Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

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Dark Places is Gillian Flynn’s third novel that has been a New York Time’s Bestseller, and it is just as delightfully dark and creepy as the others. If you couldn’t already tell, I’m a big Gillian Flynn fan. Something about her spine curling, twisted stories just draws me in and I can’t get enough; I swear I’m addicted. The novel is being adapted to film and will star Charlize Theron as the protagonist and narrator, Libby Day.

Genre: Mystery

Published: 2009

Rating: 4.5/5

Summary: Libby Day was only 7 years old when her two sisters and mother were murdered in the “Kinnakee Kansas Massacre.” Her oldest sister, Michelle, was strangled to death, while Patty Day and the middle sister Debby were chopped up urlwith an axe. Young Libby was able to escape through a window and hide in the forest, where she got frostbite and had to amputate a few fingers and toes. As the sole survivor of the massacre, she was forced to testify that her 15-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. It is 25 years later and Ben is still in prison, while a troubled Libby is barely staying financially afloat living off the remains of a trust fund created by the fans and well wishers who have long forgotten her in favor of newer tragedies. When Libby is offered a chance to make some money, she finds herself with the Kill Club-a club of amateur investigators who are obsessed with murder mysteries. She is introduced to a group of investigators who have an affinity for her mystery, and believe that Ben is innocent. Libby decides to visit Ben in prison for the first time since the massacre, and comes to realize that he isn’t guilty. With Libby now doubting her testimony 25 years before, she sets out to get some answers and clear Ben’s name with the help of the Kill Club. The novel alternates between the present day narration of Libby, and narration from her mother, Patty Day, and brother, Beimages-2n, on the day leading up to the massacre. Through these flashbacks we learn that the Days are struggling to keep the farm afloat, Ben is an outcast with a crazy girlfriend, and their father, Runner Day, was a violent alcoholic who only came around when he needed money. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but once again Gillian Flynn provides readers with the plot twists we know and love.

Thoughts: As always, Gillian Flynn doesn’t disappoint with Dark Places. Some points I didn’t love are the tediousness of the Patty and Ben day flashbacks, and the clutter that resulted from too many plots. There was Satanic worship, poverty, murder mysteries, pregnant psycho girlfriends, rumors of child molestation, alcoholic dead-beat dads, and a broken relationship with an aunt. What I loved: the mystery, Libby Day’s sardonic personality, the unraveling of each character’s true nature, and Flynn’s writing style.

Quotes:

“I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.”

“The truly frightening flaw in humanity is our capacity for cruelty – we all have it.”

“I should just listen to my gut and then do the opposite.”

“I’ve had the blues for twenty-four years.”

Recommendations: Gone Girl, Sharp Objects, Defending Jacob

The Hunger Games: Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

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May the odds be ever in your favor because we are about to cover an entire trilogy filled with action, a love triangle, and an imaginary dystopian world-yes, I volunteer as tribute to begin this discussion of The Hunger Games! I read all three of these books in three days, and could barely put each one down for eating and bathroom breaks. I decided to read them all again, accompanied by their film adaptation counterparts, in order to refresh my memory for this post and re-live my fantasy to be as badass as Katniss Everdeen.

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure

Published: 2008, 2009, 2010

Rating: Hunger Games 5/5, Catching Fire 5/5, Mockingjay 4.5/5

Summary: We begin in Panem, a dystopian, post-apocalyptic North America. Panem is composed of 12 districts and is run by the Capitol. The Hunger Games are an annual, fight-to-the-death, televised event where one boy and one girl from each district ages 12-18 are randomly selected to participate. They were created in response to the rebellion 74 years prior to where we begin,which resulted in the destruction of District 13.  The book is from the perspective of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in District 12.

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The Hunger Games: When we are introduced to Katniss as our narrator, we learn that she is a resident of the poor, coal-mining District 12. She acts as the caretaker for her mom and younger sister, Prim after the death of their father in a coal-mining accident. The story begins on the day of the reaping, where the new tributes for the 74th Hunger Games will be selected. When Katniss’s sister gets randomly selected as tribute, Katniss immediately volunteers herself in 4026846-20131004050534katniss_everdeenPrim’s place. She is accompanied by male tribute Peeta Mellark who is a former classmate of Katniss whose family owns a bakery. They begin the pre-Hunger Games activities, which include a parade, training, an interview, and ranking based on skills. Katniss meets her mentor, alcoholic previous-winner, Haymitch Abernathy, as well as her stylist, Cinna, and Capitol supervisor, the over-decorated and always peppy Effie Trinket. During Peeta’s interview, he reveals that he has forever been in love with Katniss, but plays it off to her as a strategy to make them likeable and therefore more likely to receive help from sponsors. Before entering the games, Cinna pins Katniss’s Mockinjay pin that her friend Madge gave to her on her jacket to make her feel protected and at ease. Half the tributes die on the first day of the games, but Katniss is able to use her survival skills and hunting expertise to stay alive.Peeta_Mellark-The_Hunger_Games Peeta appears to have created an alliance with the “career” tributes but in reality only aligned with them to keep Katniss safe since she has become a target due to her high rank. Katniss befriends Rue,  a young girl from District 11 who reminds her of her younger sister. When Rue is killed Katniss sings to her and surrounds her with flowers which is a symbol of her humanity and is respected and acknowledged by the audience. When her and Peeta are the last two tributes standing, neither one can kill the other. They are about to eat poisonous berries when the announcer yells and them to stop and announces them both as winners. When they get home, Haymitch talks to Katniss and tells her that their threat to kill themselves is being viewed as a sign of rebellion, and uprisings are beginning in the districts.

Catching FireAfter winning the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta are getting ready to begin their Victory Tour visiting the other districts. Before they leave, President Snow pays Katniss a visit and tells her that her stunt in the games has started a series of uprisings, and it is her job to suppress those uprisings and say they were a result of being crazy in love with Peeta, or else. Unfortunately, Katniss is not successful, and the uprisings and talk of rebellion continue to worsen. When she asks her best friend and semi-love Gale_watchinginterest, Gale,  to run away with her, he says no because he wants to be a part of any rebellion that may occur. President Snow cracks down on security and sends in violent and strict peacekeeprs to discipline the districts, and unfortunately, Gale is the first victim of a whipping which Katniss steps in front of in another sign of rebellion. It is time for the 75th Hunger Games, also known as a Quarter Quell where a twist is usually put on the games to make them more exciting. For this years games, the tributes will be selected from the pool of previous winners, guaranteeing that Katniss will go back into the games since she is the only female victor in District 12. Peeta volunteers and the two go through the same pre-game activities at the Capitol. In the interview portion, all the contestants show their disdain for the games, and Katniss wears a dress that burns and turns into a mockinjay, the rebellion symbol, when she twirls. As she is being lifted up into the games, Cinna is killed in front of Katniss. When she enters the arena she finds out that Haymitch had made alliances for her with Finnick Odair, Johanna Mason, Beetie and his wife, but Katniss does not fully trust any of them. They discover that the arena works like a clock, and different dangers happen every hour in different section of the arena. They make a plan to electrocute the other remaining tributes using a wire Beetie designed and the tieing it to the lightning tree. Johanna attacks Katniss but is really taking out her tracking device, and distracts the other tributes from finding Katniss. Katniss returns to the tree frantically to try and find Peeta and finds Beetie knocked unconscious and the coil laying by the tree with lightning about to strike. When she sees Finnick she is about to shoot him with her arrow before he says “remember who the real enemy is.” It is then that she shoots the arrow with the wire into the sky when the lightning strikes, and the forcefield begins to crumble down as a plane comes and lifts her out of the arena. She wakes up to find gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee and Haymitch who tell her that this was the plan all along and that this is the rebellion and she is the Mockinjay. When she freaks out, she is sedated and wakes up with Gale next to her who tells her that District 12 has been destroyed and they are in District 13.

MockingjayI don’t wanna give away too much about this book because it is the conclusion of the series, but essentially it is the propaganda associated with the uprising and Katniss as the Mockingjay. Those who escaped from District 12 along with the saved tributes are living in the underground District 13 run by President Coin. Peeta and Johanna have been captured by the Capitol, and are being tortured and used as tools for contradictory propaganda to the uprising.

Thoughts: If I haven’t already made it obvious, I LOVEEEEE the Hunger Games trilogy. I think the concept is unique, and was the start of a series of post-apocolyptic series that followed. It is easy to root for Katniss as the heroine, and I found myself inspired and supporting her as the Mockingjay. She is just very real, and experiences real conflicts of self. Although there is a slight love triangle present, it is not the sole focus of the story. There are so many other political and social focal points at play that paint a creative but honest depiction of war.

Quotes: 

“Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor.”

“District 12: Where you can starve to death in safety.”

“I always channel my emotions into my work. That way, I don’t hurt anyone but myself.”

“Fire is catching! And if we burn, you burn with us!”

“It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.”

Recommendations: Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

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Genre: Mystery

Rating: 4/5

Summary: Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she is fearlessly opinionated and neurotic; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace to the community; to young designers, she’s a revolutionary architect; and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and a mother. Then one day, Bernadette disappears with no explanation. It began when Bee aced her report card and requested that her reward be a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying distaste for Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, and secret correspondences to solve the mystery of where her mother could be.

Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed the structure of the book, with alternating first person perspectives from Bernadette Fox, her husband, and her daughter Bee, along with interspersed emails and official documents that Bee has compiled in order to find her missing mother. Semple put a more humorous spin on the classic mystery novel, and created a character who was quirky, neurotic and enjoyable. However, I did go into the novel expecting a big climatic moment or a jaw-dropping plot twist which never came. It was mild for a mystery yet surprisingly funny- not what I expected at all. You really have to pay attention to the various email correspondences and constantly changing perspectives in order to keep up.

Quotes:

“This is why you must love life: one day you’re offering up your social security number to the Russian Mafia; two weeks later you’re using the word calve as a verb.”

“Maybe that’s what religion is, hurling yourself off a cliff and trusting that something bigger will take care of you and carry you to the right place.”

“Can you believe the weather?’…’Actually, I CAN believe the weather. What I can’t believe is that I’m actually having a conversation about the weather.”

“Just because it’s complicated, just because you think you can’t ever know everything about another person, it doesn’t mean you can’t try.”

Recommendations: Gone Girl, Beautiful Ruins, The Vacationers

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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Another Gillian Flynn novel! Sharp Objects was her debut novel, and let me tell you she does not hold back on the dark twists and thrills. This may be her most chilling book yet!

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Published: 2006

Rating: 4.5/5

Summary: Camille Preaker is a journalist for the Daily Post in Chicago, and is forced to return to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri after 8 years away for a story. Two girls have been kidnapped and found strangled, but the police don’t even know where to begin. Suspiciously, both girls were found with their teeth pulled out, but were freshly manicured from head to toe. While in Wind Gap, Camille returns home to her estranged mother and her 13-year-old half-sister, Amma, who has a creepily strong hold on the town. Camille does not have the best relationship with her mother because she always showed favoritism to her younger sister Marian, who died from an unknown illness when she was young. Amma was born after Marian’s death, and is a spoiled pre-teen who behaves like a young child when she is around her mother and hides her involvement with sex, drugs and alcohol. We later find out Camille is a cutter-she cuts words into her skin that she visualizes in her mind. Some words boring and mundane like “book” while others descriptive and dark such as “vanish.” Camille is forced to reopen old wounds and memories from her past in order to solve the mystery at present.

Thoughts: This was one of the most messed up books I have read. Even the protagonist, Camille, is psychologically unstable and cuts words into her skin. The 13-year-old Amma was dynamic and frighteningly manipulative, and it was shocking to read about all of her illicit behaviors at such a young age. This book made me feel sick to my stomach in so many ways, and had so many inappropriate events. Yet, I couldn’t stop reading it. It was so dark and twisted that it forced you to keep turning the page and reading, like all good mysteries do. If you have a weak stomach, do NOT read this book.

Quotes:

“The face you give the world tells the world how to treat you.”

“Sometimes if you let people do things to you, you’re really doing it to them.”

“A child weaned on poison considers harm a comfort.”

“It’s impossible to compete with the dead. I wished I could stop trying.”

Recommendations: Dark Places, Gone Girl 

Looking For Alaska by John Green

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I present to you another John Green novel and another favorite of mine. Looking for Alaska is an earlier work of Green’s, but is just as well written as the others, if not one of his best works. Although it is a young adult novel, the content is a bit darker and thought provoking than one would expect for a YA read. This book sits near the top of my list of favorites, and I highly recommend it. If you don’t come out of this novel with questions about life and more insightful thoughts, then go back and read it again until you do.

Genre: Young Adult

Published: 2005

Rating: 5/5

Summary: The book is narrated in first person by Miles Halter, who is tired of his predictable and friendless life, so he decides to attend Culver Creek boarding school in Alabama for his junior year of high school. He tells his parents that he’s going to seek a Great Perhaps, that there’s something more for him. The book is split into two parts: Before and After. Miles meets the Colonel (real name Chip Martin), Takumi, and Alaska Young. The Colonel grew up in a trailer park, Alaska and her dad don’t get along, and Takumi is just kind of there. The three nickname Miles “Pudge” because he is so skinny, and take him under their wing. They introduce him to the social order of campus, mischief-making, smoking cigarettes, and drinking. They have to avoid the Eagle—the dean of the school—when they’re causing trouble so they don’t get punished. Miles begins to fall in love with the mysterious, fascinating and beautiful Alaska, but she has a boyfriend and she is way out of his league. I won’t give away the “After” portion of the novel for those who want to read the book without the spoiler alert.

Thoughts: Alaska Young is my favorite fictional novel character I have ever read about. The thing about John Green’s characters is they all have an immense amount of emotional and intellectual substance at such a young age. All of his characters’ dialogues make you think about and question things you never would have thought to question before.

Quotes:

“She loved mysteries so much, that she became one.”

“I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.”

“It always shocked me when I realized that I wasn’t the only person in the world who thought and felt such strange and awful things.”

“Francois Rabelais. He was a poet. And his last words were “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” That’s why I’m going. So I don’t have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.”

“If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can’t know better until knowing better is useless.”

Recommendations: Paper Towns, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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Here is another very popular book that has recently been adapted to film. John Green is well-known for several of his young adult novels, some of which I have read. This is another amazing book to movie adaptation, and while I do recommend reading the book prior to the film, I do feel the film brings the story to life in the emotional, inspiring, and tragic way that the book deserves.

Genre: Young Adult/ Romantic Drama

Published: 2012

Rating: 5/5

Summary: The story is narrated by 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster, who has advanced thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. Hazel begrudgingly attends a support group at her mother’s request. It is at one of these meeting where Hazel meets the 17-year-old Augustus Waters, who is there to support his friend Isaac. Augustus is in remission from osteosarcoma that caused him to lose one of his legs. The two become quick friends and decide to read each other’s favorite books, Hazel’s favorite book being An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten. Augustus gets ahold of Van Houten’s assistant and uses his wish from the “genies” to allow Hazel along with her mother and himself, to travel to Amsterdam to meet Peter Van Houten. Although Hazel is falling for Augustus, she pushes him away because she views herself as a “grenade” and wants to protect him in the likely case of her future death from her advanced stage cancer, but that does not hinder Augustus’ persistence, and the two eventually give into the reality that they are in love.

Thoughts: I am not a very emotional person, but this book made me cry–correction– bawl, in my room, by myself, shamelessly. I love the characters that John Green creates in his novels. They are always so confident in their beliefs, and have such unique outlooks on life. Having Hazel as a first person narrator made the book that much more enjoyable for me because I appreciated her no bars hold, realist perspective. It is easy to forget that Hazel and Augustus are only teenagers because their thoughts and opinions are so much more intelligent and accurate than those of most adults. I fell in love with these two both individually and as a couple, and believed in their chemistry and their romantic relationship from the moment they met. This book made me believe that young love can be real, even more real than the love people find when they are older. I would read this book a million times over if I could, and I probably will come back to it in the near future. Because it is a Young Adult novel, it is a quick and easy read, but I recommend it for all audiences, especially if you enjoy a good cry.

Quotes: 

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

“Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”

“Maybe ‘okay’ will be our ‘always.”

“There is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.”

Recommendations: Looking for Alaska, If I Stay, Paper Towns

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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I felt this was a good book to start with due to the recent hype that has been surrounding it since the recent release of the film adaptation. I highly recommend that you read the book before seeing the movie if you haven’t already. There are many additional pieces of information and insights that Gillian Flynn provides in the novel that will be helpful in understanding the film. However, if you have already seen the movie and loved it, I still recommend reading the book. It was one of the best and most accurate book to movie adaptations I have seen, and the book will only help you fill in missing pieces and make you love Gone Girl even more.

#1 New York Times Bestseller

Rating: 5/5

Genre: Thriller

Summary: The book follows the strained marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne. It is narrated in first person, and alternates between the past journal entries of Amy and the present day narration of Nick. On their 5th wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing and all signs point to Nick as the philandering sociopath who is responsible. In the second half of the book, we learn that neither Amy nor Nick are reliable narrators, and everything starts to come together.

Thoughts: This book is my favorite book to date. For those who haven’t read the book, I will do my best to avoid giving away major spoilers.  I personally am a big fan of plot twists and dark novels, and this story had plenty of both. I loved the literary style in the first half that alternated between Amy’s diary entries and Nick’s first person perspective during the time of Amy’s disappearance. Flynn’s dark and raw insight into the manipulative and dishonest nature of marriage was thought provoking yet somewhat disturbing. Every character exhibits a darkness deep inside that is revealed at some point in the novel. The only ray of hope in humanity is Nick’s sister, Margo.  I was so impressed by how effectively Flynn was able to fool me time and time again no matter how much I mentally prepared for her impending twists  and turns. This is the one book that I recommend to anyone who asks for my suggestions, but it is not for those who do not fare well with unsettling material.

Quotes:

“A lot of people lacked that gift: knowing when to fuck off.”

“So let everyone take sides. Team Nick, Team Amy. Turn it into even more of a game: Sell some fucking T-shirts.”

“It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters. And if all of us are play-acting, there can be no such thing as a soul mate, because we don’t have genuine souls.”

“There’s a difference between really loving someone and loving the idea of her.”

Other Recommendations: Dark Places, Sharp Objects, Where Are You Bernadette?