Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil

IMG_0049

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt


Summary

This book follows New York-based writer John Berendt’s move to Savannah, Georgia in the 1980s and the unbelievable events that transpired during his time there. The book’s initial focus is on the people Berendt befriends in Savannah and the general Southern way of life. However, it later transitions into an account of a real-life murder mystery when one of Savannah’s very own residents—and John’s friend— Jim Williams, is caught up in a highly publicized trial.

Berendt’s style of writing is seamless as he explores the strange, yet charming Savannahian atmospherics and how one big trial shook up one little town.


Memorable Quotes

“The music continued in that vein, off and on, throughout the day and late into the evening. It did the same the following day and the day after that. The piano was a permanent part of the atmosphere, apparently, and so was the party—if a party was what it was,” (39).

“Joe started to play the piano in the middle of Mandy’s story. ‘In the morning,’ he said, ‘three bottles of liquor and a half dozen glasses were missing. That doesn’t sound like a burglary to me. It sounds like a party. And the only thing that annoys me about it is that we weren’t invited,” (48).

“‘Did I ever tell you about them? Well, we keep a lot of insect colonies in big glass jars out there. Some of them have been breeding for twenty five years. That’s a thousand generations. All they know about life is what goes on inside their jar. They haven’t been exposed to pesticides or pollution, so they haven’t developed immunities or evolved in any way. They stay the same, generation after generation. If we released them into the world, they’d die. I think something like that happens after seven generations in Savannah. Savannah gets to be the only place you can live. We’re like bugs in a jar,'” (75).

“Joe had nothing against convicted bank robbers—or getaway drivers either—but he felt foolish entrusting his cash register to a dedicated thief,” (92).

“‘Is everyone out?’ the fire captain asked.

‘Everyone I know about,’ said Joe.

‘You mean there might be people in your house you don’t know about?

‘Captain,’ said Joe, ‘there have been times when there were people in my bed I didn’t know about,'” (93).

“Savannahians drove fast. They also liked to carry their cocktails with them as they drove. According to the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, more than 8 percent of Savannah’s adults were ‘known alcoholics,’ which may have accounted for the disturbing tendency of motorists to run up over the curb and collide with trees,” (95).

“Burt had a shiny bald head and sad eyes. ‘How you doing Chablis?’ he asked.

‘Well, I ain’t on food stamps yet,’ she said. ‘But I’m gettin’ real close. It’s a good thing y’all don’t pay me any more than you do, or I might never qualify.’ Burt did not answer,” (120).

“‘When people like that see someone like me, who’s never joined their silly pecking order and who’s taken great risks and succeeded, they loathe that person. I have felt it many times. They don’t have any say-so over me, and they don’t like that at all,'” (237).

“Joe ignored the order. ‘The best response is always no response,’ he said. ‘It buys you two or three months’ breathing time, six if you’re lucky,'” (262).


Thoughts

One of my best friends back home loaned me MGGE a couple of weeks ago telling me she fell in love with it extraordinarily quickly and couldn’t get it out of her head. It was difficult for her to identify why it had such a notable impact on her, but she wanted me to read it and see how I felt. Coincidentally, I had briefly heard of this book beforehand on a tour of Savannah as a couple of summers ago. It was my first time in Savannah and the tour fell on the hottest day of the entire summer which meant every tour guide was vehemently fanning herself as she explained the sights from our open-air bus. When our bus approached the main house mentioned in the book, the guide explained Berendt’s book was a wild success and brought a good amount of tourism to Savannah. However, I had no idea then that it would take me two years before I reached for this book. Reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was a way for me to return to Savannah and understand a little bit more about the general culture there as well as reflect on how I felt when I visited.

As I touched on at the top of this review, part of the book’s beauty is the atmosphere evoked on each page. It doesn’t feel forced by any means. In fact, the way each park and house are brought to life is smooth and effortless. It’s easy to fall into and I loved that about it.

One thing I was somewhat taken aback by was the subject matter and general lack of true crime. Maybe I misunderstood what the book was about beforehand, but I was expecting much more mystique and in general something completely different than what the story actually turned out to be. Although the book is arguably more focused on the shooting in Jim Williams’ house than it is on anything else, a substantial piece of the plot (mostly the beginning of the book) explores the varying social circles within Savannah. This big plot point simply put is: Savannah doesn’t want change. Savannah welcomes outsiders, but she will have you know she is fine with the way she is and she definitely doesn’t need outsiders to tell her otherwise. This us vs. them mentality is partly owed to the fact that Berendt himself is an outsider, yet also contradicted as he is able to join the high-flying social circles of Savannah quite easily.

All in all, I enjoyed this book immensely. The writing reminded me of Erik Larson’s, Devil in the White City which made my experience that much better. It highlights Savannah’s good and bad points fairly while also shedding light on a captivating trial and even stranger people. My friend and I both repeatedly said we had to keep reminding ourselves it was non-fiction while reading because everything seemed so outrageous and unrealistic. If that’s not great non-fiction, I don’t know what is.

If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend you read this book!

Advertisements

The Winter People

screen-shot-2014-12-31-at-3-56-01-pm

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.)

The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star media

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.