It seem like a lot of the mystery novels I’m drawn to these days feature an unreliable narrator (or narrators in the case of The American Girl). Whether this is due to the success of novels like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train has encouraged publishers to jump on the unreliable narrator bandwagon or that it’s just that I’ve become more aware of this particular narrative hook, I’m not sure.
What I do know is that, at this point, it takes a lot to make an unreliable narrator story stand out to me.
Kate Horsley’s The American Girl was able to do that. Well, at least it was able to do that for the first hundred or so pages. Continue reading
Libby Cudmore’s debut novel The Big Rewind features a cover blurb comparing it to Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. And while it’s true the two novels share first-person narrators who love music and sprinkle in more pop culture references than you can shake a stick at, I’m not sure the comparison between the two extends far beyond that.
Taking over her grandmother’s rent controlled New York apartment, Jett Bennett has grand visions of becoming a music journalist in the Big Apple. But the reality of her situation is that she’s scraping by taking temp jobs and spending a lot of time at Trader Joe’s (if this was a movie, the sheer number of mentions of Trader Joe’s would feel like product placement). Living among bohemian artists, Jett is finding her way in the world when a mix-up in the mail has her stumble across the murder of her neighbor. Continue reading
While some of my peers were reading the Sweet Valley High or R.L. Stine’s novels, I spent my teenage years reading Stephen King and Target adaptations of classic Doctor Who stories. One of the most prolific authors of the Who range was former script-editor Terrance Dicks. If you take a step back and look at the sheer volume of novels published by Dicks during this era, it’s staggering — to the point that I had an image of poor Terrance chained to a desk, fed only bread and water and forced to hammer out adaptation after adaptation on his typewriter.
Visiting some of Dicks’ output again thanks to BBC Audio has only underlined again just what Dicks was able to do for an entire generation of Doctor Who fans — keep the series alive and fresh in our imaginations when we couldn’t see all the stories we wanted to again, much less collect them to sit our shelves. The fact that these novels are still readable and enjoyable today is a testament to just how good Dicks was.
“The Claws of Axos” comes from an era when Dicks wasn’t given as much time to adapt serials as he had in the bookends of his Doctor Who adapting career. “Claws” is pretty much a straight-forward adaptation of the original script with some nifty descriptions and one or two embellishments thrown in for good measure (for example, at the end when the serial ends with the Doctor’s chagrin at being “a galactic yo-yo,” Dicks allows the action to continue onward with everyone saying their farewells and the Doctor rushing out to ensure the UNIT guys don’t jostle the TARDIS). Continue reading
In the literary world, Harlan Coben’s novels are the equivalent of a summer popcorn thriller — fun in the moment but not necessarily having much replay value or holding up well to much (if any) deep scrutiny.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that mind you. There’s always room for that fun, don’t think too much about it, bubble-gum for the mind type of novel that serves as an escape for a few pages.
Veteran special-ops pilot Maya Stern suffers from PTSD from her time in combat. She’s also haunted by a decision that she made during that time that went viral thanks to the power of social media. She returns home to try and begin a normal life with her husband, but that plan hits a few stumbling blocks when her husband is killed in an apparent mugging attempt.
But in the midst of Maya’s grief, her new nanny-cam makes a shocking discovery — her husband comes home to visit their toddler and is caught on tape. Could he still be alive and why would he fake his own death? Answers aren’t easy to come by from his rich, insular family nor will they come easily from the people in Maya’s life she”s come to rely on and trust.
The set-up Fool Me Once is a solid one even if the pay-off isn’t necessarily the best. The more Maya digs into the conspiracy (and starts to appear crazier to her friends and family), the more Coben asks the reader to take a huge leap of faith in suspending our disbelief. By the end of the novel, the leaps become so eye-rolling that the novel loses any crediblity or momentum it had in the early goings. It’s the type of story that the more you just turn off your brain and go with it, the more fun you’re likely to have.
It’s a good escapist thrill ride, but not necessarily anything more.
You don’t have to take my word for it, though. You can find get other reviews over at GoodReads.
View all my reviews
When 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.
ByThe 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
Thinking 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