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home : features : features October 13, 2015

8/6/2014 12:01:00 AM
LitChat:A Good Summer Scare Or Two
Emily Meier
Harbor Light LitChat Editor

I am a seasonal reader. If there are darker books I'm interested in reading, I tend to save them for the summer when I will most likely not be in a house alone and the light of the longer days provides fortification for a more steely reserve.

Scary stories are best delivered on late summer nights while sitting around a bonfire. The crackling firelight casting shadows on familiar faces adds uneasiness and drama to even a weak ghost story. Or indoors, in an old cabin, lights out but for the flashlight of the storyteller held to his chin, facial features distorted, while the story unfolds and everyone else just becomes the sound of syncopated breaths in the darkness.

Scary stories have been passed on for generations in the spaces where the light of a campfire or flashlight meets total darkness. I like my scary stories the same way I like my marshmallows cooked, not too dark but not too fluffy.

I became aware of the buzz surrounding the book We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart, this spring. Shelved as a young adult (YA) novel, it was being devoured by young and more mature readers alike. It's the story of the privileged Sinclair family who decamp to a small private island off Martha's Vineyard every summer. The liars of the title are three teenage cousins - Johnny, Mirren and the narrator, Cadence - together with an outsider by the name of Gat Patil. They make up the third generation of the Sinclair family. And while they dream of bigger and better futures together under the summer sun, they can't help but be affected by the King Lear like battle going on around them as their mothers fight for an inheritance held over their heads by the patriarch of this spoiled family.

But it is an accident that takes place during the 15th summer that is the axis on which this story spins. Now two years later, Cadence has returned to try and figure out just what happened during that fateful summer and if the root of her migraines can be discovered in the buried memories she begins to uncover.

Brothers Grimm like fairy tales are interspersed with the recounting of this 15th summer, creating a disconcerting feel to the clues and memories Cadence is about to uncover. The inside dust jacket of this book warns: "Read it. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE."

This book is a good one to listen to on a family road trip, or read together while sitting around a campfire, because this is the kind of book that leaves its audience with the need to discuss it.

Abroad, by Katie Crouch is a novel that came about, as some of the best novels do, by accident. Crouch was researching an idea for a historical novel when fate handed her another story.

She'd dragged her new family to the small town of Perugia, in order to further study Etruscan history in preparation for the novel she thought she was writing. As a busy new mother struggling to figure out a new book amidst the challenges of motherhood, Crouch was mostly unaware of the Amanda Knox trial that had been unfolding in the news, until she found a lost dog. Through tags, she located the dog's owner who asked about what she, an English-speaking woman, was doing in the small Italian town. Crouch explained about the novel she was trying to write. The man says she must meet his roommate who has an interesting story. As it turns out, the roommate was Patrick Lumumba, the bar owner Amanda Knox had accused of Meredith Kercher's murder. Fate steps in again when she hires a nanny and finds out, several weeks later, that the girl is one of Knox's best friends who has relocated to Italy in order to support Knox as the case goes through trial.

Finding herself plopped amidst the unfolding tragedy, Crouch realized there was another novel she needed to write. After meeting many of the key players and even sitting in on some of the courtroom proceedings, Crouch couldn't seem to get murder victim, Meredith Kercher's, voice out of her head. Abroad is Crouch's imagined version of what happened leading up to the night coed Meredith Kercher was brutally murdered in the flat she shared with Amanda Knox. It's an interesting fictional voice to listen to amidst the disappointingly familiar real voices heard ad nauseam in the media.

The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My father and Finding the Zodiac Killer, by Gary L. Stewart with Susan Mustafa is a fascinating true account of an adopted Louisiana engineer's search for his biological roots. At 39, Stewart was contacted by his birth mother, Judy Gilford, a runaway who became pregnant by an older man. This meeting left Stewart with more questions than answers, which soon led him on an intensive, obsessive search for his father. His father, he believes now, is Earl Van Best Jr., a statutory rapist who abandoned him as an infant in a Baton Rouge apartment building stairwell and then went on to become the notorious Zodiac Killer.

The details included in this book have been legally vetted giving the book an undeniable credibility. Stewart's true-life story, based on his extensive notes and journals, combined with veteran true-crime journalist Mustafa's skillful writing, make this memoir a fascinating read that is hard to put down. This book was enshrouded in great pre-publication secrecy. It's worth reading to see why.

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns, by Elizabeth Kelly, is a "staff pick" over at Between the Covers and it is easy to see why in just the first few pages. This book's suspense grabs a hold of the reader from the very first chapter and doesn't let go.

Riddle James Camperdown, the narrator of this novel, recounts the summer of 1972 when, after accidentally witnessing a possible crime, she decides to keep a very big secret. Her father, a WWII hero and idealistic politician, is running for office from the family compound in Wellfleet. Her mother, animal lover and former Hollywood star, is more interested in her dogs and neighborhood gossip than her politicking husband and thirteen-year old daughter. Riddle's parents, while loving, are mostly too self-involved to see beyond their immediate adult concerns. This absence of parental follow through and concern allows for a dangerous secret to grow into a life shattering chain of events.

This is one of those books that forces a reader to keep the bedside lamp aglow late into the night as it's just too hard to leave this story alone waiting by the bed.

And so it is, armed with chocolate, graham crackers, marshmallows and a flashlight, that this reader heads into the second half of summer looking for more stories of note.

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