Hello! Time for a wrap-up of June’s reads.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Charlie, a mentally disabled man, takes part in an experiment to increase his intelligence, a journey which mirrors that of a lab mouse – Algernon. We, along with Charlie, unravel aspects of the man’s past, follow as he surpasses those which performed his surgery, and witness the rapid decline of Algernon – wondering if Charlie will fall to the same fate.
This book is an absolute tear jerker. Beautifully executed, if not bittersweet, as we realize just how terribly Charlie has been treated all his life without ever being able to notice that laughter can be a weapon, not just shared. Even with his surgery, an ever-widening gap pushes itself between Charlie and everyone he knows. To boot, his struggles seemingly never end as he addresses the person still hiding within himself, the emotional turmoil of realizing he can never truly run from who he is, or ‘was’. We feel pain for every side of Charlie.
The format of the progress reports works brilliantly, reads surprisingly smooth, and presses tight against the reader. Characters are memorable and wonderfully described through Charlie’s lens. It’s remarkable how we, as a reader, experience all at once being close to Charlie, and being alienated from him. But we never really lose the need to root for Charlie. There’s so much to absorb from this book. And whilst my overall rating dwindled for some passages that fell out of speed for me, I’d still class this as a new favourite.
Human, full of empathy, brimming with questions of ethics. As others did for me, I’d highly recommend it.
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca
On an online board in the 2000’s, a woman posts an advertisement for a family heirloom, an apple peeler no less, and comes into contact with a potential buyer. Their exchanges develop, twist, and so begins a series of distressful emails and IM messages that transform both parties, the darkest parts of them taking seed, and growing into something monstrous.
Right off the bat, I knew this story was going to be a car crash I couldn’t, and just didn’t want to look away from. The author’s notes, and our introduction, demands we pay attention and wonder feverishly about what has transpired. With each exchange, I was pre-emptively trying to guess what the next conversation would bring. As the story progresses, details of the heinous acts being committed are beautifully done. There’s so many lines within this book that stick with you. Horrifically quotable and bizarrely gorgeous.
Admittedly, I had a couple of gripes with this book. The epistolary format, of which I am usually a fan, dragged me out of the story and flattened the characters somehow. Often I kept forgetting this was an email exchange, so by the time we got to snippets of the IM’s, it ended up jarring. The voices of the two characters weren’t entirely unique and clear to me either. I didn’t notice any unique identifiers in the way they spoke to each other bar the sign-offs, and especially as the story progressed and their mind frames melded in certain aspects, it made it even more difficult. I wonder if length to the story would have helped, or some expansion on who these people were before they met. Because of that, I never really dreaded their fates or potential actions. Morbid curiosity drove me, but perhaps that was the point?
Regardless, I am very fond of this piece. A truly wicked tale I easily devoured. Plus, I grew up with shady online chat rooms and forums in the late 2000’s, and remain a bit gob smacked at some of the twisted stuff I unknowingly walked into during my teens, and how much I naively shrugged off. It definitely pulled at that point in my life.
“I’d like to dedicate this book to anybody who has gone searching for something, someone in the glittering darkness of cyberspace just to feel a little less lonely. Perhaps you found something truly wondrous. Perhaps you didn’t.”
Perhaps you didn’t, indeed.
An Invitation to Darkness by Hailey Piper
Rating: *** ½
Captain Jamie Thames meets, and quickly falls in love with Elizabeth Leavenworth, a wealthy heiress. But the longer Jamie stays, the clearer it becomes: there is far more to Leavenworth Manor than meets the eye – and little of it good.
Really enjoyable, quick read!
Despite my gripes with the pacing feeling a little off in places, for the page count it was well done. I would’ve liked a bit more balance between the horror and the romance, though, especially in the tight space this piece had. Especially when we discovered the horror living in Leavenworth, I wish we’d have seen more of it.
But Jamie and Elizabeth felt eerily fleshed out in a tiny amount of time. Beautiful descriptions, atmospheric, and serves to offer the aspects of gothic literature we adore, whilst also injecting some fresh aspects to the tale. I was happy to see our lead defying typical values of the time, too. Conclusion was full of tension and hinted at more horror outside of our scope which made you wonder, but also added to the dread, too.
Overall, a slow reading month, but great reads!