character development. After reading I can say I strongly disagree with this sentiment.

Now let me quickly say (or rather, type) I am not writing this review to bash ITW. There were a lot of things I loved about this book and will mention later, but I can’t honestly tell you that it was my favorite book to read and if nothing else, my reviews are honest. When I started reading I was still in school preparing for finals, so I didn’t have much time to spend on anything other than studying and writing essays. However, there would be brief periods of time, whether on the bus or waiting in line at the cafeteria, I would crack open this book in hopes of being sucked away to the quaint little town of Beckford. The beginning was promising. A small town, a shady cast of characters, a history of mysterious deaths. What’s not to love? But for some reason, the more I read the more disenchanted I became. After some time I pushed ITW aside to finish If We Were Villains. When I had finished IWWV, I begrudgingly turned my attention back to ITW.

My lack of interest in Into the Water was disappointing because I really wanted to love it just as much, or more than The Girl on the Train. (Not to mention I payed $30 for a hardcover copy.) But alas, I guess some things in life are meant to be. So to make what I liked and disliked about this book a bit clearer, I’ve decided to ditch my usual format and compose my thoughts into a bulleted list.

What I Disliked

  • The constant switching between narrators—Although this complaint seems a bit silly given I usually love switching into the headspace of different characters, this book has over fourteen different narrators which can be somewhat disorienting. I got used to it by the end, but in the beginning I would have much preferred learning the plot through one narrator instead of five.
  • The simplicity of the plot— There were a lot of twists scattered throughout the book, but both the writing and the plot felt rushed. I didn’t feel the book was as carefully thought out as it’s predecessor.
  •  The overall resolution— Again, felt a bit rushed and awkward.

What I Liked

  • The use of the river as a character—The imagery of the river was absolutely gorgeous. As I read I could picture myself looking down into the dark water or watching the kids swim in the summertime. Overall, the river was the most interesting character as it’s an omnipresent force that propels the story forward.
  • The plot twists— This somewhat contradicts to what I said about the plot in the dislikes section, but even thought the plot was simple there were still some good plot twists. (I think the simplicity comes from the fact I was able to guess most of them early on.)
  • The cover— Yep, I’m really going there. Judge me as the aesthetic trash I am.
  • Family histories and complexities— I think this is a strong point of the book as the plot focuses on Beckford’s dark history which influences many of the families in the story.
  • Experimentation— Despite disliking the array of narrators, I admired Hawkins’ bravery in experimenting with something a lot of readers may not like, and I hope to follow suit as I embark on my own writing process.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Did any of you read Into the Water? If so, I would love to hear your thoughts. Did you love it? Hate it? Feel neutral? Are you reading anything else this summer? Let me know in the comments!

-L

If We Were Villains

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If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

“If We Were Villains is written with the intention of paying homage to William Shakespeare—who has had more than enough defamers, detractors, and deniers. (Lord, what fools these mortals be.)”


Summary

Oliver Marks is finally getting out of prison. For what, we don’t know. What we do know is that in the September of 1997 Oliver roamed the halls of Dellecher Classical Conservatory with six other thespians, friends, and fellow lovers of Shakespeare for the fourth and final year. Through intensive classes, grueling rehearsals, and long study sessions, the seven spent nearly every waking moment together. But as they prepare for their upcoming performance of Julius Caesar, something in the group’s dynamic begins to slowly shift.

Through Oliver’s captivating narration the reader follows the lives of Dellecher’s top theatre students as they navigate their roles on and offstage. But when the drama begins to follow its way offstage, the curtain call is only the beginning.


Memorable Quotes

“The number of auditions under my belt didn’t matter; the anxiety never left me,” (page 14).

“I, on the other hand, was average in every imaginable way: not especially handsome, not especially talented, not especially good at anything but just good enough at everything that I could pick up whatever slack the others left,” (page 16).

After a slightly awkward pause in which I exchanged quick baffled glances with Filippa and Alexander, Meredith said, ‘Did that just happen? For God’s sake, it’s just a play.’

‘Well.’ Frederick sighted, removed his glasses, and began to polish them on the hem of his shirt. ‘Duels have been fought over less,'” (page 52).

“There had always been small rivalries between us, but never such an open display of hostility. With a sip of tea I persuaded myself that we were all simply overreacting. Actors are by nature volatile—alchemic creatures composed of incendiary elements, emotion and ego and envy. Heat them up, stir them together, and sometimes you get gold. Sometimes disaster,” (page 53).

“Silence settled, and I was struck by the senseless idea that we and everything around us were made of glass. I was afraid to breathe, afraid to move, afraid something might break,” (page 77).

“The lake, the broad black water, lurked in the background of every scene we played after that—like a set from a play we did once shuffled to the back of the scene shop where it would have been quickly forgotten if we didn’t have to walk past it every day. Something changed irrevocably, in those few dark minutes James was submerged, as if the lack of oxygen had caused all our molecules to rearrange,” (page 79).

“Though the timeline is clear in my head, explaining it to someone else is a curious task, simple in theory but painstaking in practice, like assembling a long line of dominoes. One event inevitably leads to the next,” (page 145).

“I gaze across the lake at the top of the Tower. A large bird—a hawk, maybe—soars in long lazy circles over the trees, an elegant black boomerang against the silvery sky,” (page 147).

“She folded her arms and said, ‘I’m going to bed unless you’ve got something to say.’

I didn’t. I desperately wanted to, but my mind was blank. For someone who loved words as much as I did, it was amazing how often they failed me,” (page 211).

“‘Anything can feel like punishment if it’s taught poorly,'” (page 267).

“I shifted and my shoes squeaked on the mirror, James turned and caught my eye. But I stayed where I was, afraid to move toward him, afraid I might lose my footing on solid ground, detach from what had anchored me before and drift out into the void of space—a vagabond, wandering moon,” (page 305).


Thoughts

My boyfriend bought me this book for my anniversary and I don’t think he could have done a better job. Usually he’ll buy a book I’ve talked about, but this time he decided to find something new and I was pretty impressed by his choice. I’ve read quite a few Shakespeare plays, although I’m no expert by any means, so he figured I’d enjoy the way Rio integrates lines from various plays into the text. He was very right.

From the very beginning, I was hooked. From the way the characters use Shakespeare’s words in their everyday conversations to the fast-paced plot, I couldn’t stop reading. The characters are witty and fun to follow, but also extremely intelligent and cunning. In addition, their use of conversational Shakespeare not only helped characterize them, but it was incredibly fun to read. And again, the book overall is M.L. Rio’s tribute to Shakespeare, so expect to see lots of lines, quotes, and small easter eggs throughout the story. However, if you’re not a Shakespeare buff, don’t worry. I think as long as you’re willing to step into the minds the young actors you can catch on fairly quickly.

I appreciated the extent Rio characterizes her leading characters. There were a few I thought remained somewhat underdeveloped, but the majority of the characters are distinctly illustrated from their physicality to their innermost thoughts. The book is narrated by Oliver which only gives us a narrow perspective, but there are many ways in which we are able to get a deeper look at the other characters’ fears and motivations. Oliver himself is at times mysterious in his intentions, but overall he’s an insightful narrator as he’s the most removed from the group of friends.

This last semester I took my first fiction writing course as I’m an English major (and in the Dual-Degree Teaching Program at my university) with an emphasis on Creative Writing. The reason I mention my class is because I noticed myself reading this book through the lens of someone who wants to be a writer. My professor consistently advised us that when we read books we should search for what appeals to us and what doesn’t because it can be extremely useful when we begin writing. While I was reading If We Were Villains I couldn’t help but notice all of the beautiful metaphors. I included a couple of ones I loved in the memorable quotes section, but there were so many gorgeous lines scattered throughout the book. M.L. Rio’s writing is not only very meticulous and engaging to read, but her way of describing landscapes and characters is very three-dimensional. I could see the lake at the school and the characters seemed to jump off the page.

To sum it up, this book was a joy to read. When I thought I knew where the plot was going it twisted and kept me reading. I became invested in the characters, and I grew to love theatre even more with each page. The book hits so many marks because it’s hard to write a great plot with quality writing, but Rio checked off every box.


Extra Resources

If you’re interested in learning more about the author, I’ve included a link to her website and Goodreads page below.

https://mlrio.com/

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14954351.M_L_Rio

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Summary

Rachel’s life is the epitome of mundane. Each day her biggest excursion  is commuting to and from work on the London train. But unlike the other passengers , what thrills Rachel the most about her commute is gazing at the stretch of cozy Victorian homes  mingling along the tracks. Her favorite house, number 23,  is home to a beautiful couple who Rachel nicknames, Jess and Jason. During the few minutes the train stops for construction on the tracks, Rachel watches the couple as they relax out on their terrace and live out the promises of domestic bliss.

Jess and Jason represent everything Rachel has lost; her husband, her home, and most importantly, her sanity. However, watching Jess and Jason also gives Rachel solace that happiness still exists in outside of her own shattered world. That is, until she sees something strange happening on Jess and Jason’s terrace the following day.

Without a warning, Rachel finds herself mixed into a world where her own fantasies blend into hard, cold reality. She becomes a witness, but an unreliable one at that. Struggling against a streak of heavy drinking and violence on her record, Rachel desperately attempts to warn the police of everything she believes she has seen from her small window on the train.

Constantly shifting narration between three of the novel’s main female characters, the reader is provided a glimpse into the web of lies we tell ourselves and the tainted realities we live. Each woman uses her own unique, yet eerily similar experience to illustrate the boundaries the human mind. More than anything, The Girl on the Train, begs one main question:

How far we are willing to go in order to grasp at our own corrupt fantasies?


Memorable Quotes

“There’s something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home.” (Rachel POV)

“And I’ve just got to let myself feel the pain, because if I don’t, if I keep numbing it, it’ll never really go away.” (Rachel POV)

“I am not the girl I used to be. I am no longer desirable, I’m off-putting in some way. It’s not just that I’ve put on weight, or that my face is puffy from the drinking and the lack of sleep; it’s as if people can see the damage written all over me, can see it in my face, the way I hold myself, the way I move.” (Rachel POV)

“Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies, no one to play with, nothing to do. Living like this, the way I’m living at the moment, is harder in the summer when there is so much daylight, so little cover of darkness, when everyone is out and about, being flagrantly, aggressively happy. It’s exhausting, and it makes you feel bad if you’re not joining in.” (Rachel POV)

“It’s ridiculous, when I think about it. How did I find myself here? I wonder where it started, my decline; I wonder at what point I could have halted it. Where did I take the wrong turn?”  (Rachel POV)

“Who’s to say that once I run, I’ll find that isn’t enough? Who’s to say I won’t end up feeling exactly the way I do right now-not safe, but stifled? Maybe I’ll want to run again, and again, and eventually I’ll end up back on those old tracks, because there’s nowhere left to go. Maybe. Maybe not. You have to take the risk, don’t you?” (Megan POV)


Thoughts

First of all, I appreciate how engaging this book was right from the very first page. Even though I love reading, (I am an English major after all) sometimes I have a difficult time picking up a book and sticking with it. But with The Girl on the Train, I never encountered this problem. In fact, I began reading it while lounging around SFO at 3 in the morning! Despite being sleep-deprived and anxious for my trip, I was drawn into the crazy world of seemingly innocent train rides and man-made mayhem.

What I loved most about reading this thriller was experiencing the perspectives of the three very different narrators. Each woman is complicated in her own way; facing different, yet eerily similar, demons. Themes throughout the book range from abuse to motherhood, sexual power/politics to mental illness, and everything in-between. It is not a cheery novel for the slight of heart. In fact, it is a novel where the reader must be willing to get his or her hands dirty and, dare I say it, “take a ride on the wild side.”

Rachel is the main character and particularly unique one at that. She acts as both a passive and active force within the progression of the storyline as she transforms from watcher, into actor. When the reader is first introduced to Rachel, she seems somewhat normal. However, as  the reader becomes more and more acquainted with her stream of consciousness, it becomes very clear that Rachel has a conundrum of deep-rooted, complicated issues.

Rachel’s most notable characteristics are her alcoholism and  her fascination with watching people. So basically, Rachel is a voyeur and an alcoholic. Now, the only issue with describing Rachel as a “voyeur,” is that at first many of her watchful habits seem more innocent than the word suggests. In the beginning of the book, Rachel talks about simply watching the couple from the train because she wants their life. In that train of thought, what she is exhibiting is not voyeurism, but sonderism. However, as the story goes on, it is clear Rachel consistently straddles the line between being a voyeur and experiencing true sonder for the first time.

It begs the questions, what happens when we discover the tangled lives of others? Do we belong in their webs, or does each of us too stuck on our own paths to join another? Or we capable of fighting for the greater good, or are we too selfish to care? From cheating to murder and mayhem, The Girl on the Train, tugs at the very strings of humanity.

 

The Name of the Star

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The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson



Summary

Louisiana native, Aurora Deveaux (Rory for short) travels to the bustling city of London to start her senior year at Wexford, a premiere boarding school, whilst her parents teach at a university in Bristol. As she acclimates to her new life at Wexford with the help of her new friends, Jazza and Jerome, a series of brutal murders hit London. However, these murders are far from ordinary as each of the murders mirror the notorious Jack the Ripper murders, and the perpetrator continues to elude the ever-present eye of the CCTV cameras.

What starts out as far-fetched theory suddenly turns into mass hysteria, and no one in London is safe. Rory thinks nothing of the murders until the night that she returns to her dorm and she sees a man that Jazza claims not to. Suddenly, Rory finds herself twisted into the fabric of an elaborate game with no way out. As she is forced to confront the danger of solving the classic game of “whodunit,” Rory delves into the darker side of London’s past.


Memorable Quotes

“Fear can’t hurt you,” she said. “When it washes over you, give it no power. It’s a snake with no venom. Remember that. That knowledge can save you.”

“I decided to deflect her attitude by giving a long, Southern answer. I come from people who know how to draw things out. Annoy a Southerner, and we will drain away the moments of your life with our slow, detailed replies until you are nothing but a husk of your former self and that much closer to death.”

“Keep calm and carry on. Also, stay in and hide because the Ripper is coming.”

“The English play hockey in any weather. Thunder, lightening, plague of locusts…nothing can stop the hockey. Do not fight the hockey, for the hockey will win.”


Thoughts

I picked up this book while wandering around Face in a Book (http://www.getyourfaceinabook.com/) and decided that the plot seemed vastly different from anything else sitting on my bookshelf at home, so I figured that I would give it a whirl. I started reading while I was on vacation in Carmel, and I was quickly drawn into Rory’s life at Wexford and her adventures in new country. Ironically, I began to lose interest as soon as the plot began to take off. As I kept reading, my disdain for the book grew. Around page 300, I was praying for the end.

The problem is, the reader should never be praying for the plot to pick up or the book to end. I firmly believe that it is the author’s job to keep the reader enticed and wanting more. That being said, (or in this case, written) The Name of the Star will not be on my list of books that I would recommend.

My main issue with this novel is that the author did not seem to utilize the setting and characters to the best of her ability. I would have loved if she would have taken more time to describe the buildings of Wexford or the city of London. Heck, I would have even been happy reading more about the weather. For me, part of this book’s allure was that it was set in London; a place I have always wanted to travel and immerse myself in, and reading this book gave me no further insight into the streets of London aside from a pub here or there. I think that if the author would have set aside time to describe the impact the city had on the events, the plot would have been far more interesting and cohesive.

In addition, there was little character development to be found. Rory begins as an interesting girl from the south who I desperately wanted to know more about, but as the book progressed  I felt as though she became more and more closed off to the reader. Perhaps this was intentional or perhaps it was not, but either way, I found myself lacking an emotional connection to Rory which therefore made the story a little harder to read through. As the plot moves forward, Rory suffers through many horrific and strange events, however, she does not reflect on any of it, nor does she even act remotely bothered.

Overall, this book was extremely disappointing and a struggle to finish, however, I really was a fan of the ideas and setting within it. Although I do not plan on continuing the series, I would test out a couple of passages to see if it gets better.