One Night on the Island by Josie Silver

One Night on the Island by Josie Silver

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Bleh. I actually really liked Josie Silver usually so this was kind of a huge disappointment. I think I was expecting the complete wrong thing, but on top of that, it wasn’t good at being what it turned out to be. I’m going to stop speaking in code now and just tell you what’s up…

As one of her writing assignments, journalist Cleo is sent to the remote island of Salvation, Ireland to “marry herself” on her thirtieth birthday. Already feeling annoyed and out of control, she’s even more upset to find that the cabin she rented has also been rented by American photographer Mack, who traces his roots back to Salvation and is here to see the land for himself. With neither budging or willing to leave, they share the cabin and continue to get on each other’s nerves.

Meanwhile, they’re both falling hard for Salvation. The tiny island of one hundred residents has a natural beauty and an incredible kinship neither have ever felt – Cleo lives in London with the hopes of making her dreams come true, and Mack has had his marriage on pause for over a year. What will the island teach them about what’s happening in their own homes?

So, based on the description of this book and the reviews I saw, I assumed this was romance. I guess I kind of assumed that about The Two Lives of Lydia Bird as well, but this one especially. I purposely wrote this description so you would not confuse it as romance. I definitely would not actually classify it as such. This is definitely more in the “contemporary fiction” side of things, and not good contemporary fiction either. The characters fell flat or were borderline annoying, and a lot of the plot elements were unnecessary to the story.

I immediately bristled when I discovered that Cleo was British. Every time I read a British book or it has British characters, I find myself increasingly frustrated by the frivolity and harshness of them. Especially in contrast to the nice, Irish folk who live on Salvation, Cleo really starts out hard to like. She snaps at Mack unnecessarily, and acts like a princess who cannot be bothered to do things for herself. I’m glad to see there’s some character growth by the end of it, which I think is due in part to the island changing and shaping her character. I think Cleo does go through a transformation, compared to Mack, but I think what Silver is not doing is drawing direct comparisons and lessons from the plot. That lacking component makes the book, and each little piece of it, feel near pointless.

This ending? Also sucks. I know I’m picky, but I can’t stand stuff like this. It reminds me of A Lot Like Adios and I’m not here for it. I get that life is messy, and life should inform art…but I like when there’s a clear direction and a happy bow to tie it all together when I read. I didn’t even know how I wanted this to end, as the reader, but this wasn’t it. It felt open ended and depressing; I would not be satisfied with it if I were the character, and shouldn’t you want the best for your characters?

The only bright spot in this whole book was the island. The landscape and the people of Salvation were the best part of this book. The supporting characters were lovely and warm, and I wish I could’ve read about them instead. Delta and Barney, especially.

I think this turned me off to Josie Silver in the future. While I loved Lydia Bird, both synopses have felt a bit like a bait and switch in a bad way. I’m all set with that.

Have an awesome weekend!

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge: 16. A book you’ve seen someone reading in a public place

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 8. Involving the art world, 15. A five-syllable title, 37. Set in a rural area

In an effort to fulfill the ever-difficult prompt, a book you’ve seen someone reading in a public place, I finally cracked and read Where the Crawdads Sing. And I have to say: I did not get it. “It” being the seemingly mass appeal of this book, or what it is people seem to be getting out of it.

Abandoned by everyone in her life, one by one, Kya “Marsh Girl” Clark is on her own in the wild North Carolina landscape by the age of ten. She evades school, relies on the help of neighbors, and learns from nature. Dirty, unable to read, and completely illusive, she becomes a legend to the people of nearby Barkley Cove – and not a good one.

But in 1969, Chase Andrews is found dead in the marsh – and the only clues they have point to Kya. This story explores prejudice, community, and the true meaning of humanity by telling Kya’s story and investigating the murder that could finally trap her.

I think one of the absolute biggest problems going for this book is the hype. This firmly lands in the “doesn’t live up to it” category for me. When you read the synopsis of this book they literally make it sound like the greatest thing since sliced bread, like it’s going to forever change your perspective on life and love. Let me be clear: it does not do that. And the most important part of my review will be this – it’s not a bad book, but everything you think you know about it is going to ruin it. I did not dislike this book, but it absolutely did not meet my expectations. If you got this far into 2022 without reading this, wait another five years before picking it up, if at all!

I also don’t believe this to be anything profound. I got whispers of To Kill a Mockingbird and even The Island of Blue Dolphins while reading Where the Crawdads Sing. If you ask me, it’s borrowing lines and vibes from stories that have already been written. And further, what bothered me *the absolute most* was feeling that sense that I’d heard this story before, and knowing that we were definitely talking about racism without ever talking about racism. Ugh. The prejudice that Kya experiences throughout the book, the fact that she was put on trial because she was “the outsider”, the judgment of being dirty, or uneducated – we were talking about racism the whole freaking time, but Owens made Kya white. Further reading on Owens’ actual life and the portrayal of black characters in this novel only further my point. Frankly, it’s cowardly on Owens part and I don’t like how her life experiences play into this story, at all.

This, and a thousand other things, really ruined this book for me. I vaguely remembered talking to coworkers about it years ago, so I did know how it ended. As I was getting down to the very last pages, I thought I was mistaken, but no. I don’t really care for that ending either in the grand scheme of the novel’s larger importance, but as a story element, it felt just and right to me. Very, very odd, but justified. That’s a minor spoiler so I hope I don’t ruin it for you.

And again: I’m going to try to reel back here to remind you that I did not dislike this book in a literal sense. That’s what’s irking me the most, quite frankly. If I had read this with absolutely no knowledge of the controversy, the hype, or anything else about the book, I may have enjoyed it more. I know with 100% certainty though that I still would’ve seen the hints of the novel being about racism, though, and that does bug me. I cannot read this and not hear To Kill a Mockingbird, honestly.

So that’ll do it – I had a lot of thoughts. Evidently, not all good. I hope you all have a great week.

The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay

The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 8. Involving the art world, 11. A book with less than 2022 Goodreads ratings, 13. Includes a club, 15. A five syllable title, 23. An author with an X, Y, or Z in their name, 36. Recommended by a favorite author, 40. A book with photographs inside, 46. A job title in the title, 52. Published in 2022

My streak of meh books continues. I really think this is the improvement to Paul Tremblay’s work that I was looking for, but I still had to drag myself to the finish line on this one.

Art Barbara is not his real name, but this is his memoir. Beginning in the late 80s, after being told he needs more clubs and extracurriculars to get into college, Art starts The Pallbearers Club: a group that attends the funerals of the homeless, or older people with no one left. There, he meets Mercy, a girl of undistinguishable age, with a camera and a fascination for Art and his club.

Over the next twenty years, Mercy floats in and out of his life, but Art’s life revolves and progresses around the time he spent with Mercy. She left a permanent – and possibly harmful, supernatural – mark on his life that is nearly inescapable.

I don’t really know how to describe this book and I don’t think Tremblay did either. It’s a very, very weird book, but I think it’s kind of a good weird. It very much reminded me of Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick – my go-to recommendation for something oddly heavy. It feels like digesting a lot, which is why it took me longer than expected to finish these less than 300 pages.

The writing here is EXACTLY what I knew Tremblay was capable of when I read, and did not love, Survivor Song. It wasn’t his story, not in the sense that it wasn’t original but in that it was not his scene, not the setting for his storytelling skills. The Pallbearers Club is his story. This blend of 80s cult classic with 90s hopelessness and confusion is a perfect blend for his style and wordplay. This part of the book, at least, was top notch, and solely convinced me I would read another of his books if it sounded like the right one.

I think the characters and the story were also very distinct and interesting, and I liked all of it. They were extremely well-rounded; the relationships and exploration of them through dialogue and moments spent together were exactly what they should’ve been to relay their toxic friendship and increasing madness. It was an intriguing concept, but something about it feels like it could’ve been done better: I liked this book, but I couldn’t wait to be done with it, if that makes sense. It was dense in all the wrong ways. It felt clunky, yet the prose was so perfect. It’s hard to explain, but something about this was disjointed in a way that affected my enjoyment, but not so much my absorption of the point and the book itself.

I would still recommend this one. This is Tremblay in his element, I’m sure of it. There was a lot of good here to go along with the bad.

Have a great weekend!

Devil House by John Darnielle

Devil House by John Darnielle

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 1. A second-person narrative

Other Possible Prompts: 8. Involving the art world, 30. Audiobook is narrated by the author, 38. Don’t judge a book by its cover!, 52. Published in 2022

My bad book streak continues! Someone end my misery. Welp, by the time you read this, hopefully I will have read something worth giving five stars to again.

So to be completely frank: I have no idea what this book is really about. There are parts of it that I just…completely lost. I truly thought this was going to be a dark and creepy ‘Salem’s Lot-esque novel, maybe some Amityville touches, but this book isn’t so much horror as it is critical fiction. Here’s what I definitely parced plot-wise:

Writer Gage Chandler crafts tales of true crime by getting up close and personal with his stories and their history, and many of his works have even become movies. When his editor stumbles upon a random article from the 1980s about a satanic killing in an old porn shop north of San Francisco, he implores Gage to buy the home, move into it, and tell the real story.

Interwoven with one of his other tales, The White Witch, Gage tells the story of Devil House and all that he can parce truly transpired there…but as he unearths more of the story, he is left thinking about the true meaning and impact of his work as a true crime novelist.

Self loathing mid-life crisis much? I just felt like there was…a lot of author in this book. It feels like a reflection essay disguised as a tale of “horror”. Which, by the way, it wasn’t, really.

I chuckled as I included “Don’t judge a book by its cover” as one of the possible prompts (only the second book I’ve put on that list this year), primarily because I absolutely adore this cover and the content is…not great. I usually look at book covers as “someone enjoyed the book so much that they took the time to make a truly beautiful cover that reflects the art inside”. I love the cover of Devil House and it’s 90% of the reason I bought the book, actually, but the principle of the artist loving it cannot possibly apply here. I get Amityville Horror vibes, or classic cult fiction from the cover – and none of that within its pages. Soooo disappointing.

This book doesn’t touch at all on any supernatural horror, like I was kind of expecting from the cover art, but it does delve into a lot of true crime. Each moment is painstakingly laid out and can be somewhat gruesome. These parts, the actual horror parts, are admittedly written with care and precision that keeps it interesting – like a car accident you can’t tear your eyes from. Those scenes show skill.

When I rated the book on Goodreads and mentioned the full review would follow, I jokingly said “I wasn’t high enough to enjoy this”. But, um, there’s definitely some truth to that. This book feels a bit like a fever dream or a bad trip. Maybe if you were on the same wavelength as when Darnielle wrote it, it would make more sense, but as it was…big chunks of the book were not at all meaningful to me. I zoned out too easily and was jostled by the writing style.

The only reason this book is getting two stars and not one from me is because of *the point*. Large chunks of the book (that actually make sense) tell the tale of what happens when true crime gets written, to those who are left behind. This is why the tale of the “White Witch” is included – though it confounded me at first. It comes full circle when we talk about the story of Devil House. This book could be far more impactful and widespread if an editor had taken more pain to rein it it from the wild ride it currently is. The sad story behind every true crime is kind of an interesting take…and I liked this one part of it.

So, not recommending this, obviously. Don’t let that damn cool cover fool you, friends. You can skip this one. Have an excellent week.

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 14. A character with superhuman ability

Other Possible Prompts: 41. Involves a second chance, 42. An indie read, 43. Author who’s published in more than one genre

This gem came up in my library holds a couple weeks ago but I’ve just been putting it off – everytime I got it, it seemed I was already in the midst of something. Finally I decided to just borrow it, and I literally could not put this one down.

Wallace was a powerful, cold and calculated attorney who was very good at his job, if nothing else – and then he died. At his funeral, he is collected up by his reaper, Mae, and brought to Charon Crossing: a peculiar teahouse run by a man named Hugo. Hugo, Mae tells him, is a “ferryman” who will help him cross over.

Unwilling to believe himself really dead, Wallace learns to navigate the world as a ghost with the help of Nelson, Hugo’s grandfather, and Apollo, Hugo’s dog – both also dead. Wallace isn’t quite ready to pass on, but he’s not sure why just yet. This odd clan is going to help him find out why.

I love the characters in this book. They absolutely make the story – they are warm and alive, much like in The House in the Cerulean Sea. Despite the wild fantasy the story tells, these characters are deep set in reality with beautiful personalities and stories to tell. Even Wallace becomes something greater than he was.

I didn’t think I was going to like the premise (pondering the afterlife) in this one as much as the other Klune I read, but I really did. Perhaps even more so, because it felt a bit more like magical realism than deep fantasy – I don’t prefer fantasy, but I think Klune has a knack for it. I can picture it, see it, follow it and actually enjoy it more than I can any other fantasy story I’ve read in the last five to ten years or so (God, I’m old).

The themes of this book, as we are forewarned, are very heavy. It deals with a lot of sad and sobering stuff, but it deals with it very well. Klune has the heart and mind to write about suicide, grief, and loss in a way that many authors can’t even touch. The empty feeling is captured and laid out on the page for you to grapple with. I cried multiple times reading this book and I’m not ashamed to say so. It is not an easy novel to read, especially if these themes have been in your own life.

My biggest complaint about Under the Whispering Door is the lack of bridge over the gap between how Wallace starts and what he becomes. For the most part, the character development is truly fantastic, but there’s a point, maybe around 35-40% of the way through, where I think Wallace made a very discernible shift without one particular catalyst. The rest of the transitions, including Wallace’s, are masterful.

I loved this book. Can’t recommend it enough. Please, please pick it up, but practice self care while you read it.

Have a great week. ❤