Tag Archives: Murder

L: Review of Ware’s “The Woman in Cabin 10”

Life got busy; these things happen. Luckily, I found a hot minute to type up some musings, so here goes nothing.

I just want a book to be scary!! Is that too much to ask?!?! Ruth Ware’s most recent novel, The Woman in Cabin 10, was included in a list of “October Reads” and we all remember how much I obsessed over SWEET (the dust-jacket blurb comparison is uncanny), so I really just threw myself at this book in full-fledged desperation. Firstly:

In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

As is often the case, I think all the hype that preceded this book’s release was a contributing factor in my semi-disappointment. But… I don’t think I’m really disappointed in the text itself. It did everything it promised. I think I have myself to blame for the fact that it just wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped. Maybe I watch too many scary movies, read too many scary books? Maybe my understanding of “scary” does not align with the general public’s “scary,” so I have gypped myself out of a whole slew of typically scary books. Regardless, I didn’t consider this book to be scary even for one moment. I found it to be adequately suspenseful, but those words are not synonymous in my mind.

So, we’ve determined that the hype set it up as a good “scary” read, and I’m afraid I have to disagree, but who cares, right?! On the other hand, it was also often paralleled with The Girl on the Train and I will go right ahead and concur, good sirs! Except, in all the ways that I found The Girl on the Train to be unlikable, I found The Woman in Cabin 10 to be utterly victorious. The characters were likable!! Imagine that! We have a protagonist who is still a hot mess, no doubt, but Lo Blacklock is familiar and relatable in ways that remind the reader of herself, or at least that one friend about whom you find yourself saying “bless her heart.” Lo is the spirit animal version of every woman when she’s set aside thriving & is just worried about surviving. Thankfully, Lo’s particular circumstances are not familiar to most of us, but the novel is written in a way that makes it seem entirely plausible and personal. Readers are able to relate to Lo’s trepidation, fury, mistrust, and desperation without actually experiencing the horrible events that result in such feelings. Thank goodness!

The mystery aspects of the novel were great! I kept thinking, “wow, I just cannot wait to see how all this gets resolved” because, let me tell you, it was a tangled web she wove. No one was safe, no one could be trusted, and every moment was a potential clue. I thought the mystery itself was masterfully written, but I will say that I found many aspects to be repetitive. For instance, insomnia reared its ugly head enough times that it eventually felt like beating a dead horse. “Yes, OKAY! She’s so incredibly tired. Got it. What else?!” Similarly, there were entire swaths, paragraphs and eventually pages, that I felt were just there to take up space. I counted 18 pages towards the end that recounted Lo’s panicked thoughts that could have been summed up in one page. I noticed Ware repeating herself and rephrasing the same thoughts many times throughout the book. Maybe this was a plot device? Who am I to judge? However, I do know that my students do this in order to use up more space on a page requirement, so… that’s not out of the realm of possibility for me.

I’d love to read In a Dark, Dark Wood in order to experience more from Ware without preconceived ideas of what the novel will be. I thought The Woman in Cabin 10 was good enough for some, but just not for me.

Scarier, please!

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Combo: Review of Myers’ “Monster” and Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary (…)”

I’m doing a combo review today, partly because I’m tearing through these books like a bag of Peanut Butter M&Ms, and partly because I don’t have too terribly much to say about a few of these books. But first, the obligatory synopsis courtesy of Goodreads:

This New York Times bestselling novel and National Book Award nominee from acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers tells the story of Steve Harmon, a teenage boy in juvenile detention and on trial. Presented as a screenplay of Steve’s own imagination, and peppered with journal entries, the book shows how one single decision can change our whole lives.

Fade In: Interior: Early Morning In Cell Block D, Manhattan Detention Center.

Steve (Voice-Over)
Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I’ll call it what the lady prosecutor called me … Monster.

Monster was one of those books that I’m convinced could truly help readers of the right audience, but the fit would have to be juuuust right. The story is told as a screenplay as the main character, Steven, goes through his trial.

The good news is that the story includes journal entries here and there, which give chilling depictions of Steven’s time in juvie and these journals could easily speak to readers who are facing similar circumstances or choices. The bad news is that the story also includes transcripts of courtroom proceedings and, thus, a lot of legalese. The jargon regularly overwhelmed the story and, although it offered readers a glimpse of a life spent fighting for freedom, the transcript style was far less convincing and relatable than the journals. I was filled with sadness for Steven while simultaneously being utterly unsure about what happened in that convenience store. I think this was on purpose, since Myers wanted readers to decide whether Steven was guilty based on evidence, just like a juror. I just finished with the stong hope that none of my students ever endure circumstances like those, which was a powerful and meaningful take-away.

On the one hand, I think this would be a valuable read for students who may be struggling with friend groups or decisions about life paths, but on the other hand I think the legal emphasis could easily overwhelm and discourage that same student. Regardless, I was not the intended audience and that was painfully obvious throughout my reading, but it didn’t prevent me from seeing value for other readers.

Another recent completion was Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Synopsis:

Born poor and hydrocephalic, Arnold Spirit survives brain surgery. But his enormous skull, lopsided eyes, profound stuttering, and frequent seizures target him for abuse on his Indian reservation. Protected by a formidable friend, the book-loving artist survives childhood. And then – convinced his future lies off the rez – the bright 14-year-old enrolls in an all-white high school 22 miles away.

That synopsis manages to symplify a book that is anything but simple. I completed this one via Audiobook and, I’ll just be honest, while I appreciated that the author narrated it himself, his voice was distracting. It was some sort of stoner/dracula/Bob Dylan combo, that served no purpose but to distract me with every passing word.

Aside from that, the story was so unbelievably depressing at times and hopeful at others that I was just exhausted. This kid, Arnold, has to take the cake for the most pity-enducing story, what with his physical deformaties, mental handicaps, extreme poverty, alcoholic parents, bullying neighbors, racist classmates, friend turned ex-friend, murdered pet, and the fact that loved ones keep dropping like flies. I can understand an author seiezing one or even a few of these tropes and writing about them, but all of them?! Are you trying to make me die of sadness overload?

Don’t get me wrong, the book had beautiful, profound, stunningly hopeful moments that really gave hope to readers, but make no mistake it beat you into the ground before it even thought about picking you up and giving you a reason to smile. I have a number of friends who love this book, so I’m going to go ahead and assume that this is one of those books that was ruined by the narration, and I’ll certainly have it in my classroom for students who might be enduring any of the countless hardships Arnold Spirit navigates with relentless humor and positivity. It is just as uplifting as it is devastating; such is life.

I have a lot more reviews to complete, but I also have a few more books for my summer classes and those take prescedence, so I hope you all will be patient with me. More to come soon, but feel free to follow me on Goodreads for quicker updates. Happy summer readings!!

 

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L: Review of Alexandra Sirowy’s “The Creeping”

Dig if you will this picture: you’re home alone, reading before bed. Your chapter ends with a creep-tastic home invasion while the main character is sleeping, something you’re getting ready to do. Now, instead of visions of sugar plums, you know you’ll have visions of knife-wielding maniacs…

Thanks, Psychological Thrillers!!

I live life on a mission trying to find a book that can effectively scare me. Most fail, not because I’m so tough, but either because the Boogey Man in question is a bang in the attic or demented car, or because the writers think scary = disturbing and they go for the gross-out factor. Nice try. Want to know what’s scary? Terrible things that can actually happen. Thus, psychological thrillers win the day!

Enter Alexandra Sirowy’s The Creeping.

Eleven years ago, Stella and Jeanie disappeared. Stella came back. Jeanie never did.

Now all she wants is a summer full of cove days, friends, and her gorgeous crush—until a fresh corpse leads Stella down a path of ancient evil and secrets.

Stella believes remembering what happened to Jeanie will save her. It won’t.

She used to know better than to believe in what slinks through the shadows. Not anymore.

The story technically addresses parallel plot lines: one being the apparent reemergence of a threat from Stella’s childhood and the other being Stella’s experiences with friendship, peer pressure, and budding relationships. One is hella serious; children are dead and Stella needs to remember a horrific childhood experience in order to find the killer. The other is juvenile as can be; Taylor is super hot but cray dumb and Sam is so sweet but totes not popular. The two are seamlessly intertwined, meaning that they are addressed with equivalent levels of urgency. “Yes, I’ve found a dead body but the school gossip just saw me talking to a loser and I don’t know which is worse!!”

I’ve seen reviews admonishing this elevation of high school drama to be on par with a loose murderer, and I have to say… I disagree. I get it. In no way do I consider gossip prevention to be as important as the threat to Stella’s life, but pubescent minds factor things differently. What is important in high school? Popularity. Who you date. Who your friends are. This novel exemplifies (albeit rather dramatically) how priorities are relative and, to this particular high school girl, crushing on a nerd is just as tragic as a rampant serial killer.

In terms of content, it was consistently unsettling, and I mean that as a good thing!! The intention (as evidenced by the title) obviously was to be creepy, and it utilizes suspense and realistic, relatable situations to capitalize on the psychological aspects of being a psychological thriller. The language was a dizzying blend of mature and immature verbiage and content, which mirrored the parallel plot lines. Profanity and sexual references were peppered throughout, whether discussing boy toys or unearthed corpses. For this reason, I’m not sure I’d make it available in my classroom, at least not for just any student. Mature students could easily enjoy this book as much as I did, but as a teacher, I’d need to know my students well enough to know who can brush off such vivid depictions of murder and sexual rendezvous and instead siphon meaning from the discussions about friendship, relationships, and bullying.

This book was fun fun fun! The ending drew on for four chapters after the big climax, so that could’ve been better, and the resolution/explanation felt a bit rushed, but otherwise it was good stuff! And it felt Halloween-ish, because of the scariness, so I’m including a couple other scary ones I’m jazzed to read. Check them out!!

 

 

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L: Review of Nova Ren Suma’s “The Walls Around Us”

I like books that pick a “thing” and just run with it, even if that “thing” isn’t necessarily my thing. Dinosaurs? Bring it on. Horses? OK, see you there. Focusing on a specific theme can maximize upon immediate appeal for horse- and dinosaur-loving readers, and it can offer insight for casual amateurs, like myself. However, themes should inform, never isolate, the novice reader, and I’m afraid that’s the vibe I got from Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us.

On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

Did you notice the casual mention of dancing in the teaser above? It was all, “Nbd, there’s dancing.” Let me set the record straight: this novel is all about dancing. In the recipe that is The Walls Around Us, there’s like 1 teaspoon of murder to 6 cups of ballet references. We learn about the outfits, the hairstyles, the feelings onstage vs. the feelings offstage, the injuries, the tricks of the trade, and of course, the official names of the dance moves in all their French glory.

Now, I took dance classes in middle and high school, so I assumed I’d be fine. I can picture a pas de bourrée just as well as the next reader, and the murder mystery set in a Juvenile Detention Center really upped the appeal, so I took the bait. The dance-to-murder ratios, however, that were present in the teaser were essentially reversed in the story, so that my interest in the prison/murder plot line was overshadowed by the boring “Dance Life” story.

Aside from the focus on ballet, I found the storytelling to be a bit drawn out; the perspective swapped between two central characters, one of whom (the prisoner) seemed to spend her first 5 chapters telling the exact same story in different ways. The suspense built and built with each retelling of the same few moments, so that when explanation was finally given, it was utterly anti-climactic. It felt like an afterthought on the author’s part, as though Suma focused so heavily on the bizarre nature of those first few moments that she spent too little time coming up with a valid explanation for her readers. It was interesting, then exhausting, then disappointing.

My other qualm with The Walls Around Us was that it was an entirely realistic mystery novel until, BAM!, things got paranormal. I love paranormal things, so that is not my issue; the issue was that it seemed like another desperate grab for resolution on the author’s part, as though she had cooked up a scenario that could only be resolved through paranormal intervention. I’m convinced that Suma had the bare bones of a good story that she then insulated with literary packing-peanuts, just words and moments that took up space. “More dance references! Let me retell that story one more time! Hey, let’s throw some paranormal stuff in there!” No, Suma. You ruined it.

Good things? It was an original idea, I think. I haven’t read anything like it before, so it had that going for it. The writing was also crafted so that readers were often challenged to feel pity  for convicted felons. That takes some skill.

Otherwise, I do not recommend this novel to anyone; that’s not to say you wouldn’t enjoy it, though. Read it or don’t. See if I care.

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