Books I read this week: June weeks 1 and 2

These are the books I’ve read in the last two weeks. Apparently there was a span of days where I didn’t read anything- I’m not quite sure what happened on those days.

The Night Gardenerby Jonathan Auxier is an interesting little black diamond of a book. Auxier’s first novel, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes was hands down, one of my favorite books of last year (and it’s only $1.99 right now! Go get it!) – it was magical and glowy and utterly compelling. This book, which is totally separate from Peter Nimble, is equally magical and compelling, but where Peter Nimble was glowy and hope filled, The Night Gardener is dark and dangerous. Peter Nimble is a book to be read in summer, The Night Gardener is definitely a fall book, and in fact, it was inspired by Something Wicked This Way Comes.

It’s the story of two siblings who are on their own, who have found work in an old mansion outside the edge of town. But when they get there, the woman of the house tries to send them away, and there is a giant, spooky tree that seems to be growing into the side of the house. If they had any other option, they’d leave, but the brother is ill, and with missing parents they need a place to call home. So they stay, and slowly begin to discover the secrets of the tree, the dark man- a shadowy, tall figure who creeps into the house at night, and exactly what is making the members of the family so ill. They also learn the difference between stories and lies, and the dangers of getting exactly what you want.

It’s a middle grade book, and definitely spooky. I won’t be reading it to the girls any time soon, but it’s enjoyable.

Hearing this sound, Molly wanted nothing more than to bury her head under the covers and plug her ears. But her parents had raised her differently: Ma and Da believed that if you suspected a monster was hiding under your bed, you should get down on your hands and knees and find out for certain. And if you were lucky enough to discover one down there- fangs dripping, eyes glowing red- you should be quick to offer him a blanket and a bowl of warm milk so he wouldn’t catch a chill.

Funny things, wishes. You can’t hold ’em in your hand, and yet just one could unmake the world.

I’d heard really good things about Just Kidsby Patti Smith for quite a while, and so, even though I didn’t really know much about Patti Smith, I chose it as one of my Christmas books. Every single one of those things I heard was correct. Just Kids is Patti’s autobiography, but it’s also the autobiography of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, the famous photographer. They met when she was barely an adult (as was he)- when, as the title suggests, they were both just kids. They were both trying to make it as artists in New York, and when they met they forged a love and friendship that would last for their whole life.

A little bit of a tangent here- one of my friends from high school, someone I acted in plays with (he was Charlie Brown and I was Linus in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown) just won a Tony for his portrayal of the Genie in Aladdin. I’m thrilled for him, and as I think about all of it, and remember that at one point, that was my dream, I realize that if I had pursued that dream and followed the same trajectory, I would only be achieving that dream now- 20 years after I started working for it. 20 years. In my high school brain, I would go to New York, land a part in a play, and take the world by storm. Right to the top. But that’s not how these things happen. And that’s not how it happened for Patti and Robert. They worked and worked and worked and worked and it took them a long time to figure out what direction they wanted to go- and once they did, it took a long time to develop the skills and the body of work to be noticed and make it big.

Patti’s account of their life together is warm and honest and genuine. I love her writing voice, it feels like sitting down with an old friend. Her book is a window into bohemian life in the 60s and 70s, and lots of people make appearances without any of them seeming like name dropping. She talks about chatting with Jimi Hendrix in a stairwell, or realizing that her recent paramour is actually Sam Shepard.  As Patti and Robert’s relationship transitions from lovers to friends to a deep support to each other, they are always soulmates. Theirs is a beautiful story and a beautiful love.

I was both scattered and stymied, surrounded by unfinished songs and abandoned poems. I would go as far as I could and hit a wall, my own imagined limitations. And then I met a fellow who gave me his secret, and it was pretty simple. When you hit a wall, just kick it in.

My brother brought American Elsewhereby Robert Jackson Bennett to my attention, because he read a review about it which compared it to Twin Peaks. He knows I love Twin Peaks, so he sent the recommendation along. I’m grateful for that, but I have to say straight away that it really bears very very little connection to Twin Peaks at all. If it reminds me of anything, it’s the preview for the new series Wayward Pines (so much so that I thought for a bit that maybe the series was based on the book- but it’s not), that episode of X-Files with the homeowners association, and Fringe. It really really reminded me of Fringe. Not in a copying kind of way, just a lot of similar weirdness and common themes.

Anyway, the book is about Mona, an ex-cop who discovers upon the death of her father that her mother owned a property in Wink, New Mexico that Mona has 11 days to claim before the will is defunct. So Mona heads out to find Wink, which is harder than it sounds, because it doesn’t show up on any maps.  Mona figures out that this is because it’s a town that was built to support a secret government lab, and when she gets to the town she finds an insular community that appears to be perfect. Pretty soon the cracks begin to show, and she starts being drawn into the questions that no one asks- why it’s so dangerous to be outside at night, why no one goes into the forest, why some people “aren’t allowed” to die, and how those same people are being murdered. She also works her way into the question of who her mother was, and why she brutally killed herself years before.

It’s a strange book, eerie and atmospheric. The town is Twilight Zone odd, with some of the elements that come into play decidedly more Lovecraftian than anything else. It’s also fairy long, coming in at over 600 pages, and I don’t know that all of those pages were necessary. Contrary to other reviews I’ve read, the revelations that come toward the middle of the book were not unexpected, and I saw one of the major game changers coming from the very beginning. That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable- I just think if you’ve read a certain kind of book (or watched Fringe) you’re going to know what you’re getting into. But it was a bit too long, I think.

But the characters were interesting, the ideas compelling, and the descriptions of indescribable things were really quite well done.

This far from the city lights the stars seem even closer than before. It makes him uncomfortable, or perhaps it is the ionized taste that seems to hover in the air around the top of the mesa. It is a Wrong place. Not the Wrongest, God knows that’s so, but still deeply Wrong.

Next I’m starting The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, a retelling of the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses set in the 1920s. Be still my heart.

What are you reading?

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