4.5 stars

DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn

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Publisher: Broadway Books
Pages: 452
Genre: Thriller

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club… and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer

 

First Impressions: It’s set in Kansas, my home-state. I can confirm that there are plenty of dark places in Kansas, and I’m not just talking about the Republican Governor’s office.

Review: Irascible Libby Day is the type of person you probably wouldn’t like if she existed in real-life, but on the page she is compelling and complicated. She is the only real survivor (if you don’t count an older brother languishing in prision for the rest of his life) of a brutal massacre of her family when she was only 7 years old. Now in her thirties Libby has rejected every opportunity or attempt to become a contributing member of society. She is crippled by even the simplest tasks, preferring to shut out the world or take handouts over an honest days work. Libby is acerbic and prickly to anyone who shows even the slightest interest in helping her or changing her mind.  Getting Libby to the point where she questions the truth of the statements she made against her brother all those years ago, is like pulling teeth for the reader. But there is a part of her that knows the light was never truly shown on what happened that night. The Kill Crew, a secret organization investigating the truth behind murders, is finally able to tap into that small voice living in her subconscious. A voice that compels Libby to track down all the players of that infamous night. On a mission that takes her from Ben to her father and to minor characters who become major characters, Libby learns that the events of that night may not entirely be finished as long as she is still alive.

The story takes a methodical pace, jumping back and forth between Libby’s present day journey and the day of the murders.  The flashbacks are split between Ben Day (the eldest) and Patty Day (the mother). This helped to deepen the emotion of events leading up to the Satan Sacrifice Kinnakee. Their juxtaposition will figure heavily in the events of that night. Patty is torn apart by the revelation that their town believes Ben may have molested a young girl. Ben is a secretive and morose teenager who thinks only about escaping their small town with his now-pregnant girlfriend. And even though you only meet the mother and Ben on one day, they come off as fully developed characters grappling with a multitude of emotions and uncertainties.

Flynn sets up some great payoffs in certain scenes. The interaction between Krissi, the child supposedly molested by Ben and Libby is intriguing mostly because of the truths they are hiding from the other. The note that Libby leaves for Krissi at the end was the perfect ending to that scene. Another entertaining scene occurs between Libby and her father at the superfund site. The settings are far from glamorous but they contain interesting details that add to the  mood & characterization.

As Libby uncovers who Ben spent that day with, the truth seems to trace back to Ben’s pregnant girlfriend. But Flynn has just a couple more surprises waiting for us just when we think we figured it out. The truth is an elusive concept, and finding a resolution doesn’t exactly settle well with us. The conflicting emotions and uncertainties that remain after the final sentence are what make this novel a success.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Overall: We all know that Flynn’s novels are bleak and gritty. I like getting to the core of characters and their shortcomings. A dark place exists in all of us and it’s the plot development that really puts this novel apart from others. Looking forward to reading Gone Girl now.

About the Author

Gillian Flynn is an American author and television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She has so far written three novels, Sharp Objects, for which she won the 2007 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the best thriller; Dark Places; and her best-selling third novel Gone Girl.
Flynn, who lives in Chicago, grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She graduated at the University of Kansas, and qualified for a Master’s degree from Northwestern University. 

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Renaissance & Alchemy in THE RED LILY CROWN by Elizabeth Loupas

Publisher: NAL Trade
Pages: 448
Release Date: April 1st
Genre: Historical Fiction
*Acquired copy through publisher for an honest review

April, 1574, Florence, Italy. Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici lies dying. The city is paralyzed with dread, for the next man to wear the red lily crown will be Prince Francesco: despotic, dangerous, and obsessed with alchemy.

Chiara Nerini, the troubled daughter of an anti-Medici bookseller, sets out to save her starving family by selling her dead father’s rare alchemical equipment to the prince. Instead she is trapped in his household—imprisoned and forcibly initiated as a virgin acolyte in Francesco’s quest for power and immortality. Undaunted, she seizes her chance to pursue undreamed-of power of her own.

Witness to sensuous intrigues and brutal murder plots, Chiara seeks a safe path through the labyrinth of Medici tyranny and deception. Beside her walks the prince’s mysterious English alchemist Ruanno, her friend and teacher, driven by his own dark goals. Can Chiara trust him to keep her secrets…even to love her…or will he prove to be her most treacherous enemy of all?

Praise: “Machiavelli meets The Brothers Grimm: a dark fairy tale with the addictive allure of a poison dream. Renaissance Florence springs to life in all its gorgeous, treacherous glory when a brave street urchin finds herself neck deep in Medici blood-lust. A dash of magic, a maze of murder, a heroine to root for, and a villain who needs to die–this is historical fiction at its most compelling.”— Author Kate Quinn

“Brings to life all the brutality, deception, and glamour of one of history’s most intoxicating eras. I could not put it down!”—C.W. Gortner

Cover: Pretty typical for the genre.

Review: Alchemy and the lust for immortality and power is the driving force behind THE RED LILY CROWN. The ‘Alchemist Prince’ was the working title for this novel and does much to describe the havoc and deceit that resulted from a prince obsessed with Alchemy. Chiara knows the same obsession is what ultimately killed her father. His death left their family with Alchemical instruments that prove valuable to the prince and his English advisor Ruan. The prince tears Chiara away from her home and forces her to practice Alchemy and live in the secluded apartments of the royal family. First with the Prince’s sister and then his wife, the Duchess of Austria. Loupas does a great job of painting the power struggles as play during this period. The struggle between siblings, between wife and mistress and between political agendas. Chiara embroils herself in all aspects and comes dangerously close to her own demise many times. It’s compelling to follow Chiara’s struggle to stay one step ahead of the Prince, as their working relationship evolves. Her character is the perfect balance of pragmatism and social grace that it takes to walk the delicate line between life and death. This novel needed all 448 pages to give us the full picture of the Prince’s rule and eventual downfall. That journey as a reader was heightened by the historical realities and the carefully nuanced characters within.

The author’s note at the end of the book sheds light on the truth behind the characters represented in the novel. There are still many mysteries surrounding the Prince and the unexplained deaths within his court during his reign. Loupas ran away with one of the many theories and created a unique and compelling interpretation that will satisfy history buffs and lovers of intrigue.

Overall: This third novel from Elizabeth Loupas was deftly researched and the characters and setting laid down beautifully on the page. Readers will find themselves easily transported.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

About the Author

Elizabeth Loupas lives near the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas. She hates housework, cold weather, and wearing shoes. She loves animals, gardens, and popcorn. Not surprisingly she lives in a state of happy barefoot chaos with her husband (the Broadcasting Legend), her herb garden, her popcorn popper, and two beloved beagles.

http://www.elizabethloupas.com
@elizabethloupas