The Walls Around US

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On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

Publication Date: March 24, 2015 by Algonquin Young Readers

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

Everything I know about bombs tells me they are built to explode. But something must set them off first. There must be a trigger before the noise goes off, before the big burst of bright, choking smoke. Otherwise a girl could stay quiet for years.

This is a strange yet fascinating book. I went into it thinking it would be a supernatural mystery, but for most of the story, it read more like a psychological thriller. The combination of these two elements along with Nova Ren Suma’s gorgeous writing style makes for a really unique novel.

The storyline is slowly revealed through the perspectives of Violet, Orianna’s best friend and fellow ballet dancer, and Amber, a girl who is serving a sentence at a juvenile detention center called Aurora Hills . Through these two narrations, the reader slowly begins to collect bits and pieces of information about Orianna and the brutal crime she is charged with.

What I enjoyed the most about this type of slow unravelling is that it leaves the reader questioning all the characters’ reliability, but also unfolds information in a way that helps to reveal the true personalities of all three girls in addition to the events that connect them.

Maybe, long ago, we used to be good. Maybe all little girls are good in the beginning.

The Walls Around Us makes you question what people (i.e. teenage girls) are capable of and how the people and environment around someone can influence their choices. The book also gives quite the insight into the competitive and often vicious world of ballet (it reminded me a bit of Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me). Because of the nature of Violet’s point of view, it’s often difficult to decipher reality from fiction and so the whole book is a bit Black Swan in it’s psychological unsteadiness – an aspect I found to make the book even more enjoyable.

While I enjoyed the contemporary thriller-esque details of the book the most, it was also interesting to see how the supernatural played a role in the plot as well. Because I picked up this book expecting more of a ghost story, I was definitely not disappointed. While the ending could come across to some as a bit of a stretch, I enjoyed how well it connected with the more supernatural elements of the story. Ultimately, this was such a unique reading experience and I’m only disappointed that it took me this long to discover Nova Ren Suma’s work!

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Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales

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Birds are usually loved for their beauty and their song. They symbolize freedom, eternal life, the soul.
There’s definitely a dark side to the avian. Birds of prey sometimes kill other birds (the shrike), destroy other birds’ eggs (blue jays), and even have been known to kill small animals (the kea sometimes eats live lambs). And who isn’t disgusted by birds that eat the dead—vultures awaiting their next meal as the life blood flows from the dying. One of our greatest fears is of being eaten by vultures before we’re quite dead.
Is it any wonder that with so many interpretations of the avian, that the contributors herein are eager to be transformed or influenced by them? Included in Black Feathers are those obsessed by birds of one type or another. Do they want to become birds or just take on some of the “power” of birds? The presence or absence of birds portends the future. A grieving widow takes comfort in her majestic winged neighbors, who enable her to cope with a predatory relative. An isolated society of women relies on a bird to tell their fortunes. A silent young girl and her pet bird might be the only hope a detective has of tracking down a serial killer in a tourist town. A chatty parrot makes illegal deals with the dying. A troubled man lives in isolation with only one friend for company—a jackdaw.
In each of these fictions, you will encounter the dark resonance between the human and avian. You see in yourself the savagery of a predator, the shrewd stalking of a hunter, and you are lured by birds that speak human language, that make beautiful music, that cypher numbers, and seem to have a moral center. You wade into this feathered nightmare, and brave the horror of death, trading your safety and sanity for that which we all seek—the promise of flight.

Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales: An Anthology by Ellen Datlow

Publication Date: February 7, 2017 by Pegasus Books

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, is one of the most unsettling movies I’ve ever seen. While perhaps I’ve always been alone in this, I find birds to be quite frightening (perhaps this goes back to being bitten by swans as a kid trying to feed seagulls at the beach – nasty bastards!!!).

Needless to say, when I saw the opportunity to read an entire anthology of short fiction based on birds, I jumped right on it. It seemed an interesting concept and something a bit different than the usual short story collections of horror that are generally published without any particular theme tying them together.

While it can be tough to absolutely love an entire collection of short fiction from various authors, this one was particularly hard to rate because there were an equal amount of stories that I loved to those that I just didn’t enjoy or understand. One piece of advice I would give to those who pick up this collection is to read only one or two stories at a time – because they are all avian-themed, I found it became a bit tiresome to read too much at once.

Despite only giving Black Feathers three stars, I still appreciated the creative twist on a horror anthology. The following stories are the ones that I really loved out of the bunch:

“The Obscure Bird” (a creepy tale revolving around the strained marriage of recent parents. I’m now officially freaked out by owls, thanks)

“The Orphan Bird” (super scary story involving a child murderer – the avian theme in this one felt particularly natural and not as abstract as some of the other stories)

“Blythe’s Secret” (the narrator reminded me of Norman Bates – loved the twist in this one too)

“Pigeon from Hell” (I apparently just love anything written by Stephen Graham Jones – this story was no exception. What I learned is that teenage girls are just as scary as everyone thinks they are)

Thank you, Netgalley and Pegasus Books for allowing me to read this collection in return for an honest review!