Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Top 5 deadly summer reads

List by Danielle

'Every young person should have one summer they look back on for the rest of their lives.'
From The poison tree, by Erin Kelly

Summer can be terrifying. Anyone contemplating wearing a pair of togs in public knows and understands this. But! There are actually far more reasons to fear summer than not looking like Jessica Alba in a bikini (or Daniel Craig in speedos). If you're looking for something a bit suspenseful to read over the holidays, the books below all feature long, hot summer days that mark turning points in the lives of their unlucky characters. The stories that follow lure you in as the narrators gradually pick apart the threads of that one crucial day, and you begin to make sense of the echoes that have chased them down the years.

Honourable mentions:
The girl who stopped swimming by Joshilyn Jackson. Anything by Jackson, actually, seems packed with the sweltering summery taste of the American south, along with a good solid central
mystery to tease out. Her blog, Faster than kudzu, is also fabulously entertaining.

The hole by Guy Burt. I can't remember whether this is set over the summer, but it has that same tantalising structure - a fateful event, with the lead-up recounted by a narrator who puts the past together like an ominous jigsaw, teasing you with details until it all becomes shockingly clear. It's really, really good.

In the woods / Tana French
As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours. Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

Is it a spoiler? I hope it's not a spoiler. NOT ALL QUESTIONS ARE ANSWERED in this book. If that bothers you, avoid! That's the only reason it's number five - apart from the fact that the narrator was a complete tool at times, it was a good read and I'm looking forward to getting to Tana French's book from the much more likeable Cassie Maddox's pov, The likeness.

Dismantled / Jennifer McMahon
Henry, Tess, Winnie, and Suz banded together in college to form a group they called the Compassionate Dismantlers. Following the first rule of their manifesto—"To understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart"—these daring misfits spend the summer after graduation in a remote cabin in the Vermont woods committing acts of meaningful vandalism and plotting elaborate, often dangerous, pranks. But everything changes when one particularly twisted experiment ends in Suz's death and the others decide to cover it up. Nearly a decade later, Henry and Tess are living just an hour's drive from the old cabin. Each is desperate to move on from the summer of the Dismantlers, but their guilt isn't ready to let them go. When a victim of their past pranks commits suicide—apparently triggered by a mysterious Dismantler-style postcard—it sets off a chain of eerie events that threatens to engulf Henry, Tess, and their inquisitive nine-year-old daughter, Emma. Is there someone who wants to reveal their secrets? Is it possible that Suz did not really die—or has she somehow found a way back to seek revenge?

I reviewed this for the Manukau Libraries site when I read it, but to summarise: slightly annoyingly angsty, guilt-ridden main characters interwoven with fascinating peeks into the mind of their quirky young daughter. Are they being haunted? There was at least one plot twist that I never saw coming.

Imaginary girls / Nova Ren Suma
Two years after sixteen-year-old Chloe discovered classmate London's dead body floating in a Hudson Valley reservoir, she returns home to be with her older sister Ruby. But she discovers London is alive and well, and that Ruby may somehow have brought her back to life and persuaded everyone that nothing is amiss. What secrets is Ruby hiding? Where is the line between life and death?

A recent YA find with lyrical language and a wonderfully murky plot, like the waters of the reservoir. I have to admit to being a bit tired with the obsessive 'cult of Ruby' that the main character - and, in fact, the whole town - seemed to subscribe to, and the main character was a bit too passive an observer to be really satisfying, but the imagery was memorable and the direction the story took was unusual and different.

The poison tree / Erin Kelly
It is the sweltering summer of 1997, and Karen is a straight-laced, straight-A university student. When she meets the impossibly glamorous Biba, a bohemian orphan who lives in a crumbling old mansion with her enigmatic brother Rex, she is soon drawn into their world but something terrible is about to happen, and someone's going to end up dead.

I'm actually in the middle of this one, and it was the inspiration for the list. As with some of the other books, I spend a lot of time wanting to jump to the last chapters and just FIND OUT what happened on that fateful day! But I won't. Not yet. Similar in many ways to Imaginary girls and Dismantled, it examines the dynamics of female friendship, and the effect in particular of a charismatic 'free spirit' on the more constrained and introspective narrator.

The picnic at Hanging Rock (and The secret of Hanging Rock: Joan Lindsay's final chapter)
On Saint Valentine`s day, 1900. a party of ninteen girls accompanied by two schoolmistresses sets off from a fashionable College for Young Ladies for a day's outing at the spectacular volcanic mass called Hanging Rock. What begins as a pleasant and happy day out ends in inexplicable terror. The sinister implications of the events cannot be ignored, and Joan Lindsay traces the effects of this mysterious incident on the lives of the people involved.

If you haven't read this yet, and you enjoy an unusual period tale, I highly recommend it, along with the final chapter which was published after the author's death. On the surface of it, a fairly conventional mystery story, which the 'solution' propels into something entirely different indeed. A vivid and memorable novel that stays with you long after reading.

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