The first few pages of Extinctions reminded me of A Man Called Ove — a cantankerous old man, Frederick Lothian, former concrete engineer, living in a retirement “village,” too grumpy to tolerate his neighbors, shunning his daughter and son. His complaints about the life in the village are amusing and I thought the story would continue in the same vein as Ove, but the similarities ended quickly and the book took on a more serious tone.
A widowed neighbor in the village, Jan, insinuates herself into Frederick’s life. Her life story that she reveals to Frederick is full of regrets and failings, which causes him to reconsider his own choices and behavior. He finds himself reluctantly revealing his past to Jan, and over the course of a couple of days, reinvents himself and changes his path.
This book won the Miles Franklin award in 2017, and there are discussions about the recent history of Australian Aborigines (of which my knowledge is sadly lacking). The book is interspersed with photos of architecture and engineering marvels that I found enhanced the story.
It’s the story of Frederick Lothian, but also of the life of his late wife, Martha, who had a vibrant life that he never knew about, and his daughter Caroline and son Callum, who faced battles he never understood or acknowledged. Extinctions revolves around the struggle to be a good parent, when to cling and when to let go, and the unwitting impact that the personal struggles of parents have on their children. The theme of extinctions —the metaphorical deaths of career, adoption, and marriage —runs throughout.
An insightful book with strong character development.
I vacillated between a 3 and 4 star rating for this one, but it is worth reading.
Many thanks to Edelweiss and Tin House Books (W W Norton) for this advance copy.
Four orphans living in a trailer in Oklahoma are just trying to scrape by after a tornado destroyed their home and family. Tucker, the only brother, runs off, and Darlene, the eldest, takes on the responsibility of caring for her two younger sisters, forgoing her dream of going to college. They manage to eke out a living until one day when Tucker returns. He’s been on a rampage with an extreme animal rights group, and now he wants to take his activism to the next level. He kidnaps his youngest sister, Cora, and goes on a spree to save animals and avenge their mistreatment. Darlene is left behind with her sister Jane, torn in different directions to keep her family afloat and rescue Cora.
The Wildlands addresses some relevant issues: the media’s responsibility in reporting tragedy, filial duty, and responsible vs extreme activism. This story kept me on my toes, wondering what Tucker would do next and how 9-year-old Cora would cope with her predicament of remaining devoted to her brother while his actions and behavior become increasingly dangerous.
Many thanks to Edelweiss and Counterpoint Press for the advance copy in exchange for my review.
Michael Andrew Hurley is a gifted writer who can create an atmosphere that is unsettling and eerie. In Devil’s Day, John and Kat are returning to John’s childhood home, a Lancashire farm, deep in the moor in the Endlands. John’s grandfather, known as The Gaffer, has died, and John returns to attend the funeral and also help with the gathering of the sheep. A celebration before The Gathering is soon approaching, known as Devil’s Day, where the family prepares a feast and engages in festivities, song, and rhyme to banish the devil from the moor. The devil, however, has already settled in the Endlands, and John’s family is infested with evil.
There is something sinister on the farm. Hurley presents the reader with an isolated set of characters with an overzealous sense of family loyalty and deep roots in superstition and folklore. Kat, the outsider, is the most sensitive to this sense of foreboding, and only wants to get through the gathering and leave for home as soon as possible. John, on the other hand, has a compulsion to return permanently to the farm that only grows stronger each day.
I loved the writing, the foreshadowing, and the fearful apprehension that pervades the story; however, with that much anticipation I expected a powerful, revelatory ending and was left feeling unsatisfied. Hurley could have done so many things with the surprises he leads the reader to expect, and the story didn’t deliver. I was left with more questions than answers. Still, Devil’s Day is worth the read. Also be sure to check out Hurley’s book, The Loney, if you love a dark, mysterious tale.
Many thanks to Edelweiss and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for this advance copy.
Many thanks to Cassava Republic Press and Edeweiss for the copy in exchange for my review.
I stumbled on this book by accident. It was on a table at our local library sale, and the title caught my eye, so I picked it up. That cover! Astonishing! I had no idea what I was in for.
Whenever I describe the topic of this book to others, I am immediately treated with responses of rebuke or disgust. “I’m not reading that! That’s awful!” But I encourage you to look beyond the ghastliness of the subject matter. I don’t want you to miss out on the experience of the beauty of this book. I am completely ambivalent. I almost wish I had not read it so that I could have remained unaware of this brutality, and yet, I feel like everyone should read it.
Giraffe is a fictionalized, almost journalistic, account of an incident in the 1970s in Czechoslovakia. The largest herd of giraffes ever held in captivity was intentionally slaughtered, though the political reasons are dubious and inconclusive. The author presents the story through the eyes of the different unwilling participants in this drama: a scientist, a female factory worker drawn to the beauty of the giraffes, even the leader of the giraffes, called Snehuka, “Snow White,” for the whiteness of her unspotted belly.
This book is beautiful and horrifying, honest and without sentimentality. The writing is superb. If you can brave the subject matter, you will feel honored for having borne witness to the story.
I love a good ghost story!
1950: at Idlewild Hall, a boarding school for delinquent girls, 4 roommates develop a bond over their shared circumstances. Lurking in the background is the simmering fear of Mary Hand, the ghost that roams the grounds. Mary Hand summons your deepest fears and calls to you to let her in from the cold. If you don’t resist her, you die.
2014 : Journalist Fiona Sheridan is investigating the refurbishment of Idlewild Hall. Why would an eccentric wealthy stranger want to restore this dilapidated building to its former glory? Buried secrets come to light during the renovations that reveal the mysteries of what happened to those four friends back in 1950, and also the real story of what happened to Fiona’s sister, Deb, who was murdered twenty years ago and left on the grounds at Idlewild.
The story moves back and forth in time from 1950 to 2014, the constant presence of the ghost Mary Hand tormenting those who visit Idlewild. The supernatural elements of this story were spooky enough to keep me turning the pages, and the earthly, present-day evils only enhanced the tension. The denouement was a bit far-fetched, but I still enjoyed way everything came together.
There is a lot going on in this book. There is the simmering suspense of Mary Hand, and the author weaves in other plot elements of unsolved murders and disappearances to create a complicated story. I was enthralled from start to finish, and relished the creepy atmosphere of Idlewild Hall.
Many thanks to Netgalley and Berkley Publishing Group for the advance copy.
The residents of post-WWI Bridgetonne, England, are unnerved by The Hawkman, the town’s most enigmatic indigent. This shabby, filthy recluse is harrassed by the local children and berated by the adults. He doesn’t speak, he bothers no one, and yet, the residents, especially Lord Thornton, want him out.
Miss Eva Williams, an American outsider, has taken a position at the local college under the employ of Lord Thornton. She is challenged by Thornton’s notion that the Hawkman should be gotten rid of in order to ensure the safety of the women of the college; however, her efforts are not what Lord Thornton intended. She shows compassion instead of contempt, and that causes quite an uproar in Bridgetonne.
This book is dreamy and mythical, bordering on magical realism. The backstories of both The Hawkman and Miss Williams are revealed gradually, interwoven with folklore and dark fairy tales to reinforce the motives of the characters.
I enjoyed this book because of its originality and departure from straightforward historical fiction. The atmosphere was believable and yet mysterious. At times the fairy tales arrived unexpectedly, leading to an abrupt change of narrative, and I didn’t understand the purpose or moral of most of them. Regardless, the writing was illusory and fantastical without sacrificing the sober reality of the effects of war.
Many thanks to Netgalley and Amberjack Publishing for an advance copy in exchange for my review.