Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: A Sudden Light

Summary: The bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain presents a long-awaited new novel in which a boy trying to save his parents’ marriage uncovers a vast legacy of family secrets.

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant whole trees and is set on a huge estate overlooking Seattle’s Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch the ailing and elderly Grandpa Samuel to a nursing home, sell off the house and property for development, divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.

But as Trevor explores the house’s secret stairways and hidden rooms, he discovers a spirit lingering in Riddell House whose agenda is at odds with the family plan. Only Trevor’s willingness to face the dark past of his forefathers will reveal the key to his family’s future.

Spellbinding and atmospheric, A Sudden Light is rich with unconventional characters, scenes of transcendent natural beauty, and unforgettable moments of emotional truth that reflect Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation—a triumphant work of a master storyteller at the height of his power. -- Simon and Schuster

Like many readers, I have been waiting for a new novel by Garth Stein. I was very excited to discover at this year's BEA that Mr. Stein had a book coming out called A SUDDEN LIGHT; however, I admit that I wasn't as thrilled to read it after I read the book's description -- I'm not a big fan of ghost stories. In addition, the review from Kirkus kind of scared me away. For whatever reason, I decided to pick it up, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

A SUDDEN LIGHT is Trevor Riddell's reflections on the summer of his 14th birthday. It was 1990 and Trevor and his father travel to the Seattle to visit the Riddell House, a family estate that was built with money from the timber industry. Trevor is troubled by his parents' recent separation and his father Jones is trying to come to terms with the death of his mother.

Jones' sister Serena and his father who is suffering from dementia (and possibly alcoholism) live in the house; however, Jones and Serena would like to have their father put into a nursing home and liquidate the estate. Jones is hoping that the money he would receive would help repair his failing marriage.

Trevor begins to explore the house with all of its hidden stairways and rooms only to discover a spirit of an ancestor who doesn't want them to sell the house. As Trevor tries to learn the truth about this ghost, he uncovers that his family has a very dark and secret past.

I actually enjoyed A SUDDEN LIGHT quite a bit. I didn't love it, but I did enjoy the novel. The story was told by an adult Trevor reflecting back on his past, but the book did read like a story told by a teenager albeit a pretty smart and insightful one. I definitely appreciated Trevor -- in fact, he was one of the few really well-developed characters in the novel to me; and I enjoyed seeing him figure out the secrets. Trevor did a lot of growing up that summer; and in many ways, A SUDDEN LIGHT was a coming-of-age story... and I do love those types of books.

I also really enjoyed the mystery aspect of this story. It was apparent from the start that there were a lot of secrets in the story, and I had a feeling that some of them were going to be doozies. It was fun to be along for the ride with Trevor as he figured out the story of the spirit (or spirits!); and I was surprised by how dark some of this story actually was. The Riddells were one dysfunctional family to say the least.

I tend to shy away from ghost stories or any books that deal in the supernatural -- they just aren't my thing; however, I thought the spirits were handled very well in this novel. By that, I mean that I didn't have any major issues with them... and that's saying something. I do have to admit that I enjoyed learning about the Riddell's past more through the stories and the letters than the spirits, but I recognize that's just my preference. I'm sure there are plenty of readers who would appreciate the ghost part of this novel.

A SUDDEN LIGHT would make an interesting pick for book clubs. I do believe that there is a great deal to discuss in this novel especially given the all out craziness of the Riddells. There is a reading guide available with 15 questions as well as some ideas to enhance your book club meeting. Naturally, there are some discussion-worthy topics including sibling relationships, parent/child relationships, marriage, loss, grief, redemption, truth, and lots more about family dynamics. However, there is also interesting commentary about nature and the environment.

I enjoyed A SUDDEN LIGHT and recommend it to fans of ghost stories and mysteries.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I've put this one off because of the description as well so I'm glad to see you enjoyed it.

Beth F said...

I too was unsure about this because of the ghost aspect. Maybe I'll give it a try.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I think it sounds wonderful and love the cover!