Tag Archives: review

Cannonball #6

I am not ashamed to say that I am a Jodi Picoult fan. Apparently, I enjoy formula and even more than that I enjoy not taxing my brain too much. Heather Gudenkauf’s The Weight Of Silence promises a Picoult-like premise: Toni Clark’s young daughter Calli and her friend Petra go missing. Complicating matters further are Toni’s relationship with her abusive husband, and the history she shares with a local cop – as well as the fact that Calli is a selective mute. Calli has not spoken a word since an incident involving her parents years ago.

Gudenkauf attempts the multiple-narrators style, and in all honesty, it doesn’t work that well for her. She writes wonderfully for Toni. She then writes everyone else like Toni, and when ‘everyone else’ includes her teenage son Ben, her ex boyfriend (now deputy sheriff) Louis, and Calli herself, it has a jarring effect on the story. Possibly the only character who stands out from Toni is Martin, the father of Petra; however, they are shallow differences. That’s really the whole problem with ‘Silence’: it’s shallow. The characters are typical, without depth, and therefore you don’t really care about them or how things work out for them. After awhile, they blend into one, and the story takes on a ‘check the boxes’ feeling. Young girl with unexplained medical mystery? Check. Alcoholic father? Check. Mother with murky romantic past? Check. Red herrings thrown in to keep the mystery alive? You betcha.

By the time the story gains some momentum (and it takes awhile), I found I was reading merely to find out why Calli didn’t speak. It was a strong enough hook to keep me reading until the end, but unfortunately I was disappointed by the reasoning behind Calli’s muteness. There’s also a fairly unnecessary epilogue that undoes any of the goodwill Gudenkauf may have built over the course of her story. The resolution of the central mystery is also unsatisfying – you’ll work it out fairly quickly for yourself. Stick to the Picoult if this is your kind of thing.

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It’s been awhile, I have been reading, I swear. I just keep picking up books and stopping and restarting. I’m reading World War Z, and it’s great, but I haven’t had the best week so I went back to my happy place – chick lit. I know, I know. It’s the guiltiest of pleasures. I try to hide my Marian Keyes behind my other, better books (who am I kidding, better books?) but y’know, I guess I’m out and proud as a chick lit reader.

Yeah. Anyway, book #3 in the cannonball was pretty fantab.
After the disappointment of this, I found myself wanting something just a tad more cerebral. I’d had about all the ‘satire’ I could take. I don’t know if you could call Gillian Flynn’s ‘Dark Places’ cerebral, but it certainly kept my brain switched on for its 345 pages. This is roughly the 345th time I’ve sat down to write my review, but I intend it to be the last.

Gillian Flynn sets you up to expect the worst throughout her second novel, Dark Places. Considering the depths main character Libby Day sinks to (at least in her thoughts), it’s clear Flynn is an author not afraid to go there. At least, until the end, which is awesome and yet somehow…not.

Libby Day’s mother and two older sisters were brutally murdered when she was seven years old. Her brother, Ben, is in prison for the murders. But when an adult Libby hooks up with a group calling themselves the Kill Club, she finds herself mired in a murky world, where strangers hold court on her history. They do their best to convince Libby that what she remembers is not what happened at all – and Libby, despite herself, begins to doubt. Throughout Libby’s current story are flashbacks from the past, in the voices of her dead mother and imprisoned brother; it’s in these that the story of what went on at the Day farm becomes clearer.

Flynn weaves an interesting mystery – the story is all twisty, as you would expect for a book of this ilk, and even single character seems to have an agenda, including Libby herself. For her, it’s mainly money: how she can get it and live off it without having to work. While she understandably is deeply changed by the murders, some of her reactions reveal a black persona. It’s right there in the book’s opening line: “I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.” Libby desires money and nothing else, until she finds herself drawn into the Kill Club’s theories and goes on a chase for the truth. The story hits its stride here. Uncomfortable as it was, with hints of paedophilia and satanism, it’s never less than engrossing – take Libby’s meeting with female fans of Ben. It’s a perfectly-written segment, conveying some of the bug-eyed craziness of serial-killer fans; but it also manages to show there may be some method to their madness. Of course, they also tell Libby they ‘forgive you for your part in this fiasco’ while blaming Ben’s imprisonment on her – balancing out any sanity they try to present.

It’s an enjoyable tale for sure; particularly with brother Ben and mother Patty’s last-day stories mixed in – but at the same time the narrative begins to suffer a little, as Flynn starts to tie them up just a touch too neatly. It’s a small complaint for a really good read, and if you like books were everything is wrapped up neatly in a bow, then Dark Places will do it for you.

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So I just signed up for the fourth annual Cannonball read. The full one, natch – 52 books in a year doesn’t seem like that much.

Can you tell I’m completely new to this?

In honour of and in countdown to the start of CBR4, I thought I’d post some of my old reviews. Full disclosure, these books were sent to me this year by Penguin, to review for the young adult section of their website. They weren’t necessarily what I would choose to read, but some of them turned out to be pretty good. Onward!



Ruta Sepetys 

Publishing date: March 22, 2011
344 pgs


At the beginning of Ruta Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray, Lina is fifteen, living in Lithuania with her parents and younger brother. By its end, she is changed forever – having not only aged, but endured some of the worst treatment a human can bear. Lina and her family are arrested by the Soviet secret police (the NKVD) in 1941, as Joseph Stalin is extending his reach over Eastern Europe. Over a period of many years, the story follows her desperate attempt to survive a journey that takes her from her home, to exile in faraway Siberia.

I am not usually one for reading historical fiction as I find it a little bit hard to get stuck into. But this book is different. We see the entire story through the eyes of Lina, whose narrative voice is strong enough to pull you in and keep your full attention at all times. When she describes the fear, the confusion, of being placed in a tiny train carriage with 40 other scared people, you begin to feel crammed in too. As Lina’s journey progresses, more and more of her background – and the reason for her family’s arrest – become clearer. We discover everything with her. Every betrayal, every twist, is deftly described by Sepetys.

It’s not all horrible, though. The story could quickly become too dark to handle, if not for Sepetys’ knack for finding the bright spots in the dimmest times. A major source of this are the relationships between Lina and her family, and Lina and a boy named Andrius. There’s unexpected humour, and real joy when good things happen for these people. Even when some of the worst things occur, Lina’s strength and ability to hold onto hope fill the pages. Andrius tells her not to give the enemy ‘anything, not even your fear’, and she does an admirable job.

Between Shades of Gray is an inspiring (not a word I use lightly or liberally) story to read. It involves a period of history you may not have considered before, a story that needs to be told. Sepetys has crafted an almost unbearably sorrowful tale, yet manages to make tiny pieces of hope visible to both Lina and the reader.

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