Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

‘You’re gambling. Hell, you’re gambling against history.’

Kindred is a riveting story. Octavia Butler has created a tale in which a young woman is thrust into a violent past that forces her to into a relentlessly dangerous position.
Kindred is an incredibly gripping read. From its prologue to its epilogue, the story demands attention. Butler convincingly depicts deeply complex and believable characters in a unthinkably brutal world.

I had thought my feelings were complicated because he and I had such a strange relationship. But then, slavery of any kind fostered strange relationship.

Butler does not shy away from describing the terrible abuse and violence slaves were forced to endure in the 19th century. Dana herself is initially incapable of comprehending the horror she witnesses during her journeys back in time. Dana’s own resolves and belief are tested beyond measure again and again throughout the course of the book.

Slavery is a long slow process of dulling.

Dana is a very relatable and likable main character. Despite the shock caused by being flung back in time, she does not lose her wits: she faces her situation with as much practicality as possible. She does not waste time panicking deciding instead that the best way of surviving this terrifying experience is to prepare herself as best as she can: first by reading about the period in which she is transported to and then by trying to discern a pattern in the causes of these leaps back in time. Both she and her husband, Kevin, show admirable self-control in a situation in which they have little grasp of.
All of the characters Butler introduces are vividly realistic. Despite the scenario, there are no clear good guys or bad guys. Instead there are characters that could be both cruel and pitiful, kind yet bitter. Their complexity made them all the more believable.

Strangely, they seemed to like him, hold him in contempt, and fear him all at the same time. This confused me because I felt just about the same mixture of emotions for him myself.

Each page of Kindred contains poignant reflections and important examinations on human behaviour/nature. The grave topics it tackles are combined with a constant feeling of dread for Dana’s wellbeing; in fact, Kindred reads with a strong sense of urgency: throughout the story Dana’s life and freedom are constantly at stake.
So despite the graphic portrayal of the unimaginably inhumane and brutal reality slaves experienced, Dana’s willfulness make this journey through this particularly horrifying moment of history much easier to read. The complicated relationship she has make Kindred a deeply complex and well-crafted novel.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Vigil by Angela Slatter

While Vigil doesn’t necessarily bring anything ‘new‘ to the paranormal/mystery genre, it has its own quirky take on the popular genre.
Weyrds are living in Brisbane. Their unusual appearances and abilities hidden behind glamours or merely thought of as eccentricities by the Normals.
Verity Fassbinder, a half and half, is a private investigator apt in solving Weyrd-related accidents. Her character is perhaps one of the book’s biggest strengths: she is incredibly straight-forward and sarcastic. Her witty remarks and perfectly timed puns made for very entertaining scenes. I found her to be an extremely charismatic narrator. Verity is from the very start the ‘engaging’ force that drives the story. Her investigations were engrossing: each lead she followed was captivating. Also thanks to the many other interesting characters such as Rhonda McIntyre, Ziggi, the Norns’ sisters and Lizzie, my attention never wavered. They made the story all the more compelling.
The humour somewhat reminded me of a more ‘adult’ Rick Riordan. And yes, Vigil might not be an incredibly moving or deep story, but I believe it is because it isn’t meant to be. Some aspects of it were stronger than others, still, it is a promising start for a highly amusing and absorbing series. Vigil is a fun and gritty mystery peppered by myths and magic.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Eerie meets fun.
King’s strength – I believe – lies in his engaging storytelling. The particular way in which he narrates Doctor Sleep is on of the best aspects of the book itself. His voice holds your attention.
Doctor Sleep tells of a supernatural tale: Dan, previously known as Danny in The Shining, is a recovering alcoholic who first started drinking because of his psychic abilities, his ‘shining’; the True Knot is a group of quasi-immortal ‘people’ who survive through ‘feeding off’ the shining of children; and finally we have young Abra Stone, whose shining is incredibly powerful, so much so that she is able to reach Dan trough a psychic link.
We follow these characters journeying through America: King has a knack for depicting small towns. He captures the ‘vibe’ of certain places and the people from these places.
Using plenty of references, from books to music, he makes his story one that is filled with relatable things. He counteracts this with an abundance of the uncanny. From Dan’s and Abra’s shining to the True Knot’s peculiar ways, King offers plenty in terms of the supernatural.
Dan is perfectly unperfect. He is shown to us at his worst and at his best. Dan, to me, is a realistically flawed main character, who I liked, and rooted for in spite of some of his past actions. Abra reads faithfully as a child, someone full of possibility and unaware of things that older characters take for granted. She was a real breath of fresh air. The True Knot is made of despicable yet somehow humane individuals: I hated them but, when certain scenes where from their POVs I couldn’t stop myself from liking them.
I eagerly followed Dan and Abra during their creepy and suspenseful adventures. Whit a plot that is somehow quiet yet intense, Doctor Sleep, is a compelling novel.

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

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Broken Harbor by Tana French

Broken Harbour is a gripping novel that portrays – with much intensity – complex relationships between friends, partners and family members. French, as per usual, pays close attention to the human psychology rather than focusing solely on the ‘crime’ itself.

Tense and frayed relationships aside, the story is one peppered with doubt: throughout the investigation, we can never be quite sure of what has happened to the Spain family.
French deftly renders feelings of animosity and of a growing sense of unease: there is a constant sense that the truth behind the Spain case is an unpleasant one, and thanks to some foreshadowing, one that will cost Scorcher dearly.
Scorcher is a complex narrator whose method prior the case was ‘by the book. The Spain case however forces him to behave unexpectedly. His own connection to Broken Harbour inevitably turns the case into a personal matter. Alongside for the ‘ride’ is Richie, his rookie partner. Their interactions make us see, in my opinion, Scorcher at his best. Scorcher is a fully rounded character and his investigation makes the story come off the page.
French has also a knack for depicting different types of people. All of her characters offer realistic incongruities and much depth. Both the people involved in the Spain case and Scorcher’s own family make an impact on the storyline.

French’s eye for the smallest details serve to add further layers to the novel as a whole. We reassess the same characters and situations again and again, never quite sure of certain character’s motivations.

Nothing is as it seems, and it is only through Scorcher’s investigation that the truth slowly begins to unravel. Brimming with suspense and filled by all too believable characters, Broken Harbour is an engaging and powerful book, one that makes the reader question their own ideals and perception of right and wrong.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

A compelling heartfelt story that delivers a solid emotional punch.
Focusing on the dynamics between Hawley and Loo, a father and her daugher, this novel brings to life both everyday instances and more charged scenes, such as the ones given in Hawley’s ‘bullets’ chapters.
The writing itself reads smoothly, and is perhaps reminiscent of the one of Ann Patchett and/or Alice Hoffman. Tinti describers seemingly mundane scenes in a way that is incredibly compelling: by focusing on the details she is able to craft a vivid picture.
Loo’s relationship with her father is depicted with incredible honesty; their earnest relationship is what the story is built on. Hawley’s past is also relevant to the story, serving as to explain some of his actions and behaviours with Loo later in his life. The violence of his past is at times juxtaposed with Loo’s – less intense – experiences.
Bittersweet, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, is a sweeping and deeply felt tale recommended for people who have enjoyed the film Léon: The Professional or even True Grit.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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In the Woods by Tana French

What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this – two things: I crave the truth. And I lie.

An incredibly intense and absorbing read. In the Woods is so much more than a ‘crime’ novel. French creates incredibly vivid characters. She also has a knack for dialogue: that is to say that the conversations, arguments and discussions had by her characters felt incredibly real to me. The way in which she narrates this mystery is completely encompassing. I eagerly read chapter after chapter, my head filled by the main character’s meanderings: despite acting like a right ol’ dick, I still loved being in Rob’s head. He was so…believable. His fear, uncertainties and desires. All of it. I was taken in by his story, unable – and not wanting – to leave.
In short, I was really taken by In the Woods.
I don’t think I can do this novel justice… just go and see for yourself.
A few quotes:

I am not good at noticing when I’m happy, except in retrospect. My gift, or fatal flaw, is for nostalgia. I have sometimes been accused of demanding perfection, of rejecting heart’s desires as soon as I get close enough that the mysterious impressionistic gloss disperses into plain solid dots, but the truth is less simplistic than that. I know very well that perfection is made up of frayed, off-struck mundanities. I suppose you could say my real weakness is a kind of longsightedness: usually it is only at a distance, and much too late, that I can see the pattern.

In all my career I had never felt the presence of evil as I felt it then: strong and rancid-sweet in the air, curling invisible tendrils up table-legs, nosing with obscene delicacy at sleeves and throats.

Human beings, as I know better than most, can get used to anything. Over time, even the unthinkable gradually wears a little niche for itself in your mind and becomes just something that happened.

 

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace

The Painted Bridge gives a harrowing glimpse into the lives of women admitted in asylums during the late nineteenth century. The story follows newly married Anna Palmer who –tricked by her husband – becomes a ‘resident’ of Lake House, a private asylum. Her initial incredulity over her situations soon give way to a strong sense of injustice over her forced stay in the asylum and the conditions patients endure there.
The initial premise was really intriguing, and Wendy Wallace does accurately portray the cruelty and unfairness that the women at Lake House face. Anna’s firm belief of not being unwell like the other patients does create a divided between her and the other women. Through the story however, after enduring barbaric treatments, she soon grows to understand them. I think Anna was a very believable character who is likeable for her strength and determination. Despite desperately wanting to leave Lake House she finds herself putting her friend’s needs in front of her own ones. For this reason she was very admirable.
However, the other characters, did not make the same impact. I found that the other point of views were not a strong. Instead of adding more depth to the story they served as a distraction. Characters like Lucas simply lacked Anna’s complexity.
The story itself accurately portrayed the injustice that women were made to endure. Wallace writes of Anna’s denial of freedom. While being interesting the story did lack something, an ‘oomph’ of sorts. Perhaps it is because, besides Anna, other characters were a bit bland, that I was never truly engrossed by some of the events. I felt that it was missing something. While I was reading it, I was expecting that certain ‘something’ to happen, and it never did.
So, while The Painted Bridge does not offer the most original story, it does provide readers with a main character they can admire and care for.

My rating: 3 stars

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