In Dennis Lehane’s creepy and suspenseful Shutter Island, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck arrive on Shutter Island to find a missing inmate from Ashecliffe Asylum. What seems like a routine investigation is swiftly put off the rails by the uneasy atmosphere at Ashecliffe, and all of the secrets the people in charge seem to be keeping. Teddy has his own demons to work though at the same time, having recently lost his wife.
I can’t believe I’m only getting to this novel now. I never saw the movie, either, so the ending remained unspoiled for me. I enjoyed the dark, film noir feel of this, with the tortured war veteran and his dark past, his solitary nature, his desire for revenge. He’s a great character, flawed yet remaining sympathetic.
The plotting of this novel is so intricate and so well-constructed. I can’t out-do the Kirkus reviewer on this one: it’s a “lollapalooza of a corkscrew thriller.” You start questioning your own sanity by midway through, and I mean that in the best possible way. The twist is revealed in one of the best scenes I’ve read lately, where the stakes are high for everyone involved and the emotion of it all seems very real.
The setting is fantastic, both gritty and Gothic, perfect for the story. Ashecliffe is depicted as a brutal relic from another century, and its maximum security isolation on an island is perfect.
Lots of diverse readalikes present themselves for this one, depending on what you enjoyed the most. Noir and crime fiction from the 1950’s might really appeal to you, if you liked that aspect of the story. The grittier the better. There’s also something very Gothic about the creepy atmosphere and sense of danger at the asylum. You might enjoy John Harwood’s The Asylum (I talked about it here). I also thought of The Boy Who Could See Demons while reading this, which you can read more about at this post.
If you want just a smidge more of the Nazi subplot, some aliens, and a ton of Sarah Paulsen, you might want to check out the second season of American Horror Story, which took place at an insane asylum in Massachusetts. Here, I can show this clip on a family-friendly blog (trust me, the entire season is just as nuts as this, but in different ways).
One of our regulars just came in and asked if there’s any way to tell online which books get checked out the most at the library in a given year. I realized that yes, there is, and it’s here on the blog, because I run the numbers and then post them here.
Except this year I forgot. Whoops.
And then I forgot again. For two weeks.
Thank you, Library Regular, for asking about our top circulated titles, and inadvertently reminding me that I’m the one who posts them. Heh.
Below, please find at long last the (Belated) Most-Read Adult Fiction for 2016!
2016 Most-Read Fiction Titles
The Crossing by Michael Connelly
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Scandalous Behavior by Stuart Woods
X by Sue Grafton
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
After You by JoJo Moyes
Dark Corners by Ruth Rendell
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
Blood Salt Water by Denise Mina
As most of you have probably heard, there’s a blizzard on the way to Maine tonight. CRIPPLING, you guys. It’s going to be CRIPPLING: http://haggett.bangordailynews.com/2017/02/12/home/crippling-blizzard-on-the-way-for-coastal-and-interior-maine-2/
Tomorrow is looking like a wash. A whitewash. We’ve called a closure already here at the library, because…seriously, CRIPPLING BLIZZARD, guys. In between shoveling out our driveway from the snowdrifts and baking brownies and praying that the power stays on, I’ve got lots of great books on the go for tomorrow’s snowstorm!
Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air by Richard Holmes–a history of hot air ballooning! There’s something incredibly inspiring about the early aeronauts and their quest to take to the air. Balloonists were showmen, scientists, adventurers, and everything in between.
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart–fun, rollicking historical fiction with a fascinating lead and some cracking good dialogue. It’s about a woman named Constance Kopp, who was one of the first deputy sheriffs in America.
The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stewart–this is a witty and very entertaining novel about a barber in a small French village. When he starts losing clients due to baldness, he decides that he’ll become the village matchmaker instead. It’s clever and cozy but not twee.
Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon–I need at least one thriller on standby. An alcoholic journalist tries to redeem her life and career by taking on an unsolved case.
Not a bad set of companions for the day. Apart from Snow Shovel, of course, who I’ll be seeing a lot of. I hope you’re all holed up somewhere snug and safe tomorrow!
I love this kind of guessing game! Uh, let’s see:
- It was Earth all along
- Turns out it’s man
- It’s made of people
- Nicole Kidman was the ghost the whole time
- The entire novel was a dream
- The entire novel was a paranoid delusion
- The entire novel was a fantasy played out in a snowglobe
- Identical twins
- Christopher Walken is a robot
- They’ve been dead the entire time
- It’s the sled
- He’s been dressing up like his dead mom
- There are two killers
- It was an Army test
- It was aliens
Is there a prize if I guess correctly?
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough is an engaging and twisty thriller with plenty of psychological suspense and tension. Pinborough has a background in writing horror and dark fantasy, and it really shows here. The story involves Louise, a single mother in London. One night she meets a guy named David in a bar, who confesses he’s married. And then it turns out that David is Louise’s new boss, and they both find it difficult to deny their attraction. On top of that, Louise becomes friends with Adele, David’s troubled and mysterious wife.
Louise gets dragged into the dysfunctional relationship between David and Adele, and she’s not sure which of them she can trust. If she can trust either of them to be telling the truth about their backgrounds and pasts.
The narrative goes back and forth between Adele and Louise, and with Adele in particular, you’re never quite sure how much to believe. As the book goes on, you’re drawn into an intense triangle between these characters–the friendship between Louise and Adele, the passionate affair between Louise and David, the mysterious and perhaps sinister marriage of David and Adele. The plot is intricate, playing with past and present, with perceptions and secrets, until the final confrontation and shocker ending.
Yeah, about that ending. I don’t want to spoil it, but I will tell you this, my fellow thriller and mystery fans: it’s definitely unpredictable. Dirty pool. So blatantly entirely impossible that you’d ever figure it out that this is all I could think of after finishing:
My Lionel Twain-esque initial reaction aside, though, I did enjoy this novel immensely. It’s well-engineered, it’s atmospheric, it’s twisty, and the cat-and-mouse aspect is great fun. I liked the growing sense of dread and unease, and the crazily building tension.
Just open your mind to the idea that you’re in a psychological thriller that doesn’t play by the usual rules. Once you get over the shock, it’s actually pretty refreshing!
Ottessa Moshfegh’s collection of short stories, Homesick For Another World, presents a series of people who are each alienated and disconnected in their own ways. Each of them are desperate for some kind of connection with the world or with another person. The ways they go about forging these connections, however, are weird and damaging and dark.
Only one word comes to mind at first: Grim. Grim grim grim. After that comes bleak, I guess. But there’s also dark humor and a sense of compassion. The weird, unfulfilled, and misguided characters in these stories aren’t being mocked or gawked at. Instead, they’re simply presented with all their flaws and desires, with a concise style.
Moshfegh has a real talent for delving into the darkness and coming up with something human. These stories aren’t always easy to read, but they’re compelling in their strangeness and in their insight. Each one has an ending or an image or an idea that will sit with you for days.
I loved Moshfegh’s novel Eileen, and you can read my post about it here. What I said about that book applies to this collection, too: “This is a stark, bleak, sometimes ugly book, but it’s also compulsively readable and deeply affecting.”
The Halloran family has gathered in their crumbling ancestral mansion for a funeral. One morning Aunt Fanny has a vision wherein her long-dead father gives her the exact date of the end of the world. If the Hallorans stay in their family manse, they will be the sole survivors and inheritors of a bright clean world.
As you read, you wonder why these people deserve it.
Given the subject, it seems odd to say that The Sundial is one of Shirley Jackson’s funnier novels. It’s like You Can’t Take It With You with the apocalypse instead of the IRS. Also, this family is full of rather mean people who hate one another rather than a kooky assortment of loving individuals. Oh, and there’s also the probable murder and unsettling open ending. But really, it’s funny, in a character-based screwball comedy kind of way.
I had my pick of fantastically weird cover art for this one, and I chose my favorite because I think it reflects the core of the story: a dysfunctional family trapped together in an old house, bouncing off one another, and waiting for doomsday. Jackson always did oppressive atmosphere very well, and it’s approaching Hill House levels at the Halloran mansion. But, as I said, with some levity. There is a note of discord about this one, where it maybe doesn’t quite know what it wants to be–but somehow all the pieces make a delightfully odd whole.
The Sundial reflects a lot of Shirley Jackson’s interest in the occult, from divination to doomsday to symbols. And, as ever, her fascination with the intricacies of small-town life, from the villagers to the odd old family on the hill in their suffocating Gothic home.
Weird fiction fans, give this one a look!
Ben is on a business trip in the Poconos, and he decides to go for a quick hike behind the inn where he’s staying. That quick hike turns weird fast when Ben suddenly finds himself lost and alone, on a path he can’t stray from under penalty of death. In this bizarre world there are giants, twin moons, an old lady in a lonely cottage, monsters, and a foul-mouthed crab named Crab. Ben’s only goal is to stay alive and get home to his family.
It sounds trippy because it is. But just roll with it!
The set-up is that of a fairy tale quest: Ben has to stay on his path and overcome obstacles in order to get back to his own world and family. The tone and atmosphere are like a Twilight Zone episode (right down to the ending!), with its eerie weirdness and sense of danger.
It’s a fast-paced adventure with plenty of humor, but there’s also a poignancy to the quest. Ben is a wonderful Everyman character, and it’s very easy to identify with him. What parts of your life would you most like to have another chance at? And how would you go about facing down your deepest fears? And, most of all, how much would you be able to endure in order to stay on your path? I imagine this book is one you would probably read very differently at different stages of your life. Kind of like Gulliver’s Travels or Alice in Wonderland, or even The Odyssey.
The Hike is all about conquering your demons and following your path, whatever those might be. It’s fun, hilarious, and touching. And very, very weird.
Marie’s Reading: “His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae” by Graeme Macrae Burnet
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet is a deft blend of historical fiction, murder mystery, psychological fiction, and courtroom drama. The writing is also complex and elegant all the way through (this novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize).
Set in the Scottish Highlands in 1869, the story is about Roderick Macrae, a young man who has brutally murdered three of his neighbors. He does not deny his guilt in the slayings. But the question is: is Roderick sane? Or will he hang for his crime? And what drove him to murder in the first place?
Burnet tells the story with the conceit that he is piecing together a narrative from materials related to the case that he found in an archive. A nice framing device, but one that, for me, quickly was absorbed into the memoir which was supposedly written by Roderick.
Roderick’s story is gritty and bleak, given his time, place, and social status, and it’s clear from his personal narrative that there’s something off about him. Yet you’re sucked into his story completely, and into his poor community and desolate household. You know there’s something he’s not telling you, but at the same time you get a good picture of what his life and relationships (or lack thereof) were like.
Following Roderick’s account of the murders, there are accounts from the medical examiner, a criminologist, and then a courtroom transcript. All of these following accounts allow for the reader to fill in the gaps in Roderick’s narrative, and to provide a clearer and more three-dimensional picture of the other characters.
For my money, the best parts of the book were the memoir written by Roderick, and the excerpt about the case written by the criminologist. Both have the best atmosphere and voices in the book. They also allow for the best presentation of the historical time, place, and mood.
If you enjoy historical fiction and/or historical murder mysteries, give this one a try!
Happy New Year, all! I’m currently devouring several great titles which I hope to talk about soon here at the Readers Corner (the recent Man Booker nominee His Bloody Project is making me realize how much I miss good juicy murder mysteries!), but I’m not there yet.
So in the meantime, here at the start of a new reading year, let’s talk about 2017 Reading Challenges!
I’ve vowed to attempt to read 100 books again this year over on Goodreads (nearly made it in 2016, clocking in at 96!).
BookRiot is hosting their Read Harder Challenge for the third year running. The goal is to get you out of your reading comfort zone and to try new genres, authors, or themes.
For the waaaaaaay more ambitious than I am: 52 Weeks, 52 Books! Just like it says on the tin: read one book per week on a given theme. Said themes include a Harry Potter Re-Read, A Book with “Some” In the Title, and Feminist Sci-Fi Novel.
For readers who just wanna have fun: Modern Mrs. Darcy is pitching a 2017 Reading for Fun challenge. Click here to see the list.
Need more ideas? Tanya Patrice has you covered (alphabetically!) over at GirlXOXO.com. Click here to check out her master list of 2017 Reading Challenges!
Happy Reading! I’m not sure I’ll be joining a challenge given the Great Challenge Fail of 2015, but I might use a few of these lists for inspiration.
If nothing else, 2016 has at least been a good reading year. One of the best in recent memory, I’d say. I discovered new favorites (Helen Ellis) and rediscovered lots of old ones (Grady Hendrix, Donald Ray Pollock, and Shirley Jackson). Thanks to my book club I’ve read some outstanding nonfiction this year, too!
Here’s a link to my 2016 Reading Challenge over at Goodreads. In general I’m not a huge fan of reading challenges that are purely numbers-based, but I think it’s great to have a way to track my reading over the course of a year. Looking over my list from 2016, I see that I branched out a bit more into contemporary women writers. I’ve also dipped back into the historical fiction well, which used to be one of my favorites. I burned out on thrillers, but still love crime (thank you thank you for the new book this year, Tana French!).
I know we’ve still got more than a week to go before the year officially ends, but trust me when I tell you that it is highly unlikely that I’ll be able to finish anything before New Year’s. So below please find my list of favorite reads of 2016. Click the cover to go to the blog post for that book.
Happy holidays, folks!