Yep - all weekend was me huddled in a ball and whimpering. I don't know what happened for the past few days, whether it was a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion, I was oblivious. I was out. I still am, but I'm so heavily medicated at the moment that I feel well enough to post something.
During my illness I had that malady that not only saps your strength, will to live, and ability to enjoy anything. But the most curious thing is that it makes my eyes feel like they are on fire. I can't look at a screen, be it TV, Laptop, iPad, iPhone, or what have you. It feels like someone is poking my eyes with a hot poker.
So what is a man to do? Well, I did two things, one, my wife is a huge audible listener, and has a huge library of books for me to choose from, I just pick the one I want and listen away. Thank goodness I talked her into downloading The Dresden Files books a while back, well a couple of them anyway. So I closed my eyes and listened to Harry get in all sorts of scrapes and jams while the hours of misery melted away.
But I can only keep my eyes closed for so long, in those brief interludes when I had my fiery eyes open I found I could read a book. A real life, non-digitized, honest to god, book. Funny that I had just received one in the mail. So that was my second thing.
Anyone who followed either my blog, or Andrew's, knows that I helped him with the cover a few months back. He, without any request from me by the way, was kind enough to send me a hard copy with a fantastic inscription on the inside. I spent some time admiring the feel of the book for a bit, and carried it around for a day or two, looking at it, flipping it over, wondering why I did some of the things I did in the design, wondering what I could have done better, all that sort of stuff.
Now, I have posted before about my unease in regards to reviewing books from Indie authors - I had read some Indie books that I enjoyed, some that I managed to read but not feel very strongly about, and one in particular that I thought was a travesty to the written word (I promise that one was from someone who has never visited this blog). I have tried to keep pretty silent about how I feel about what I've read. I mean, If I were to give Cindy Borgne a glowing review of her book, Vallar and then read and dislike someone else's book then what do I do? Rip them to shreds publicly? I mean, someone who pours their heart and soul into something like you have to in order to write a novel doesn't deserve to be beaten up by another author, it feels like a conflict of interest. I can lie and say I loved it, or I can never mention it and hope they don't think I am ignoring them. Which is why I have tried to not review any Indie books. Understood?
So, Andrew asked if I would be willing to give this a review. I wrote him an email and told him my concerns, he wrote back and said something that... well, I don't actually recall what he wrote, and I'm too tired to go back through my emails to find it, but he essentially said that his fear is not bad reviews, it's obscurity. He said he'd rather I be honest, and talk about the book, than never mention it. So, after getting permission from him to be honest, here are my thoughts:
Andrew Leon's novel, The House on the Corner whisked me away to when I was kid. Specifically, at an age when I thought I was going to find a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull just under the dirt at my feet if I would just dig a little deeper, or that I would discover a secret formula for super strength by mixing my mom's household cleaners together in a mad chemistry experiment (didn't work FYI - but I did discover a powerful grass killer). That's what this book is, it's a big what if. What if something amazing like that really did happen? What if that feeling we all had when we were kids wasn't just an overactive imagination, what if there really was something waiting to be discovered? I get it. And I loved it.
To be honest, it left me sighing with relief. I know Andrew well enough that I was afraid I might not like it - and was struggling to try to think of a way to put a positive spin on something I might not enjoy. But when I got sick just as I was starting it meant I ended up in bed with nothing else to do for the most part. I read the whole thing in about two extended reading sessions while cooped up and hidden from the world.
The story is set pretty firmly in the summer and fall of 1983, not too long after Return of the Jedi hit the theaters. It's the story of three siblings, Tom, the eldest, Sam, the middle child, and Ruth, the youngest, as they move into their new home that a few of the neighbors think is haunted.
The author has clearly made this novel a heartfelt homage to his youth, and his influences. I haven't read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, since I was probably 9, but even I got excited when the kids found a wardrobe in the attic and they got their hopes up that they would be transported to another world. I loved the references to Star Wars, to D&D, to everything a boy would have loved at that time. For a while, I was living through those kids as they discovered what was really going on with the house.
It was refreshing to read about an entire family that all loved one another, the kids weren't orphans, abused, or runaways. It was a family that was full of love for one another, and how they relied on one another when it mattered. We alternate POV's from chapter to chapter with each of the children. Tom's POV was my favorite. He was the most conflicted of the three siblings and had the most baggage to deal with. It was him that I latched onto and I really felt anchored me to the larger story.
But, the story wasn't perfect, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of things.
1) The pacing. I think it took too long to really start getting into the meat of the plot. As much as I loved Tom, Sam, and Ruth, after a while I was losing faith that anything at all was going to happen. Part of the story's charm is the siblings interaction with one another, but at the same time, that lack of a conflict, at least early on, makes it hard to sustain the story while they explore and learn about their new home.Yes, they bickered, a lot, but I never got that there was anything menacing or threatening as an undercurrent, it was just kids being kids. So part of that charm I mentioned earlier is also part of the pacing problem. There isn't a real sense of physical danger, or emotional turmoil, at least not enough to carry the story as long as it did. I think I understand why the author chose to reveal so slowly, it was after all, an exploration novel more than anything, but as a reader, I'm not sure it worked as effectively as he intended.
2) This is more of quibble, but through the book a theme of trust that the family has with one another was developed, the mother and father were the kind of parents every child should dream of having. They paid attention to their kids, they spent as much time together as they could. They loved being parents and loved their children, they addressed their kids with respect and were honest with them. Then, in my opinion, that was betrayed, I thought, late in the book. I won't spoil it but giving away details, but the scene leading up to the climax of the novel left me a bit flummoxed, as I couldn't understand why the adults would do what they did to the children. I understand their motivations, but again, I thought it was woefully out of character for everyone. It left me a bit frustrated.
But those are not show stoppers. My second complaint might be alleviated if there had been a rationale put forward to explain - a rationale I could believe given the characters as they were established earlier in the book.This was a marvelous novel and had a magical feel to it, as soon as I finished I wanted to go watch E.T., The Goonies, and any other 80's flick I could think of about kids discovering that the world was stranger than anyone ever dreamed of.
It was a great novel and belongs in everyone's library. Especially if you grew up as a child of the 80's.