Hold Still by Nina LaCour

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in | Posted on 7:24 AM


Rating: 4 / 5 stars

One night, Ingrid went home, got in the bathtub, and slit her wrists, and her best friend Caitlin has no idea why. Reeling in the shock of Ingrid's suicide, Caitlin tries to hold together in a world that seems horribly unreal and nonsensical; her parents whisper and gaze with concern. The school year is restarting soon. Caitlin will have to go back.

And then she discovers Ingrid's journal hidden under her own bed.

Her friend didn't leave a suicide note; but she did leave a message. Caitlin struggles to decipher the reasons behind a life severed, in the process finding herself again.

This book takes on an awful event with clear vision and compassion, and while reading it was wrenching at times, there were moments of aching beauty as well. Quiet and understated prose forms a perfect complement to the oft-overwrought subject of teen anguish, and Caitlin's discoveries unfold like true revelations -- I was with her the whole way, and I felt like I knew these characters as intimately as childhood friends.

LaCour also deftly weaves this story of loss and healing around a central absence -- Ingrid herself, who we only meet through Caitlin's memories and her own journal. Lost and gone, she seems vibrantly alive in both Caitlin's words and her journal entries, which are delicately rendered in handwritten script and interleaved with illustrations. Ingrid is both compelling and endlessly elusive, and I longed to know her more as Caitlin mourned her loss -- this is a story about connections lost and made, misunderstandings and deep kinship and new, tentative trusts. Caitlin explores the gaps that prevent us from truly knowing even our closest loved ones, even as the novel shows the beauty of our impossible attempts to bridge those divides.

So please don't be put off by the 'depressing' subject matter; if you can handle the heartache, this novel will reward you fully, in a way that is far more satisfying and fulfilling than any simple answers.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , | Posted on 6:17 AM


Rating: 4 / 5 stars.

I don't generally venture into the crime/thriller genre; I usually avoid books of horror and murder because a) I am a total wimp and b) I'm not all that interested in the characters, anyway. So I've tended to equate these books with cheap teen slasher flicks: sensationalist violence-fests with cardboard characters falling to the axe one by one.

And then, a couple of summers ago, I picked up Sharp Objects.

And I was snared.

It was deeply disturbing and haunting but so compelling that I couldn't stop reading. The narrator's voice grabbed me, dragged me into her world, and I just had to keep reading, because I cared about her, and I needed to know, even if there was a monster under the bed, even if the truth was going to be awful and ugly...

So then Flynn came out with Dark Places, and I did it all over again.

I blame it entirely on her main characters. Ordinarily, I could easily avoid a story about the massacre of a family in a Kansas farmhouse one frigid January morning -- I don't want or need to know the bloody details. But I made the fatal mistake of opening the book and reading the first pages, and Libby Day took my hand and pulled me into the dark.

Obviously I want to avoid spoilers, so I'll just say that this book is beautifully structured and well-paced, with Libby's present-day investigations interspersed with flashes of the past, shifting to different characters' points of view almost hour by hour, leading up to that fateful morning. The impression is that of watching an awful Rube-Goldberg machine, all of these small moments interlocking and triggering further reactions, leading up to that horrible disaster.

For me, there was a terrible beauty in this motion, how misunderstandings and lies and simple stupid mistakes churned up this deep ugliness and violence in this seemingly-tranquil setting. Even knowing what was going to happen that morning, I found myself reading and chanting to myself, no, no, no, please...

Finally, I know this sounds odd, but there are also moments of stunning beauty in this book of horror and tragedy. And maybe that is what kept me reading, too. Because in Flynn's novels, nothing is ever simple, nothing black-and-white. That challenging complexity makes this a highly recommended read...though I don't think I'll try to re-read it anytime soon.

So please, Flynn, give me a bit of a breather before your next book. Odds are I'll be picking that one up, too.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , , | Posted on 6:52 AM


Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

I believe I wrote earlier about my deep and abiding love for Shiver. The same applies to Linger, only more so.

So first: if you have not read Shiver, please please please go read it now. And I envy you, because then you'll have Linger to look forward to.

Beware, then, for slight spoilers ahead!

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This book involves werewolves and True Love and teen agony, but do not be fooled! It is a deeply felt, poetic work, with characters that seem to just burn off the page and oh, I do believe I am embarrassing myself.

I do not want to overhype, and I realize that my Cup of Tea is not everyone's, but I defy you not to love soulful, awkward Sam and rational, slightly emotionally-blocked Grace. They are back and their lives are not the Happily Ever After Now That We Are Together.

For one, Sam is still getting used to his humanness, struggling to trust that he really is cured, feeling the possibilities of life with Grace ahead but terribly afraid of losing it all. And he is perhaps right to be afraid...

I do not want to give things away, but I particularly loved the other character action in this book -- I couldn't even call them 'secondary,' because they are so vivid and this really is an ensemble piece instead of a straight single-couple piece. We get more of Isabel, deeply damaged after losing her brother, and Isabel gets .... Cole. One of the new werewolves, he has a troubling habit of showing up naked on her doorstep.

Oh, Cole. You beautiful, infuriating screwup. Watching these two wounded people snipe and weave and argue with each other was one of the unexpected joys of this book. I look forward eagerly to further developments with these two, who are enough to justify a spinoff book of their own.

Obviously, I didn't want this book to end. I was deliberately rationing myself, savoring each page in a variety of settings: libraries, airports, etc. And then it ended (if there is a Theme to these books, it runs very much along the lines of Nothing Gold Can Stay, or Change, Change, and Change Again).

So... to paraphrase Oliver Twist: Please, Miss... I want some more. Next book, please?
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