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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What I'm reading (#38)

When a friend gave me a copy of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel Let the Right One In, and told me to read it even though it's a vampire novel, I was a little dubious despite my sense that this friend is a real connoisseur of excellent books.

I had no idea how wrong I was -- or spot-on his recommendation would be.

I've got nothing in particular against vampires, mind you, but I hate triteness.  And even the most diehard bloodsucker aficionado has to admit that the vampire trope has been a little overdone lately.  (As have zombies.)  But there's always room for a truly fresh take -- something I found out when I had my arm twisted to watch the zombie movie Warm Bodies last year and absolutely loved it.  So I told my pal that I'd be happy to give Lindqvist's novel a try.

I read it in four days flat.  It's riveting.  The story centers on Oskar, a misfit twelve-year-old in Sweden who is the subject of brutal and humiliating bullying by his stronger and more confident classmates.  Oskar, however, is about to have his life turned upside down by two things -- there is a horrifying murder near his town, and the police have no leads on the killer; and one night soon after, he meets Eli, a thin girl with a narrow, waif-like face, shoulder-length dark hair, wearing a thin pink sweater despite the evening chill.

Eli and Oskar strike up a peculiar friendship.  But they are on a collision course with several other figures -- the pathetic, simpering HÃ¥kan; the drunkard foursome of Jocke, Lacke, Larry, and Morgan; dark, unhappy, drug-addicted Tommy; and the trio of bullies, Jonny, Jimmy, and Micke.

And after all is said and done, none of them will ever be the same again.

Let the Right One In is not only a twisted coming-of-age story, it's an absolutely gripping novel.  Lindqvist draws you right in to the cold, long nights of a Swedish winter, and has a deft way of making you feel sorry for even the most despicable characters (while simultaneously wanting to check beneath the bed to make sure none of them snuck in while you weren't looking).  It's not a happy tale; if you like neat, tied-up, they-all-lived-happily-ever-after endings, this story is probably not for you.  But if you like brilliant characterization and a plot you won't soon forget, give Let the Right One In a try.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What I'm reading (#37)

A couple of years ago I read Ava Norwood's first book, If I Make My Bed in Hell -- a gripping tale of a woman caught in a self-feeding cycle of religious indoctrination and abuse who finally decides she's had enough.  It's a gritty, dark, completely engrossing read, so when I heard that Norwood was working on her second book, I couldn't wait to read it.

That book, Poured Out Like Water, was released last week, and it far exceeded my already high expectations of Norwood's ability at story-craft.  It's the tale of Shannon Grady, scion of The Big Family In Town -- the child who never could compete with her brother and sister, and who never quite measured up to the high standards of her wealthy family.

But the brash, influential Gradys have some skeletons in their own closet, and Shannon eventually sets aside her desire to be an accepted part of the family, choosing instead to create her own family circle, centered around her dear friend Evie.  And for a while, it seems to be working.

But the ghosts of the past are not so easily laid in their graves, and the members of the Grady family remain on a collision course with tragedy.  Some sins can never be atoned for -- and it's often the most vulnerable who end up paying the price.

Poured Out Like Water is a tour de force, drawing you along into the depths of family secrets, jealousy, anger, grief, and desire for revenge.  You won't be able to put it down.  And I can guarantee that once you turn the last page, you will be thinking about the story for a long, long time.