Book Review: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

The Night Strangers by Chris BohjalianThe first I heard about this book was on someone’s blog, I believe. I saw the picture and thought “Ah yes, that book”, without taking in the writer or title details. While reading the review, I was getting more and more confused.

Why was there nothing about these twins that move into an apartment near Highgate Cemetery? I looked a bit closer: this was not Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (my review)! In my eyes, the covers are very similar (see further below).

Reading more carefully about the book, it seemed that The Night Strangers might be a book worthwhile reading. And so I did.

The Night Strangers: What it is about

A family moves to a small village in New Hampshire after the father, Chip Linton, an airline pilot, crashed his plane causing 39 people to die (and 9 to survive). As he will never be able to fly again, they want to make a new start and buy a big, old house, which he starts doing up.

His wife Emily is now the main provider for the family, who also include ten-year old twin daughters Hallie and Garnet. Chip gets obsessed with a small door in the basement that has been bolted down by 39 (!) bolts.

Meanwhile Emily and the girls are making friends with a group of women in the village that call themselves herbalists and all own greenhouses in which they grow exotic plants.

Both Emily and Hallie find them a little too overpowering and don’t quite trust them. Chip is losing his grip on reality when he starts seeing some of the people that died in the crash who are now demanding dangerous actions from him.

Is Emily right to worry about the lovely old ladies with their biscuits and other bakes? Is Chip losing it completely, or are there really ghosts in the house?

The Night Strangers: What I thought

I very much enjoyed this book! That basement door gave me the creeps, and that was right at the beginning of the book.

Add a small community with strange women forcing biscuits and other foods on the family and teaching the twins how to use the herbs they grow… All very oppressing and intriguing at the same time.

There was just one thing that I was initially very excited about but turned out to be half a red herring (see under “spoiler”). Otherwise, this was a great read, well-written, well-paced.

I liked it that the book was not overly supernatural. Most or all that happened could be explained away without referring to ghosts, magic, or witchcraft. Only near the end, the reader finds out whether “normal” explanations can account for all that happens. In that respect, it different a lot from the book’s cover-sake, Her Fearful Symmetry, in which a suspension of disbelief is asked from the reader very early on.

The book was written from the perspectives of several people. The family members were focused on most (but also some of the herbalists were featured), in third-person narratives, except for the father, whose thoughts and actions were given in a second person perspective, i.e., “you”. Although at first, I was unsure I’d like this, it turned out to be quite effective in creating a look into the disturbed mind of Chip.

Spoilers

Select/highlight the white space below in order to read the spoilers

The door in the basement turned out not to be scary in its own right, but more in what it represented. I had expected scary creatures to emerge from it at night and was really spooked about the door to start with. So it was a slight disappointment for me that it didn’t play a role later on in the book.

The ending really put the hairs in my neck stand up. “No!” I was thinking, “did it have to end this way?” That ending was maybe the most unsettling and spooky part of the whole book! Very well done, of course.

End of spoilers

The ending was … interesting and not quite as I had expected. After thinking about this, the ending was in fact more intriguing than the ending I was hoping for.

I found this a very good read and if you can handle a little spooky-ness in your books, this is one for you!

Rating: 4.5/5 (round to 5)

I got this book: for review from the publishers, Simon & Schuster UK (thank you!)

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 400

First published: 2011

Genre: contemporary fiction, paranormal

Extras: Comparison of The Night Strangers (left) with Her Fearful Symmetry (Audrey Niffenegger) (right)

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

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Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternThere’s been quite a hype about this book and when I won it in a giveaway by Capricious Reader I was really excited. More so even when a beautiful hardback copy arrived on my doorstep. The book was such a pleasure to look at and to hold, it’s magic!

And what was inside, was very good too. Oh no: I’m going to add to the hype! This was a fantastic book. I loved it all the way through.

The Night Circus: What it is about

It’s the late 1800s. Prospero the Enchanter is an illusionist with a secret: his magic is real. When it turns out his daughter Celia has magic skills too, he sets up a challenge with an old rival of his: his rival may find and train whatever person he likes, to enter into a competition with Celia, and he is convinced that Celia will win.

Enter Marco, a boy from an orphanage, who is being trained by a mysterious man in a grey suit, to become Celia’s competitor. Neither he nor Celia understand the rules of the game, but they both become involved with the Night Circus, that opens at nightfall and closes at dawn.

The circus consists of a large number of tents, each with its own show. Celia has her illusionist show while Marco is only sometimes at the circus, he works in London, doing the accounts.

Celia and Marco fall in love but they are also competitors. How can they solve this insolvable problem?

The Night Circus: What I thought

I already said it: I loved this book. The time, Dickens’ era in which futures were told by mysterious ladies and the death were contacted via a medium. The setting, a circus so special that people could lose themselves in it.

I also enjoyed the parade of characters: two sets of twins, a mysterious man in a grey suit, a clock designer from Germany or a Japanese contortionist. They all had something intriguing about them. They were slightly cardboard, we could have learned a bit more about them, but it didn’t matter really, since all were pawns in the challenge of Celia and Marco.

The language in which the book is written is also appealing. Slightly old-fashioned but no tormentingly long sentences like you might find in Dickens or Wilkie Collins’ work.

The story is sometimes a little vague, not all is explained and that adds to the atmosphere of magic.

My main point of complaint comes from outside the book: because some people in my part of the blogging world had not finished the book or given it a so-so rating (you know who you are and actually, you have all the right in the world to stop reading or give a so-so rating but that’s beside the point), I was expecting to also want to give up after some time. But I kept liking the book, and liking it more and I wondered when this point would come that I wouldn’t like it anymore: It didn’t happen – I liked all of it. I should have skipped the negative reviews so I would have had a better reading experience.

As it was, I’d say this is one fine book that will be counted among my favorite books for this year. Stop reading the reviews, read the book!

Rating: 5/5

I got this book: from a giveaway by Capricious Reader

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 402

First published: 2011

Genre: fantasy (magic)

Indie Lit Awards – Lots To Read Still

IndieLitAwards

As you may know, I’m a voting member for the Indie Lit Awards 2011. These awards are given by you, the literary blogger, to books published in 2011. The category I’m involved in is Speculative Fiction. This is fiction that couldn’t be real, like magic, science fiction, horror, etc.

In other other categories, I’m allowed to nominate books so I am reading not just Speculative Fiction (in case they get nominated) but also books in other categories.

This is what I still want to read before the end of the year (and counting):

Spec Fict

Speculative Fiction

The left one I hadn’t heard of before I got it, but The Night Circus? I’m sure this has a good chance of ending high in the Speculative Fiction category! So I want to read it soon to make up my own mind already.

Memoirs

Biography/Memoir

The left-hand side book is Dutch, but it was out in English this year, too, called My Year with Eleanor. The other book is already quite well-known. I’d love to see if these books are good enough to nominate. I have read a few other memoirs this year already (more than ever, it seems) so I have something to choose from.

Mystery and Fiction

Mystery and Fiction (2 categories)

I love a good mystery/thriller and have read several that are worth nominating already. Maybe this new one by S. J. Bolton is another candidate. And Left Neglected is the new book by Lisa Genova. As I read her other book, Still Alice, I have great hopes for this one for the Fiction category.

So, these are the books that I need to read before the end of the year. Erm, that’s on top of the other books that I “need” to read. It’s a good thing there’s a Readathon next week. Hopefully I can catch up a little on the new books of 2011!


About the IndieLit Awards:
You can nominate your favorite books in each of these categories. The rules for nominating are:
  • Books nominated must have a 2011 release date.
  • The books with the most nominations will be added to the Long List
  • You may nominate books in more than one genre, up to 5 per genre.
  • Nominations are open to all readers who do not make their income through the sales of books (i.e. not authors, publishers, or publicists) — hence “independent” from the publishing industry.
  • Nominations are open midnight PST September 1, 2011 – 11:59 PST December 31, 2011.

After the nomination deadline of December 31, 2011, the five books that were nominated most in each genre are then read by us, the voting members, if we haven’t read the book yet. We then decide on the winner.

Check out the Indie Lit Award website for more information.

Have YOU nominated any books yet?

Book Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When She Woke by Hillary JordanWhen I first heard about this book, I just couldn’t wait to read it. It sounded a bit like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a book that is a favorite of mine.

Dystopia? I love it! When it’s a good story. This one’s good. It missed a little something for me, but overall it was a very good and original read.

When She Woke: What it is about

Hannah Payne wakes up in a detention center, her skin colored red all-over. A virus had been injected as a punishment for having an abortion. Abortions are not allowed in the very religious society she lives in, a post-scourge USA that left many dead with the survivors trying to build up a community again.

Being red she is recognizable as a criminal and anyone in the streets can attack her, kidnap or rape her without others stepping up to help her. Luckily, once she’s out of the detention center her father arranges a place for her in a rehabilitation center for chromes (criminal girls that have been dyed red, yellow or another color, depending on their crime).

It turns out that the rehabiliation center is even more strictly religious than the outside world but Hannah is lucky enough to make a friend, making her stay more bearable.

After many challenging events Hannah has to decide how she will survive in the big bad world.

When She Woke: What I thought

This book indeed reminded me a lot of The Handmaid’s Tale. The story is very different but it had the same suffocating, religious, atmosphere.

The story was quite bleak, with lots of unpleasant things happening, and I didn’t feel totally attached to Hannah. However, it wasn’t all bad: there was also love, friendship and altruism.

I thought the story was too focused on Hannah and the Chrome system, with the rest of the new, changed world (compared to ours) not explained quite so well. I like dystopian novels especially for the way the author presents a new world to the reader, and it was a pity that wasn’t further though through.

The events around Hannah were very interesting and original. The book was well-written and because of the events and a certain suspense in the story I found it hard not to skip sentences to find out what would happen next.

Compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, When She Woke seems less likely to happen in the future and was therefore less unnerving.

Because 26-year old Hannah had been brought up by very strict parents, allowing her very little freedom, she seemed more like a young adult with very little experience with the real world. However, the book is not particularly aimed at young adults and makes a good read for older adults, too.

Rating: 4/5 stars

I got this book: from Algonquin books for review

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 352

First published: 2011 (October 11th)

Genre: science fiction, dystopia

Do not confuse this book with: Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson, a thriller about memory loss. Very different from When She Woke.

I enjoyed this book a lot. If you read it and absolutely loved it, consider nominating this book for the Independent Literary Awards under Speculative Fiction. Any reader can nominate titles! 

IndieLitAwards

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