Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

BeastsLong time, no post!

After many, many, many technical difficulties, I am back up and running for the time being. I got so frustrated with my hosting and domain issues that I actually created another site (just a regular wordpress.com site), but I couldn’t access the back up of my current site and I didn’t want to start over from scratch. Decisions, decisions.

Regardless of my website woes, I do have a book recommendation for you.

Although I hesitate to use the word quirky, the story of Weylyn Grey is just that. Filled with quirk, charm, and a healthy dose of magical realism, Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance* is a perfectly strange, heartwarming debut novel by Ruth Emmie Lang. Orphaned, raised by wolves, and possessing the unusual habit of influencing the weather – when he least expects it – Weylyn is not your average man. The novel is told through the eyes of those that meet him, whether they love him or think he’s odd. The novel is a warm, weird story that simply made me happy, and I’ll be recommending it to those need of something just a little different.

(If you can resist “raised by wolves” in the description of a novel, you’re a stronger than I’ll ever be.)

*With thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Gather the Daughters // Jennie Melamed

GatherWhoa.

Please tell me at least one of you thought of Joey Lawrence.

If a book can be said to be both dreadful and wonderful at the same time, then Gather the Daughters is one such book. Set in a unknown period after a fire destroys civilization, an island community is formed by ten men desiring a deeply patriarchical society. These men, now known as the ancestors, made a list of things a person shalt not do and those are the rules that govern their small society. Now the men farm, or carve, or labor outside the home, while the women keep house. Females submit to their father until they are married, and then they submit to their husbands. When their child has a child, they take their final draught. The shalt-nots are never questioned, and if women were to question them, well, bleeding out is very common in childbirth.

Janey, Amanda, Caitlin, and Vanessa are four girls living in this rustic island community. Desperate to avoid coming of age, but yearning to get away from their fathers, each girl feels trapped and helpless. They begin to question the rules that govern their lives, and that is a very, very dangerous thing to do. When one of the girls is murdered for her desire for something better for her own daughter, the girls begin a resistance.

Eerie, bleak, and full of dread, Jennie Melamed’s debut novel is excellent. Her beautiful prose balances the grim existence of the characters, and the multiple narrators works to flesh out life on the island. For those who enjoy dystopian fiction, this will be my go-to recommendation of the summer.

(Also, that cover.)

*I received a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.

The White Road // Sarah Lotz

The White RoadHow has it been so long since I’ve hit publish?

Simon, once a troubled youth turn adventure seeker, is now a barista trying to get a spooky website off the ground. The cofounder, Thierry, sends Simon spelunking in search of three bodies left behind in a cave, Cwm Pot. Guided by the unbalanced Ed, they find the bodies, just as a flash flood traps him with the bones. The intense cold and darkness, along with Ed’s corpse, terrorize Simon, but he makes it out alive with his film footage intact. The footage goes viral, against Simon’s wishes, leaving Thierry wondering how to top it. He decides on a literal approach, and sends Simon to climb Mt. Everest to film the climbers who perished in the attempt. Once there, Simon realizes he didn’t escape the cave alone, nor is he the only one haunted.

“I met the man who would save my life twice—and ultimately destroy it—on a potholed road in the arse-end of the Welsh countryside.”

With an opening line that foreboding, I was hooked. Sarah Lotz’s latest novel, The White Road, tells the tale of a doomed Simon, his ill-fated exploits, and the true weight of guilt. Lotz’s prose, though standard, is visceral and compulsory, and she absolutely nails the claustrophobic atmosphere. Both the beginning and end of the novel are excellent, and though it lags in the middle, it’s worth the journey to complete the whole thing. If you’re looking for an easy page turner* with an ending that will haunt you, give The White Road a try.

*You really do have to overlook how heinously underqualified Simon is to be climbing Everest.
**I received a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion, thank you Mulholland!

The Roanoke Girl by Amy Engel

RoanokeUpon finishing this book, I took a long moment to wonder what the hell I’d just read. This book makes Flowers in the Attic look conventional.

The Roanoke Girls* tells the tale of then and now, with family history woven in. Cousins Lane and Allegra, through death and dysfunction, come to live with their grandparents on a sprawling estate in rural Kansas. The novel early chapters contain this brilliant gem.

“Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die”.

It’s so simple, yet it hints at the dark and twisted family saga to come. Lane, now an adult, receives a mysterious call from her grandfather, begging her to come home. Allegra has disappeared. Reluctantly, despite the fact she swore she never would, Lane returns home to a nearly unchanged town. After her abrupt departure ten years earlier, Lane finds that she falls right back into the same relationships that were always so toxic (and wonderful). As the days pass and there is still no sign of Allegra, Lane loses hope and begins retracing Allegra’s final days. What happened to her? And why?

The Roanoke Girls is, quite simply, a page turner. I flew through it in a day. It’s absorbing, disturbing, and filled with dread. I was trying to describe this novel to a friend, and I fell woefully short, but the plot truly does defy easy description. Or if you’re capable of describing it, people might wonder what there is to like. The secrets we keep are often what bind us together, and more often, tears us apart, especially within a family. Sordid family secrets and a twisted family tree keep Engel’s novel riveting, for better or worse.

For those of you who secretly enjoyed Flowers in the Attic, The Roanoke Girls is your modern update.

*I received a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

RiverWinifred Allen needs a vacation.

She, along with three of her friends, decide that vacation is going to be rafting down a virtually uncharted section of the Allagash River, led by an “experienced” 20 year old named Rory. What could possibly go wrong?

If your go-to answer isn’t “Everything!”, than this isn’t the book for you – because the answer, my dear readers, is always everything.

The River at Night begins innocently enough, despite Wini’s doubts about the trip. She’s a thirty something graphic designer; stifled by a job she’s not passionate about, still mourning the recent loss of her brother. Pia, the leader of the group, is the go, see, do type of vacationer, while the others want a warm beach and tequila. In the end, Pia wins, and they go rafting.

If the four inexperienced friends venturing out to an isolated part of a river to raft through the wilderness sounds familiar, that’s because it is. James Dickey’s ode to masculinity Deliverance* followed much the same premise, with the same disastrous results**. Despite the similarities, I appreciated The River at Night on its own adventurous merits. I’m in what I’ll refer to as a get back to nature phase; because I cannot get enough of novels that, well, get back to nature. And this book delivers just that. Heart pounding rapids, murderous hillbillies, and pervasive, wild isolation attack the women and their guide as the make their way down the river. Ferencik prose absolutely oozes dread, so there’s no surprise when things go wrong.

Down a short dirt drive, a log cabin butted up into a hillside, a satellite dish stuck to its flank like a wart. A wooden sign that read sundries/guns/tackle/bait hung askew over the door. A smaller sign underneath – an afterthought – read Carhartt Quality Boots. A yellow light burned behind glaucous windows. Heavy pine branches clawed at the car as Pia crawled along the shoulder. I was struck by the sameness of the view in all directions, the sheer density of growth, and how easy it would be to lose our way just steps from where we sat. I felt watched, though I couldn’t remember feeling farther from civilization.

It’s how, why, and what they do in response that keeps you reading. Survival against all odds will always be a fascinating story. Despite the premise, I still find myself want to raft through the Allagash wilderness, so I’ll call Ferencik’s debut a success.

Though it’s a shame there isn’t a banjo.

*Deliverance is one of my favorite novels.
**Incidentally, the book touches on Dickey, Maine, which is a real place. A rather charming coincidence.

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

Hearts of menI am, barring any unseen literary missteps, now a lifelong fan of Nickolas Butler. Beginning with the superb Shotgun Lovesongs, following that with Beneath the Bonfire, and now releasing The Hearts of Men, I am absolutely on board with anything he writes. Cereal boxes, Ikea manuals, it doesn’t matter. Beginning at a Wisconsin summer camp in 1962 and spanning six decades, Butler’s newest novel is his best yet.

Nelson, bullied overachiever, is the camp’s bugler. Jonathan is a popular boy at camp. The two form an unlikely and uncertain friendship.

As the years pass, Nelson, a Vietnam veteran, becomes scoutmaster of beloved Camp Chippewa, while Jonathan becomes a successful businessman. They remain connected as both Jonathan’s son and grandson find their way to the camp.

This is not a happy book, and at times it is deeply unsettling, but it is timely. Filled with bravery, morality, and redemption, it shows what the most ordinary of boys and men are capable of. As it examines both Nelson and Jonathan at turning points in their lives, we learn about the ways they are shaped from their childhood, the men they become, and how complicated even the simplest person can be. It will undoubtedly be one of my favorite books this year.

At what point are you willing to read anything an author writes? One good book? Two? Three seems to be my number.

The Guineveres by Sarah Domet

GuinSarah Domet’s debut novel takes its name from the four protagonists, all named Guinevere and all abandoned at the Sisters of the Supreme Adoration convent.

Vere, Win, Ginny, and Gwen are desperate to escape their circumstances and hatch a plan to do so during a parade in a float. When that fails, the girls are sentenced to work in the convent’s sick ward, where they hatch yet another plan, this one involving comatose soldiers. They are nothing if not determined.

Each Guinevere has her own voice, though we hear most from Vere. Woven into the girls’ tales are the stories of the lives of various female saints. The nuns generally remain in the background, but are well drawn and not stereotypically Catholic, which I greatly appreciated. The nuns, though strict, genuinely care for the girls.

Rather than a novel about faith, Domet’s debut is instead a wonderful coming-of-age tale. It’s a subtle, complex novel depicting the inner lives of teenage girls, and their search for home and family—a winning combination with lovely writing. Don’t miss it (like I did)!