Books Read in 2019: Books That I Inexplicably Forgot to Post About Because I Am An IDIOT

I was idly scanning one of my book review posts and suddenly realized that I didn't remember posting a review of The Institute by Stephen King. I thought maybe I did it on auto-pilot, but then I worried that I posted the title and synopsis but not my review. I went through all my four-star review posts and... not there. I was baffled. I was bemused. I went to Goodreads and called up my stats and looked at the rows of book covers and saw a few other books that I didn't remember reviewing. I gritted my teeth and went through all the posts counting the books I had reviewed and did the math add up? READER, IT DID NOT. I was befuddled. I was bewildered.

So now what do I do? Pretend it didn't happen? I fear I am too much of a completist for that. Just sneak the missing titles into the posts? I could - let's face it, I feel like we're all a little weary and ready to move on from Allison's Book Review Posts at this point. I can't quite make myself do it, though - they are all four-star reads and I feel like I have to give them their proper due (I will also place them in the relevant posts, though). I promise this is the very, very, very, almost certainly last post of its ilk for this year. I feel like I've used the word 'ilk' weirdly often lately. It makes me feel like my brain has the hiccups.

If you see one that I DID already review, just... maybe don't tell me? It's winter in central Canada. It's rough, people.

Endurance by Jack Kilborn. Synopsis from Goodreads: WELCOME TO THE RUSHMORE INNThe bed and breakfast was hidden in the hills of West Virginia. Wary guests wondered how it could stay in business at such a creepy, remote location. Especially with its bizarre, presidential decor and eccentric proprietor.
When the event hotel for the national Iron Woman triathlon accidentally overbooked, competitor Maria was forced to stay at the Rushmore. But after checking into her room, she quickly realized she wasn't alone. First her suitcase wasn't where she put it. Then her cell phone was moved. Finally, she heard an odd creaking under the bed. Confusion quickly turned to fear, and fear to hysteria when she discovered the front door was barred and the windows were bricked over. There was no way out.
One year later, four new female athletes have become guests of the Inn. Will they escape the horrors within its walls? Or will they join the many others who have died there, in ways too terrible to imagine?
ENDURANCE by Jack Kilborn
Are you brave enough to finish?

As a thriller, this was fantastic. Great narrative energy, the characters more well-rounded than in your typical horror offering. The relationship between the three generations of women was wonderful, warm and nuanced and complicated. The budding relationship between the disabled runner and the reporter was organic and felt earned. It would make a fantastic horror movie and was easy to visualize. One twist at the end was, well, a twist too far for me and made me roll my eyes. This is also definitely not for the sensitive reader. Highly recommended for horror fans.

***mild spoilers***

I have a small issue with the use of birth defects to horror effect. There was one passage where I could just imagine the writer trying to come up with a long list of things that could be wrong with the human body and it was a little distasteful.

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay. Synopsis from Goodreads: The Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Head Full of Ghosts adds an inventive twist to the home invasion horror story in a heart-palpitating novel of psychological suspense that recalls Stephen King’s Misery, Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, and Jack Ketchum’s cult hit The Girl Next Door.
Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road.
One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, "None of what’s going to happen is your fault". Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: "Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world."
Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.

I've read two or three other books by Paul Tremblay because they always sound right up my alley, and they usually end up skewing just slightly off kilter from my alley and I wind up obscurely disappointed. This is by far my favourite. It's both a fascinating thought experiment and a thumping good yarn, particularly in the set-up with Leonard and Wen. 

Sawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand. Synopsis from Goodreads:
Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep.
He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.

Who are the Sawkill Girls?
Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.
Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.
Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.
Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.
Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.
I tracked this down because it was by the same author as a children's book I read at one of my libraries, and goodness, this was drastically different - both books were great, but that one was entirely realistic and this one is very... not (in all the best ways - it's extremely inventive and imaginative). I just read a review that accused this book of being 'man-hating', which baffled me because I had been thinking that it was a great example of girl power lit without being especially heavy-handed or man-hating in any way (and, truthfully, made me angry, because a similar book with a cast of mostly male characters would most likely not be accused of being 'woman-hating'). It was sort of refreshing in a couple of ways - there was no beating around the bush or coyly hinting at the real story, we just got right down to brass tacks. There were three female main characters that were all fully realized, nuanced and badass bitches. It reminded me somewhat of Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker which I also loved - a sinister force tied to a particular place, and a female character who seems bad but it's much more complicated than that. It's great for diversity and representation also, without making a big deal of it. It had archetypes, but the twists were unique enough that it felt fresh and surprising. I really liked it, and I'll probably reread it at some point.

The Idiot by Elif Batuman. Synopsis from Goodreads: A portrait of the artist as a young woman. A novel about not just discovering but inventing oneself.
The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings.
At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan's friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana. Selin's summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.

Read it for book club. This was a bit of a strange reading experience. I read a few pages, felt like I was reading a creative writing project and wasn't terribly engaged. I read a few more, found myself bookmarking passages and laughing out loud. I loved the parts involving linguistics. I hated the parts about her relationship with Ivan and their deeply pretentious email exchange - I wanted to warn her that if they ended up together he would never cook a meal or change a diaper. There are some brilliant and hilarious parts, but it was a whole lot of 'this happened, then this happened', and listing quirky people doing quirky (i.e. rude, incomprehensible, disagreeable) things, and the ending really wasn't one. And yet I can't say I didn't like reading it. When I got annoyed with Selin for being lugubrious or pretentious in a "alas, I feel things so deeply", I would remind myself that she was nineteen or twenty and I was no less irritating and fancied myself no less a Profoundly Wounded Soul at the same age. 

The Institute by Stephen King. Synopsis from Goodreads: In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”
In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.
As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of ItThe Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

My relationship with recent Stephen King works has sometimes been a bit troubled. This felt like a return to Vintage King with all the stuff he does best - the "spectacular kid power of It" puts it really well; the kid characters are exceptional but still kids, and he writes them that way. There are the unrepentant evildoers with their pure motives and the schmucks who go along with the evil plot but eventually seek redemption. When an author has written as many books as this one has, it's impossible not to see echoes from other works, and I caught the flavour of Firestarter, The Tommyknockers, It, The Dead Zone, and a few others, but it didn't make this feel derivative, just agreeably familiar in some ways and different in others. I very much enjoyed seeing the two disparate story lines from the book's' beginning join up near the end as well. 

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant. Synopsis from Goodreads: From the New York Times bestselling author of The Red Tent and Day After Night, comes an unforgettable coming-of-age novel about family ties and values, friendship and feminism told through the eyes of a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century.
Addie Baum is The Boston Girl, born in 1900 to immigrant parents who were unprepared for and suspicious of America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie's intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can't imagine - a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love.
Eighty-five-year-old Addie tells the story of her life to her twenty-two-year-old granddaughter, who has asked her "How did you get to be the woman you are today?" She begins in 1915, the year she found her voice and made friends who would help shape the course of her life. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, Addie recalls her adventures with compassion for the naïve girl she was and a wicked sense of humor.
Written with the same attention to historical detail and emotional resonance that made Anita Diamant's previous novels bestsellers, The Boston Girl is a moving portrait of one woman’s complicated life in twentieth-century America, and a fascinating look at a generation of women finding their places in a changing world.

I don't really know how to articulate why I loved this so much. I started it one night and went to sleep not sure if I would finish it. I had plans that were cancelled the next evening and my daughter and husband came home late so I finished it instead of making dinner. I loved the simple, matter-of-fact style. I loved the string of helpful women that came into Addie's life. I loved that the horrors were the regular horrors of life, and that the author didn't feel the need to add any extra-super-bad horrors. It was just a really great story about a strong woman who had a rough start but got some help along the way from other strong women. I loved the way that historical events were touched on well enough to get a sense of what it was like to live through them. It always makes me feel a little sad to read a book that encompasses a character's entire life - it makes it seem like that life passes so quickly. I like that Addie is still making plans even as the book ends. 


I just put The Boston Girl on my library list but...have I read it before? Does this happen to you, where a book sounds amazing and then you start reading it and realize that you've read it? I don't know, anyway, it's been a while if I have read it. I'll let you know! I know that's the author of The Red Tent, which makes me think I HAVE read it...
StephLove said…
I know what you mean about King novels feeling "agreeably familiar." I don't love them all, but I always like them and they have a feel to them, that lets you know you're in a King novel.

BTW, I looked up that other King book you said you'd never heard of because I hadn't either, or so I thought. Turns out it was published in one of his collections of novellas, one I'd read. Might be what happened to you.
Ernie said…
I don't think I have ever read a truly scary book. The one about the boy playing in the woods and the strangers sneaking up to the house sounds good. A few of the others sound good too. Don't know if I can handle the one with the woman checking into the hotel and not checking out. Might put an end to my airbnb use.

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