A Million Ways to Die in the North

terror

 

I pulled this book from my mountainous TBR pile shortly after the first season of the television adaption dropped onto Hulu. The second season, which is airing now, is entirely self contained and doesn’t appear to have anything to do with this book or season one. When I opened the my Kindle and saw that it clocked in at well over 900 pages I thought maybe I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I love a good door stopper of a book but almost a thousand pages of man (and it is entirely men) vs supernatural beast seemed like a bit much. However this may be one of my favorite novels of the year and is definitely one of my top ten horror novels.

Dan Simmons gives us a fictionalized account of the Lost Franklin Voyage of 1845. In May of that year the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus set sail to find the fabled Northwest passage. They were the most well outfitted and equipped ships of their time and they were never seen again. The wreckage of the Erebus and a few of the remains of the men have been found but the rest is lost to this day. When Simmons’ account begins, both ships have been stuck in the frozen waters of the Arctic Circle for many months with no sign of a thaw in sight. In addition to the dangers of frostbite, malnutrition, scurvy and all the other dangers associated with being stranded near the North Pole, the men are being stalked by a giant creature that resembles a giant polar bear but is much more cruel and cunning. As their situation deteriorates the crew’s hopes for survival becomes more and more hopeless.

The misery of the sailors is palpable and constant. There is no getting warm, there is just getting less cold. The men are constantly wet and filthy, the rations grow increasingly worse as they are unable to hunt or fish successfully. It’s a situation that would be hopeless without an evil demon bear stalking you. Though the captain of The Terror, Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier is the protagonist, many chapters are told from other characters perspectives. The arrogant Sir John Franklin, the curious and deeply principled Dr. Henry Goodsir and the cunning and cruel Cornelius Hickey. But the ice itself is a major character in this book. It shifts, cracks, forms ridges and squeezes the Erebus and Terror possibly to the breaking point.

I really loved this book you guys. Even knowing the history going in I wanted to see where it would go and how exactly each character’s story would end. It might be a good one to pick up if you find yourself snowed in with nothing to do or if you just want to read an amazing novel about history, survival, the hubris of man and masculinity.

“Cause I might open my eyes and find someone standing there”

lock every door

After getting unceremoniously laid off from her job and coming home to find her boyfriend cheating on her, Jules Larsen is forced to couch surf with her good friend until she can get back on her feet again. When she is offered the opportunity to apartment sit at The Bartholomew, one of the most exclusive and notorious buildings in Manhattan for $1000 per week, it seems too good to be true. If you’ve consumed even the smallest amount of fiction in your life, you know offers like that turn out. Despite the warnings of her best friend and the strangely restrictive rules for the job (absolutely no visitors and no spending a night away from the building), Jules takes the job with little hesitation. She begins to get uneasy very quickly as not just the eerie atmosphere but the sudden departure of one of the other house sitters makes Jules suspicious. Nothing in the Bartholomew is what it seems.

This is the third book by Riley Sager that deals with horror movie tropes. Final Girls and The Last Time I Lied dealt with (obviously) final girls and sleepaway camp respectively. Lock Every Door examines the trope of the building with the notorious past (e.g. the apartment building from Rosemary’s Baby). There is a lot of bad decision making on the part of our protagonist as you may have guessed from the plot summary, but you kind of get why she makes those choices. I enjoy the heck out of these books but I often wonder if Sager’s obvious attempts at misdirection are intentional. The person who seems wonderful and reliable and gorgeous is clearly evil; the protagonist clearly thinks all roads lead to one conclusion so it’s obviously not that. I choose to believe they’re intentional since he is taking on horror movie tropes.

This one is definitely a good beach read, or perhaps a cozy sweater and coffee read since the beach weather will be leaving us soon. I can speak from experience when I tell you that reading it alone in the house at night is not the best idea.

 

Propelled through all this madness by your beauty and my sadness

rosewater

 

The main narrative of Rosewater takes place in the year 2066 in Nigeria. The titular town has sprung up around a mysterious alien biodome. From the outside it does not appear to do much other than open once per year and grant mysterious powers of healing that are strong enough to reanimate the recently dead. The story is centered around Kaaro, who is a sensitive. He can not only read the thoughts of others but he can project thoughts into their heads. As a day job Kaaro works for a major bank, helping to stop other sensitives from getting protected financial information. But is “real” job is as a government agent. The chapters bounce back in time from Kaaro’s younger days to the present as other sensitives like him are mysteriously dying.

Kaaro is not a good guy and you’re not meant to like him. He’s not evil but he’s a deeply selfish person who doesn’t much like to dwell on the consequences his actions have on other people. He is an interesting person and the intrigue gets started pretty quickly in this book. I did sometimes have trouble keeping the thread of this story but that might have been due to my own personal distractions rather than any flaw with the book itself. I definitely enjoyed it enough ad that the other two books in the trilogy to my TBR pile. The fact that the second focuses on his much more interesting girlfriend, Aminat didn’t hurt either.

Tade Thompson has written a promising start to what I’m hoping will be a really amazing sci fi trilogy that really isn’t like anything else I’ve read in the genre. Even if I’d put it in the “liked but didn’t love” category I’d still recommend it to any sci fi fan.

I know who you are and it’s not that impressive

know who you are

 

Aimee Sinclair is an up and coming starlet who is just wrapping up shooting on her latest movie. She arrives home to find her husband gone and his wallet and cell on the coffee table. She initially doesn’t think much of this since they had a bad fight the night before. Unfortunately, as more evidence mounts that something more sinister is happening, it’s clear the police think Aimee is responsible. In alternating chapters, we learn the story of a young girl who wanders off from her home and gets in a car with a seemingly nice woman only to learn firsthand the meaning of “stranger danger.”

I read Alice Feeney’s previous book “Sometimes I Lie” and liked it well enough. This one really didn’t work for me though. I had a few ideas about where the plot was going and they all proved to be wrong. Often when this happens I’m in awe at the writer’s ability to misdirect the reader and draw in all the little plot details to create an insane but satisfying conclusion. This was…not one of those times. The ending was just insane and felt contrived purely for shock value. I wondered why we’d learned so many details about some of the characters that seemed as if they would be important later but ultimately weren’t.

I see a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews on goodreads.com for this book so maybe this book will be your cup of tea. It’s a slim volume and reads quickly. I read it in two days which is pretty amazing given my hectic schedule. It might be worth your time even if you don’t care for it in the end.

“This world is forcing me to hold your hand”

five

 

Despite his name being in the title. Jack the Ripper has very little to do with this narrative. He only comes into the lives of the titular five briefly on the last night of their lives. However those brief encounters are why most people remember the names Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. Before their fateful encounter with a predator, they were married, had babies, owned shops, lived on country estates and traveled from other countries to reach their final destination in Whitechapel. What historian Hallie Rubenhold posits quite convincingly in this book is that not all of them were sex workers and that that none of them were engaged in sex work on the nights they were murdered. This image, which has persisted for over 130 years is based largely on Victorian assumptions about women living in poverty and the fact that lurid headlines involving sex and murder sold papers.

Rubenhold devotes a full section of the book to each woman. She begins with their parents and continues in great detail until those ill-fated nights in Whitechapel. Much is made of the term “walking the streets” since all but Mary Jane Kelly were killed outside. It is likely the term was meant much more literally, that the women were walking through London’s streets trying to scrape together the money to buy a bed for the night or sleeping rough which Rubenhold hypothesizes they were doing when they were killed. Some of them had fallen from “respectable” positions due to alcoholism which was rampant during this time or from being preyed upon by a man in authority.

Obviously none of these women deserved or “asked for” their ultimate fate regardless of their profession or what they were engaging in on the nights of their murders. But ultimately what sealed their fates was not sex work but to have the misfortune of being born poor and female in the Victorian age.

If “I already took my bra off” is a good excuse…

sorry i'm late

 

I picked up this book because I found myself in a similar situation as the author; my main source of deep (meaning non-superficial) social interaction had moved out of town and I needed some new close friends to fill the emotional gap in my life. Unfortunately I’m not a freelance writer who could turn the situation into a book deal so I had to settle for reading the fruits of Jessica Pan’s labor and occasionally cringing at her adventures. The Amarillo, Texas native was living in London and found herself without any close friends aside from her husband and embarked on a one year journey to put herself in situations that absolutely terrified her “shintrovert” (that’s shy introvert) self.

Jessica’s writing is engaging and relatable, especially if you also identify as a “shintrovert.” Her first task was to walk to one of her fellow Londoners and ask “Hello. Do we have a queen and what’s her name?” If the prospect of this already fills you with intense anxiety, buckle up. Jessica goes on to give a speech in front of a large audience, take an improv class and even perform stand up comedy. Just typing that out gives me the vapors!

Jessica Pan is not an expert and never claims to be one. Obviously there are people with legitimate mental issues that can keep them in the house more than they’d like to be. But if you are a “shintrovert” and want to watch one of your fellows step way out of her comfort zone, or if you are looking to step out of your own warm cozy little bubble this is a fun read that will give you some ideas and food for thought.

“We feel the pull in the land of a thousand guilts”

little friend

 

The Little Friend is not a mystery, despite what the description might lead you to believe. If it falls into any category it would be a coming-of-age story. Harriet Cleve Dufresne, a precocious twelve year old girl takes it upon herself to solve the murder of her older brother Robin, whom she has never met but whose death casts a pall over both her family and the small town she lives in. What begins as an adventure out of one of the many books Harriet reads quickly puts her and her friend Hely into the sort of danger she’d never considered. She also learns some difficult lessons about the adult world and the grown ups that she frequently looked up to.

Donna Tartt is most well known for her books, The Secret History and The Goldfinch. I still have yet to read The Goldfinch but Tartt’s writing here is similar to The Secret History. Half the pleasure of reading it is just immersing yourself in her beautiful writing and knowing that eventually you’ll get where the story takes you. I read this book on Kindle and I have so many highlights saved. With an emotionally checked out mother and a father who is literally and figuratively absent, Harriet has the sort of unsupervised childhood that would get modern parents a visit from CPS (based on context clues, I’m thinking this story takes place late 1970s early 1980s). But this allows her to get into all sorts of trouble without any responsible adults being any the wiser. Her experiences over this harrowing summer will shape the smart but naive pre-teen as she learns to navigate the wold of adults whether she likes it or not.

“All the innocent crime seemed alright at the time”

trial of lizzie borden

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The Trial of Lizzie Borden is thoroughly researched and Cara Robertson’s writing is clear and moves the narrative along quickly. But it turns out that without the wild speculation that goes along with the Borden case, I really don’t find the story of Lizzie Borden all that interesting. She seems like an upper class white lady who wanted more money than her father would allow her and resented her stepmother’s very presence and probably got away with murder. I frankly found myself wishing that Abigail Borden (Lizzie’s ill-fated stepmother) had taken an axe to the entire Borden family and lived out her days as a rich but notorious widow with Bridget as her housekeeper/confidante.

For the few of you out there who might be unfamiliar, Andrew and Abby Borden were discovered hacked to death in their home one hot summer day in 1892. Lizzy, their respective daughter and stepdaughter fell under suspicion and her trial became one of the most notorious in American history. She was eventually acquitted, though many people (including me) still believe that it was more due to the fact that she was a young gentlewoman and the jury was entirely male. Robertson makes no judgement one way or another on the page and leaves it to the reader to decide Lizzie’s guilt or innocence. Her research into the trial and the subsequent media frenzy are excellent. I did find the parts that talked about the media to be more interesting than the trial itself which was often repetitive and dull (as most real trials are).

It’s not my intention to steer anyone away from this book who might be interested. It is exactly what it purports to be and it does its job very well. But perhaps in the current time when white women are weaponizing their tears against black people and rich white dudes seem to be breaking the law openly and with no real consequence, Lizzie Borden just isn’t very sympathetic without all the conjecture that surrounds her story.

“For the love of one’s country is a terrible thing”

say nothing

This the best historical non-fiction I’ve read in awhile. It might be the best book I’ll read this year. Patrick Radden Keefe takes a subject as serpentine and fraught with strong emotions as The Troubles in Ireland and presents it in a clear concise that is powerful but never melodramatic. He uses the kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten who was pulled from her apartment by masked men in 1972 and never seen again until her body was discovered in 2003, as a framing device for his narrative. It was an open secret who was responsible for McConville being “disappeared” but no one come forward to give her children closure.

The bulk of Keefe’s narrative starts in the late 1960s when many of the major players in this story became radicalized. He covers the rise of now well know IRA tactics such as bombings and prison hunger strikes. As the story reaches its conclusion in the 2010s, many who committed atrocities for the cause wonder what it was all for when peace is achieved but Ireland remains divided. Jean McConville’s now grown children demand answers from those who almost certainly ordered and committed the murder of their mother. The stories of everyone involved are compelling and heartbreaking.

I knew almost nothing about The Troubles in Ireland going into this book and I certainly wouldn’t call myself an expert after reading it. But I’d highly recommend it for anyone who wants to know more. The book is both broad in its view and intimate in its telling.

“But you, you’re special I might let you”

 

inspection

The concept of this book is an interesting one; take 26 girls and 26 boys and raise them completely isolated not just from the outside world but from the opposite sex. They have no knowledge that such a thing exists. The premise of the two rich weirdos enact the plan is that without the “distraction” of sexuality they will become prodigies and high achievers. The fact that sexuality is fluid apparently never occurs to these two. When the book begins the children are twelve and the experiment has apparently been a success so far. We meet boy J and girl K (the children are all named after the letters of the alphabet) who are just beginning to question the world around them and the absolute authority of both DAD and MOM (the leaders of the boys and girls, respectively).

I think the disconnect for me was that the premise was pretty high concept but the author (Josh Malerman, write of the stellar Bird Box) wanted to ground the book in the real word and it didn’t really work for me. There is also a tonal shift at the end of the story. Most of Inspection reads almost like a YA novel and then takes a hard left turn into horror at the end. I didn’t mind the slow burn or even the slight repetitive nature of the book as it switched from the girls’ facility to the boys. The conclusion is spectacular and satisfying on some level but ultimately leaves the readers with more questions than it answers. I think this could have been interesting as the beginning of a series because there really is a lot more I’d like to know about this world.