The Fall by Bethany Griffin

18241263Novel: The Fall by Bethany Griffin | Goodreads
Release Date: October 7, 2014
Greenwillow (HarperCollins)

Madeline Usher is doomed.

She has spent her life fighting fate, and she thought she was succeeding. Until she woke up in a coffin.

Ushers die young. Ushers are cursed. Ushers can never leave their house, a house that haunts and is haunted, a house that almost seems to have a mind of its own. Madeline’s life—revealed through short bursts of memory—has hinged around her desperate plan to escape, to save herself and her brother. Her only chance lies in destroying the house.

In the end, can Madeline keep her own sanity and bring the house down? The Fall is a literary psychological thriller, reimagining Edgar Allan Poe’s classic The Fall of the House of Usher.

I had high hopes for this one. I’m drawn towards retellings – particularly if they’re from a solid author I’ve enjoyed in the past – but The Fall was too scattered for me. I normally try to avoid books I don’t think I’ll like, and more particularly, avoid reviewing them. The Fall had some great moments, but the flaws outbalanced my admiration and left me disappointed.

The Fall follows an Edgar Allan Poe tale called The Fall of the House of Usher. In Griffin’s version, a girl named Madeline lives in the house, sensitive to the personification and desires of its sentient nature. With her twin brother Roderick away at school – and her deceased parents fallen victims to the curse – she’s entirely alone. Except for the House and the doctors, quivering in their eagerness to study the Usher line and its macabre affliction.

Now that Madeline’s older, she no longer sees the House as protective: she sees it as abusive, crippling, inherently malevolent. As the heir of the Usher line, she falls to the same fits, the same horrible curse that obstructs any hope of freedom.

Being confined within the house – and confined by the House – is enough to drive the residents insane. Generation after generation, Ushers have succumbed to the desires of the House, to the crippling darkness of its desires. But as the House closes in around Madeline, it begins driving her to the brink of insanity, leaving her alone and traumatized by its disturbing displays of power.

Madeline sets out to destroy the house – and most of all, to escape.

The eerie, unsettling mood of the book started out strong. The malignant personification of the House of Usher was vivid, dreary and inherently volatile. The rush of description – dripping candles, hushed sounds, paintings steeped in dirt and dimly lit – aroused my interest initially, but the overuse of similar imagery tired out after a few chapters.

Quite simply, the House was more alive than any of the characters. Madeline’s insidious connection with the House’s needs, and its malevolent emotional state at a given time, propelled the story into an immersive state of danger, which added some much-needed depth. I truly wonder whether it would have been more effective if written in third person, providing an overarching sense of plot and character without delving too deeply into the insipid flashbacks that made up the girth of the story.

The characters were both the highlight and the low point. Because the entire book is confined within one alive setting, it was character-driven by nature. The ambiguity and shadow that made each person so compelling in the beginning led the plot towards disrepair when it failed to follow through.

Madeline wasn’t consistent enough for me to like her. If she were simply an unreliable narrator – capricious or disturbed or in other ways, compelling– it wouldn’t have bothered me but her unexplained connections to certain aspects of the plot bothered me. Despite the fact that much of the book consists of flashbacks, depictions, moments, she was never tangible enough to empathize with. Her slight descent into madness was both romanticized and condemned, the narrative switching between the two interchangeably.

Dr. Winston was disturbing. His desire for Madeline was inexplicably twisted with his romanticization of her death. The doctors themselves faded in and out of existence by the book’s whims, leading it to feel chaotic. Roderick was strange. His absences were never quite explained enough, his character hovering between insanity and infallible logic. Towards the end, these mercurial qualities of supporting characters made me indifferent to their plights.

The historical connections linked throughout – and the characters’ confinement within one setting – led to a slightly ambiguous timing. There were details like coats and candelabras and carriages that shrouded the narrative in a lush feel, but the dialogue slipped in strange patterns that made me unsure about the timing. It became strangely formal in the end, which distanced me from the story.

There were also points of intensity and straight atmosphere, draped in unsettling imagery from the house striking back, but those moments were juxtaposed with statements of clarity. Gaps in logic made everything feel jumbled.

That in itself made the pacing feel wildly off base; I was confused when I shouldn’t have been. Moments of conflict, of climax, were written too quickly while the middle sagged with overused description and repetitive action. The end felt crammed with facts that were completely irrelevant to the first part of the book, and it made suspending my reality difficult.

The Fall continued in the vein of Ashes on the Waves and Nevermore, with hints of Flowers in the Attic speckling the haunting plot. Aspects like the curse, Lisbeth’s diary, and the family connection to the House of Usher were thrown in and out without much thought. It’s obviously well researched, which is why I was so disturbed by the messiness of it. I know Griffin to be a capable writer, effortlessly weaving atmosphere and organization, so The Fall felt so devastating.

All in all, The Fall seemed like it was trying to do too much. If Bethany Griffin had been more consistent with her mood and plot – committing to a few, strong plot points like she did with Masque of the Red Death – I probably would have enjoyed it much more than I did. I would excuse it, saying that it’s absurdly difficult to capture the distinct qualities of Edgar Allan Poe’s work, but I loved Ashes in the Waves, which followed a similar structure. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with The Fall and would not recommend it to those with similar taste.

Recommended for those who enjoyed: Nevermore; Wither; Flowers in the Attic; Frostetc,.

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Top Ten Characters Who Should Have Their Own Books

Hey y’all!

It’s Grace here to do Top Ten Tuesday. For those of y’all who have never seen it before, Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the lovely ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish. They release a prompt and bloggers round up ten books or points that they feel best exemplifies that prompt. It’s a great way to get some excellent book recs!

This week’s prompt? Top Ten Characters Who Should Have Their Own Book.

The last Top Ten Tuesday I did was Top Ten Characters I’d Want at My Lunch Table and it’s a pretty similar overlap. The characters who deserve their own books have vibrant, memorable personalities and those are the type of people that I’d love having conversations with at lunch. This week, I’m going to try to dig a little deeper and see what characters about whom I’d like to learn more.

Hush Hush Becca FitzpatrickRixon from Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick | Goodreads

Becca Fitzpatrick does a phenomenal job with atmosphere – a quality which allows each of her characters to dominate the page. Whether eerie or malevolent or likable, her characters are all intense in their various qualities. Rixon, a magnetic but malevolent supporting character, was fascinating. Whether he acted as a villain or a friend, I was always glued to pages with his name on them. I think a story focused on Rixon would draw a ton of readers.

between the devil and the deep blue seaRiver from Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke | Goodreads

I’m still in mourning over this series end. You can read my reviews here and here. I’m upset that it’s not a trilogy, so if given the chance, I’d love to go back and learn about previous places in which River has lived, girls he’s fallen in love with, people he’s “glowed”. I think it’d be a fascinating story and he’s a strong, complex character – morally ambiguous, charismatic, cultured. Tucholke, please?

the mysterious benedict societyMr. Benedict from The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart | Goodreads

This is also a little bit of cheating because technically, Trenton Lee released a book called Mr. Benedict’s Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrumsbut I loved this series so much. I still make a point to reread it when I can find the time. Mr. Benedict’s narcolepsy, evil brother, and past experiences seem like they’d be perfect for an absorbing middle grade read. Especially considering his thoughtful-yet-buoyant personality, it’d be fun to read a book specifically about him. (Note: this description can also be applied to Mr. George from The 13th Reality by James Dashner – maybe they should team up and solve riddles.)

6604794Joe from The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson | Goodreads

Part of the allure of The Sky is Everywhere was Lennie’s compelling charm and a vulnerable sense of humanity. Joe – a radiant, likable guy who’s one half of the love triangle after Bailey’s death – really drew her out of her shell. I would like to read more about him because he was just a completely solid guy. Maybe I should add him to the lunch table list? He’s part of the reason I liked The Sky is Everywhere so much.

witherJenna from Wither by Lauren DeStefano | Goodreads

Wither is a dystopian society in which the population is dying quickly, with shorter lifespans of about twenty to twenty-five years. Therefore, girls are commonly kidnapped or kept in polygamous households in order to produce heirs for wealthy men. In Wither, Jenna’s a sister wife with the main character. Jenna, a previous prostitute who had an interesting relationship with their husband Linden, was an ethereal character with substance. I would have enjoyed seeing her point of view, especially considering the gorgeous imagery Lauren DeStefano could have used in describing the end of her life.

the night circusTsukiko from The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern | Goodreads

Honestly, I could pick any character from The Night Circus – one of my favorite books – and frantically long for a book from his or her perspective. They all come to life with an irrepressible vibrancy, but their shadowed backgrounds and compelling actions mean that they’re always shrouded in shreds of mystery. Considering Morganstern’s skill for evoking personable but mysterious characters, she could do a magnificent job with a companion novel.

this song will save your lifePippa from This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales | Goodreads

The entire point of This Song Will Save Your Life revolved entirely around Elise’s individualism; her quirky charm and loneliness lent a poignancy and a humor to the page. I cannot impress enough how much Elise impressed me as a character. Therefore, with Leila Sales’s ability to make each character distinctly human, I would love to see her tackle Pippa. Pippa, an English girl Elise befriended at her first club, had drinking problems and a messy relationship with Char, the DJ. While we were mainly sympathetic to Elise, she made some choices that alienated Pippa and I’d love to see Pippa’s side. I love screwed-up characters.

4070493Devyn from Need by Carrie Jones | Goodreads

There’s something about books about fae; there’s something about their volatile nature that lends a frenzied sort of urgency to the page, as well as lyrical depictions of their mischief. They can be violent and hypnotic, and Need captured that atmosphere with finesse. Devyn was a character who wasn’t specifically focused on, but he was nice and had an interesting background. From his paralyzing injury to his strange abilities, Devyn was intriguing. Also, I’m desperate for books from people who can capture moods as well aCarrie Jones can. Spectacular.

since you've been goneSloane from Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson | Goodreads

After Sloane suddenly disappears, her best friend is shocked and confused. All she has is a bucket list of sorts, for her summer. Things she always wanted to do but was never brave enough to try. Sloane was her anchor, the adventurous one. What she never realized was that Sloane had a history. No spoilers, but that history is what would make a Sloane-focused book so lovely to read. There would have been a nice mix of seriousness and humor.

the unbecoming of mara dyerJamie from The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin | Goodreads

Jamie was a firecracker of a character: the type of wry, hilarious guy who flaunted it when he broke the rules. Considering the unreliable narration of Mara Dyer, I would love to have seen the equally unsteady narration of Jamie as a character. There were a lot of characters in this read that were slightly mentally unstable, and it would have made for a fun companion.

That’s it! I love love love characters – if you give me a person that I connect with, I will read whatever plot they plod through. There are plenty of supporting characters who keep me intrigued, plenty of whom would have stunning books.

Luckily, many of the paranormal series that I enjoyed so much – Vampire Academy, Evernight, Hex Hall, Lament – as well as a few contemporaries have companion novels out or in the works. Many authors are able to explore the worlds that they’ve created and extend a certain kind of life to the supporting characters who reinforced their original books.

Do y’all have any characters you think should be on my list? What about companion books out now?

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