Speakeasies and Creepy Crawlies

The Diviners, by Libba Bray (2012)

Opening Line: “In a townhouse at a fashionable address on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, every lamp blazes.”

Guys! My wish was granted! I’ve found a Libba Bray book that I loved! I should probably read more mysteries (maybe specifically paranormal mysteries?) because it seems like every time I do, I eat them up.

The prologue sets the stage in this one, with a delightful seance gone terribly wrong. Using a trusty old Ouija board, the members of this party conjure the spirit of Naughty John, our villain for the tale. Now, my friends were seance experts growing up, hosting at least one at just about every sleepover for the years between 1999-2001, but we never used a Ouija board. I don’t know if I could have handled the pressure.

Chapter 1 brings us to our sort-of main character, Evie O’Neill, outgoing party girl recently banned from her little town in Ohio to go live with her uncle in New York City, right at the height of the roaring 20s. (Hindsight for Mr. & Mrs. O’Neill – sending your naughty daughter to the Big Apple where all the speakeasies are might not have been the best move.) Uncle Will, more affectionately known as “Unc” is the proprietor of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, known to the masses as The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies. As someone with a special knack for the supernatural, Evie is worried that Unc will discover her secret talent, her ability to divine truths about someone just by touching an item belonging to them. But when a young woman is found murdered in a particularly gruesome scene, and Will is called in to help, Evie starts to think her talent might just be useful.

What makes this book so great — besides the SUPER CREEPY murder scenes and delightful time period elements — is the vast cast. I said “sort-of main character Evie O’Neill” because there are multiple main characters at play here. As opposed to many third-person narratives that focus on one primary character’s perspective, we get the perspectives of a whole slew of people, and they all seem equally important. I can’t wait to see how they continue to connect and overlap throughout the series. Book two, Lair of Dreams, hit shelves a couple weeks ago.

This one reminded me a lot of a couple others I’ve loved in the past year, The Lockwood & Co. series and The Shades of London series.

2.5 stars

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The Great American Novel…or something…

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

It’s hard to know what to say about this book. I hardly need to tell you why I read it, as I often do at the beginning of reviews. I’ve never read, it’s been burning a whole on my bookshelf for a while, and John Green did a series of vlogs about it over the summer that I purposefully didn’t watch even though I wanted to because I hadn’t read it yet. So, Christmas break (after doing a lot of no-thinking-required reading) seemed like an appropriate time. Oh, and the new Leo movie is coming out before too long, so you know I had to read it before that happened.

The basic plot points are as follows (for those few of you, like me, who somehow missed reading this in high school): Nick Carraway is the narrator. Young and somewhat rich (from inheritance), he buys a house on Long Island, situated next to millionaire Jay Gatsby’s mansion. On the other side of the bay lives Nick’s second cousin or something, Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom. They’re super rich. Nick attends various dinners/teas with the Buchanans and Daisy’s friend Jordan, who he sort of dates throughout the novel. Meanwhile Gatsby throws extravagant parties every weekend, and Nick finally goes to one. Soon he and Gatsby become friends and he learns that the fact that he lives next door is not a mistake. Gatsby has been pining for Daisy Buchanan for the last five years (they were in love before he went to war), and he needs Nick to set up a date. And then a lot of roller coaster stuff happens with Nick often being the third wheel to multiple affairs, people mowed down in the street by hit-and-runs, and bullets being shot at the wrong people. It’s very messy.

It helps that I live alone, so the fact that I read the majority of this out loud to myself (yes…using voices…) was a lot less embarrassing. (I’ve always found though that reading somewhat dense or confusing stuff out loud helps enormously with my comprehension. I think it must be the dual tracks of both seeing and hearing it… All I know is that I would never have made it through as many Shakespeare plays as I did. Or sonnets for that matter.) But, as I’ve been told by lots of people, there’s a reason this book is frequently assigned in high school. It’s the kind of book you have to read with a class. Or a book club at the very least. It needs to be discussed. And I feel like I kind of missed out on a lot by reading it as a solitary person.

Here is what I did get out of it though: Fitzgerald is so very purposeful about his writing. I was drawn in by his subtly, his foreshadowing, and, yes, his symbolism.  More than a few times I looked back to previous passages to re-read something I wasn’t sure if I had caught before but had a gentle impression of. The variance of his pacing is methodical, too. At times the parties seem to drag on for an eternity, but then the violence at the end is so quick, you will definitely miss it if you aren’t paying attention. And by the last chapter, like Nick (the narrator), you’ve come to care about Gatsby without really being sure of why.

So while I feel like some of the actual meat of the book was lost on me, I still really appreciated it. I’m glad I finally read it. And although I still think Grapes of Wrath is a much better “Great American Novel”, I’m okay with this being up there.

2 stars

Apologies for the rambliness of this post. No excuses.