Book review: "The Saturday Night Ghost Club" by Craig Davidson

The Saturday Night Ghost Club  

I requested “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” for review from Penguin Random House Canada. I never read anything by this author, and I was interested in exploring more of Canadian literature.

Synopsis

 

When neurosurgeon Jake Breaker operates, he knows he's handling more than a patient's delicate brain tissue--he's altering their seat of consciousness, their golden vault of memory. And memory, Jake knows well, can be a tricky thing.

When growing up in 1980s Niagara Falls, a.k.a. Cataract City--a seedy but magical, slightly haunted place--one of Jake's closest confidantes was his uncle Calvin, a sweet but eccentric misfit enamored of occult artefacts and outlandish conspiracy theories. The summer Jake turned twelve, Calvin invited him to join the "Saturday Night Ghost Club"--a seemingly light-hearted project to investigate some of Cataract City's more macabre urban myths. Over the course of that life-altering summer, Jake not only fell in love and began to imagine his future, he slowly, painfully came to realize that his uncle's preoccupation with chilling legends sprang from something buried so deep in his past that Calvin himself was unaware of it.

Review

 

I rarely pick up books the moment I receive them, but something about “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” pulled me to it. I went into the book almost blind, knowing only that it was set in the 80s, in Niagara Falls Ontario, and that the author was Canadian.

I remember reading the first page of “The Saturday Night Ghost Club”, and then another one, and another one. Twenty pages into the book and I already knew that I was going to love it. Fifty pages in - I knew that I was going to give this book a high rating. Halfway into the book - I was requesting more books by Craig Davidson from the library.

“The Saturday Night Ghost Club” is a literary novel, but it blends scientific facts with memoir like reminiscences of the main protagonist’s, Jake, in such an effortless way, that at times, I had to remind myself that there is no real neurosurgeon by the name of Jake Breaker working at St. Michael’s Hospital, right across the street from me.

Craig Davidson’s writing feels effortless, lightweight, even when he talks about haunting memories, prescription pills, and brain tumours. “The Saturday Night Ghost Club”, however, is not all about science. It is, in fact, a heartfelt and nostalgic recounter of childhood memories. Jake, the neurosurgeon, exists in the periphery of the book, popping in only to make a reference to something that would make sense only at the very end of the book. Most of the time, it is Jake, the twelve-year-old boy, who is the main protagonist of the story.

Even though I love literary fiction, I often struggle with contemporary or historical fiction, when I feel that I have no connection with places or events. With “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” I had no problems fully emerging myself into the story. Every location and every memory felt tangible, covered in cobwebs and dust, but still vivid.

I loved everything about the story and the plot. I did, however, guess where it was heading when I was about one third into the book, but it did not diminish the pleasure of reading it. There is something to be said about small towns that manage to both to make you nostalgic and send a chill down your spine. There were, definitely, moments in “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” when I felt disturbed by the turn of events, but mostly it was a rather fun read.

I can’t say whom I liked more in “The Saturday Night Ghost Club”. I loved Jack; I liked his friend Billy, his sister Dove; I liked his uncle Cal. I even liked that video store owner Lex. I did not like him at first, but later he grew on me. There are a lot of relationships in this book that seem easy at the first glimpse, but as the plot develops, you learn that everyone carries secrets, sometimes not even their own.

The ending of “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” was exactly like I expected it to be: heartfelt, bittersweet, and very real. I wish it could have been less real so that I could pretend that it is a happy ending. In a way, it was a happy ending. But at the same time, it was not. What made it so heartbreaking for me was not even what actually happened, but how everyone came together to deal with it.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” is a masterfully crafted novel with enough twists and thrown in scientific facts about brains to keep you on your toes till the very last page. I can not wait to read more works by Craig Davidson. “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” is going to be one of my favourite reads of 2018.

Rating: 4.5 stars

 

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Book review: "Under Rose-Tainted Skies" by Louise Gornall (audiobook)

Under Rose-Tainted Skies There has to be more than just a high rating on GoodReads to make me pick up a YA contemporary novel by the author I have never read books by previously. But after watching Emma’s video on mental health representation in YA books and "Under Rose-Tainted Skies" being highly recommended, I decided to pick it up from the library on a whim. I wanted a short-ish audiobook to listen to in-between my other books.

 

Synopsis

 

At seventeen, Norah has accepted that the four walls of her house delineate her life. She knows that fearing everything from inland tsunamis to odd numbers is irrational, but her mind insists the world outside is too big, too dangerous. So she stays safe inside, watching others’ lives through her windows and social media feed.

 

But when Luke arrives on her doorstep, he doesn’t see a girl defined by medical terms and mental health. Instead, he sees a girl who is funny, smart, and brave. And Norah likes what he sees.

 

Their friendship turns deeper, but Norah knows Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can walk beneath the open sky. One who is unafraid of kissing. One who isn’t so screwed up. Can she let him go for his own good—or can Norah learn to see herself through Luke’s eyes?

 

Review

 

Allow me to preface my review by stating that immediately after starting "Under Rose-Tainted Skies", I realized that it was in a certain way reminiscent of “Everything, Everything” by Nicola Yoon, which in its turn put pressure on me in regards of the final rating. I struggled and went between 4 and 5 stars a couple of times before I finally settled on 4.25 stars, as I am writing this. Giving less stars to "Under Rose-Tainted Skies" felt extremely unfair as I liked it more for its very true and direct depiction of mental illness than “Everything, Everything” (which I read and reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed, but at the time of reading it, I did not consider the fact that some part of the plot can be damaging to some people - I was just swept by the cuteness of the story, which, honestly, does not happen often). Therefore, I am going to lower my rating of “Everything, Everything” both in my review and on GoodReads.

 

I loved “Everything, Everything” when I read it. There are some aspects of it which I can relate to, and I mentioned it in my review. But now, especially after having read "Under Rose-Tainted Skies", I don’t think “Everything, Everything” deserves full 5 stars. It is a great debut novel by an author of colour with the main character of colour, and I met Nicola and told her that I absolutely loved it. And I stand by my opinion. However, the way the plot is constructed - without giving anything away - it can not and will not compare in the impact and importance of “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” in portraying a long-term illness. It is my personal opinion, however, and it in no way diminishes anybody else’s opinion or the hard work that both authors put into their books.

 

What I am trying to say here is that I shouldn’t have given “Everything, Everything” more than 4 stars on GoodReads, but I felt pressured to as this book was very overhyped.

 

If you haven’t gathered from my confusing intro, I loved "Under Rose-Tainted Skies", and in some ways, it worked for me much better than “Everything, Everything”.

 

"Under Rose-Tainted Skies" is a story about a girl who has agoraphobia, general anxiety, depression, and OCD. It is the most honest and true depiction of anxiety that I have ever seen in young adult fiction. The book is “own voices” too as the author herself suffers from agoraphobia and anxiety.

 

The story is a typical young adult contemporary romance otherwise with a mysterious but alluring boy moving next door and how much of a difference he makes in the main protagonist’s life. I am not a huge fan of contemporary YA, but I think the romance was done well and had some believable problems which were not just magically resolved by the end of the book, for which I am very grateful. It made the story more realistic and relatable.

 

All supporting characters in the book are lovely, and I liked the fact that we get to see Norah’s visits and conversations with the psychiatrist.

 

I enjoyed it. Even the twist at the end came as a very plausible scenario. I can not recommend this book highly enough if you want to read more books about mental health and “own voices”.

 

Rating: 4.25 stars

 

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Book review: "Lighter Than My Shadow" by Katie Green (graphic novel)

Lighter Than My Shadow

 

I heard about this book from my book club, but then quickly forgot about it, until I came across it on OverDrive. I was in Vienna, on vacation, and wanted a graphic novel to read.

Something short and light, I thought.

Oh boy. Was I wrong. Neither short nor light, although definitely uplifting in the end.

Summary

 

Like most kids, Katie was a picky eater. She'd sit at the table in silent protest, hide uneaten toast in her bedroom, listen to parental threats that she'd have to eat it for breakfast.

But in any life a set of circumstance can collide, and normal behavior might soon shade into something sinister, something deadly.

Lighter Than My Shadow is a hand-drawn story of struggle and recovery, a trip into the black heart of a taboo illness, an exposure of those who are so weak as to prey on the vulnerable, and an inspiration to anybody who believes in the human power to endure towards happiness.

 

Review

 

Lighter Than My Shadow is a memoir, based on the author’s own experiences. The book is written in such an honest and compelling way, that I couldn’t put it down. I read it almost in 2 sittings (or rather “lying down”s as I read it in bed at night). I couldn’t stop reading. I might have shed a tear or two. Or three. And after I was done, I still kept thinking about that book. If it weren’t a 500-pages chunker, I might have started reading it all over again.

 

This is a graphic novel, which makes it even easier to sympathize with Katie, when you get to see visual manifestations of her thoughts, eating disorder, fears. It is incredibly touching  and relatable on various levels - we see Katie’s internal struggles and her problems communicating with her family and friends. You don’t have to have an eating disorder or any other mental illness, or have anyone in your life who suffers in the same way, to be completely pulled into Katie’s world and be able to sympathize with her.

 

The book is drawn in sort of grey, brown-ish scale. My favourite parts were the ones in which we could see what is happening in Katie’s head while she is talking to people, or how she sees herself as a ghost, a shadow, that gets more and more transparent, and therefore invisible. This is such a true depiction of any mental illness or any other invisible disability. It definitely pulled on my heart strings.

 

Lighter Than My Shadow can be triggering for some readers, as it deals with topics of mental illness, self-harm, thoughts of suicide, abuse. But it is such an important book, written with such honesty and grace, that it has to be recommended to everyone. It is the best book for both people suffering from mental illness as it gives you hope and their loved ones as it shows how it feels to live with this every day.

 

If I could, I would give this book a million of stars. Read it. Preferably, on iPad as the paperback version is a behemoth.

 

Rating: 5 stars

 

Website: https://lighterthanmyshadow.com

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