One of the eternal questions debated on many a playground is if you could pick one superpower, which one would it be and why? Odds are that a lot of the responses are going to be the old standards of flying, running fast, or becoming invisible.
The becoming invisible portion is the basis for one of the building blocks of the science-fiction genre in H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man. Odds are that even if you haven’t read it, you’re aware of the basic outline of the story thanks to multiple pop-culture retellings or uses of the character over the years.
For this year’s Vintage SciFi Month, I decided that I’d take a look at the foundational novel in the genre and see if it holds up.
Since it was included as part of my Audible subscription, I decided to take advantage of it and began listening. And immediately found myself not really looking forward to going back to it. The story of a scientist who invents a serum that allows him to become invisible and then becomes a raging ball of id just never quite connected with me this time around. Doing a bit of research, I found that Wells initially serialized the story, which then put into the Doctor Who frame of mind of figuring out where the cliffhangers all were. And maybe the story would have worked better unfolding in weekly or monthly installments. But I’m honestly not so sure. Continue reading
Driven to raise her math grade from a B+ to an A, Ellie begs her mother, Laurel, to hire a tutor for her. The tutor does her job, but Ellie begins to get an odd vibe off her and decides to end the lessons. A few weeks before her exams, Ellie mysteriously vanishes.
A decade later, Laurel is beginning to piece her life back together. Divorced, she’s met a new suitor who seems like the perfect guy. He has two daughters and one of them, Poppy, is the spitting image of Ellie. Is Laurel seeing a ghost or is there something more sinister going on here?
All of that sounds pretty exciting, right?
This is why I’m a bit sad to report that Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone isn’t nearly as exciting or thrilling as a whole as the individual components make it sound like it should or could be. Part of the issue is that once Jewell puts all the pieces into play, there aren’t any huge shocks or revelations to come. I’d figured out a large part of what was going on long before the book begins to pull back the curtain on where Ellie went, who Poppy really is, and just how the math tutor ties into all of it. I kept waiting for something darker or more sinister to come of the story and nothing really did. Maybe I’m too conditioned by other suspense thrillers with a dark streak to really fully enjoy this one. But I did find myself reading more to see if my suspicions were correct than because I was fully invested in the story unfolding.
That’s not to say this is necessarily a bad book. It’s just one that disappointed me a great deal, especially after hearing positive reviews from other readers who share my tastes.
Time-travel isn’t a new trope in fiction, but Oona Out of Order‘s take on how time travel could work is one of the more interesting storytelling devices I’ve come across in time.
Each year on her birthday (which happens to be January 1), Oona Lockhart leaps forward or backward in time. Externally, she’s whatever age she would be in the year she’s arrived, but internally, she’s only aged one year. Each time she leaps (I couldn’t help but have visions of Quantum Leap while reading this novel), Oona equips herself with knowledge for the year, a secret binder containing information on investments that can be made to support her independently wealthy lifestyle, and a letter from her previous self to help get her up to speed on where she is in time and her various relationships.
Like Quantum Leap, Oona has her own version of Al — in this case, it’s her mother and her mysterious assistant Kenzi, both of whom are there to try and help her transition from one year to the next. Continue reading
Tarryn Fisher says her fascination with polygamy and its impact on women led her to write The Wives. But after reading The Wives, I feel like she hasn’t really explored the impact all well.
But it’s not like she doesn’t have all the elements for a great story. It’s just that she doesn’t use them all that well.
Thursday is one of Seth’s three wives. Not only is Thursday her name, but that’s the only day of the week she’s allowed to share with Seth. The other days and nights are given over to his other wives. One of the stipulations to this unusual arrangement is that Thursday can never meet or have a relationship with his other wives. But driven by jealousy and a spirit of rebellion, Thursday begins a friendship with Seth’s newest wife and is horrified to discover she has bruises and other signs of abuse at Seth’s hands.
At this point, the novel raises an interesting question of just how well Thursday knows her husband and what, if anything., she owes to his other wives. Should she interfere? Should she intervene and try to help the wife escape Seth’s potential abuse? Continue reading
Despite being assured by friends that they were “perfect” for each other, Geo Russell and Truvy Fuller’s first blind date didn’t end in a love connection — or even a second date.
Years later, the Geo and Truvy are the best man and maid of honor for their best friend’s wedding. But little do they know that their friends not only still think they’re perfect for each other, but they’re going to prove it to them.
Geo and Truvy are tricked into spending a week together in a remote, snowbound cabin (nicknamed Vegas) in Gatlinburg with no cell service, no television, and no contact with the outside world. Will there be a love connection this time or will these two end up loathing each other even more?
Sally Kilpatrick’s “Snowbound in Vegas” is a sweet romance with just enough heat to it to fuel but not overfeed your imagination. Alternating viewpoints between Geo and Truvy allows us to see inside each one’s world-view and assumptions about the other and see just how these two didn’t connect on that first date but might connect now.
“Vegas” is a bit different from Kilpatrick’s previous stories in terms of setting and turning up the heat factor. But what she doesn’t sacrifice is her commitment to building strong, relatable characters with their own quirks and foibles that serve as both an asset and a hindrance to romance. The remote setting and confined quarters make for a lot of fun and there are some genuinely sweet moments between Geo and Truvy.
And any story that uses the word “nekkid” in reference to its characters being sans-clothing (because neither one packed a suitcase for the trip and there is a hot tub) wins major points in my book.
Sweet, charming, and relatable, “Vegas” is another winning story from Kilpatrick.
This story is part of the Once Upon A Wedding anthology.
The Perfect Girlfriend turns the “crazy ex” thriller on its head a bit by taking us inside the mind of one of the craziest ex’s you’ll ever meet.
Since Nate asked Juliette for some time and space, she’s been more than willing to give it to him. Eventually, he’ll realize what Juliette has known since they first met — they are meant for each other. In the meantime, Juliette still has Nate’s keys, his passwords, and multiple social media accounts to keep up with all his moves. She wants their paths crossing again to look completely natural and not planned down to the last detail.
Karen Hamilton’s debut novel puts us inside Juliette’s head, getting to know her motives and justifications in her lifestyle makeover and pursuit of Nate. Early on, Juliette hints there may be things from Juliette’s past in play that make the whole game to win Nate back a bit more twisted and devious than it might appear at first. Hamilton walks a fine line between creating sympathy for Juliette and readers being horrified at the lengths she will go to in order to win Nate back.
The first three-quarters of the novel unfolds with a growing sense of dread, tension, and growing horror at just how far Juliette is willing to go. But in the first quarter of the book, things begin to slowly break down as revelations surface and narrative threads come together. And it’s at this point that the book begins to lose a bit of its momentum and comes to a close that isn’t satisfying. The actual ending of the book is a bit abrupt and really left me wondering if there wasn’t an extra chapter or two somewhere on the cutting room floor.
On a warm summer afternoon, Wen is capturing grasshoppers in a jar near the cabin rented by her fathers. Fully intending to return the grasshoppers to their native habitat after she’s done naming and studying them, Wen finds her peaceful afternoon interrupted by the arrival of four strangers.
Taking her fathers and Wen prisoner at the isolated cabin (cell service is non-existent), the four strangers say they’ve come to ask an extraordinary favor of Wen and her fathers. One of them must willingly sacrifice themselves in the next few hours or else there will be serious consequences to their captors and the planet as a whole.
A slow-burn of ever-increasing horror, Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World slowly draws you in and then dares you to look away as things slowly spiral out of control. Tremblay spends the first third of the book developing Wen, her fathers, and their captors so that, even while you don’t agree with this decisions and choices, you understand their motivation and what’s brought them to this brutal crossroads. Exposing old fears, long-held resentments, and areas of their relationships that probably would be better staying hidden, each character is stripped down during the course of the standoff.
The first chapters are almost hypnotic, but once the revelations come, they’re well paced and well earned by Tremblay. The master of modern horror, Stephen King, called this Tremblay’s best offering to date. And while I’m not sure I necessarily agree (A Head Full of Ghosts haunted me in ways this one didn’t. But that’s probably just a matter of personal preference), this is still one of the more haunting page-turners I’ve read this year.
The President Is Missing is the literary equivalent of a blockbuster action film — better when you sit back, turn your brain off, and just go along for the ride.
President Jonathan Duncan faces attacks from all sides. As he faces impending impeachment hearings in Congress, Duncan is made aware of an attack on the United States that will send our nation back to the stone age. Duncan is forced to go rogue to try and take down the threat before it comes to fruition and to ferret out who in his inner circle is leaking vital information to his enemies.
Promising “insider secrets only a president could know,” The President Is Missing is less a political thriller and more a political fantasy. At multiple points, you can’t help but wonder how much Bill Clinton would have given to shake off the threat of impeachment by going John McClain to save our country from an attack and then riding that to astronomical approval rating.
And that may be the biggest thing that holds the novel back from being a “bubble gum for the brain” thriller. I kept looking for clues as to which author wrote which part of the novel.
This novel also reminded me why I’ve stopped reading James Patterson novels. His novels feel a bit formulaic and rushed to press. And that’s how this one ends up feeling as well. Staccato chapters, quick pacing so you don’t have to ponder the implications of things as the develop, and a lack of room for any substantial character development add up to a disappointing novel. The final third of the book piles on absurd twist after absurd twist until I felt like crying, “Enough already.”
The President Is Missing feels like a missed opportunity. With a former president co-authoring and able to offers insights into the office and what might really happen if our president vanished for a significant length of time, the novel instead is told mostly from the first-person perspective of Duncan, thus negating the title early and often. I’m not sure what I expected, but this one didn’t fit the bill.
If you’re coming to Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera with visions of it being this generation’s Hitchhhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you may be disappointed.
But, if you can put those expectations to the side, you’ll find a charming, funny, witty novel that takes shots at not only the tropes of science-fiction, but also singing shows and multiple genres of music.
In the wake of the last galactic war, sentient species decided to conduct their battles in a more civilized manner — a singing competition. Each year, the species enter a contestant into the battle and the universe watches as they vie for universal supremacy.
This year, the Earth has been invited to join the contest — and it’s an invitation we can’t refuse. The only living musician deemed worthy of the talent show is burned out rocker, Decibel Jones. As our planet’s musical savior, Dess has to do well or else the Earth faces bitter consequences.
Valente pulls few of her punches and there are sequences of Space Opera that are hysterically funny and worthy of comparison to Douglas Adams. However, there are a few stretches in the novel that feel like Valente is working too hard to set-up a joke and then deliver a few extra punchlines for the reader’s amusement. I found myself, at times, wondering when we’d just move past the witty asides and humorous observations and get to the actual business of the talent content.
And while I wouldn’t say I was disappointed by Space Opera, I can’t say that I’m exactly sold on it. As I said, there are patches of utter brilliance and fun but there are a few moments when the novel gets bogged down a bit by trying too hard to be funny.
With Gone Girl casting a huge shadow across the literary world, it seems like we get a potential “next Gone Girl” hitting the shelves every week.
On the surface, J.T. Ellison’s Lie to Me could be classified as another book trying to be the “next Gone Girl.” But that would sell her new psychological thriller short.
Ethan and Sutton Montclair appear to have a perfect life. Successful writing careers, the nice house, a perfect marriage. But if you pull back the layers a bit, things aren’t quite as perfect as they seem. Sutton is being harassed by a book blogger with an ax to grind, Ethan’s got a severe case of writer’s block and their marriage is on shaky ground from Ethan’s one-night stand and the death of their infant son. When Sutton vanishes one morning, leaving a note for Ethan not to try to find her, suspicion begins to fall firmly on Ethan. The discovery of a burned body that could be Sutton only ratchets up the scrutiny from the authorities and the media.
Ellison does a nice job of layering the tension in Lie to Me. As she peels away the layers of the Montclair marriage, we find out that neither Ethan nor Sutton is quite as innocent or as sweet as they portray themselves to the outside world.
While most of the novel is third-person narration, Ellison includes the occasional chapter from the first-person perspective of the mastermind of things. Determining who is speaking and what their vendetta is against the Montclairs really drives much of the novel
That is until we get the big reveal and things kind of go off the rails a bit.
I won’t ruin anything for anyone. But I can honestly say the first two-thirds of this novel had me gripped, intrigued and not able to turn the pages fast enough to see what development would come next. And then we get to the big reveal and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a bit. I wanted to make the jump with Ellison, but I just couldn’t.
That’s not to say that Lie to Me isn’t a good novel. It is very good. It’s just not a great one. And that’s a shame because, as I said, the first two-thirds of it are completely compelling.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.