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review 2016-07-03 15:43
The Shining Girls Review
The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes

First, we'll address the 800-pound gorilla in the room.

"How you doin', Mr. Bananas?"

"Doing fine, E. How's the family?"

"They're well. Autumn's growing up too quick and Chris... well, Chris is a dude. You know how dudes are."

"I do, I do. So what is it that I can help you with, E.?"

"Oh, nothing. Just wanted to address you."

"Oh. Well you should know that this is a terrible joke and, if people laugh, they'll be laughing at you, not with you."

"I know."

"Good. Just wanted to make that clear. Say, do you have any bananas?"

"I'm sorry, I do not."

"Then what fucking good are you to me? Piss off."

Now that Mr. Bananas is gone, I should probably address the problems you might have with Lauren Beukes's The Shining Girls. If you do not read chapter titles, you will soon Amelia Earhart your way into history. I do not like chapter titles. All too often, authors ruin their own books by putting spoilers in their chapter headings. It's a huge pet peeve of mine, so when I come across a book with chapter titles, I skip them. I feel this way: the important information should be worked into the actual chapters and not lazily dropped into the chapter headings. Lauren Beukes not only uses chapter titles in lazy ways, but if you miss whose head and the time you're in, the book becomes a mess very quickly. More than twice I had to flip backward to make sure I knew who I was with and where in time we were. I shouldn't have to do that, Lauren. Shame on you.

Other than that, this book is great. The plot isn't the most original (serial killer bouncing through time ala Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper in that one old movie), but Beukes does manage to make what happens interesting. I think where Beukes shines (get it? DID YOU GET MY PUN????) is character development. She goes into deep detail concerning the smallest character. Most importantly, she made me care, or at the very least understand, the red shirts in this book. Every corpse had a pulse at one point in time, and I dig that she paid so much attention to their history.

Once I managed to get a feel for the flow of the story, I enjoyed myself. Are their problems? Sure. Several of them. But I didn't notice until after I finished reading. But the best part of this book is Beukes writing. It's smooth and seemingly effortless. I blew through 50-100 pages a sitting because, once I started reading, I couldn't put the book down.

In summation: Not everyone will like Beukes because she forces you to pay attention. If you skip chapter headings, you will be super fucking confused. If you don't like a huge cast of characters, you'll likely not like this, because every third chapter or so is from a brand new person's POV. She gets into the heads of every victim, so expect to learn some of everything about everybody. I didn't mind. In fact, the big cast was one of my favorite parts.

Final Judgment: Pay attention for full payoff.

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review 2015-09-19 17:46
The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes

Synopsis: Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mazrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future. Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women, burning with potential, whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles on a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens on to other times.

At the urging of the House, Harper inserts himself into the lives of the shining girls, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He's the ultimate hunter, vanishing into another time after each murder, untraceable-until one of his victims survives.

Determined to bring her would-be killer to justice, Kirby joins the Chicago Sun-Times to work with the ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez, who covered her case. Soon Kirby finds herself closing in on the impossible truth . . .

The Shining Girls is a masterful twist on the serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing heroine in pursuit of a deadly criminal.
One thing I can certainly say about this year is I've tried many authors I had never read before -- Robert McCammon, Charles Dickins, TS Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Gillian Flynn, et cetera. Most -- if not all -- of these authors are among my very favorites and I have been slowly and surely working my way through each of their respective oeuvres. Adding to that list, I tackled my first Lauren Beukes novel, The Shining Girls, a story that combines two of my favorite things -- time travel and serial killings -- into a fast-paced thriller that, for the most part, works. 
Harper Curtis stumbles upon a house (or The House, as he calls it) by chance -- or perhaps fate? -- while on the run in 1931 Chicago. The house has a portal through which it is possible to travel in time, and Harper grabs the chance. He soon finds names in the house of girls he feels "drawn to" because they shine... what Beukes means by shining is never made clear, but one can infer it means these girls have a vivacious life force and Harper feels the call to snuff it out with brutal killing. He does this without a second thought or remorse, traveling through various decades up until summer 1993, murdering woman upon woman in his path. 
One thing that really makes this novel cook is the girls Harper murders. Beukes draws each one beautifully, taking care to illustrate them and make them come alive, if only for a few pages before their tragic slaughters. Ironically enough, the murder victims feel more like three dimensional characters than Harper or Kirby, the girl who Harper tried murdering without success and is now trying to sniff him out. Harper kills without any remorse or human emotion whatsoever, so after a while he begins to become a bit of a bore. And Kirby -- a woman who has led a troubled life, I know -- relies too heavily on sarcasm to keep her peers (and, unfortunately, the reader) at bay... so it's like we never really know her true thoughts or motives. 
Since I'm complaining, I would like to point something else out -- Harper's total lack of interest in the decades he travels to and his totally unrealistic ability to fit in and adapt to whatever time period he's in. Keep in mind that this dude is from '31, a time when The Great Depression was in full swing and there was no such thing as television or fast food restaurants or everyone in the city driving an automobile. When Harper travels for the first time -- to '88 -- he marvels at television sets in a department store window for a few minutes and... that is it. That's all that's mentioned of him being shocked or in awe of technological and social evolution (or, in some cases, devolution)... throughout the rest of the novel he doesn't stop to notice anything nor does he even mess up, aside from using out-of-date money a couple of times. Part of the fun of any time travel story is seeing how the traveler adjusts to whatever time they go to... and this novel severely lacked that, rendering the journey through time(s) aspect useless and gimmicky. 
I know it sounds like I was not very impressed with this novel, but that isn't exactly true. I thought it was decent, and thanks to this reading I have Beukes's Broken Monsters coming in the mail. I was just a bit let down by the author not taking full advantage of the story she came up with. In the right hands, this could have been an epic novel, a world-building serial killer tale to rival any other serial killer tale. The premise is great, but the delivery did not always live up to my expectations. It was a quick, fun read and the characters were enjoyable, albeit rather cardboard cut-out at times (I'm especially looking at every guy from the newspaper Kirby works with... I can't remember any of them except Dan, a fat guy who enjoys baseball and... that's kind of it), and the action really never lets up. There are constant revelations to be had and Beukes knows how to keep her readers intrigued if nothing else. I was going to give this one four stars, but as I've written this review I've talked myself down to 3 1/2. Check this out, but maybe buy it used. 
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text 2015-09-19 03:38
Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 370 pages.
The Long Walk - Stephen King

Continuing my Stephen King reread project with my favorite Bachman novel, The Long Walk. I will be posting my 4-star review of Lauren Beukes's The Shining Girls tomorrow. Happy reading! 

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text 2015-09-19 00:31
Reading progress update: I've read 341 out of 375 pages.
The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes

I've read over two hundred pages of this novel today alone. I can't put it down, and I'll be very sad when it is over.

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review 2015-03-12 14:27
the shining girls: time-travelling serial killer
The Shining Girls: A Novel - Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls had a strong ending, which bumped this from a three to four star book for me. the plot: a serial killer, Harper, uses a mysterious house to travel through time to kill girls who "shine." here, "shine" seems to mean girls with special potential and energy. Harper's home of operation is Chicago, which is expertly evoked by Beukes. the city in all its grittiness, beauty, and potential really comes alive in The Shining Girls - a pretty great feat since Beukes is herself from South Africa. as Harper travelled through time hunting his next victim, i was usually more interested in the city than I was in how Harper would claim his next shining girl.


and, as to that . . . my god, this book was graphic. i learned something about myself: i am not into reading graphic descriptions of women being gutted alive. i can stomach one or two such scenes per book, but not eight or nine. those scenes were so deeply unpleasant that picking up The Shining Girls became a chore. it was easily my least favorite part of this novel, which is unfortunate since it's such an essential part of the story.


as with all time travel narratives, if you think too much about the cause and effect mechanics of this book, you will loose hours only to find yourself right back where you began. but not coincidentally, i think, this circular thinking very much mirrors the structure of the novel where you end essentially end where you began. Buekes wants us to question the nature of cause and effect, and it is one of the strongest aspects of this novel.


another saving grace of The Shining Girls: our heroine, the one who survives a brutal attack by Harper, Kirby. she's very Lisbeth Salamander-esq in a good way. she's a survivor, prickly and punky, but she didn't feel like an archetype when she easily could have. i enjoyed her character, particularly when she's interacting with Dan, her cynical and much older sidekick.


the graphic nature of the violence just didn't do it for me. but to those for whom that's not a concern, i'd recommend The Shining Girls. it's an atmospheric novel which raises some interesting questions about time and inevitability. and, while The Shining Girls wobbles in the execution a little, it definitely sticks its landing.         

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