Throwback Thursday – The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

I read this book in grade 10 English. At the time, I hated it. I wasn’t reading any science fiction at that age and I didn’t get the genre. But this should have been my first inkling of things to come. The book stuck with me. When it came time to write our grade twelve departmental exams, this was the book I remembered the most clearly. I wrote an essay on it. I no longer remember what that essay was about – or really what the book is about.
I know it was dystopian fiction before dystopian was the thing it is now. The characters are trying to hide mutations from a society that would reject him. Eventually some of them run away. This is where I was introduced to the literary device of deus ex machina (my computer keeps autocorrecting this to machine. If I meant machine, I wouldn’t have changed it back half a dozen times!). At the time, it seemed cool; now, I’m not so sure. It’s so often used a cop out ending. I remember little except for some machine coming from the sky to save them in the end and something about a toe or a foot or something.
I should probably give this thing a good re-read. Maybe compare it to some modern/older dystopian stories. Does anyone else remember reading this book? Do they still read it in schools? What do my teacher friends think about this book? Should it still be read or has new writing surpassed the lessons learned in The Chrysalids?

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In the Woods – Tana French (@tanafrench)

I found Tana French through another book reviewer I follow on Goodreads. While we don’t always have the same opinion on books, she’s always got an intriguing perspective. When she’s passionate about an author, it peaks my interest. I’m really glad I gave this recommendation a shot. French may be one of my new favourite crime writers. I read this book on a camping trip, and I’m glad I did because it is long. Like 600 pages long. If I’d been reading this during a regular work schedule, it would have taken much too long and caused many a sleepless nights.
This is definitely one of those books that will piss off a lot of people – it doesn’t answer all of the questions it starts with. It leaves some pretty giant holes at the end, but that’s just the way I like it. It was handled so well. We really should know from the very beginning that this isn’t going to be a neat and tidy story. We’re told right off the bat that Ryan is a liar by necessity. It’s part of his job. Detectives lie to suspects all the time. It’s how they get to the truth. But it’s more than that. He lies because it’s the only way he’s learned to survive. As the only survivor of a tragedy in his youth, lying became a survival technique. It’s now shaped every relationship in his life. Even with his parents, who know what happened to him and initiated his new identity, are part of his lies. He hates mac and cheese, but pretends it’s his favourite because it makes his mother feel better. It’s a little lie, but it’s supposed to be his one honest relationship.
His lies lead to one of the most interesting parts of the novel – the two simultaneous mysteries: the current death of Katy; and the twenty year old disappearance of Detective Ryan’s two best friends. If he hadn’t lied and changed his identity, he would never have been allowed to be the detective on this case. He is the only known witness to one of the area’s most prominent cold cases. His partner, Cassie, knows this, but when they take the case, they don’t realize what it will lead to. And even once they figure it out, they decide it’s worth the risk to find some answers.
From the beginning, there seems to be a clear connection between the two cases. What are the chances that two incidents involving pre-teens will happen in the same tiny community and not be connected? The story is positively lousy with questions: What the hell is up with Adam (now Rob) Ryan and his bloody shoes? What did Jamie and Peter hear in the woods? Where did they go? Why have they never found their bodies – especially if they’ve dug up most of the woods? Why was Katy killed? Why was she left on the alter stone? Was the old blood they found on the stone from the original case? And what the hell is wrong with everyone in Katy’s family?
Seriously, this family. There is nothing overtly ‘wrong’ with them. They seem like a pretty typical, mildly unhappy, family. They don’t have tons of money. The surviving twin seems to have some type of developmental delay. The wife is quiet. The husband throws all his passion into a project external to the family. The older daughter is desperate to grow up. Now, I knew something was weird with Rosalind right off the bat, but I thought it was maybe just that she was one of those girls that just tries too hard be a grown up. But then she called Detective Ryan and wouldn’t speak to Cassie. That’s when I knew there was something up with her, but I still thought she might just be trying to get the attention of a cute man. There was something up with her, but it could easily have been that she was nothing more than a pretentious twat.
There were lots of suspects. A couple obvious red herrings – Andrews and Mark. Their motives just didn’t seem legitimate. It could have worked out to be either of them with right content twists, but it just didn’t feel right. It felt closer to home than that. I was somewhere in the 400 pages when I turned to my camping buddy and said ‘I have no idea who did it!’ That’s the sign of a good mystery. I had my suspicions but I kept getting side tracked trying to figure out how the two stories connected.
Turns out, I was following exactly the red herring I was supposed to. The two crimes aren’t connected at all! But French creates just enough overlap to make us think there will be. Ryan remembers Devlin (the father of the dead girl) from their childhood. He was a few years older, one of the neighborhood hooligans. He and his friends were always getting into trouble. Eventually, Ryan remembers seeing Devlin participating in the rape of one of the local girls. As Ryan starts to remember his childhood, the reader can easily start to see the overlaps and start to find motives that would have lead from that event to this event. But nope. These are just distractions from the real villain – Rosalind. She’s not just a bitch. She’s a psychopath. Rosalind’s the oldest; she should get the most attention. At least that’s what she thinks. But then Katy starts to excel at dancing and suddenly she’s her father’s favourite. If Katy goes away for good, Rosalind’ll be back on the radar. She’s a manipulative bitch and she knows exactly the right moves to get men and children to do what she wants. She manipulates Katy into going to the dig site at night and she manipulated Damien into killing Katy. She gets Ryan to believe that she’s of age when she’s really only seventeen. She gets her sister to lie for her. And she’s got her mother totally hoodwinked.
One of the cleverest things French does in this novel is to introduce us to the killer in a very real way – he finds the body. And then she makes us dismiss him entirely. He becomes such a background character you kind of forget he exists. Even knowing he’s the murderer, I still had to go back and make sure I had his name right. He is the epitome of a patsy. Rosalind is the big bad in this novel. She twists everything. She’s the type of girl who makes people suspicious of accusations of abuse. She gives girls a bad name.
This is more than an action packed thriller. This novel is sad. I’ve come to realize that I’m drawn to stories with a touch of sadness. I’m not talking dying of cancer, women’s fiction type sad. I’m talking day to day events that break us in small, non-specific increments. Ryan and Cassie’s friendship is fundamental to the story. They make each other stronger. This is the type of friendship people long for. It’s easy and fluid and organic. They know the other’s secrets. They’re just sassy enough with one another to keep things fresh. The problem is that people assume there’s more to their relationship than just friendship. They assume they’re sleeping together. So, it will eventually go one of two ways. They’ll get together and become a happy, perfect couple, or they’ll sleep together and everything will fall apart. I’m so glad French went with the harder option. Their friendship falls apart. Is there anything worse than losing the person you rely on? Whether a romantic or platonic relationship, when it erodes because of misunderstanding and over reactions, it is heartbreaking. A moment of weakness and sadness destroys them. But it’s the catalyst that brings an end to the story. And it allows French an easy way to get Ryan off the murder squad. I don’t know if this was her intent from the beginning, but I loved Cassie and I’m glad the next book is from her perspective. I like her enough that I requested the second book before I’d even finished this one.
If I can make one complaint about this book, it’s not that the original mystery is never solved. That’s a complaint from a lot of people, but I actually like that we don’t get a resolution. He actually doesn’t remember what happened to his friends and he can’t let himself remember. It feels right that this is how it ends for him. My complaint is the length. It’s needlessly long. There aren’t any specific scenes that stick out as easily removable, but there were a lot of things happening. Scenes could have been tightened up, and we probably didn’t need to know that much about their dinners or Ryan’s roommate. A hundred pages shorter and it would have felt perfect. But all in all, it’s an excellent read. One of the best new crime fiction writers I’Ve encountered in a long time. I’ve already recommended it to several people.

Top Ten Tuesday – author owned books

Today’s TTT topic is a strange one for me. I don’t know why it strikes me as so odd, but it does. It’s what authors do you own the most books by. I guess this one isn’t strange, but it’s not necessarily reflective of my reading collection. The most prolific authors are not always the most literary. And a lot of the authors I really love are only have a couple books out. If I own a lot of one author’s books, it’s probably because they write a series. And let’s not forget my obsession with the library. I don’t always get around to buying books in the mostly timely fashion. And for a bunch of these authors, even though I own a lot of their books, I may not have read them in years.

Here we go:

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J.K. Rowling – Books Owned: 10

I include her Robert Glabraith books in this number. Even if they’re published under a pseudonym, she still wrote them. I think I have everything she’s written. I own the Harry Potter books in two both physical and audiobook version; so, this number would actually be higher if I was counting volumes not just titles.

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Kelley Armstrong – Books Owned: 14

And I have two more that I need. I’m missing the last two books in The Women of the Otherworld series. I own the series in paperback, and I’m neurotic about the books in the series matching, and I always had to wait for them to come out a year after the release date. This usually means I’m crazy behind in buying them because I forget to watch for the pb releases. I should really get on it and rectify this problem.

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V.C. Andrews – Books Owned: 19

I have this uncontrollable compulsion to own the first five Andrew’s series in their entirety. I don’t know what it is. It’s nostalgia. It’s my draw to stupid drama. I don’t own them all yet, but she’s taking up a large section of my bookcase.

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Patricia Cornwell – Books Owned: 12

These books were the start of my love of forensic crime drama. My mom used to read them and I started picking them up when I was looking to expand my reading horizons. I stopped reading these years ago, but I still have my original collection. I tried reading one of the newer ones a couple years ago, but it was missing the spark that used to suck me in.

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Jane Austen – Books Owned: 7

I own these because of school. That is the only reason. I would only choose to own Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, but breaking up the set feels a little like sacrilege so I keep them together.

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Dean Koontz – 13

Another one of the bunch that I owned a lot of from when I was a kid. I have no idea why I own all of these. I used to read Koontz, but I stopped when I was still in my teens. I hated his endings. They were all foreplay, no follow through. You’d read hundreds of pages to get to a two page, totally unsatisfying ending where everything is explained by fucking aliens or something. I should really donate these to the library, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.

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John Saul – 10

Remember my throwback from a couple weeks ago? John Saul falls into the nostalgia bucket.

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C.S. Lewis – 7

Technically, I guess this one counts. There are seven separately bound books. However, I kind of consider it one book.

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Gail Carriger – Books Owned: 6

The Parasol Protectorate series and the first of the YA spin off. Soulless is a delightful and unique read. The books make me laugh, but I will admit that the extreme style gets a little much after about the third book. I haven’t finished Heartless or Timeless yet, but I’ll get around to it one of these days.

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Chloe Neill – 6

The Chicagoland Vampire Series. I initially picked these up because I liked the punny titles. Some Girls Bite. Friday Night Bites. I loved the first book. And the second. But something went wrong. There are more books to the series than I own. I knew I was losing interest around the fifth book but I bought the sixth out of loyalty. How could such a fun series go so far astray? I still wasn’t convinced, so I didn’t buy the seventh. I borrowed it from the library. I didn’t like it enough to buy it and figured I’d see if the eighth book would bring me back into the fold. It did not. I didn’t even finish half of it. So, there are more of these books, but they won’t be joining my collection.

Throwback Thursday – Heathers

80s teen movies were amazing – there was an arc-load of awful, but there were a huge number of really successful movies. Yes, we all know John Hughes and his perfectly placed finger on the pulse of the 80s teen, but I’m talking about Heathers. Released in 1988, it follows Veronica as she tries to get in with the most popular girls in school – the Heathers. Think Mean Girls, just darker. Much darker. And better. I’m not knocking Mean Girls. It’s super enjoyable, but Heathers won my heart when I was young and in my I ❤ Christian Slater phase. I would watch everything he was in – even Kuffs.

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So, the movie evolves from bitchy friends into Veronica meeting bad boy J.D. – who clearly needs a metric ton of therapy – and the two of them deciding to get back at the mean girls by offing them. I do not mean this metaphorically. They literally kill the head Heather by feeding her a glass of draino. Then they off some football jocks. And they stage them all as suicides. Suddenly, suicide is the new cool thing and everyone is trying it. There’s even a song. Eventually, they have to take the next step – bombing the school. Sounds heavy, right? The underlying content absolutely is, but the movie itself is extremely funny.

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It’s full of great outfits, weird music, and a whole bunch of shit they’d never get into a movie with today’s standards. The whole thing would be too offensive. School shootings/attacks are too close to the surface–These are terrible, awful things. They should not happen. But by using humour in a serious way, the movie actually opens doors for conversation. Slater did this again with Pump Up The Volume. It was kind of his niche for a while.

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How this movie weighs up if you don’t have the nostalgia factor, I don’t know. But you should just go ahead and watch it. If for no other reason than to spark you love of croquet.