Category Archives: review

Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

A Head Full of GhostsWhen Stephen King tweets out that a book scared him, it immediately rockets to the top of my to-be-read pile. I love a good scare — and Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts is just that.

The Barrett family seem like the typical, all-American family. That is until their fourteen year-old-daughter begins exhibiting signs of a potential possession. As questions of whether or not this is a mental-illness or a possession by a demon begin to mount, the family resorts to desperate measures — not only conducting an exorcism but also allowing cameras into the house to record the events leading up to it and the exorcism itself.

The only survivor of these events is Merry, who years later reflects on the events and her role in them with a series of interviews.

From the beginning, we know there is some horrible secret hanging over the Barrett family. And Tremblay builds a palpable sense of dread as the story continues to unfold, all the while making us question the nature of reality — from reality television shows that are edited to tell the best story to just what exactly is going on with the Barrett family. There were times that the sense of dread at what was going to happen on the next page reminded me of my first reading of Stephen King’s Cujo in my teenage years.

And yet for all the building dread and horror, A Head Full of Ghosts is keenly aware of its place within the horror pantheon. Referencing multiple horror movies and tropes, the novel breaks them down and builds them up again to give the reader a bit of gallows humor all while ratcheting the feeling of dread up a few points higher.

It all leads to a final act that is among the more memorable and unsettling I’ve read in quite a while. I can see why this novel scared Stephen King because it certainly left me feeling scared and unsettled.

And yet it’s a book that I wholeheartedly recommend — as long as you’re not faint of heart. It’s compelling, horrifying and utterly readable. Simply put — one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

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Review: Better Get to Livin’ by Sally Kilpatrick

 ByBetter Get To Livin'The Happy Hour Choir made me a fan and Bittersweet Creek put Sally Kilpatrick on my “must read” list. With her third novel Better Get to Livin’, Kilpatrick has ensured that her books join the likes of Stephen King, Elizabeth George, Laura Lippman and Peter David on my list of “authors I will read their latest offering first no matter what other books are on the to-be-read pile.”

Presley Cline left her small hometown in Tennessee for the bright lights of Hollywood. But just as her fortunes are about to take a turn toward that goal, she’s caught up in a Hollywood scandal that has her not only embarrassed but headed home to try and hide out with her mother for a while. Those plans quickly go awry when her mother’s trailer is destroyed by a tornado and Presley and her mother take refuge at the local funeral home, run by Declan Anderson.

Like Presley, Declan has his own “big dreams in a small town.” He’s been holding down the fort on the family business for a couple of years now while his brother is off in Atlanta, going to school. The two had an understanding that once school was over, the brother would come back to town, take over the day-to-day funeral home operations and let Declan pursue his own dreams. Continue reading

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Review: Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay

Disappearance at Devil's RockThinking her fourteen year-old son Tommy is spending the night at one of his best friend’s house, Elizabeth Sanderson in disturbed to receive a phone call saying her son has gone missing. As the shock sets in, Elizabeth can’t help but feel that history is repeating itself. Tommy’s father vanished in the night years before. Could it be that her son has followed in his father’s footsteps?

The answers are far more compelling and interesting than that and they make this book one that was, at times, next to impossible to put down. Add in an element of the potential supernatural and you’ve got the another winner from Paul Tremblay — an author who after reading just two of his books has been put onto my “must read anything he writes list” and whom I eagerly seeking you his back catalog.

Paul Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil’s Rock starts with a heck of hook and doesn’t let up until the final page is turned. The question of how well you really know your kids and your family haunts every page of the novel and drives much of this superlatively told, suspenseful mystery. Like his earlier haunting A Head Full of Ghosts this is one of those novels that defies categorization beyond “a really good book that everyone should read.” Continue reading

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Review: The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

The Guest RoomTrying to be a good older brother and best man, Richard Chapman offers his home for his younger brother’s bachelor party. But Richard couldn’t know that the “entertainment” for the evening wouldn’t be mere strippers but instead Russian sex slaves who were looking to exact a piece of revenge on their captors and escape. Before the night is over, Richard will endanger his marriage, find his home a crime scene and his world collapsing around him.

The first two-thirds of Chris Bohjlian’s The Guest Room is a fascinating, dark story of people trying to make good decisions under the worst possible circumstances. Chapters alternate between the backstory of one of the young girls who is preyed upon by her captors and forced into a life of selling her body for money and the events current unfolding during and after the infamous bachelor party. As with many of the best crime writers today, Bohjalian is less concerned with the who-done-it aspect of the crime and more interested in the impact of the crime upon his characters and their community.

As Richard finds his world collapsing around him (his wife mistrusts him, he’s put on suspension at work and one of his brother’s friends tries to blackmail him), we see how the crime and its implications have far reaching tendrils both before and after the murder of the two men sent to guard the two sex workers.

At its best The Guest Room is a compelling, character driven, page-turner that offers up a fascinating dilemma without any easy ways out of it. Well, that is until we get to the last third of the novel when things take a turn that feels like it’s right out of a Hollywood blockbuster and not the well-established and realized world that Bohjalian has created to that point. It’s not the ending is terrible so much as it’s a disappointment. Richard begins to make decisions to get his life back and I’d hoped to see more of the implications of that than the ending we got here.

I’m being vague here to avoid SPOILING too much of this novel because I really think the first two-thirds of the story are worth reading. It’s just the last third that let me down.

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Review: No One Knows by J.T. Ellison

No One KnowsSeven and seventeen and five. That’s how Aubrey Hamilton breaks down her life.

The seven years before she met Josh, the seventeen years they knew each other and were together and the five years since he went missing. Josh vanished the night of a friend’s bachelor party under mysterious circumstances. Five years of questions, rumors and a trial for Aubrey haven’t provided any answers as to where Josh went or why.

As the state of Tennessee has her husband legally declared dead, Aubrey’s life takes an interesting turn with a man who reminds her a lot of Josh and the coming battle with her mother-in-law, Daisy, over the beneficiary of Josh’s rather large life insurance policy.

With the abundance of unreliable narrator mystery/thrillers on the market today, J.T. Ellison’s No One Knows could easily feel like it’s just another entry in an already crowded field. But Ellison deftly weaves in enough questions about Josh’s disappearance and gives readers just enough of a glimpse of the history of Josh and Aubrey to set the hook early and continue reeling you in for the entire story’s length. Continue reading

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Review: The Girl From Home by Adam Mitzner

The Girl From HomeThe Girl From Home by Adam Mitzner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Once a high powered financial whiz, Jonathan Caine’s world has come crashing in around him. Accused of insider trading, his assets are frozen and his seemingly charmed life has evaporated around him. With no where else to turn, Jonathan decides to head back to his family in New Jersey to care for his ailing father, just in time for his twenty-fifth high school reunion.

Jacqueline Williams is the former prom queen who married the high school quarterback. But Jackie didn’t get the happy ending she was hoping for — her husband abuses her and has threatened to kill her and cut off access to their children should she ever bring up the word “divorce” to him again.

Back in the high school, Jonathan couldn’t have thought of approaching Jackie. But now he’s back and the two soon strike up a romance. If only they could find a way to get Jackie’s husband out of the picture without creating more harm for Jackie or her kids.

Adam Mitzner’s The Girl From Home starts off with a great hook and then slowly unravels the lives of Jonathan and Jackie. The first section of the novel moves from the past to the present, painting a solid picture of how and why Jonathan and Jackie have got themselves into their respective situations and then beginning their affair together. It’s one the past and present merge that the novel hits a bit of bumpy spot and loses some of its early momentum. Continue reading

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Review: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

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As part of the 2016 Sci-Fi Experience and getting in early for Vintage Sci-Fi month, I thought I’d offer up some thoughts on Arthur C. Clarke’s classic genre novel Childhood’s End.

I read this one a decade ago as part of a vintage genre campaign, but large chunks of it had slipped my memory. So when SyFy’s new mini-series showed up on the DVR, I decided to re-visit the original material before I started watching the new adaptation.

So, here we go….

Childhood's EndOne of my big complaints about the current state of science-fiction and fantasy is the overwhelming need to make EVERY single concept into a trilogy or on-going series.

Which is what makes going back to the classics of the genre such a pleasure.

Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End is one of the most economic genre novels ever published. But I’d argue that the novel packs more ideas and punch into its two hundred pages than some on-going series have packed into their thousand plus (and counting) pages.

In many ways, Clarke created the mythology of the alien invasion. The Overlords arrive in ships that hover over the greatest cities on Earth, saying that they are here to help humanity. The Overlords put an end to petty conflicts and help point humanity toward a better tomorrow — but there could be a price to it all. They refuse to allow human beings to see them as they really are for the first fifty years of their overseeing our world. Instead, a single human is chosen as the intermediary for humans and Overlords. Continue reading

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