Thursday, October 9, 2014

ARC Review: A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

Title: A Sudden Light
Author: Garth Stein
Published: September 30, 2014 by Simon & Schuster
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: 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.

*** I received a copy of the book from the published via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review in return. This fact has not influenced my opinion ***

Before I review this book I have to explain something. You are probably not surprised to know that I enjoy History based on the books I read. I enjoy it so much that I studied it in college. I have always liked History because of this inherent curiosity that I have. I always want to know about what places and people used to be like. Typically when I go into a building, especially a house, I find myself wondering what a room was used for when the house was first built. Because of this I was immediately attracted to the premise of A Sudden Light.

A Sudden Light seemed like the perfect Halloween story to me. I'm not a big fan of horror but I do like a story about exploring a creepy house and can handle a ghost or two as long as their not wreaking havoc for no reason. And while that was the basis for this story and we did get a little bit of that, it was really a story about family dealing with their own personal demons.

I can see however that the plot was attempting to be mysterious. Most of the plot revolved around learning about the history of the house and it's former inhabitants. For me one of the best parts of the book was Trevor's time exploring the the house and finding secret passageways, abandoned rooms, and the ghosts of his relatives that have unfinished business. And then when I was feeling like the mystery had fallen short, it surprised me with I twist I hadn't seen coming. What Garth Stein did incredibly well is create an atmospheric and interesting world in Riddell House. It did seem to deliver on the "exploring a mysterious old house" part of my expectations. But I wasn't entirely satisfied by the mystery or really the clues that led to solving the mystery. It just seemed a little too convenient. Every character seemed to have a diary full of personal information in, including full dialogue. As the book went on it get a little better with more hauntings and even dreams that give important information.

This was definitely more of a character-driven novel than I expected. The focus of the book was on Trevor and his family as they attempted to decide what to do about their crumbling old house. Their responses to the challenges they were faced were what moved everything along. But it may have just felt character-driven because the characters were one of the best parts about the book. I really liked the MC Trevor. He was the perfect combination of precocious and naive. Inquisitive and intelligent but hopeful and childlike. His personality worked so well for the exploration of this old house with secrets. But it also worked so well compared to the other characters. Pretty much all the secondary characters were these smarmy, manipulative, and dubious characters who were looking out for their own selfish interests. Every one of them, including the ghost, exerts their influence over Trevor to get what they want and many of them are at odds with what the other person wants. By the end of the book, many of the characters have great arcs where we get to understand their motivations a little more and it makes them much more sympathetic. I was surprised to find that I was invested in the success of more than just Trevor by the time the book had ended.

And because it was so character-driven and because I had built investment in these characters, the ending hit me very hard. Or should I say the climax. If you follow me on Twitter you know what my reaction to this ending was and it is far from favorable. I did a complete 180 in terms of my feelings of this book. I went from enjoying the mysterious ghost story and exploration of creepy house by complex characters with great developments and then it was all shattered. I won't say what happened but I will say that it was far from happy. It's not that I need a happy ending, it just felt so unnecessary. It felt like a character who had developed into something more, something I liked, then reverted back to the way they were before. The falling action tried to explain why, tried to make me feel better about what had happened, but it did not succeed in satisfying my feels. To me this was just an example about how a good book can be ruined by a bad ending.

This is one of those rare books where I say I would have enjoyed it so much more if I hadn't finished it. If I had stopped without having read the last 25 pages. On the whole I did enjoy the characters and the world but that ending just didn't work for me and the mystery was just too convenient.

I give A Sudden Light by Garth Stein a 7 out of 10

Have you read A Sudden Light? What did you think? Have you ever read a book where you enjoyed it until the very end? Did it change your opinion of the book like this did me? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. So I take that it is a stand-alone. I loathe both books and movies that do this. It is like they weave this complicated storyline, for the sake of the storyline itself, and then when it needs to end it is too involved and they just through their hands up in the air. What I don't understand is the beta readers and editors not understanding readers don't like this sort of climax. Thanks for warning me about this book because I was drawn to the cover, and intrigued by the synopsis on EW. It seems such a waste of a potentially good novel for not taking a little extra time in editing and story development.

    1. OH SNAP! It totally did do that! It was building to something and then things got very complicated and it found the easy way out! I didn't realize that it was guilty of dues ex machina until you pointed it out. That was only half of the reason why I hated the ending but it was definitely a big part of it.

      It is a standalone. I would say it's a borrow from the library kind of book. One of those books that it wouldn't be terrible if you had to return it before you were finished. And yes, that cover is gorgeous!