Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children, #2)Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book so much, I went back to reread Every Heart a Doorway so I could meet Jack and Jill again, and better understand their choices in the context of where they'd come from. Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a prequel that gives a lot of strong hints about who they become in Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. I suggest reading them in order of publication.

Jacqueline and Jillian Wolcott are twins born to parents who had no business having children. The chaos of childhood and figuring out who you are in the world has no place in Serena and Chester Wolcott's well-ordered life. They initially foist the children off on their grandmother, but, on the girls' fifth birthday, the parents send the grandmother away without even giving her a chance to say goodbye. Jillian, the more rough-and-tumble of the two, is assigned the role of tomboy, while Jacqueline is dressed up in frilly, pretty dresses and admonished to keep herself clean.

Then, when the girls are twelve, they open a trunk their grandmother left behind to find not dress-up clothes, but a stairway going down into unknown depths. From there, they wind up on the Moors, where they're free to choose their own paths for the first time in their lives. Jill (which her parents always balked at calling her) chooses to become the coddled pet of a vampire, who dresses her up in pretty clothes and keeps her well-fed on an iron-rich diet. Jack chooses to apprentice to a mad scientist, where she eschews skirts and learns how to keep immaculately clean without running water, among other useful skills.

Jack and Jill each find love, out there on the Moors, but it's their love for each other that ties this story together. The book captures the double-edged nature of sibling love well. The girls know each other so well, which means they know exactly how to hurt one another.

This is a well-crafted tale, dark and poetic and utterly tragic. It's a novella, but there's a lot in there. I read most of it waiting in a hot car with the windows cracked. It was startling, emerging from that dark, cool world into the blazing heat, sticky and dying of thirst.

Be sure you want to know what made the twins who they are in Every Heart a Doorway. Be sure you want to go into the Moors with them. Be sure you want to know the consequences of the first choices Jack and Jill make.

Be sure.

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Review: Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final GirlsFinal Girls by Riley Sager
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I won this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway, which comes with the expectation that I'll review the book. I was not compensated in any way for my review.

I'm usually wary of debut novels. There's something of the unpolished about them, some unrealized potential. I should've read more closely. This is the writer's first book under this name. He honed his craft on his murder mystery series set closer to home.

The Final Girl is a horror movie trope, where the good girl who kept away from the sex and drugs that got her friends killed becomes the last one left, and has to confront the killer to make it out alive. Quincy Carpenter has lived through that reality, emerging as the sole survivor in a stabbing spree at Pine Cottage deep in the woods of Pennsylvania. She's blocked out the memory of that horrific time, from the moment where she watched her best friend bleed out to her timely rescue. People have tried to help her remember, but it's stayed locked away for ten years.

Then Lisa Milner, another Final Girl who survived a similar horror, turns up dead, her wrists slashed in her bathtub. Soon after, Samantha Boyd, the most reclusive of the Final Girls, shows up at Quincy's Manhattan apartment. As relieved as Quincy is to have a friend she shares a big part of herself with, she quickly finds plenty of reasons to question Sam's motives in tracking her down. Sam wants Quincy to remember Pine Cottage, but why?

I had an inkling of where the book was going within the first few pages, but I managed to discard my theories and just go along for the ride. Two women bonding over similar trauma might not sound like a fun read, but the plotting and tension kept me flipping pages. I was delighted to be right, in the end, but I'd nearly forgotten my initial suspicion by then.

There's a lot to this book: trauma, survivor's guilt, mental illness, trust, sensationalism, resilience, strength, anger, growth through pain, friendship, denial, labels, and survival. The book sidesteps easy answers, handling the complexity of Quincy's perspective with nuance. Quincy is a multilayered, flawed character. She works so hard at being the person she believes she is that the real Quincy can only come out in exaggerated bursts. She makes her life even harder than it has to be, but you can see exactly why she does, because she isn't even equipped to imagine the alternatives. I would've hated her as a person, but, as a character, she's perfect.

If you like your thrillers raw and bloody and heavy on the psychological, I strongly recommend you give this book a try. I was thoroughly engrossed by Final Girls, and fully invested in Quincy's story. I'm interested to see what else the pseudonymous Riley Sager comes out with, and I may even give Todd Ritter's mysteries a chance.

Maybe I'll skip the first one.

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