Book Review (ARC): The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean

If there’s one thing this book is, it’s atmospheric. There’s a certain feeling – of menace, of creeping heat, of the stink of the river. An undercurrent that threatens to pull everyone down with it.

Shifting between the past and the present, the book examines both the events leading up to an event as shocking as three sisters vanishing into the night, and the reverberations afterward, when people wonder, should we have known? Should we have foreseen? And for Tikka Molloy, there’s an extra element of responsibility and guilt, of shame and of longing. Because she and her sister were close with the Van Apfel girls, and knew more than they told. But would it have made a difference?

That’s the question. Because the girls are gone, and will always be gone. There’s no question of knowing anything, of coming to any kind of resolution, because the light has been snuffed out, and there’s only darkness, the kind of darkness that rivals a starless night.

In the end, I loved a lot about The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone. It’s examinations of girlhood. Of scorching summers with the murder of crows above, circling, circling. The cruelty of religion. Of obsession, and of righteousness. Of how loaded growing up as a girl can be, even when you’re barely old enough to have your period – how you can be the touch-point around which men hover, grasping and hungry.

There was a certain discomfort in that too. Because there was a victimization of Cordie in particular that seemed to spread its tentacles throughout the book. A feeling of the male gaze in the writing of her, this impossible girl-child, sexualized before her time, spinning and dancing in the glare of the headlights.

It didn’t bother me that there isn’t any real resolution. Missing children are rarely found. McLean offers explanations in the way of imaginative speculations, but we as readers know about as much as the town that was left behind. The Van Apfel girls took their secrets with them down to the river when they stepped, unwavering, furious, driven, as girls can be, into their future – and they didn’t need us, they didn’t need anyone holding them down, not any more.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

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ARC Review: In Oceans Deep by Bill Streever

In some ways, this book reminds me of Her Name, Titanic by the immensely talented and brilliant Charles Pellegrino, which is one of my favourite explorations of the depths of the ocean and the depths of space. In it, Pellegrino marvels at how little we know about the earth’s water, what myserious creatures might live at the bottom, where it’s darker than pitch, darker than midnight.

With In Oceans Deep, Streever skillfully outlines the same thesis – that human beings have long focused upward, aiming for the stars, and ignored the wonderland of discovery that exists in the oceans, those uncharted territories and little touched blue deserts.

From the synopsis:

In Oceans Deep celebrates the daring pioneers who tested the limits of what the human body can endure under water: free divers able to reach 300 feet on a single breath; engineers and scientists who uncovered the secrets of decompression; teenagers who built their own diving gear from discarded boilers and garden hoses in the 1930s; saturation divers who lived under water for weeks at a time in the 1960s; and the trailblazing men who voluntarily breathed experimental gases at pressures sufficient to trigger insanity.

Tracing both the little-known history and exciting future of how we travel and study the depths, Streever’s captivating journey includes seventeenth-century leather-hulled submarines, their nuclear-powered descendants, a workshop where luxury submersibles are built for billionaire clients, and robots capable of roving unsupervised between continents, revolutionizing access to the ocean.

I knew little about free diving before beginning this book, and while the scientific methods behind it (which I think Streever spends a bit too much time on) are of little interest to me personally, the limits that people will push their bodies to was fascinating. These free divers “welcome” the convulsions of their diaphragms, fighting to breathe, spit out blood on the surface from lungs on the verge of crushing, and follow lines into the dark, anxious for that next personal record, or world-breaking depth. It’s dangerous, to be sure, but it’s also a testament to how far human beings will go in the name of exploration and the testing of the body.

With captivating prose and an obvious love for the ocean, Streever outlines the ways that we’ve studied the oceans from time immemorial, and the ways we’ve studied how far our bodies – and our machines – can go before they’re broken beneath the crushing weight of water.

It reminds me of mountaineers, tagging peaks and pushing beyond the realms of endurance, to breathe the thinnest air imaginable, while standing on the roofs of the world. It’s these kinds of people who find out what it means to be human, and find out what it means to discover. To stand or go where no one else has been, or where few have been, it must be the ultimate high. Whether they survive or not is almost beside the point – it’s what they come to know, sitting in a tiny submersible, touching the earth six miles down, in the Challenger Deep, where monsters may live.

Where their dreams live, and go on, to the next – the next depth, the next mountain, the next star. The next flicker in the unknown, reminding them what it means to be alive.

ARC Review: Their Little Secret by Mark Billingham (Tom Thorne Series)

Tom Thorne is a favourite of mine, and for good reason. He’s prickly, sardonic and frequently a tad rude, but he has a huge heart underneath it all and a keen sense of justice. Couple all of that with his love for Indian takeaways and you have a winner.

It’s hard to believe there have been sixteen books in this series, and it just keeps getting better and better. Mark Billingham has a real talent for writing twisty mysteries that nonetheless don’t all hinge on the final “shock” moment as so many do these days.

In Their Little Secret, Thorne is called to the scene of a suicide. A woman has jumped in front of a commuter train, and a homicide detective needs to sign to say there was nothing suspicious or untoward about the death. But something just seems off, and soon, Thorne is visiting the woman’s family and learning that she was recently swindled by a conman who made off with almost a hundred thousand pounds of her savings.

Angered but with his hands tied, Thorne hands it off to the Fraud department. All seems back to normal until a young man is found murdered on a beach – miles away – and the conman’s DNA is found beneath his fingernails…

Told from alternating perspectives, Their Little Secret lets us into the minds of not only Tom Thorne, but also Sarah, a deeply troubled young woman with a dark secret, and Conrad, the scam artist bilking women out of their savings, who becomes entangled with one person that he can’t quite control.

Put simply, I was riveted. This is one of Billingham’s best Thorne novels. The genius here is not being quite sure of anyone’s true motivations. The feeling of being on the edge of a avalanche that may tumble with the crack of a tree branch. Even the relationships between Thorne, Hendricks and Nicola Tanner seem balanced on the precipice, teetering on the brink of a fall. Their own kinship may be what ultimately destroys them.

That, they have in common with the killers. Their little secrets, threatening everything.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!